• StreetlightX
    3.2k
    In my more aggressive moments, I'm inclined to think that the only interesting question in all of philosophy is that of individuation. That there even is a question of individuation is not always recognised though, so I just wanna lay out three approaches to individuation, if for nothing else than just a conversation starter.

    (1) Traditionally, the question is structured something like the principle of sufficient reason: what is it that picks this thing out as an individual, and not some other individual? What makes this (individual) the individual thing that it is (and not something else)? If you have a mole on your face and I do not, one can say that the presence or absence of the mole (among other things) individuates us as different individuals.

    (2) This, though, isn't a great way to think about individuation. A deeper and more interesting approach is to ask how it is that an individual has become the individual that it is: this is to treat individuation as a process, in which an individual is gradually 'given form' (morpho-genesis) to become the individual that it is. And even here, one can draw distinctions between two further approaches to individuation:

    (2A) The first approach treats the individuation of any one thing as a 'given': given that we have an X (a cyclone, a person, a society, a meaning - anything) what are the conditions and/or forces (and/or etc) that brought about the individuation of X? 'X' is here the (individual) subject of the process of individuation: X is what is individuated.

    (2B) A second (superior!) approach does not treat the individuation of a entity as a given; rather it treats the fact that there is an individual X at all to be a contingent fact, one that, in different circumstances, might not have come to be at all. In this approach, the subject of individuation ('what' is individuated) is not the individual, but the very process of individuation itself: the individual is an outcome or a 'remainder' of a process which is primary with respect to the individual it engenders.

    What is at stake in these ever deepening approaches to individuation is the need to avoid teleology: the idea that the individuation of any entity is a fixed outcome that would be in some sense 'pre-destined' from the very beginning. By treating an already-constituted individual as a given, what is left unexplained iswhy a particular process of individuation took place to begin with. To properly account for individuation, in other words, it is necessary that one does not take for granted the fact that any one individual would be generated at all. The basic lesson of individuation then, is that what must be accounted for is not just how such and such has come into being, but that it has come into being at all.
  • frank
    1.8k
    Any individual is inextricable from a story arc?

    Think about a series of chess games where the pieces play out different games each time. If we zero in on a specific moment, we could say it's just another bishop, on just a other autumn morning playing out just another game. OTOH, it's a unique bishop that has never been before and will never come again.

    This is all from Repetition.
  • Moliere
    1.4k
    Must teleology be bound to pre-destination? Or do you just mean teleology in the sense of cause-and-effect?
  • StreetlightX
    3.2k
    Must teleology be bound to pre-destination?Moliere

    Perhaps not necessarily, but in this particular context, it would be an inadequate account of individuation if the question of 'why this individual and not another (or even - not nothing at all)?' is not posed. There can be immanent, generative accounts of teleology, but that's somewhat outside the scope of the thread, I think.
  • Arne
    295
    Must teleology be bound to pre-destination?Moliere

    what is the difference between destiny and pre-destiny? There is no post destiny.
  • Arne
    295
    the need to avoid teleologyStreetlightX

    is the relationship between teleology and determinism as strong as you suggest?
  • Arne
    295
    Heidegger posits the notion that each of us has an "ultimate for the sake of which." Some of us grow up into them, some seem to choose, and some do not even know they have them. Either way, if one grants that a person may have a choice regarding their ultimate for the sake of which, having one is still going to be somewhat teleological, is it not?
  • Moliere
    1.4k
    Well, I'll admit that I am inclined to say that individuals are given. I have a general suspicion of there being an explanation, a why, the stapler is this stapler and not that stapler (or table, or building, or sky).

    Or, if there be an explanation, I suppose what I'm generally suspicious of is that we know that we have this explanation, rather than that explanation, as the best explanation. There is a point at which explanation ceases to have justification.

    Also, I'm more inclined to say "given" in the sense that we agree to such-and-such. I'm not super-committed to a notion of a discursive mind being somehow defined by an other-worldly mind which thinks things into existence, ala full blown Kantianism. It just seems that individuals are agreed upon or not, and we can try to show what we mean by an individual, but we cannot explain them in the same way that we can explain, say, the origin of species.
  • StreetlightX
    3.2k
    but we cannot explain them in the same way that we can explain, say, the origin of species.Moliere

    Actually I think speciation is an excellent model of individuation that ought to be generalized - with the appropriate caveats - where possible. After all, the individuation of a species and their traits is precisely the kind of thing that cannot be said to be a given; any account given of it needs to take into account the contingencies by which any evolutionary trait came into being: it cannot presuppose the necessity of any one species or trait, and the story it tells is full of dead-ends, accidents, surprises, paths that could have gone otherwise, and of course, necessities and constraints (contingent necessities, even!).

    I think it's true of course that it is agreement that makes what counts as an individual, an individual. But once we fix this frame - once we decide on the object of our investigation - we simply must do our best to follow the 'evolutionary' path of what makes it what it is. That's just what all good investigation and analysis does. Staplers are no exception to the play of necessity and contingency which make them what they are: form, function, aesthetics, history, market forces, material components, local contingencies - each and more playing a developmental role in the individuation of this stapler.
  • frank
    1.8k
    As in Kierkegaard?StreetlightX

    Yes, although the chess analogy is mine.
  • apokrisis
    4.5k
    Processes of individuation are a mix of purposeful constraints and material accidents. So the story is more subtle. Individuation is the limitation of accidents. Without constraint, the accidental would be unlimited. You would have the least globally individuated state of a generalised chaos - a meaningless host of localised accidents or fluctuations.

    So it is not either/or. It is Aristotle’s four causes story, Peirce’s Hierarchical story, of purposeful global limits on freely occurring accidents. Individuation is the process of limiting those accidents - up until the point there is some reason to care.

    Acts of individuation always wind up with plenty of accidental details that don’t matter in terms of whatever telos was in play. Twins with identical genetics could wind up with or without some particular mole. To the degree skin pigmententation mattered in a wider evolutionary sense, it was being controlled. Variety was being limited.

    But if moles don’t matter in that sense, then they become unsuppressed freedoms. They are one of the accidents that genetics didn’t care enough about - a difference that doesn’t make a difference.
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