Epistemology, the Metaphysics of Colonialism

Part 4 of a multipart series, “How to Nurture Truth and Authenticity”. This article series is for economic reformers and political activists interested in the metamodern political movement. This series will undoubtedly find appeal with those who have come to understand that the current values which drive global economy, those which we call liberal, are obstructing solutions to contemporary political challenges — in as much, those values are unable to guide a common activity beyond. Admittedly, the prescriptions herein are likely a mere articulation of what is intuitively felt across a large demographic — certainly those who have found themselves gravitating toward contemporary nationalist solutions. Undoubtedly a bit of political agnosticism is required for digesting this series. Already now, the final recommendation can be teased. If we wish to nurture truth and authenticity then we require an economy championed under the banner of prefigurativism.
In this article we are interested in qualifying knowledge as a product of imperial economy. This will be done by investigating historical texts. In looking to this history, we will take ourselves back to the very study of knowledge, epistemology. By interrogating epistemology we will identify an explicit type of comportment toward phenomena. We will use this comportment for understanding our “perverse relationship toward disclosure” announced at the inception of this article series.

Epistemology — from Ancient Greek επιστημη (epistēmē, ‘science, knowledge’) and λογια (logia, ‘discourse’).
Epistemology — the discourse of knowledge.
Where do our thoughts take us, presented with only this provisional translation of epistemology?
In thinking on an answer we may want to look closer at ‘episteme-’ and thereby assume the ‘-ology’ as granted. After all, the suffix ‘-ology’ is overly familiar. We have sociology, psychology, anthropology and the many other disciplines which treat of their objects. However, we should not be too dismissive. There is depth worth elucidating.
This suffix, ‘-ology’, comes to us through the Ancient Greek λογια (logia, ‘discourse’). However, λογια also refers us to the Ancient Greek λογος (logos). Now, the utility which λογος has served its authors is admittedly so diverse that we cannot contain its meaning in a single modern English word. On Wikitionary.com we find λογος referred to speech, oration, discourse, quote, story, study, ratio, word, calculation, reason. Therefore, we must conclude that λογος can only be understood from within the text in which we find it.
From within the fragments which have been ascribed to Heraclitus, λογος seems to have referred to an object. “All things come to be in accordance with logos.” In this sense, ‘-ology’ does not refer us to λογια (as a disciplinary subject), but to that by which phenomena come into accord with one another. We find a related type of reification of λογια in modern parlance. ‘Biology’, for example, not only refers to βιο-λογια (as the disciplinary subject) but also to that by which phenomena come into accord with one another  —  namely, βιο-λογος. Only in conforming to βιο-λογος could the phenomena of an organism’s biology present itself as that biology. Now, in the case of epistemology, ‘-ology’ therefore not only refers us to λογια (as the disciplinary subject) but also to that by which phenomena come into accord with one another  —  namely, επιστημη-λογος. We could speak of Immanuel Kant’s epistemological project, for example, and reference either επιστημη-λογια or επιστημη-λογος.
Of course, a question undoubtedly presents itself. Can there be a λογος to which all knowledge conforms? In taking up the Ancient Greek words for a more concise question, we might say,
“Can λογια describe λογος, if λογος conditions λογια?
And asking this question in relation to the discipline at hand, then we might say,
“Can επιστημη-λογια describe επιστημη-λογος, if επιστημη-λογος conditions επιστημη-λογια?”
No doubt these are strange questions. We seem to run in a loop. However, before committing ourselves to analyzing this loop, we can do ourselves a favor by remembering that the επιστημη-λογια is a discourse like any other. In as much, it indicates to something of a pre-linguistic, pre-theoretical discourse  — a wheeling and dealing with nature, such that επιστημη-λογια could become articulate as a discipline. In as much, we understand this dealing with nature as a condition for επιστημη-λογια. For the sake of terminological clarity, let us call this dealing of επιστημη-λογια by the Latin word which we took up in the previous article, actio (‘act of doing or making’). Looking within our historical continuum, we can identify pronounced moments of doubt as a condition for that actio which opened space for επιστημη-λογια. In fact, very early philosophical discourse indicates doubt. For example, in Augustine of Hippo’s The City of God (Latin De civitate Dei contra paganos) circa early fifth century, we find an answer assuring us to the existence of the self,

“From the fact that, if I were indeed mistaken, I should have to exist to be mistaken, it follows that I am undoubtedly not mistaken in knowing that I am.”

Despite these early appearances of επιστημη-λογια, επιστημη-λογος seem to only become an explicit object following Rene Descartes’ Meditationes de Prima Philosophia (Meditation on First Philosophy), firstly by way of the German philosopher Christian Wolff. In as much, we understand επιστημη-λογος as an object belonging to the discourse and economy of a period from roughly the seventeenth century to the nineteenth century. This discipline itself indicates the actio present in doubt, explicitly. Looking toward the root ‘episteme-’ for this actio, we find επιστημη. This word is itself from Ancient Greek επισταμαι (epistamai)  — a compound of επι (epi, ‘upon’, ‘over’, ‘above’) and‎ ιστημι (histēmi, ‘to make stand’). Therefore, we translate επιστημη, quite literally, as to make over-stand. In as much, we can complete our original task from the outset of this article. We translate epistemology as the discourse (επιστημη-λογια) in which phenomena accord with επιστημη-λογος, such that επιστημη presences.Now, not to be confused, episteme is traditionally translated as knowledge. And therefore, a question presents itself. Where in experience would we draw a circle around phenomena such that over-standing presences, but also, once drawn, we have in view the object knowledge? An interrogation into epistemology offers fertile ground for answering such a question. Rightfully, with the inception of epistemology and the επιστημη-λογος of Descartes we find that phenomena are brought into accord through a subject indicated by the I. Eπιστημη, as actio, ‘apprehends’ phenomena — but this apprehension is not merely the act of sensual perception. Apprehension suggests a stronger sense — as in, for example, when we say, “the suspect has been apprehended by the police”. Phenomena are apprehended into custody. And in such apprehension the I is likewise asserted. This indubitable subject, I, is reasoned in Descartes’ second meditation as the object of doubt, over-standing, and of will,

“…it is so self-evident that it is I who doubts, who over-stands, and who desires, that there is no reason here to add anything to explain it…”

We therefore resolve ourselves. I, as the presence of doubt, is at once the condition, actio, and conclusion. Doubt conditions επιστημη (as an actio of apprehension) of the real and true. And it also presupposes the outcome, επιστημη, on the basis of a deficiency of επιστημη. In each of these last two uses both knowledge and to make over-stand are interchangeable.
Now, what should not be overlooked is that this epistemological project of the seventeenth to the nineteenth century was built on a firm intellectual foundation. The construction of this foundation is recorded into our historical text. In the lecture notes for the course which we drew from in part 3 of this seriesParmenides and Heraclitus, we find Martin Heidegger preparing his students for understanding a transposition of λογος (as that to which phenomena accord) into human reason (Latin, ratio) by way of a Latinization of Greek language and culture.

“To take something for something is in Greek οιεσθαι…”

“…the λογος is constituted by οιεσθαι…”


“To take something as something is in Latin reor — the corresponding noun is ratio…The essence of truth as veritas and rectitudo passes over in the ratio of man…This determines for the future, as a consequence of a new transformation of the essence of truth, the technological character of modern, i.e., machine, technology. And that has its origin in the originating realm out of which the imperial emerges. The imperial springs forth from the essence of truth as correctness in the sense of the directive self-adjusting guarantee of the security of domination. The taking as true of ratio, of reor, becomes a far-reaching and anticipatory security. Ratio becomes counting, calculating, calculus.”

In tracing this “far-reaching and anticipatory security” through our historical text we come to Immanuel Kant, nearly one-hundred and fifty years following Descartes. Within Kant’s voluminous philosophical works, we again find the I as the indubitably location of doubt and over-standing desire. However, we also find a more articulate and refined science. To Descartes’ ReasonWill, and Desire, we add, before all else, the noumenon (‘thing-in-itself’). Within Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason we are told the story of how this metaphysical subject transcends its own subjectivity in order to ‘apprehend’ the noumenon. What should not be overlooked is that transcendence itself is possible only on account of episteme. The faculty accrued to this I was judgement — which made such apprehension possible. The description of this judgement preserves the economy of imperium. From the vantage afforded to us today, following the direct of Heidegger’s lectures, we cannot help but theme what seems an overly obvious history. Once separated from the noumenon by an insurmountable chasm, alone with doubt and invested with Reason and Will, the human soul can desire nothing other than to amass a compendium of knowledge — a knowledge which might bring man in communion with nature once again. Of course, the logical-mathematical character of the world, married to empirical practice, makes possible a description of entities with definite edges — ones which butt right up next to one another, such that every mental and physical space could be accounted for. Following Kant’s reconciliation of rationalism with empiricism, the world itself is prepared for a mastering, conquering, and above all a ‘totaling’ of an objectified ‘uni-verse’ — that single and sole quantifiable reality. Today, having been delivered over to the value creation of market economy, which treats only of data and statistics for a commodification of experience, we trace our economical heritage back to this epistemological project.
Of course, while we may be hesitant and perhaps think it a bit strange to proclaim the metaphysicians of the middle and late second millennium as having expedited commodification, we need not worry ourselves. We are satisfied if we find their work today as a mere indication and description of a current running through later modernization — one which provokes our thoughts further toward a historical narrative.
Having now brought knowledge explicitly within the economy of imperium, we can recount our narrative of the economy of truth from the previous article. Ancient Greek ομοιωσις was appropriated and Latinized into rectitudo, which passed over in the ratio of man. Aληθεια was socialized by way of a subjectification of ομοιωσις. In as much, the true was taken hold of in service to command by way of the faculty of judgement — which took hold of the true and false for understanding the real and the one and only. The idolization of Reason expedited this economy of imperium throughout later modernization. And not unlike the Roman colony, the empire knowledge could be maintained by the actio — episteme. This narrative can be traced not only through the Roman empire, Christendom, and the epistemological project of Descartes and Kant. The language of Latin, which carries within it the domain of the imperial, had become the foundation of the international industrialized sciences. So, while the epistemological project seems to have ended in earnest at the beginning of the twentieth century with Edmund Husserl, the climax of the imperial narrative is to be found a few decades later. We only need to revisit the construction of the world superpowers in the twentieth century, the space race, and the pride which the victors felt in the accomplishment of NASA’s Apollo 11 mission. After all, this project produced one of the most striking images of modernization, the US flag standing on the moon. There is likely no better image which indicates the episteme underlying the ever-expansive self-fulfilling economy of imperium. Yet, there is an opportunity here for us here-and-now, in hindsight, equipped with this imperial narrative, to interpret this image in an even more fulfilling way.
While the precedent of naming manned spaceflight projects after mythological gods had already been set with Mercury, Abe Silverstein, Director of Space Flight Development found the imagery of Apollo, the sun-god, traveling across the cosmos in his chariot to be an appropriate association. However, what is uncanny is that, for the Romans, Apollo was not only the sun-god, but also presided over the colonists. The colonies of Antiquity were post-Iron-Age city-states founded from a mother city. While Greek colonies were often founded to solve social unrest in the mother-city by expelling a part of the population, Roman colonies were used for expansion and empire building. Apollo was the giver of laws and his oracles were consulted before setting law in the city. And so, even if the name Apollo was chosen quite arbitrarily for the spaceflight project, the temptation is irresistible. Today, we find an economy of imperium invested into this name. Apollo, our god of colonists, is at the same time our god of episteme — which has not only guided our vision as we pushed the boundary of the frontier and expanded the empire, but did so in the name of apprehension and over-standing knowledge. Today, in this “time between worlds” we read the image of the US flag on the moon as a slightly appalling perversion of the humble condition of doubt.

Now, of course, having brought one the most celebrated icons of modernization into ill-association, we also deserve a bit of hesitation toward this imperial narrative and its conclusions. After all, some apprehension is good, no? And we might want to believe, as we always have, that what should be in question is not apprehension, but right judgement. Besides, we are forfeit to our own nature, no? And episteme directs our orientation toward the world, generally. Only on account of our apprehension of phenomena can the world be, whatsoever. So, we have no other alternative. We must strive for right judgement. Feed the poor. Save the environment. Lock up the bad guys. This is the story which we, even at this juncture, have want to reason.
Of course, if we are to remain true to our method, then we must take the recorded texts from our historical continuum as a directive for pursing our hesitation toward this narrative. And while we must admit that it is superficial to lump many diverse projects together, destroying what is essential in each, it is exactly a survey which we are interested in at this moment. Therefore, in referencing the texts following the epistemologists, we find ourselves confronted with a pervasive anthropomorphism — that is, a humanization of the world founded upon imperium. In the writings of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Karl Marx, Arthur Schopenhauer, Friedrich Nietzsche, for example, we find that the world itself became intelligible by way of dialectic opposition, and overcoming. If we understand these texts as constituting Western philosophy proper, then it seems that the entire tradition had taken up a reified metaphysical object power. Undoubtedly, even for us today, as we wrestle with our hesitation, the pervasiveness of this story is unquestionable. Consider, as an example, our own human biology. We have that expression survival of the fittest coined by Herbert Spencer, now one-hundred and fifty years old. This story of human nature persistently proves itself, again-and-again, even today. However, we should be careful of any myopic characterization of the world which allows for false stories — ones which would have us believe that only through seizure and apprehension can the world come to be. After all, through our inheritance we have in our possession institutions which encourage alternatives to imperium — and we must admit, those institutions do open up a space in which, at the very least, episteme is suspended.
Consider that which has already been teased in the first article of this series, the art museum. There can be no doubt, beyond the curator’s self-guiding plaques and those containing the artist’s statements, there is a unique space opened at the art museum — a ‘safe space’ which provides for a unique encounter with phenomena. However, we probably want to ask, does this space negate actio altogether? After all, when we think of our experience together with the work of art, do we honestly feel that the world is standing still? Actually, no. And this is not what is suggested. But then, we must answer for ourselves a question. What exactly is released for action? What actio replaces episteme in the work of art? And possibly closer to the point, can this actio inspire a future of healthy economic activity beyond imperium?
Inside the ‘safe space’ of the museum we not only find a space suitable for reflection. We also find a space where a particular allowance is granted — one which frees us for a complete and utter subjection to the work of art. This allowance is afforded by way of a safety and security, such that becoming dominated by the work is pleasurable. In a manner of philosophic speak, the object is that which comes to ‘over-stand’ the subject. If we allow ourselves to reflect on the most extreme cases, then there is likely no greater sign of this complete reversal of episteme than the tears which are shed over that phenomena which provoke the experience of the epic. We only need to consider the experience of being captured by Arkhip Ivanovich Kuindzhi’s 1880 Moonlit Night on the Dnieper or Maxfield Parrish’s 1922 masterpiece, Romance. And of course, these examples are not meant to be snooty. This utter subjection in the encounter with the epic can be found in the raver who is has found herself entranced by the DJ set. However, this last example may lead us into erroneous thinking. After all, we should keep in mind that an encounter with the aesthetic is not merely sensual. The aesthetic is likewise intellectual. No doubt, ideals and values are animate in the work of art. And what should not be overlooked is that in each case the objects which present themselves in this space resist quantification. They resist conforming to totality. In as much, the possibilities within this world are without boundary — endless. The ‘frontier’ is obliterated. And the possibility of dwelling in the exotic is unburdened by the demand to conquer.
And even now, if you stop up for just a moment. As this article comes to a close, consider your own experience together with this series. It is very likely that part of your enjoyment has come not so much from the factual data or exercises herein, and instead that much for your experience has been wandering away from the text — off into your own thoughts. Words, phrases, and images from your own experience appear to your mind’s eye. While it would be true to say that these objects have been provoked by the work, they none-the-less are nowhere to be found in the text itself. No doubt, there is something of a ‘safe time’ which opens in philosophizing — one which is comparable with the experience during diary reflection or even cloud watching. In this safe time there is something of a primordial actio mediated by the object — an actio which belongs neither to the subject nor to the object. It is this negation of an I, in either a subject or an object, which will provide fruitful insight for advancing prescriptions for nurturing truth and authenticity in the second half of this article series.
Of course, no matter how obvious, it’s still remarkable that from within this ‘safe space’, phenomena resist conforming to commodification. And fittingly, neither the art museum or diary offer the possibility of such acclimation of material. Of course, having been delivered over to the communication technology of later modernization, the diary feels quite topical — certainly in contrast to a comparable replacement medium, social media — which, contrarily, forces everything into commodification for use in procedural discourse. Today there is one story which demands our attention — it no doubt inspires us to continue further with this article series: we have been delivered over to an economy which renders every exchange and every relationship as an operation within an economy of power — whether we are purchasing products, or simply hanging the free ones on a Facebook wall, or clapping for them on Medium, or liking them on Instagram. This story of the world as power continually forces itself to the foreground from within our economy, no matter how much our stomachs may churn and we may want to resist.
Justin Carmien, July 7th, 2020