Epistemology, the Metaphysics of Colonialism

Part 4 of a multipart series, “How to Nurture Truth and Authenticity”. This article series is for social reformers and 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 name National Collective Intelligence.

***Note: this article seeks to identify the ‘behavior’ of the economy of imperium announced in the previous article. In identifying this behavior as a ‘human comportment toward the phenomena of experience’ we can extrapolate the consequences. This task is necessary to our project, as ‘episteme’ (the comportment of colonialism) serves as an obstruction to authenticity. In order to identity this comportment, we begin with an interrogation of epistemology.***

Epistemology — from Ancient Greek ἐπιστήμη (epistḗmē, ‘science, knowledge’) and λογία (logía, ‘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 λογία (logía, ‘discourse’). However, λογία also refers us to the Ancient Greek λόγος (lógos). Now, the utility which λόγος 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 λόγος referred to ‘speech, oration, discourse, quote, story, study, ratio, word, calculation, reason’. Therefore, we must conclude that λόγος can only be understood from within the text in which we find it.

From within the fragments which have been ascribed to Heraclitus, λόγος 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 λογία (as a disciplinary subject), but to that by which phenomena come into accord with one another. We find a related type of reification of λογία in modern parlance. ‘Biology’, for example, not only refers to βιο-λογία (as the disciplinary subject) but also to that by which phenomena come into accord with one another — namely, βιο-λόγος. Only in conforming to βιο-λόγος 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 λογία (as the disciplinary subject) but also to that by which phenomena come into accord with one another — namely, ἐπιστήμη-λόγος. We could speak of Immanuel Kant’s epistemological project, for example, and reference either ἐπιστήμη-λογία or ἐπιστήμη-λόγος.

Of course, a question undoubtedly presents itself. Can there be a λόγος to which all knowledge conforms? In taking up the Ancient Greek words for a more concise question, we might say,

“Can λογία describe λόγος, if λόγος conditions λογία?”

And asking this question in relation to the discipline at hand, then we might say,

“Can ἐπιστήμη-λογία describe ἐπιστήμη-λόγος, if ἐπιστήμη-λόγος conditions ἐπιστήμη-λογία?“

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 ἐπιστήμη-λογία 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 ἐπιστήμη-λογία could become articulate as a discourse. In as much, we understand this ‘dealing’ with nature as a condition for ἐπιστήμη-λογία. For the sake of terminological clarity, let us call this ‘dealing’ of ἐπιστήμη-λογία 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 ἐπιστήμη-λογία. In fact, very early philosophical discourse indicates doubt. For example, in Augustine of Hippo’s De civitate Dei contra paganos 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 ἐπιστήμη-λογίαἐπιστήμη-λόγος seem to only become an explicit object following Rene Descartes’ Meditationes de Prima Philosophia (Meditation on First Philosophy). In as much, we understand ἐπιστήμη-λόγος as an object belonging to the discourse and economy of a period from roughly the sixteenth 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 (ἐπιστήμη). This word is itself from Ancient Greek ἐπίσταμαι (epístamai) — a compound of ἐπί (epí) and‎ ἵστημι (hístēmi, ‘to make stand’). Therefore, we translate ἐπιστήμη, 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 (ἐπιστήμη-λογία) in which phenomena accord with ἐπιστήμη-λόγος, such that ἐπιστήμη 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 known as ‘knowledge’? An interrogation into epistemology offers fertile ground for answering such a question. Rightfully, with the inception of epistemology and the ἐπιστήμη-λόγος of Descartes we find that phenomena are brought into accord through a subject indicated by the ‘I’. Ὲπιστήμη, 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 that ‘the suspect has been apprehended by the police’. Phenomena are apprehended into custody. And in such apprehension the ‘I’ is likewise asserted. There is a persistent ‘mineness’ lurking within the halls of epistemology. 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 ἐπιστήμη (actio, apprehension) of the real and true. And it also presupposes the outcome, ἐπιστήμη, on the basis of a deficiency of ἐπιστήμη. In each of these last two uses both ‘knowledge’ and ‘to make over-stand’ are interchangeable.

Now, what should not be overlooked is that with this epistemological project, the λόγος (as that to which phenomena accord with each other) pass over into human reason — in Latin, ratio. In the lecture notes for the course which we drew from in part 3 of this seriesParmenides and Heraclitus, Martin Heidegger prepares his students for understanding the transposing of λόγος into ratio.

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

“…the λόγος is constituted by οἴεσθαι…”


“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 the epistemological project of Immanuel Kant we are far beyond any metaphysical objects ‘God’, ‘Time’, ‘Destiny’, or ‘Fortune’. And instead we have not only Descartes’ ‘Reason’, ‘Will’, and ‘Desire’, but before all else the ‘thing-in-itself’, noumenon. In Kant’s Kritik der reinen Vernunft (Critique of Pure Reason) we find again the ‘I’ as the indubitably location of doubt and over-standing desire. However, we also find a more articulate and refined science. This subject, the ‘I’, is now the foundation for transcendence. Within Kant’s voluminous works we are told the story of how this metaphysical subject transcends its own subjectivity in order to meet the noumenon — and just as with Descartes the ‘I’ apprehends that which conforms to human reason, ratio, the calculated. What should not be overlooked is that transcendence itself is possible only on account of episteme. And from the vantage afforded to us today, we cannot help but theme what seems an overly obvious history. Once separated from the noumenon by an insurmountable chasm, the founding fathers of the enlightenment, alone in their doubt and invested with Reason and Will, could do nothing but satisfy an unquenchable desire to amass a compendium of knowledge — a knowledge which might bring them in communion with nature. After all, the mathematical character of the world made 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. From our vantage today, we sense that the entire orientation of human projection toward the phenomena of the world had become a mastering, conquering, and above all a ‘totaling’ of an objectified ‘uni-verse’ — that single and sole quantifiable reality. In as much, we find ourselves in agreement with the criticisms of John Dewey. The ideal following the epistemologists and the esteem of rationality became the ‘universal ideal’.

Of course, the consequences of the epistemic paradigm is far reaching. And what should not be overlook is that Kant’s reconciliation of rationalism with empiricism provided for something of an intellectual justification for the commodification of  experience. After all, from within his metaphysics, phenomena conformed to the object of procedural discourse — the essence of which is the empirical. In as much, we should not be surprise that the character of the world, once embodied by an unquantifiable love, hope, and grief, following the esteem of the rational-empirical, was now delivered to over to data and statistics. 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 the project of industrialization, we need not worry ourselves. We are satisfied if their work is a mere indication and description of a current running through later modernization.

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 modern empire, but did so in the name of apprehension and over-standing knowledge. Today, in this time between worlds, where we have come solve the symptoms of modernization—namely, alienation, estrangement and civic apathy—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. After all, only on account of our apprehension of phenomena can the world come to 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 reason. Of course, there can be no doubt, following the epistemologists, the entire character of the world had been delivered over to a certain anthropomorphism — a humanization of the world founded upon imperium, the ‘I command’. All of western philosophy had taken up a reified metaphysical object ‘power’. The world itself became dialectic, opposition, and overcoming. To be sure, we only need to bring to mind any number of influential thinkers from this period. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Karl Marx, Arthur Schopenhauer, Friedrich Nietzsche. Undoubtedly, 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 project. It is very likely that part of your enjoyment has come not so much for 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 examples 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. And 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 work.

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 it is painfully obvious that 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. There can be no doubt that this picture of the world as power continually forces itself to the foreground from within this economy, no matter how much our stomachs may churn and we may want to resist.

Justin Carmien, July 7th, 2020

Justin Carmien

Lecturer on Philosophy at Spinderihallerne, Vejle Denmark. Philosophy of mind, philosophy of science, metaphysics, and political metamodernism

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