On the interobjective aspect of politics

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  1. Objects of sense and thought
  2. From metaphysics to politics
  3. Hypostatisation in political discourse
  4. Concluding remarks

The present essay is a continuation of my last post on the intersubjective aspect of politics

Objects of sense and thought

Reference to interobjectivity presupposes a theoretical apparatus for the comprehension of object. As has been repeatedly expounded on this website (such as here and here), we argue for a bimignitudinal conception of [our] reality, in which all there is _manifests as an _ontic or a noetic presence, either being discernible by the faculties of sense or graspable by the intellect.

Consider the object dog. As such, it is noetic — an object of thought — for it does not correspond to any particular object of sense, but rather names an abstract pattern, the _common in the multitude _among certain sense-impressions. Dog does not subsist as a physical entity that can be grasped by the senses. It is a concept, an intelligibly rendered object, encapsulating the similarities of all those external stimuli we identify as exhibiting the properties germane to dog.

This concept is found in a hierarchy of abstractions from the totality of sense-impressions. It encompasses all classes of ontic objects that while partaking of dog extend into specifications peculiar to them, such as the class of German Shepherd having unique properties that differentiate it from, say, those of the Rottweiler or the Labrador Retriever.

Classes are noetic objects as well, even though their degree of specification is greater than that of their higher order abstraction — dog — because they still name no particular object of sense, but rather abstract patterns of a relatively narrower scope. Whereas in the case of denoting, of naming facts in states of affairs, we can come across propositions where this German Shepherd _is different from _that one because it has X, Y, Z characteristics not common to both and, perhaps, unique to it.

Nonetheless, discrepancies among instantiated cases do not form part of a concept, for they are factors of differentiation whose very inclusion serves the purpose of specification, not classification. To abstract is to render an object by omitting from the totality of sense-impressions the part which impedes the intelligible understanding of its underlying pattern.

Without necessarily making any claim on the possible subsistence of noetic objects, we do hold that they exist intelligibly, naming or encapsulating commonalities present in — and discernible from — ontic objects and their representations thereof. Such is an indication of the innate capacity of ours to form arrays of concepts that constitute hierarchies of their own; dog being of a higher order than its extensions German ShepherdRottweilerLabrador Retriever, while being lower than the still greater abstraction animal and so on.

In this light, the reader is reminded of a rule of thumb on the distinction between ontic and noetic objects: the former change or remain regardless of [how they are] thought, while the latter change or remain in accordance with [how they are] thought.

From metaphysics to politics

Our task is to apply the above-outlined metaphysical framework to the philosophical study of politics as concerns its interobjective aspect. The connection, while somewhat tenuous and tangential at first, stems from the capacity or tendency of human to hypostatise their thoughts. Hypostatisation is the process where a noetic object notionally transfigures into an ontic one; where the intelligible is perceived or presented as sensible. It forms the basis for the formulation of the objects-to-be-incorporated as situational agents/patients in the rules and behavioural norms of the polity.

It is highly unlikely for ontic objects to form the totality of politically interobjective relations, courtesy of their mind-independence and the overall impracticality this would entail for a multitude of use scenarios. A polity would be entertaining egregious illusions if it were to establish and maintain institutions that would, say, compel planet Earth to abstain from attracting apples to the ground. Pointless would also be to issue an edict with the intention of turning lions into herbivores or to promulgate legislation compelling drinking water to remain liquid even at temperatures above its normal boiling point.

Concerted will as the sole determinant would not suffice to repurpose and align ontic objects to the desired context-specific function and/or end. Physical intervention in the interoperating factors of the case would be needed to produce actual change; change that would remain ontic.

In contradistinction, concerted will is enough to render actual or void, to modify or to preserve, those objects and their properties thereof that are mind-dependent, such as the cultural or economic significance/value of an artefact. A statue chiseled out of marble would gain a certain appearance by means of the sculptor’s intervention and would no longer be treated as a “mere” piece of stone. Yet the marble as such, albeit physically altered by the sculptor, would retain its properties independent of how the statue would be perceived by human and, more importantly, it would maintain them even in the occasion where the physical intervention would cease. The perception of the statue as, say, a masterpiece of a given style of sculpture would not affect the actuality of its constitutive material, even if that positive reception were to be revised to its opposite.

This qualification is of cardinal importance when studying political interobjectivity. It hints to the gist of politics as the set of acts and conceptions performed and held by a commonly-living group of people that substantiate synergies among themselves which would not have otherwise existed, by framing the situation as well as formulating the agents/patients involved in the distribution of authority, control and/or initiative between them.

If the issue were to revolve exclusively around ontic objects, it would not [have to] be political. No political impetus is needed to foster a relation between a photosynthesising plant and the sun. The opposite is true when, say, the citizen is [to be] subject to a sovereign within a given nexus of historical-cultural-legal-social rules.

Couched in those terms, noetic objects have a prominent place in a polity’s operating framework. In being hypostatised, they are bestowed with the status necessary for performing their assigned function for the attainment of a certain objective in a case. They thus contribute to the realisation of desired states of affairs, within the scope of case-specific possibility.

This is not to imply that ontic objects are disregarded altogether. On the contrary, there are ample instances where their inclusion is evident, such as in the nominal or actual relation between a corporation (legal entity) and the environment (if/however legally defined). Social phenomena are replete with such examples. The relation between a legal regime (noetic) and a given entrepreneur (ontic) can be catalytic in the outcome of economic activity, such as by encouraging/hampering investment. The same can occur between a state and an “institutional investor” or “economic actor” (these refer to legal entities — hence, noetic).

The bottom line is that hypostatisation is an integral part of practical politics, even when those involved are utterly oblivious to its operation. A concept can be treated as if it were a real thing and, hence, a relation of sorts, such as a rule or an institution, can be predicated on its presence.

Hypostatisation in political discourse

To flesh out our aforementioned claims and make them more relatable, we shall proceed with the close examination of the following statements, henceforth referred to as p1, p2, p3, p4 by order of their subsequent enumeration:

  1. The principle of all sovereignty resides essentially in the nation. No body nor individual may exercise any authority which does not proceed directly from the nation (Article 3 of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen).
  2. By this Treaty, the HIGH CONTRACTING PARTIES establish among themselves a EUROPEAN UNION, hereinafter called ‘the Union’, on which the Member States confer competences to attain objectives they have in common (Article 1 of the Treaty on European Union).
  3. We have to show the many areas where Europe has solved problems for citizens. Europe is not the cause of problems, Europe is part of the solution (European Commission President Barroso during his 2013 State of the Union address).
  4. Germany not only has an interest in a policy of solidarity; I would propose that it has even a corresponding normative obligation (Professor Jürgen Habermas during his lecture of 26 April 2013 at the Catholic University of Leuven).

What all these have in common is the hypostatisation of concepts and their consequent placement as situational agents/patients.

In p1 we are faced with a trio of assumptions: (a) sovereignty, or else the legitimised claim to supreme authority in a political whole, is ‘essentially’ reserved by the nation; (b) the nation is an exalted, supra-personal entity; (c) authority can only be justified as the manifestation of the nation’s will.

We see that the nation has been granted a [rudimentary] personality of sorts, with innate capacities and faculties of discernment, such as in holding and exercising supreme authority. We further identify the claim that individuals or groups thereof cannot exercise authority that does not constitute a continuation of the nation’s supremacy. These underpin the perception of sovereignty as a deified property, especially if we try to modify p1 as follows:

the principle of all sovereignty resides essentially in the nation God. No body nor individual may exercise any authority which does not proceed directly from the nation God.

P1 was an historical legal provision of cardinal significance. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen was the cornerstone of a certain political order. What p1 effectively stated was that nation and state were connatural and, hence, the state as such was the superior entity in that order of things. In practice it implied that a group of people representing — or acting “in the name of”— the nation, such as the government, would have powers, rights and privileges other groups within the polity would not. Hypostatisation has successfully contributed to the creation of states of affairs, in moulding certain behavioural trends and the context in which they would occur.

In p2 we have another legal provision of paramount importance. This concerns the very foundation of the European Union as a society of states. P2 suggests that the high contracting parties (heads of state and government of all the EU member-states) _themselves _have reached a certain agreement which would henceforth provide the basis for a yet-to-be-properly-defined supranational state with its own claim to sovereignty (for brevity’s sake, we will not repeat what was documented for p1).

These high contracting parties, it is stated, have transferable competences of their own and they have jointly decided to confer them to a newly-created entity; a choice with far-reaching ramifications at every level of governance within the EU space. Once again, it is hypostatised noetic objects that provide the impetus for a host of changes in behaviours and the structures encompassing them. The qualitative difference vis-à-vis p1 is the formation of compounds out of simpler interobjective relations. Concepts such as ‘sovereignty’ and ‘state’ were treated as prior truths, serving as a starting point for new interrelations between objects, this time at a higher level of complexity.

P3 is not a legal statement and, in that sense, is not as powerful as the above two. Yet it is indicative of the kind of discourse that takes the assumptions underlying p1 and p2 as given. Europe is presented as a potential source of problems or a solution to them in its own relation to citizens. Indeed such relations are integral parts of any modern state. The gist is not the personification of Europe as some bizarre phenomenon political palaver, but rather the discernment of a general approach to the interobjective aspect of politics.

Similar for p4 which implies that Germany has or can have interests in and obligations towards other parties/entities. Whether ‘Germany’ is the term used to name a state/government, the collection of documents forming a legal order within a given territory, a society as such, a culture, individuals in aggregate or something else, it is certain that _Germany _in its actuality or potentiality is regarded a moral agent in its own accord; agent as those of p1p2 and p3. This is not meant to be treated as a thorough scrutiny of the professor’s words, but as yet another illustration of a common theme in political discourse and practice, where an object of thought becomes a situational agent/patient.

We are not in the process of issuing judgements on the specifics of interobjective relations. The aim is to render relatable the thesis that hypostatisation contributes to the formulation of objects that attain political significance. What we may note though is that while it may be expedient, even beneficial in terms of its material results, to treat objects of thought as if they were ontic ones, to remain oblivious to the operation of hypostatisation is to labour in a state of conflation between what is and what is thought to be (see also my recent post on the somewhat relevant epistemology, Comment on Correspondence).

Concluding remarks

This essay serves as an attempt to draw connections between the higher order abstractions that belong to the realm of metaphysics with the more familiar notions and practices of politics. The approach to the topic has still been a philosophical one: to capture common themes that form part of a broader abstract structure.

In the first section an attempt was made to offer a general description of the metaphysics of object; a prerequisite to any discussion on interobjective relations. Ontic and noetic objects were introduced as distinct from one another in a bimagnitudinal conception of [our] reality.

Hypostatisation was then presented as the medium for the political application of object in interrelations that are not exclusive to ontic objects. The second section also featured a general description of politics in the form of the following:

[…] politics as the set of acts and conceptions performed and held by a commonly-living group of people that substantiate synergies among themselves which would not have otherwise existed, by framing the situation as well as formulating the agents/patients involved in the distribution of authority, control and/or initiative between them.

In the third section four actual examples of political parlance were examined, with the two-fold intention of grounding the claim on hypostatisation as well as making it more straightforward. The approach was not enumerative. It was not about all possible instances of hypostatisation in political discourse, but rather a convenient way for fleshing out the thesis of this article.

Conclusively, and assuming the aforementioned were somewhat sensible, we can argue for the following non-exhaustive list of arguments:

  • while mundane, practical politics is not confined to “concrete” cases, divorced from any philosophical apparatus, as higher-order conceptions permeate both its rhetorical and effective emanations;
  • though hypostatisation is an observed phenomenon, its study and recognition does not imply or indeed necessitate a radical transformation of political conduct, since circumstances can be such that the notional transfiguration of a noetic object into an ontic one may be the only conduit to the realisation of, perhaps materially optimal, states of affairs;
  • the immediate gain from acknowledging the operation of hypostatisation in politics is epistemological and any actual benefits will result therefrom (such as better laws, a revision of certain customs etc.).

Thank you for reading.