On the Art of Metaphysical Composition

Or, How to Write Your Concepts Down ::

It's reassuring to know these things: right orientation, disposition, atmosphere.

-- Michael Andrews

Prose may be too imprecise a medium for the presentation of philosophical results.

A philosophical result is a concept duly noted.

The philosopher notices concepts. Construed as literature, philosophy is the art of writing concepts down, of making notes of one's conceptual experiences. The philosopher is a conceptual notary.

Just as a poem is an arrangement of strophes, a philosophical 'work' is an arrangement of remarks. [There is no word, like 'poem', for a work of philosophy. This is an important failing of the tradition.]

A remark uses words in the ordinary way. The arrangement of several remarks displays one or several aspects of usage.

A remark distinguishes itself from a statement by its humility. It is a statement that is not being used as such. It does not pretend to know.

A concept determines the use of sensations; a sensation in use is a perception.

A perception is a moment of awareness; in perceiving, one is aware of a fact.

We perceive in so far as we are sensitive to the facts. Our concepts mark our perceptiveness--philosophical remarks note our concepts down, commit them to the page.

A philosophical style is an approach to conceptual notation.

An object is the construal of a thing's aspects under a concept.

I'll give you an example.

The ocean meets the beach. The beach is covered in stones.

Hold one in your hand.

What is the concept of stone?

Write it down.

What is the stone's proper orientation? How is the stone disposed to be a stone?

Relate the stone to the sand, and to the air. Position it between them.

Relate the stone to the water, the reeds. Relate it to the seaweed, to the fish.

When has the concept (of the stone in your hand) been written down, been committed to the page? How hard can it be?

Drop the stone onto the sand.

Into the sea.

Onto the stones, from among which you picked it out.

Look at the stone. Describing it will not do us any good.

But turn it in your hand.

Push it into the sand; listen to the birds, the wind, the sea.

Make the stone move with your mind, make it shatter. (Your failure here is important.)

Compare the stone to a bird, to a cloud, to your hand.

Desire the stone. [This is a bit off-topic, but the experience is worthwhile.]

Believe it. Can you, e.g., doubt the stone?

The bugs in the sand; the stone in your hand.

Win for the stone its objectivity; determine its reality.

Turn the stone in your hand.

[Since I doubt you have gone to the beach, I don't have to tell you to imagine these things.]

The image of a stone turning in your hand. Don't just consider how it looks.

A surface is to the eye what an appearance is to the hand.

Take off your glasses (where applicable, where legal). Smell the stone. Experience the stone 'in general'. [What could that mean?]

On what conditions does this experience depend? The weather?

Notice the difference between the stone's environment and its atmosphere. It is oriented differently towards these things.

Make use of the light. Is there a grammar of light? Does light have usage: something more than utility?

Account for the stone as object, as reality, as fact. Apologize for it.

Do you have a theory of stones? Do you want one?

What does your theory of stones have to do with my theory of birds?

'The world divides into stones.'

The stones between the sea and the land. Stones on the sand.

There is an economy of fish and fishing (a marine ecology). Is there an ecology of stones and stoning (a political economy)?

Install the stone between the eye and hand. You, too, are to be found between your eyes and hands.

'In the same sense...'

The birds, also, must have their theory of stones. A concept with which to grasp the stone--with which to behold it.

Release the stone and watch it fall onto the sand. Repeat if you must but release the stone from the hand. Watch it fall and retain the concept.

There is something essential about the fall of a stone.

This concept is as close as we get to the metaphysics of stones; the metaphysics of stones is as close as we get to metaphysics. It is reassuring to know such things.

:: Thomas Basbøll