Ontology and Violence: What is violence ?

More precisely a phenomenological ontological 'theory of violence


Just to put these ideas in context; for anyone who has not come across this speaker’s approach to ‘philosophy’. The contention is, that language is not just a subject matter of philosophy; (whatever that may turn out to mean), but especially in the meaning of the words of a particular philosophical theory ; is a necessary prerequisite to that philosophical theory.

-because (it is contended) as discourse moves from the : simple, concrete and objective to the : general, abstract and particularly, the subjective (aka phenomenological); our words will have a greater tendency to fail to communicate by:
-conveying no meaning;
-conveying many meanings or
conveying one meaning but not what was intended by speaker or writer !

So whilst many may believe that words have a proper and/ or original meaning and/ or etymological meaning eg philosophy is or should mean ‘love of wisdom’ from ‘philo’ = love and ‘sophos’ = wisdom ; the standpoint here is that the lexicographic meaning of a word (more especially a particular word usage ) is just what most members of a particular demographic; currently happen to share. So the proper definition of a word is nether something fixed for all time, nor some free idiosyncratic construction eg “It all depends how you define .....” but rather is or should be a “concise , precise, exhaustive and reductive description of that current shared common usage”; a falsifiable hypothesis if you will.

A hypothesis in both an objective or linguistic sense and a phenomenological or personal sense. Reflecting the nature of words as both objective symbols amenable to a science of language (linguistics) and subjective aka phenomenological as having meanings which are categories of phenomenological experience (it is contended).

In a linguistic sense it is a falsifiable hypothesis as the lexicological requirement that a dictionary definition should represent the most preferred definition for a particular usage, in a particular demographic.'Should’ in the sense that one of the purposes of language and in particular words as social artefacts; is to convey meaning from one mind to another ) eg a dictionary definition of the word ‘science’ in the demographic of professional physicists; would reflect their current most popular definition In the phenomenological or personal sense it is a falsifiable hypothesis because it is falsified if the category it, describes fails to include all of one’s intended usages or exclude all unintended usages.

Thus for example a phenomenological or personal definition of the word” philosophy" (actually the speaker’s) is [philosophy] is considered to have essentially three common usages:
-concerning world views (as ideologies, ethics and values eg how should I live ? what is good and evil ?.....etc
-concerning knowledge so a synonym for epistemology eg what kinds of knowledge are possible,
how do we know what we know?..etc and
-concerning ‘the nature of things’ so a synonym for ontology eg What “is” science, technology, information, love, innocence.. etc ?

Whether that would constitute a suitable current definition for a dictionary in the general English speaking population, or amongst the subset of ‘philosophers’ would depend on survey of it’
as preferential precedence amongst a group of alternative definitions; in those demographics.


So feedback and the results of enquiry by others are invited not only on the theory of violence which is presented here; but preliminary to this on the words used in this theory :eg ‘philosophy’, ‘ontology’, ‘phenomenology’..etc because anyone who finds my intended meaning of any these words problematic as meaningless, ambiguous or wrong , is one person with whom I am not communicating. Having said that; if my meaning seems clear; but not one that is agreeable; I would like to know that; but not spend time on arguing who is more correct ! eg in a previous talk I discovered that the fairly specific meaning I give to the word ‘genius’ is far from universally shared, so now whilst I have not reformed my meaning, I am aware that for many ‘genius’, means little more than some virtuous and / or famous and/or authoritative person and I need to take care if I seek to convey my more specific notion; as “some profoundly original, and historically important and influential person” .

In the case of “ ontology and violence’ I need to be doubly careful because in my self-description as a ‘compulsive philosopher’ what I really mean is ‘compulsive ontologist’; because this is based on the very convenient (to myself) identification of this compulsive tendency to ask “ What is the nature of ( science, right-action , wisdom, order etc....” with the word ‘ontology’; is this usage shared?


So my enqury into the meaning (as the nature) of ‘violence’ is intended not as an argument, but as a sharing of theories to be compared (hopefully ?) with those of others. Nether does this notion of ‘ontological enquiry’; encompass reference to received wisdom on the subject, whether from the Greeks or more recent philosophers. Whilst the tradition of philosophy and erudition in that tradition can provide a framework in which to view, discoveries of ontological enquiry; we need to be especially vigilant regarding the precise meaning of the words of such literature. Witness the case of the ancient Greek philosophers , where some 2500years separates us from them; not to mention multiple translations ! So the received wisdom of the philosophical tradition will be considered as ’ literature review’; rather than central to the business of enquiry and ontological ‘research’.

Neither are we essentially concerned with varieties of violence and/ or their causation and consequence. Nor essentially with objective violence versus ‘psychological violence.’

Especially are we not concerned with developing some ideology of non-violence (eg Gandhi’s non-violence); or pro-violence as seems implied in some ‘romantic’ world-views. Not withstanding these constraints the particular case of human violence, will be considered within the context of violence in the natural world. The later would seem to be intrinsic and vitally necessary to whatever ecological balance may exist; as hunter eats prey.... all the way up the pyramid of life. Indeed the fecundity of some species is so great ; that if any more than some tiny percentage of juveniles were to survive to adulthood, a major disturbance of the environment would occur, such as when lemmings, mice and locusts reach plague proportions


To repeat we are asking “What ‘essentially’ is violence ? and is a definition of 'violence’ possible? , perhaps with hope of developing some understanding of violence and it’s place in existence. Concerning this suggestion that understanding is somehow connected to definition. This seemingly arid linguistic process of definition would seem to have little connection to 'understanding' of " X"; violence in this case ; except that when one actually looks at examples of 'understanding'; ie what essentially has changed from the time when we didn't understand "X" to; the later time when we do; it seems to be precisely the addition of this knowledge of the phenomenological order of "X'; described in our definition !

question 1/: Is violence just just some result or situation which is the consequence of anger and rage ?
but this is contradicted when earth-quakes; storms , asteroid impacts and the whole ‘eat and/or be
eaten’ quality of the biological world is described as ‘violent’ ?

question 2/ : Is violence just about objective ie shared phenomena ?; but then we seem to have psychological aka subjective aka phenomenological violence; when damage is done to a feeling (as distinct from violence caused by a feeling typically rage ) or idea

question 3/: is violence just about ‘rapid deconstruction’; that is can violence be slow ?
but boxing which seems extremely violent in real time, seems to take on more the quality of dance .
when viewed in slow motion?

question 4/ Is violence just about ‘deconstruction ? but even though 'wrecking’ seems violent the careful
deconstruction of some structure or process does not.

[violence]: about some action intentional or not ,objective or phenomenal (and if phenomenal painful or not ), slow or fast which deconstructs without reference or in ignorance to the pre-existing pattern of that structure or process ?

Now (it is contended) we a have a tentative description of what we intend by violence. It is not final, but we can now begin meaningfully to ask questions about the existence, necessity, causation and consequence of violence in nature, society and our personal existences So is the essential problem with violence to do with action in ignorance or without complete knowledge ?

For example

question 1/ When the pharmacologist intervenes in the bio-chemistry of a cell (however necessary); whilst ignorant of the cell as a complete chemical system ; does this constitute violence to the intricate bio-chemical process, which is the living cell ?

question 2/ When a surgeon replaces and/or removes an organ from a human body; or adds some mechanical or electronic artifact (however necessary) whilst ignorant of the human body as an aotopoetic system ; does this constitute violence to the cell-colony which is the human body ?

Presentation to the The Philosophy Forum, Sunday, Feb 5, 2016