Quantitative and Qualitative Multiplicities

I’ve written previously about spatial and temporal integration. Luhmann argued that in modern society temporal integration becomes more powerful than spatial integration. Here is an excerpt from The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Bergson. It illustrates the concept of quantitative multiplicity:

When we look at a flock of sheep, what we notice is that they all look alike. We sense no qualitative change as we move from one to another. We also notice that we can enumerate the sheep. We are able to enumerate them because each sheep is spatially separated from or juxtaposed to the others; in other words, each occupies a discernable spatial location. Therefore, quantitative multiplicities, as Bergson says, are homogeneous and spatial. Moreover, because a quantitative multiplicity is homogeneous, we can represent it with a symbol, for instance, a sum: ‘25’.

This is basically a spatial orientation, where objects observed as belonging to the same class (sheep in this case) can be counted.

Qualitative multiplicity is about difference. In the experience of duration, each moment is different than the previous one. But we cannot slice up time into segments and then juxtapose these segments. If we consider the days of a week, “Tuesday is different from Monday because Monday only includes itself and Sunday, while Tuesday includes itself, Monday, and Sunday.” So Monday and Tuesday are not identical segments; they are not like the identical-looking sheep. And, if we draw different distinctions, the sheep are not structurally identical; some are older, weaker, etc. They are qualitatively different. We are drawing distinctions like young/not young, strong/not strong to show qualitative differences.

The issue of natural causation also links Luhmann to Bergson.

Bergson thinks that Kant has confused space and time in a mixture, with the result that we must conceive human action as determined by natural causality. Bergson offers a twofold response. On the one hand, in order to define consciousness and therefore freedom, Bergson proposes to differentiate between time and space, “to un-mix” them, we might say. On the other hand, through the differentiation, he defines the immediate data of consciousness as being temporal, in other words, as the duration (la durée). In the duration, there is no juxtaposition of events; therefore there is no mechanistic causality. It is in the duration that we can speak of the experience of freedom.

In other words, we cannot say that A causes B in a mechanistic way. There are multiple casualties. For instance, we claim that a particular virus causes the flu, but this leads to the question of what caused the virus. And did whatever caused the virus also, by extension, cause the flu symptoms? How far back can we legitimately go in tracing causes? Also, how far into the future can we attribute effects? For instance, a parent neglects his child, and that child grows up to neglect his child. Can we blame the grandparent for his grandchild’s treatment? Or did events unrelated to the grandparent contribute to the grandchild’s neglect? It’s more likely that the causes are multiple and complex. It comes down to attribution.

A virus can perturb an organism, but the organism’s structure determines how, or even if, it will change. And these changes are observed through a prism of distinctions.


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