The notion that theology can dispense with metaphysics is just as misguided as the notion that metaphysics is not also theological.

– Adrian Pabst

Although having just begun Adrian Pabst’s, Metaphysics: The Creation of Hierarchy, the argument is already looking very promising. According to Pabst, non-Platonic forms of philosophy default toward privileging individual substance over relationality, such that the perennial problem of philosophy, the opposition between the one and the many, continues to redound throughout modernity and beyond. Variations of this problem have been recurrent throughout philosophy and theology; for instance, the oppositions associated with unity and diversity, the intelligible and the sensible, transcendence and immanence, and so on. The overarching problem amounts to this:

This opposition [between the one and the many] is based upon the undemonstrated and unwarranted assumption that substance is prior to relation and that individuality is absolute. So configured, every individual is indeterminately and indiscernibly equivalent to every other individual. To subordinate reciprocal relation to individual substance is to elevate the self-identity of individuals over above the commonality of beings in which all things seem to share. And to conceive individuality in this manner is to ignore particular specificities that are only manifest in the positioning of individuals in mutual relations with each other and their shared source of being (xxx).

The language is precise and extremely careful here, but the idea is straightforward enough. Pabst is pushing us toward a set of uncommon questions: what if the sociality that binds us – “the commonality of beings” – is something real vs. mere preference or arbitrary will? What if we were to begin by asking questions not about identity, but about what constitutes community in light of our “shared source of being?” As Pabst intends to demonstrate, questions like these give rise to alternative modes of political engagement.

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