Plurality-and-Natality as an Alternative to Omniscience-and-Omnipotence

Omniscience and omnipotence are deemed to be postures from which anything, including the realization of any utopia, is possible, provided sufficient knowledge and control would be available. In an omniscience-omnipotence utopia's worldview, relationships create no surprise, as a relationship is deemed to be a causal one. In that perspective, the totality of the meaning lies in the cause. There is no room for meaning in an effect. An effect is soluble in its cause. An effect is not even an end. It is literally a non-event, since the event is all included in the cause. The omnipotence/omniscience utopia echoes the mortality perspective set out above. It closes down the opening to beginnings and is antinomic to thaumazein, as what deserves wonder, in the omniscience-omnipotence utopia's worldview, is only… omniscience and omnipotence!

The perspective of natality counters the omniscience-omnipotence utopia without falling into the drawbacks of nihilism, because it encapsulates the confidence in recurrent beginnings.

Plurality is the second element of this alternative to an omniscience-omnipotence utopia. Indeed, as we have seen above, the key features of plurality are that each entity engaged in the relationship is (i) equal (all on the same ground), (ii) singular (each who is unique) and (iii) partly hidden to him or herself (the reflective character of identity). This threefold understanding of plurality (equality, specificity, and reflectivity) undermines radically an omniscience-omnipotence utopia's worldview. Indeed, the equality between the engaged persons or entities subvert the asymmetry created by the polarization in terms of cause and effect; the specificity of each entity is a firewall against considering someone as an effect soluble in a cause or as a bundle of attributes, hence, it is an anchor against instrumentalisation; lastly, the partly hidden identity undermines the omniscient-omnipotent utopia, as each of us has to admit that s/he needs the others to access to his or her identity.

From this understanding of plurality and natality springs a specific understanding of human freedom. Human freedom is not about avoiding, escaping or vanishing limits or about being as close as possible to omniscience and omnipotence, but it is instead anchored in the capacity to begin, to live among peers and access to our own identity through their recognition of our speech and action.

Since action is the political activity par excellence, natality and not mortality, may be the central category of political, as distinguished from metaphysical, thought” (Arendt 1959, p. 11): the omniscience and omnipotence utopia, as an underlying rationale for policy-making, can thus be seen as an ill-defined transposition of a metaphysical thought into a political thought. And this ill-defined transposition threatens to collapse the public space.

For these reasons, it is important to nurture natality and plurality, as powerful antidotes and alternatives to omniscience and omnipotence. Like the Thracian servant girl laughing about Thales falling in the well while looking at the stars[1], the natality-plurality tenant is laughing at the aspirant to omniscience-omnipotence trying hard to jump over his or her shadow[2].

  • [1] Famous anecdote in Plato, Theaetetus, 174A.
  • [2] In Configuring the networked self (2012). New Haven: Yale University Press, Julie Cohen is providing a remarkable analysis of the policy challenges in a hyperconnected era, in a natality and plurality perspective. I see a great proximity between natality, as set out here, and her “semantic discontinuity”.
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