What Comes Next: Auguries

Shaj Mohan

Principle of reason has no unique formulation nor is it any one of the many statements of a single proposition. ‘Why there is something rather than nothing?’ is the most recognized question of reason. If we make it a question of the particular something in the world, it becomes a question about the reason for each particular thing. The question ‘what comes next’ asks about, not what there is already, but what can come into being. While differing from the well known question of reason, the question ‘what comes next?’ directs us to three orders of reason which constitute our relation to the future – the orders of expectations, anticipations, and the unanticipatable.

Expectation already knows that which is expected, either through the rational ordering of the region of the world concerned, or through contracts and promises, or through a plan (which could be the plan of the world, for someone, always someone). We expect the rain on a cloudy day and the position of the sun in the morning through different rational orderings. We expect a particular guest, and no other, on an evening according to our agreements. There are many ways to approach the plan. The bauplan of an animal determines the expectations of motions one can have for that particular animal. For example, we cannot expect the elbow joint to provide us with a 360 degree rotation. The plan of the politics of a country is also similar; however, in politics the components of the political systems can change – add new components or reduce them through migrations, for example – and political systems can also produce new relations and articulations. In the idiom of Husserl, the ‘historical a priori’ is the potentiality which expects. Among the problems with Husserl’s model is its universality and limitation to a zone of the world determined according to his telos of ‘Europe’ (Husserl 1970). But we can say this: When we expect we know what to expect.

The order of anticipations is different from that of expectations. When we anticipate we are in degrees of ignorance regarding that which is anticipated. The older way of thinking this problem, the order of anticipations, had been through the particularly labyrinthine principle of ‘anticipations of perceptions’ in the Critique of Pure Reason. It is important to proceed with Kant’s lesson, at least tangentially, where he lays out that which is within the order of anticipation and that which falls outside it:

All knowledge by means of which I can know and determine a priori what belongs to empirical knowledge may be called an anticipation […] But as there is in appearances something which can never be known a priori and that hence constitutes the real difference between empirical and a priori knowledge, namely, sensation (as the matter of perception), it follows that it is sensation that can never be anticipated (Kant 2007: 196–197).

If we paraphrase Kant for this occasion, the knowledge that we can have through an appropriate architectonic of what can be expected is given by the principle of anticipation. This principle also determines the possible degrees or ranges of variations in that which is expected. We say ‘expected’ rather than ‘anticipated’, for in Kant, all possible experiences are subjected to the faculties. At the same time, there is something in the very fact of the world – and hence in sensation – which does not yield to any such architectonic, and for this reason there is the un-anticipatable in all our anticipations. For example, when we see steam coming from a dish presented on a table we can never know how warm it is until we receive the quality of heat from the dish.

For Kant, anticipations were given by a subjective faculty, and for Husserl they were the property of the transmission of concepts or meanings by generations with a substantiality or identity. There is another way to think about anticipation in the context of activity, which is the anticipatory system, as conceived by the theoretical biologist Robert Rosen (2012). Anticipatory systems represent within themselves – including in the external representations such as writing or computers – a model of themselves determined according to the telos or ends of their concern and the orders of causes or relations which determine their states. A particular living being has a model of the world, of its own powers of tolerance, and of the anticipations of the variations in the world and of itself. Such a being can retain a few state parameters within itself through making changes to its own body and by moving towards or away from things of its concern.

The anticipatory system is all living things, where each species and each individual, according to its specific and individual differences, constitutes its own anticipatory systems. For Rosen, man in this regard is not special, except in the capability of the human animal to represent the models determined by the telos with ranges which are, in principle, uncountable. With the living beings other than man, the ends which are to be obtained or to be conserved are distinct, which are often articulated by biology through the concepts of adaptations and teleonomy[1]. However, in Rosen’s system, much like in Heidegger’s On Time and Being, the future as form exerts causal pressure through reason. In other words, the human animal is able to vary its ‘bauplan’ through the additions and subtractions of components and exchange a particular end for another, which is usually thought to be a property of life as such[2]. If we expand on it a little bit, the power to anticipate, and hence to tolerate, winter varies according to the wealth of countries. The components of warm clothes, centralized heating, and insulated construction material are components in a relation with the systems of energy, technologies, and economy, which together form an anticipatory system of winter. Then, more than the Kantian and Husserlian models, the political arrangements form faculties of the human animal and its powers of anticipation.

Now we are moving closer towards the question of ‘what comes next’. According to the reasons of anticipations we act in the present. From the faculties of the human animal we can also see that the unanticipatable is then a property of the being which is not subject to any distinct plan. For such an animal, the future is obscure, which is not a calamity. The anticipatory system of the human animal is a distinct faculty of reason. But this power can be lost easily in the particularizations of identities of telos formed according to the identities of self-positing, which is at times identity politics. This reason, which addresses us and to which we ought to be responsible, is the content of a concept note which outlined the goals of the centre's common grounds conference, a manifesto seeking a manifestation (Bird, Freistein, Paker, Unrau 2023, see also introduction to this issue).

Briefly, we should touch on the order of the unanticipatable. There are experiences which are given by reason that are obscure, or outside of the orders of expectation and anticipation. When we think of the appearance of the sun from out of the clouds in a grey day there is nothing to assure us that it would take place at a precise moment, but rather, only a sense that it could happen sooner or later. Our anticipations of objects from beyond the solar system entering our neighbourhood were confirmed only recently. The gravitational waves anticipated by relativity theory were experienced recently. That is, all things in the world agree to the anticipatory systems for which we can give reason. However, the disappearance of the world itself is not a matter of any anticipatory system; rather, it cannot be the object of any objective system as such. The persistence of the world too is outside of any anticipatory system. Yet, we anticipate everything else against this obscure experience of that which lies outside all anticipatory systems. This common place experience is also common.

Then, what does it mean for us to anticipate today? What constitutes the faculty of the animal distributed across the world and entwined as if it were dendrites and synapses of a singular neural system which communicates at the speed of light? What are the components of this animal’s anticipatory system? What are its models and what are those hopes, telos, and fears to which these systems are addressed? Politics alone can answer these questions sufficiently, provided we understand politics as the fight for freedoms and the experience of freedom as inseparable from the fight for it.

Just as we found with winter, each system of anticipation develops out of the components in relation – famine, economic stagnation, pandemics, technological triumphs, scientific discoveries, events from beyond the earth. The ideas set out in the concept note (Bird, Freitstein, Paker, Unrau 2023) already presuppose these questions through the invocation of globalization and the continuing movements of people. Above all, it asks us to consider the character of such a responsibility which thinks the anticipatory system of the world, as opposed to the anticipatory system of a country or a union of a few countries or transnational corporations, ‘In particular, we are interested in attempts at prefiguring alternative (more sustainable, just, democratic, participatory) orders on a small scale’ (Bird et al. 2023, emphasis added). Here, we should briefly locate the responsibility involved in constituting anticipatory systems in politics and, at the same time, the reasons which must be given for it. That is, when a political arrangement exchanges one component for another there is always suffering and therefore a responsibility towards that which comes to suffer. This is the responsibility involved in thinking the alternative. As we know, augury was the older way of anticipations where a spiritual relation between one domain and another, without it being a causal relation, was used to foresee what comes next. This power to anticipate is also related logically, and not spiritually, to certain forms of metaphysics which hold all beings into unity according to a special identity, which can be the good, the just, god.

For us, what is more important is the directions of meaning reserved in the thought auguries. Homologically, ‘augury’ is related to augment, to increase, to advance. It is also related to the power which allows one to increase something or to advance towards something. There are two assumptions behind these meanings; being as such is capable of increases in degrees and kinds; and the human animal is capable of detecting and effecting such increases. Then we are also in the domain of power and authority. Authority is given from the relation that an individual or an institution can guarantee between what had come to be and what comes next, while power pertains to the generation of and contending with what comes next. Both authority and power presuppose that the world as such generates variations and there is an exchange we must perform either for retaining the ceremoniality of a particular world or for altering a particular world. The older way of dealing with it involved the concept of sacrifice.

If we ask the question ‘what comes next?’ in a ceremonial society – a society which repeats itself through the means of its reproduction posited as the end of that society—the answer will be ‘what had come before’. An authority which guarantees such faithful repetition is the father, who need not be identical to the biological parent. On the other hand the authority of the professor, the philosopher, the knowledgeable comes from being able to say ‘nothing is like what came before’ and then to anticipate ‘what comes next’ with its distinctions from the past. The professorial authority is distinct from the paternal authority in that they both give their reasons for answering the question what comes next differently and bear responsibility for it differently. Today, we also see another form of the mediation between what had come to be and what comes next, which combines power and authority through confusing their relation in what we call ‘technology’. Techno-corporations auger for us what comes next through the very production of what comes next by having the power to produce it, however, without assuming the responsibility implied by both power and authority. Then, they are not anticipatory systems at all, for they are incapable of giving reasons for these productions sufficiently, and they are unable to tell us of the degrees and kinds of differences to the world these productions introduce, other than the excuse of ‘disruptions’. Therefore, the question of what comes next should be asked alongside ‘prefiguring alternative world orders’ which are capable of bringing the technological domain within its anticipatory systems.

As we found earlier, without telos nothing anticipates. Telos is not merely an end, as in the goal of an action; it is the limit of the abilities to tolerate or bear changes and responsibilities, and to give reasons; it is also the meaning of ‘the something we all have in common’ according to the reasons we can give for this something which refers to thecommon (Nancy 1997). Here, we should exercise another caution: When telos is exchanged for eschaton, we surrender our anticipations and ourselves to the orders of survival which are unforgiving to politics which is desirous of freedom; that is, all discourses of anti-politics posit a certain destruction, an eschatology, while politics is the games of the anticipations of freedoms.

The distinction between teleology and eschatology is not simple. Telos points us to the bounds within which something takes place, as the that-for-which or the that-towards-which of a thing or an action. Eschaton is derived from the ancient Greek ἔσχατος, which refers to the outer most or the final point or that moment with which the engagement with being in its own terms comes to a close for a thing. Teleology is concerned with keeping acts and objects in the attention of the thought of the for-that, or it is the discourse of purposiveness irrespective of any particular purpose. Eschatology is concerned with that moment where action is impossible, such as the withdrawal of the world, and its object is properly distinct from teleology and is obscure.

Then, what must come next is the question, and the responsibility for this ‘must’, which expresses urgency, has to be given according to the architectonic which produces a relation between what had come be and what must come next. This architectonic, which we can call teleography, while essential, cannot be discussed quickly for this occasion (Mohan 2022). However, we can perceive the distinction between the responsibility we take for this must and that for auguries. In relation to the question what must come next, which is the question at the heart of the conference's concept note, we anticipate what comes next while constituting the systems of anticipation and tolerance for it and hence make a difference to whatever may come next. Such a system must be a politics which is able to activate itself beyond the nearly redundant and dangerous games of nationalized politics, it must at the same time remain a democracy of the world without ever being a world democracy imitative of the stagnant orders of nations.

[1] The distinction between teleology and teleonomy can be indicated through thinking the latter as assuming the former through an ‘as if’; one conducts at the level of evolutionary biology as if natural forms have teleologies. This distinction still remains incomplete and contested, which can be reconsidered through a teleography of biology (for more on teleonomy see Mayr 2002).

[2] A relation to Kant can be made in this moment when we think of an animal without a plan or an obscure animal (Mohan 2021).


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Mohan, Shaj (2021). ‘What Carries Us On’, in Fernando Castrillón and Thomas Marchevsky (eds), Coronavirus, Psychoanalysis, and Philosophy, London: Routledge, 42–46.

Mohan, Shaj (2022). ‘Teleography and Tendencies: History and Anastasis’, Philosophy World Democracy, 4 April, available at: https://www.philosophy-world-democracy.org/articles-1/teleography-and-tendencies-part-2-history-and-anastasis (accessed 5 April 2022).

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Shaj Mohan is a philosopher based in India. He studied philosophy at St. Stephen's College, Delhi and has academic degrees in economics and philosophy. Shaj has published in the areas of metaphysics, reason, nature, secrecy, philosophy of technology, and philosophy of politics. In 2021 the American critical theory journal Episteme published a special issue on the philosophy of Shaj Mohan and Divya Dwivedi. Having written philosophical essays against the rise of Hindu nationalism in The Indian Express and in international press publications like The Wire, Le Monde and Libération, his seminal publication to day is the book Gandhi and Philosophy: On Theological Anti-politics (Bloomsbury Academic, UK), co-authored together with the philosopher Divya Dwivedi (foreword: Jean-Luc Nancy).