“Then” is the shape of time, or at least of time for birds, beasts, and bacteria, and for all the other monuments of DNA as well. In the world of nuclear particles, ‘then’ is a wicket through which one can pass one way and then another and both simultaneously, or so the equations tell us.
“Then” is also, by a heavy coincidence, a logical function. Here it does not give us a temporal, but a seemingly atemporal sequence. Such is the magic of words, however, that we are always tempted to take the atemporal world of the variables of logic and confound it with the temporal world in which we find ourselves. We are always tempted to see logic in history, to see the temporal as the pattern of the temporal.
Yet is logic so blind to temporality? Do we require some second order of reasoning to reconcile the one to the other?
That is, perhaps, the task that falls to dialectic. It is a shady task – Kant for instance placed dialectic in the slum of philosophy, where the hucksters, grifters and sophists ply their wares.
Dialectic is not the royal road to truth, on this view, but is the path of pins – to borrow a trope from that most philosophic of tales, Little Red Riding Hood.
If we want to come to grips with substitution, the dark power of our time, we must begin with these imperfectly aligned domains. A certain kind of philosophy takes it for granted that the task is to align them perfectly. Another approach is to take their imperfect alignment as a great philosophical fact – perhaps the great philosophical fact, and draw the consequences. The consequences, according to this school, lay everywhere around us. Like the fallen body of the giant in Finnegan’s wake, the parts form our parts, and we can go endlessly through the semiosphere, from newspaper stories to the towering summas of culture, and continually feel this imperfect alignment, this intellectual scar.
I’m inclined to the second view.