Thursday, August 18, 2011

Torches in the Twilight: Making Process Philosophy Clear (Part II)

The following was my comment at Ben Woodard's Naught Thought.  Below, I'm defending process metaphysic's supposed "fuzziness" by responding in detail to the charges.  Aside from the practice for myself, the post might also be informative of those coming at process from the continental tradition rather than my own pragmatist tradition.  The background assumed and positions taken can differ greatly and are mutually informative.  Much of what I say here is discussed in greater detail in prior posts, and people should feel free to ask me to hunt up which posts.

I'll respond to the question of the priority of "object" or "substance" to "processes" and "powers."  In short, the question is not coherent in my position, and I believe the same for Peirce and Whitehead, although I would defer to those more knowledgeable of Whitehead.  Here's why from my Dewey-Peircean position.  First, in an event ontology, the fundamental unit would be an "event," not "object" or "substance."  You question implies a substance perspective that event ontologies do not share, because all events occur in a history in which a power leads to an actual event, and actual events lead to emergent powers.  There is no absolute priority of events, and any particular priority of powers over actual events is non-necessary.

Moreover, one should be careful to scrub any conventional idea of (efficient) causation, e.g., that powers "cause" events, because the conventional models still lead one down mechanical conceptual metaphors.  Yes, powers "cause" events in a way, but the details are quite different, e.g., powers/potentials are wholly separable from objects or substance on a Peircean view and there is not hard distinction between force and existence.  The last point is notable because people usually take the quasi-Aristotelian view that existences "have" powers that exert force.  Not so for Peirce.  Further explanation could get knarly, as it invokes synechism/continuity.  That is, nature has no joints, and most of our distinctions are at best Scotus' formal distinction.  This is where the term "speculative" comes in, as we formulate distinctions through abductive inference to better understand and hope that ideally we have achieved a formal distinction.

It is not "processes or powers all the way down," because actual events are when determinate existence, emergence, and true creativity occur.  Reaching the boiling point of water, that phase change, is not something reducible to what is prior or after.  "Creativity" should not be understood as "artistic" or "something new," but genesis.  The stability of creative phenomena, due to the stability or "habits" of the present configuration of the cosmos and local environment, are what give stability to creativity, e.g., the fact that water boiling is fairly predictable.

As for the difference between "objects that power" (trans: actual events that power) and "powers that object," their are numerous differences, but none of them are differences in power.  They are differences in organization, time, history, etc., but perhaps the biggest difference in those two phrases is that the emergence of an "object" (actual event) is the emergence of new powers.  See my recent post about the composability of entelechies.  As for "powers that object," that is mostly a temporal-historical distinction, i.e., the newly created powers of the object are already existent.

I suspect that you and others presume that there's an equivocation in the term "power" in your statement--presume that their should be.  No, except that there are many, many instances of "power."  I have posted previously on whether the number of distinct, non-isomorphic powers can be infinite; see my blog on causal closure.  I suspect that the answer must be "no" at the moment of cosmogenesis.  We can construct limited infinite sets from permutations of finite powers, so it's possible that a limited set of powers at cosmogenesis lead to an infinite set.  We can also presume that there was no cosmogenesis.

Not everything "has experiences" if I must nitpick from a Deweyan view.  Experience is the activity of nature, and the term strictly denotes the transaction of entities.  Experience is thirdness, possibly regarded minimally as degenerate thirdness.  Whitehead has more elaborate views, e.g., regarding subjectivity, that I will leave to his scholars.  There is a really important reason to use the word "experience" for this that I can answer later.  As for the difference between a rock experiencing a pond and a German poet doing the same, assuming all three are there, I have a short answer.  The German poet as a human being has modalities of experience that a rock doesn't have, i.e., an organic body capable of consciousness and mind, that allows for more complex relations.  The poet "interprets" or symbolizes its relations to the rock and pond in ways that the rock cannot, e.g., poetry versus the boring laws of nature for the rock.  I suspect it could be called an ontic difference, but I'm not sure how you're employing the terms.  As for Matt's other comments, those do not relate to mine and I'm not sure what he's saying, since I do not see where affectivity comes in.  By the way, "feeling" is NOT an "affect."  It may become one under certain human-inclusive conditions.

As for "the relation to Whitehead is key," that might be true, but I'm saying all this with only basic Whitehead knowledge that does not rely on that knowledge.

No comments:

Post a Comment