Saturday, December 3, 2011

From Hume to Dewey: Lockean vs. Hegelian Empiricism



The following is part of a digital presentation and review that I am making for my Introduction to Philosophy class; it summarizes Hume's argument in An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding that the the will is necessarily determined and yet free.  I want to take a moment to leap from this Locke-derived empiricism into Dewey's Hegel-derived empiricism.  This description is an alternative to what I provided in my dissertation and my forthcoming article, both of which are copyrighted, and I might edit this post as I add to it.

The Will Is Necessarily Determined and Yet Free
·       We feel ourselves “making a choice.”                                      Cause = Feeling
·       We act in accordance with that “choice”                                  Effect = Act
·       We infer that the feeling is the cause of the act as effect.      Habit

·       If the effect follows the cause, we assume we have to power to will our actions.
·       We have not proven that power exists; we have proven that the inference occurs.

·       We are “free”—according to Hume—if the act follows the feeling.
·       But we are not free to “cause” the feeling.
·       Nature and our surroundings “cause” the feeling, not us.
·       Therefore, thus the will is necessarily determined, yet free.


I will add qualifications piece by piece to begin building a bridge from Hume to Dewey.  I will not be able to add all the pieces, but I hope to have just enough to give one an idea of what occurs in Dewey if one is already familiar with Hume.

What if "feeling" is not a "moral sentiment" (an affect or emotion)?  A moral sentiment is an affective response to the situation; a distinct and biologically-innate affect is aroused given an "environmental trigger."  While the peculiarities of the sentiment are innate, its proper object or "environmental trigger" has only some natural tendencies but no fixities.  Education and custom are what fix the precise object of a sentiment, its magnitude, etc.

What if "feeling" denotes, rather than an affective event, an organic process?  Dewey uses a derivation of C.S. Peirce's definition of "feeling."  Feeling is an activity born of the interaction of the environment and body; "feeling" denotes the receptivity of the body to its environment.  Hence, to jump many steps forward, the feeling of making a choice is a late phase of a process of environmental-bodily transaction rather than an epiphenomenon.

How does this differ from Hume?  When we "feel" that we are making a choice, the sentiment is not merely an affect resulting from a psychological principle.  The affect results from a reality that extends beyond consciousness and the body, and into nature beyond ourselves.  Perhaps the best way to conceive this is to imagine that the sentiment emanates from the environment, although the emanation is neither direct nor linear.  The feeling of freedom is not an epiphenomenon, but the result of something bound to the world with a greater reality than merely a psychological principle.

A feeling is not an affect; it is a natural process or temporal activity.  Feeling is not the whole of the process, as the whole is the unity of environmental-bodily transaction, but a phase of the process that occurs when sufficient dynamic conditions are met.  Feeling is synonymous with the phase of the process in which the body may respond to the transaction, in which it make take an active rather than passive role.  Feeling denotes the phase in which the response is represented, i.e., in which the body registers resistance to its activity upon the environment (and itself).  Feeling is thus the inception of a Peircean Third between environment and body.

Suppose we accept the structure of Hume's argument, e.g., that the idea of freedom comes from a habitual inference and that we cannot presume absolute freedom.  That is, we may not be the author of our thought of "making a choice;" nature and our bodily nature is the author of our choices, and our consciousness of this provides no agency.  Dewey does not give up on free will; he reinvents what agency is in a manner that sounds Humean, but is not.  Part of the puzzle is that he uses C.S. Peirce's notion of habit, not Hume's.

Agency is the cultivation of habits that allow for the mediation of (external) natural forces.  We become more free as we develop habits to forestall and reflect upon what accosts us, what instincts we have, what prior habits we may now creatively repeat.

For Those Knowledgeable of Peirce
Peirceans may note that I am using the Peircean triad in an unusual way, although in one that does not strictly violate his principles.  Dewey derives his notions from Peirce, and here I am formulating and formalizing a Deweyan conception, since Dewey never did so himself.

The triad is generative.  E.g., "feeling" is commonly a First, while I describe it as the inception of Thirdness, the transitory phase from Secondness to Thirdness.  I will give the schema that explains this generativity and use of terms, which requires that one understand that I write from a phenomenological point of view and what that means, although I haven't the time to fully explain.  I am looking at things from how they eventuate in consciousness, and thus I take a speculative position because I view the process as if it were eventuating in consciousness even though any given process need not.  One assumption that goes with this is temporality that begets the generativity.  If I did not assume temporality, then the triad would not be generative.  I give finer distinctions elsewhere than I may give here.

The schema.  The act is First, where it remains forever ambiguous whether the act was the environment or the body.  It would be the fallacy of false dilemma to insist at the outset that it is either one.  Resistance is Second; the act is resisted and thus act becomes force.  First becomes Second, or firstness is subsumed into secondness. Feeling is the movement from secondness to thirdness; as an activity it is synonymous with resistance.  Yet the transition begins when there is sufficient resistance to disrupt the dynamic equilibrium secondness, whereas feeling becomes an event called "felt quality."

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