Thursday, December 8, 2011

Response to Leon on Realism and Nominalism

I am responding to Leon of After Nature’s response to my previous post, which is all a response to….  It just keeps going, and that’s a good thing.  I will good down through his post and respond to various portions, and much of my musing is riffing of off Leon rather than addressing and accusing him of anything.  In fact, I add a lot of qualifications to what he attributes to me and what he claims of himself.

I apologize in advance for the -isms, for this is a case where they do far more harm than good, and this reads more like a comment than a post.

1.  I did not say (and was wrong if I did) that realist metaphysics is impossible if one is a nominalist.  Rather, I do not think that there is a plausible or non-trivial metaphysic that accomplishes this.  The cases that I can think of are not considered vaguely plausible by contemporary standards and and contradict much establish science.

To be clear I am referring to cases wherein one is a realist about the external world, but holds either a form of metaphysical nominalism that eliminates identity/essence (perhaps a pure corpuscular metaphysics in either a Greco-Roman or Modern European variety), or holds to epistemic nominalism (e.g., Hume).  However, one can pull if off if one is a speculative realist of a pragmatic or sort; e.g., one presumes the independent existence of the world and knows it through induction or abduction.  However, one then has a very, very anthropocentric metaphysics by necessity, because one does denies oneself any methodology to achieve more than that.  I am sure that there are ways around this limitation, especially given the number of non-Western views that I know, but all that come to mind are either trivial or not plausible, especially if we maintain a secular view.

Note that affirming “substance” without “essence” is still a nominalism and falls into the cases of corpuscular metaphysics and such.  I would accept conceptions of identity that attribute identity to structure and not Aquilinian notions of essence, which is much closer to my own view.  However, insisting on identity as a structural rather than a substantial concept does not save a nominalist from being hamstrung when attempting to do metaphysics.

2.  I am not certain that pure immanentism is a problem.  It depends on what that means, and my first  hypothesis is materialism.  If all reality is material, then transcendent identity is impossible.  That is, if identity has no fixity other than momentary configurations, then we are at best in a materialist version of Heraclitean flux.  I think pragmatic-abductive arguments can still be made within this view, because pragmatism doesn’t strictly require absolutist notions.  However, one is reduced to realism of the external world and not of universals.  In the best case scenario, metaphysics might extend to making abductive hypotheses about the cosmic conditions of our epoch, since there can be no laws of nature (or Peircean habits, which are the temporalized version), but at best localized constancies.

3.  Realism of universals, though it implies transcendence, need not imply “ultimate governance among the particulars.” (I do not recognize the reference.)  First, there need not be ultimacy.  Second, we need more than universals for “goverance” of laws of nature, e.g., continuity.  Continuity is a onto-logical concept and not a universal, e.g., a formal and not real distinction (Scotus).

4.  Leon writes “Speculation necessarily extends beyond the singular term, and realism admits both the reality of terms, relations between those terms, and then the generic principles applying to both terms and relations.”  Leon is being hasty again and will see my rebuttal coming the moment I start.  Leon, you’re rolling separate theses together because they happen to coexist in your metaphysics, e.g., Peirce.  The separation in order of mention: 1)  realism about the external world, 2) realism of universals, 3) reality of relations (Peircean continuity as a case of Thirdness), 4) and the semiotic by which we come to know or speculate on those relations, etc.  Leon, these are separable and you know this—don’t forget.

5.  Leon has a point about the correlationist circle and flatness about immanence qua nominalism; he appears to be channeling some Peirce and then some Whitehead.  He does not say this explicitly, but temporality might be a problem for pure immanence depending on what we mean by the term; it can mean much more and other than my “materialism” example.  Note that we can take his words on the “show of the present moment” to include both metaphysical and phenomenological-empirical denotations.  What’s the reference for that, Leon?

6.  Leon describe the sense of transcendence that gives this blog its name “Immanent Transcendence”: “speculation necessarily involves transcendence—but transcendence with reference to particulars, and certainly never with reference to itself alone.  I wonder if there is a widespread confusion of “transcedent” and “transcendental.”  What is transcendent needs not be Kants’ “transcendental” or “conditions for the possibility of” in a strict logical manner of a transcendental deduction.  When I think “transcendent,” I am usually thinking cases of emanence.


  1. RSS feed request to Before It's News

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  2. Editor Chasteen,

    I have sent you an email. In short, I thank you for it, butI decline the offer as I do not think that the content of this site is appropriate for that venue, as the content here is informal scholarship and discussion, but it is always academic and not meant for a general audience.

  3. Continuing to comment on my own post,

    What I can gather of Levi's metaphysics given his Democracy of Objects looks like an analogue of the "pragmatic" option I mention. His discussion of transcendental thinking is analogous in principle to abductive thinking, which is that used by Peirce and Whitehead. The difference is perhaps that of what other assumptions are added, e.g., the reality of relations (Peircean thirdness) and the pivotal concept of continuity. Regardless, I think Leon's words are again perhaps too hasty, perhaps because he's responding more to what Levi says that what is in his book or certain blog posts, and the latter is much stronger. I do not think that we should judge a philosophy merely by momentary interactions for various reasons I could go into.

  4. Again,

    I am not sure that Levi's ontology is flat, btw, depending upon what one means by "flat." I think Leon is reacting to immanence, but Levi's definition of "transcendent" is only one of the possible denotations, and I suspect that we would agree with him on the point given his definition.

    Still musing, in part because I think we should be fair to each other.

  5. Jason,
    You are right. My hasty or "thick" comments are based on "momentary interactions," i.e. casual and off-handed remarks that someone made in blog comments, not in their book. Because I am simply not interested in engaging the book in question then I should opt out of the conversation, in order to be fair. If someone chooses not to approve comments, address concerns, etc. for whatever reason then that's up to them.


  6. Leon,

    You might be right, but I don't see how you can say *some* of your comments given the information publicly stated, but then, you are the OOO scholar and not I. You could be talking from volumes of material and understanding that I do not have. What I do know is that I haven't seen sufficient argumentation in blogs, so I presume that people are assuming material not in their respective blogs. Hence, I bring my argument to the blog where it is public and may be openly discussed, and I appreciate the continuing dialogue that we have. Apologies for being pedantic at times, but I have no way of knowing what the precise background of my audience is, AND I want to communicate in far more detail than I often see even in journal articles.

    I think we should stop throwing around the words "nominalism," etc. unless we explain exactly what we mean by them. Even as I go through my blog posts, I remember more ways to conceive the term, especially in relation to related theses. I continue to write them to clarify exactly what I mean, since I am not sure how various people are uses various terms. I believe your praise of my posts has been this activity of clarification.

    As for reading other's books, I think that we should not be "forced" to read anyone's books, but then we do not have the privilege to press a critique too far. That said, in practice, that has never seemed to stop many of my opponents, and few interlocutors have the patience to bridge gaps in knowledge. I'll give Harman credit for that; he doesn't appear to get into conversations that would require him to explain his offhand comments, and therefore doesn't have to say "read this." Though, I would love more pointers myself if they aid my projects.


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