Monday, November 28, 2011

Leon on Realism and Nominalism

Can be found at After Nature.

Leon breaks apart the difference between ontological and epistemic realism, whereas I did not directly address the issue, a blind spot in my prior arguments.  When I wrote of scholastic realism, I meant ontological realism, but my arguments often drifted into examples from epistemic realism.  Why?  Because of the particular nature of pragmatic realism, wherein both realisms line up.  Why do they?  It's an artifact of Peirce's legacy to pragmatism of non-representational theories of experience (see my prior posts).

Apologies for any confusion this may have caused.

What Gains My Respect: Graham Harman

Graham Harman blogged,

"I won't criticize Derrida's reading of Heidegger too much, since I'm probably just as guilty of going beyond the letter of what Heidegger actually says."

Serious.  This gets a lot of brownie points from me.  My major beef with many scholars is not about the details of the scholarship, but our awareness of our relationship to it, especially since I alight more on the practice of philosophy than philosophy as text.  Kudos, Harman, for the reflexive moment.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Is conscious experience constructed?

Is conscious experience is constructed?

Yes and no, despite what my critical thinking textbook says.  The problem is that "construction" is a terrible metaphor once we get beyond an undergraduate understanding of experience.  I write on the matter from a pragmatist perspective.

What is constructed is not, foremost, its phenomenal quality.  There is a contribution of the body-mind, but "constructed" implies 1) a something that constructs, 2) some rule or reason to the construction, and 3) parts from which something is constructed, etc.  I will address each of these in turn.

First, "experience" by definition denotes the local transactive field of the organism and environment.  The field is called a "situation."  We could say that both the organism and environment collaboratively construct the experience, but that is poor wording because it splits into two parts what is actually a unity.  The situation constructs the experience if anything does, and is a better phrasing because it is closer to being a real distinction vs. the previous purely formal distinction (cf scholastic real vs. formal distinction per Duns Scotus).  However, since the situation is a transitive field, it belies the presumption that what constructs is an entity or agency; it is not.  Thus "construction" is not a good term.

Second, there is some rule or reason to the construction, but my implosion of the first point drastically alters the common conception of the second.  "Construction" having a "rule or reason" implies a blueprint or some plan that is consulted.  That is not the case; no one is consulting anything, and there is no pre-established plan.  Rather, the "rule" is habit (cf Peirce as biologized by Dewey).  A given environmental transaction is taken as a stimulus for some primitive or learned response, e.g., the sensation of the alternating patterns of visual intensity on this page is taken (after  some intervening phases) as a meaningful discourse on experience.  This is far from a Kantian schema or any "plan," although I have time only to hint at this.  Unlike a engineer consulting a blueprint, what invokes a taking of a transaction as (eventually) meaningful is a dynamic disequilibrium in the transaction as registered by the body.  "Consultation" or most rule-like interpretations of "constructing" experience are then inappropriate, because they presuppose much less contingency and dynamicity than occurs.

Third, following William James' "pure experience," experience is consciously experienced as a unity.  The discriminated parts cannot be said to exist prior to and independently of being discriminated, else one commits the "psychologist's fallacy" of presuming that discrimination is a discovery and not a creation, which is something to be independently verified and not assumed.  If experience has no parts, then there are not parts with which to construct.

Since I am time-limited, I shall add that it is not nothing that I shifted from writing "experienced" to "consciously experienced."  Consciousness is a latter phase of the experiential process that at first is not conscious but becomes so, and is centered in the locale of the situation.

Concerning phenomenal qualities, please peruse past entries for a discussion of them.

A Wrap-Up Discussion of the Last Day's Wrangling over Nominalism

The primary defender of nominalism in these debates has been Levi Bryant.  If I had to pin the disagreements between us on one thing, though perhaps not the most important, I would say that it is because I am working on a realist pragmatic phenomenology, and he is not.  I would have little to offer the larger discourse if I were giving just another pragmatic phenomenology; there are very few of those, but only a subfield of a small tradition would make note.  But a realist, non-Husserlian phenomenology ... that's something else that few offer.  As far as I can tell, Levi has little interest in working through a phenomenology let alone a realist one.  By "working through," I have Husserlian standards in mind ... all those books.  A contemporary example would be Robert Corrington.

Aside, the context of the original outburst of activity among many conversants was Matt's initial post on his Footnotes2Plato blog, wherein Levi and others were challenging him.  I stepped in to assist and defend process metaphysics in the American tradition. (Whitehead is an Americanist, but not really a pragmatist, which is mostly an issue of historical classification.)  Many conversants have been misinterpretting/misunderstanding both the place and necessity of eternal objects in Whitehead, which he elaborates from Peirce.  I stepped in to clarify this.  They are logically necessary for realism of most any sort other than "I believe an external world exists," which is not the only kind of realism and is widely considered only a necessary but not sufficient premise to how "realism" is commonly used.

So, that's why I've been posting on the subject.  Wander over to Matt's Footnotes2Plato and Adam Robert's Knowledge Ecology for the rest of the back-and-forth.

Thinking Positions Through: Nominalism and more

Just a thought that is often over-looked.  If one embraces moral nominalism, which strongly tends towards embracing moral relativism, contra moral realism, then one must explain the origin of morality.  Before embracing nominalism of this sort, one should think carefully of the consequences.  Moreover, if one does not embrace moral nominalism while embracing it more generally, then one must explain the discrepancy, which will be difficult.

If you embrace moral nominalism, then if I ask why you should support the Occupy Wall Street movement, which so many academics do, what do you say?  Are you giving any reasons that are not arbitrary?  It can be done, let me assure you, but there’s a large difference between the possibility of resolving a paradox and actually having done so before one embraces a philosophical position.

What am I getting at, really?  I believe that too many thinkers embrace positions without thinking through their consequences, and at best defend themselves in an ad-hoc manner.  It can be difficult to have a critical conversation with someone who is defending themselves in this manner—even if they are earnest and especially if they are not or are unaware of the ad hoc defense.

I once saw a classic case of this mentality, wherein an author defended criticism of his view (in cyborg theory) with the retort that the criticism concerns topics of which he was not a specialist and therefore he should not be held to the implications of his view in those fields.  That was the pinnacle of ignorance and sublated arrogance.

I am not addressing this missive to anyone in particular, though I am on record for targetting classical and neoclassical pragmatist scholarship on this matter, i.e., not thinking through all the implications of a position and deferring critiques—even from fellow scholars—as misunderstandings.  To name names, I am still on the fence concerning the agon of Robert Talisse vs. the Dewey establishment on the topic of Dewey’s democratic politics, wherein Talisse re-invigorates historic critiques against Dewey’s organicist view of society.

An honest moment.  I speculate that part of the problem is contemporary academia’s fetishism of uber-specialization.  What goes along with this is either a blindness to or lack of appreciation for the fact that most things we scholars write have been written and said before and that true novelty is rare.  I understand that we must grandstand as if we were all creative geniuses, but we must not forget that this is due to reasons other than wisdom or philosophy.  Finally, the honest moment, I understand that not everyone wants to be a systematic thinker, even though I believe they should.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Explanation of Recent Activity and Lack of It

Greetings, fellow blogo-citizens of the world.

I have been quiet for months as I teach a 5/5 load for my first full-time position.  4 days of Thanksgiving vacation has lead to fervent posting as I have not had time recently.  Expect more posts over Christmas, especially since I will be doing the final edits on my article on aesthetics (a phenomenological study of the elements and order of experience, not a study of beauty) and try to complete editing of my book manuscript.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Addendum to On Nominalism and Response to Adam

This is a repost from Adam Robert's Knowledge Ecology , where he continues the ongoing conversation about realism, nominalism, etc.  He gives us a long lists of questions and problems; below is a response that may clarify my earlier posts.


A few points of clarification. I appreciate the kind response. As you see, most of your points come from, perhaps, some lack of full clarity on my part and not from disagreement (yet) between us.

First, I’m not arguing for Whitehead so much as a Peircean part of Whitehead. I primarily work in the areas of his predecessors, and do metaphysics only to support a phenomenology and not for its own sake.

Second, I never wrote “OOO,” because I do not think this is a problem for all of OOO. I do think it is a potential problem for onticology, because it acknowleges a lot of process elements. That said, I much prefer onticology to Harman’s OOO because it has process elements. Please do not infer that I am speaking directly to a tradition, as I am not, and would be wrong.

Third, I never said that “realism requires universals.” Rather, I wrote of Peircean realism about universals, and explicitly said they (realism about the external world [poor wording] and realism about universals) were separable, although they are combined in my own pragmatist position as they are in many classical pragmatist views.

Fourth, contingency is not a universal. It’s an ontological primitive. This is a definitional matter.

Fifth, eternity can be had by those things that do not exist, such as mathematics, as they are unaffected by time. They are a-temporal rather than non-temporal (neutrality rather than negation). Only things that exist are affected by time. I explain this in my blog post. [This is a big deal because inability to explain mathematics leaves science and scientific realism in a terrible bind as they are wholly dependent on it.  Of course, anti-realists views do not have this problem.]

Sixth, I never said that contingency is arbitrary. Most if not all cases of the coming to be of a concretion of a universal is contingent. [See my previous posts; it's contingency all the way down, but there is such a thing as a structure to contingency.]

On Nominalism

Nominalism and realism have been a frequent subject in my online conversations of late.  I think it would be beneficial to define the terms so that we are clear about what we mean.  Primarily, I am concerned about realism and nominalism of universals and names.  This statement may say more than it appears, because much of contemporary philosophy tends to equivocate on the term "realism."

There is a realism of the external world and realism of universals/names.  The former is usually expressed in terms of a correspondence of idea or experience and what is experienced, which is invoked when we say that an idea of word has a real referent.  The realism of universals/names is often thought in such ideas as Kripke's "rigid designation," although that is a cousin many times removed from the topic that I wish to discuss.  In Kripke's case, a rigid designator is a name that refers to the same object in all possible worlds.  It is a logical construction.

In contrast, the realism of universals/names argues for the reality of universals, e.g. the phenomenal qualities (white, red, vanilla, etc.), etc. that can be predicated of a subject.  It is more an issue of onto-logy rather than mere logic, the logic of being rather than of signs. These two realisms are separable, but I hold them together, though not in the conventional way, though that is another topic.  E.g., a felt quality is not merely a one-to-one mirroring of what is in the external thing; it is neither one-to-one nor a mirroring, which is what most contemporary realists (external world) would wish either in fact or ideally.

What's the point?  Without a realism of universals, of which the phenomenal qualities are a case, then any experience becomes arbitrary.  We run into all the problems of empiricism that Hume and Berkeley exposed.  Should we then seek shelter in Kant and psychologism?  Qualities are law-like by-products of human experience that have no basis in external reality?  No.

What is at stake?  Without a reality of universals, then phenomenology really is every bit of trash that most analytics think it is.  This is in part why they almost universally denigrate it--because they are NOT REALISTS about universals, and thus they think that mere experience is hokum.  And thus they retreat into a neo-Cartesian position of thinking that what is really real is the rational and intellectual, err … "scientific."  This was part of Husserl's ferocious critique in the Crisis; they mathematized being and did not even realize it.

Finally, I have already indicated what is at stake in pragmatic process metaphysics elsewhere, which includes pragmatic phenomenologies.  The latter are non-Husserlian and realist in a more robust sense than Husserl, and are scientific without being any flavor of scientific realist.  What is at stake is the incoherence of a process metaphysics that rejects autonomous identity (substance) and becomes nominalist (what a thing is said to be, is arbitrary).

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Phenomenal Realism Again

Once again, thinking out loud.

Consider the Platonic theory of participation of matter in form.

It's erotic causality, not efficient.  Material things desire eternity, and any material thing gains its formal qualities per its desire for a form, while the form remains unmoved.  However, this remains a one-way causality.

The reality of quality works similar to this way.  To halt the infinite regress of nominalism, I argue that universals are real but non-existent, and they become instantiated through particular interactions.  The "universals" in this sense can be understood as principles of unity that are on the border of the intelligible (=generic or specific unity), and any determinate existence invokes a specific unity that we may categorize as one of these universals.  This approach solves the logical problem, although it is counter-intuitive.

The ultimate structure of unity is the cosmic and existential limitation on possibility.  That is, what is the structure of possibility qua possibility.  This is not to ask what is possible, mere possibility to be this or that.  Rather, it is to ask about the structural relations of possibilities.  That is, what is the possibility of this relating to that, and what are the possible relations?  This is an abstract discussion whose first level of concretion is when we say "potentiality" rather than "possibility."  Possibilities are logico-mathematical realities, whereas potentialities are existent possibilities.  Not all real things are existent, and existence constrains possibilities to the condition of particular existence or existence more generally.

Let us tweak the strict Plato model a little more.  What if the forms slowly evolve over cosmic time-scales?  Then we get much closer to the standard  process-metaphysical view of the "laws of nature" that govern the interaction of things such that they come into unity.  Coming into unity is to have determinate possibilities rather than the raw flux of chance.  Mathematics is a particular determination of pure possibility that becomes determined once we choose its axioms.  Existence is another order of determination, although online mathematics, it cannot be rid of pure chance.  It scarifies the pure crystal clarity of mere reality for the existential possibilities that in concreto become potentialities.  ("Existential possibility" is the ontological term, whereas "potentiality" is the ontic; the latter presumes determinate laws of nature.)

Were we not to talk of the reality of quality?  Real quality is just a unity that may be achieved through particular interactions.  Insomuch as a unity is a determinate structure of possibility, it has a reality separate from any particular existence.  Existence longs for unity as matter strives for form, though the potentialities for any particular unity is limited by nature.

What do we have here?  A realist re-description of nature that explains the reality of phenomenal qualities.  Ok, "hints" rather than "explains," but I have just unburied myself from my workload for a moment....

Monday, November 21, 2011

CFP The Pluralist

The Pluralist is the official journal of the Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy

The Pluralist provides a publication venue for excellent scholarship in

philosophy that will be of interest to our readers. We invite submissions

of work related to American philosophy and pragmatism, but not limited to
those areas.  All submissions are blind reviewed by multiple reviewers. The
journal also invites suggestions for themed issues or special emphases.
 Please direct inquiries to Roger Ward


Roger Ward, Editor

Sunday, November 20, 2011

CFP European Journal of Pragmatism and American Philosophy

European Journal of Pragmatism and American Philosophy 1/2013

Call for papers Pragmatism and creativity

Edited by Giovanni Maddalena (University of Molise, Italy) and Fernando Zalamea (National University, Colombia)

The creative process is immensely important for any inquiry. In the sciences perspective it functions in the path of discovery, decisive in selecting a new hypothesis. In the arts, creativity's pivotal role  is evident. But in our everyday experience, as Dewey pointed out, creativity is what describes our best acts in social relationships, in education, and in jobs of every kind. The web of images, languages and actions bends itself through the continuous insertion of new, creative, information. There can be creativity also in habitual works, where creativity is crucial for enhancing real satisfaction.

Philosophers often pigeon-hole creativity in the aesthetic or psychological realms. Classic Pragmatists tended toward a more comprehensive pattern of reasoning in which creativity could enter. From Peirce’s abduction to Mead’s relationship between Self and I, pragmatists contemplated a series of different and often problematic views of creativity. Certainly, they stressed the importance of creative processes in different aspects of life, abolishing the gap between scientific and non-scientific realms. Their anti-dualist attitude forbid any pigeon-holing, but their positive answer to the dilemma of what creativity is, and what its fields and boundaries are, remained quite obscure.

This issue of the European Journal of Pragmatism and American Philosophy wants to investigate the perspectives that pragmatisms, old and new, opens up on creativity. We will welcome any contribution on this topic that will (i) clarify classic or neo pragmatists thought on creativity, or (ii) use pragmatist insights in other disciplines, particularly in mathematics and sciences, or (iii) compare pragmatist views with authors and perspectives belonging to other philosophical streams, or (iv) propose new theories inspired by pragmatism. Contributions related to the dialectics between plastic reason and exact imagination, closer to Peirce's pragmaticism and oriented to an understanding of multilayered creativity, will be considered of central interest.

Papers should be sent to Marco Stango ( before November 1st 2012. Papers should not exceed 7,000 words and must include an abstract of 200-400 words and a list of works cited. Papers will be selected on the basis of a process of blind review. Acceptance of papers will be determined before February 1st, 2013. Papers will be published on July 1st, 2013.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

My Response to Larval Subjects on Realist Phenomenology

Levi is late in allowing my moderated comments on his Derrida thread.  He challenged me to give an argument for what I claimed. I began to do so, although I figured that he already knew the answer since he claims knowledge of Whitehead.  I just assumed I was being pedantic, but apparently I was not.  My post is still not posted after several days.



This fact [that I am using a different definition of "phenomenology"] is clear to me, and I stress it to help bridge some OOO vs. SR-PR divides.  If nothing else, I hope this point helps, because Leon, Adam, Matt, probably Shaviro, etc. are coming from (or including) a tradition that uses some of the same words as the Husserlian tradition.  This is an exercise in cross-tradition communication.

"The" phenomenological tradition is bigger than Husserl et al; recall that Husserl cites William James, who was part of the pragmatist tradition that was already doing a "phenomenology" that C.S. Peirce called "phaneroscopy."  Whitehead comes out of that tradition, and trying to read him from the Husserlian tradition will lead to terrible misunderstandings.

I'm not talking about intentionality as understood in the Husserlian tradition, and the corresponding concept is not correlationist.  Since there is not strict "intentionality" in this view, I have nothing to defend from your critique; you presume a concept that I do not hold.

As for your last point, I prefer Peirce's response in his encyclopedia article on Berkeley.  In short, do we take phenomenal qualities to be real or "just names" as nominalists would insist?  If we treat "green" as an arbitrary "product," then we accept nominalism: there is no unity in what generates sense experience that leads to the conception of "green."  I insist that's an arbitrary decision [that does not advance beyond Locke].  Following Peirce, if we agree that there is a existent independent of thought, something real, then "green" means that element of the existent [(a potency)] that tends to constrain thought to the [phenomenal] qualia "green," which it is capable of doing regardless whether there is anyone there to experience green.  As before, "green" as an actualized potency is an event of the interaction of the thing and entities capable of experiencing the qualia "green."  Otherwise, strictly speaking, "green" would be a "general" and not a "universal."  This view also shuns any notion of a "thing in itself."  There is something like withdrawal, but its an characteristic of temporality.  I could go on, but I should defer to proper Peirce scholars; Whiteheads notion is derivative of this and I leave his scholars to explain further.

[In addition, please see other posts on this site to see what a "potency" or power is; it's not anything obvious or like Aristotle.

I would add a counter-argument to Levi's green example.  If we define "green" as the product of properties of the object, e.g., green leaves of a plant, then we just re-inscribe the question.  So, how do we know those properties?  We leave ourselves right back where we began, only now we're talking about "Chlorophyll"--what is that a product of?  Ad infinitum  Is there anything real at the bottom of that?  Why set ourselves up to ask that correlationist question?  We cannot we say that green is real and not a product?  Why--because the nominalist majority does not like talking about phenomenal qualities being real, i.e., there being whiteness in addition to white things.  At worse, the view is on par with nominalism as arbitrariness goes.]

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

What You Are Missing Out On

A thought.

My regular readers can request to friend my on Facebook as "Jason Hills."  I make a lot less formal commentary there, but also post a lot of news, make philosophical commentary, and happen to be friends with a sizeable chunk of the SAAP pragmatist community.

If I'm quiet here, I'm much, much less quiet there.

Monday, November 14, 2011

CFP: New Mexico-West Texas Philosophical Society

New Mexico-West Texas Philosophical Society

Papers on any serious philosophical subject are invited for the 63rd
annual conference of the New Mexico West Texas Philosophical Society
to be held in Las Cruces, New Mexico March 23 – March 25, 2012. The
deadline for paper submissions is January15, 2012. Please consult the
society’s website at To be considered for presentation,
papers approximately 3,000 words long should be submitted
electronically (as a Word attachment) and presentable within 25
minutes. There will be comments on every paper. If you would like to
be considered for making comments on a paper, please contact the
Secretary with your name, title, institution, AOS, and AOC. To be
considered for publication in Southwest Philosophical Studies, papers
must be no more than 3,000 words plus endnotes using only MLA
formatting. Each paper (regular conference or for possible
publication) should be prepared for blind refereeing.

•       Please send an electronic version (Word document) of papers to Dan
Flores, Secretary, at

The conference will be held at Hotel Encanto de Las Cruces located at
705 South Telshor Blvd Las Cruces, NM 88011 (Phone: 575-522-4300 or
1-866-383-0443). For those who wish to stay at the hotel, rooms are
$93.00 (single and double) plus tax. Try to make reservations before
Friday, March 9, 2012 to ensure the $93.00 rate and mention that you
are a member of NMWT. Please check the Society’s website and your e-
mail accounts for any updates.

Registration and Fees
1. full-time professors: $70;
2. part-time professors and adjuncts: $45;
3. graduate students: $35;
4. undergraduate students: $25;
5. observers not on the program: free.

•       Checks should be made out to: New Mexico West Texas Philosophical

•       Please send registration fees to:

Robert M. Louis, Treasurer
New Mexico-West Texas Philosophical Society
5810 Creston Springs Court
Spring, Texas  77379-8742 (slow service) (fast service)

The New Mexico-West Texas Philosophical Society awards two prizes: (1)
the Hubert Griggs Alexander Memorial Award for an excellent paper by a
philosopher at any career level, on any philosophical topic, but
especially on aesthetics, philosophy of language, symbolic form,
Hispanic philosophy, classical philosophy, or the role of philosophy
in the humanities; and (2) the Houghton Dalrymple Memorial Award for
an excellent paper by a graduate student or recent Ph.D. on any
philosophical topic, but with a preference for papers on epistemology
or Hume. Each award includes a check for $100.00 and publication in
Southwest Philosophical Studies. Those wishing to be considered for
either of these awards should put “Alexander” or “Dalrymple”in the
subject line of their e-mail message and include a CV with their

Thursday, November 3, 2011

What Traditional Vocabulary Do You Teach?

I just realized that, although I work primarily in the traditions of pragmatism and continental, I teach in an analytic vocabulary.  I think that is amusing, because its an unintuitive way to break-down traditional barriers.  Breaking down barriers is not the same as breaking traditions; it is being neighborly rather than hostile.  I do this not by accident; I honestly think that analytic terms are easier to grasp on the face of it.  However, as I would complain if you asked, they are no different from continental or pragmatist terms in assuming a specific background by which they foreground their taken meaning.

I teach most introductory courses in a historical format.  Of course, I introduce and insist upon the historic terms, but I also introduce contemporary terms in my commentary, e.g., the "this is what this is about."  (The distinction between historical perspective and explicit retrospective is a concept for a higher-level course, in which the distinction between historic and contemporary terms would be more significant.)

Does anyone else notice such tradition-shifting between their research and teaching, or between teaching different subjects in their own practice?  In the future, I would love to teach upper-division or graduate courses where we would address issues "bi-lingually" in two traditions' vocabularies.  The very first course I would like to do that in would be on phenomenal qualities ... because that's where my research is going.  I'll keep dreaming that I'd ever get such a position, as the market looks so terrible.
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