Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Eating Popcorn Watching the OOO Blogosphere

Salted, no butter please.

I went back after a hiatus and read through some of Levi Bryant's recent posts.  He's doing a lot to respond to the various criticisms.  I suspect that he's not saying much new so much as articulating it in a different way; its a lot more direct than what I've seen.  Hey, I like direct.

Recently, he answered a comment by Glen Fuller on Jussi Parikka's blog that I discussed in a prior post ....  I would link it but the link is dead.  I do have the quotation, however:

"Levi, if it is ‘very similar’ why then would I bother with OOP? Why not stick with Whitehead? Is it the whole ‘God’ thing you don’t like? I read eternal objects the same way as Shaviro, Massumi, etc as virtual singularities that can be repeated in different ways under different conditions, like the boiling point of water."

In a recent post, he directly responds to the question qua Massumi.  Given what he quotes of Massumi concerning the relation of objects to becoming, it should be easy for him to defend against the critiques at least as stated, and he does so successfully  There is not an absolute distinction between being and becoming in Americanist process metaphysics, e.g., Whitehead, especially since once you piivilege one side explaining the other becomes problematic.  That has been a process philosopher mantra, and if we include Buddhism (cf Nagarjuna) as I would recommend, that mantra has been around for a loooong time.

There are a lot of reasons, aside from plain ol' criticism, not to stick with Whitehead.  I follow William James on this point and would accept "temperament" as an answer.  One still has to contend with the past, but "slaying the master" is not the only way.


  1. Jason,
    I managed to scarf up a copy of Ford's 'Two Process Philosophers: Hartshorne's Encounter with Whitehead' as well as a copy of Hartshorne's 'Whitehead's Philosophy' - both good but the later EXCELLENT (the later also containing the essays, "The Compound Individual"; "Whitehead's Idea of God"; and "Is Whitehead's God the God of Religion?"; and more, of course).

    I have, for the foreseeable future, decided to refer to "objects" as "dynamic singular agents" precisely because of the above mentioned essays.

    Additionally absorbed from the above books, I have come to believe that a good criterion for metaphysical truth is "the unity of contraries" (speaking to your point that in American process metaphysics, e.g. Whitehead, there is not an absolute distinction between being and becoming).

    I read the above to mean that both poles of ultimate contrarieties must be affirmed; which is to say there can be no such thing as "pure actuality alone" anymore can there be such a thing as "merely finite" (or "merely infinite"), "merely necessary" or "merely contingent." Thus, there can be no such thing as "merely objects" over "merely object-relations."

    If objects are singular yet exist in such a way that another singular (sensual object) exists which is distinct at least in one other respect from the first (*really* distinct so as to avoid nominalism and admit real ontological features), then a polar feature (call it what you will, "sense"; "relation"; "reaction") is present pertaining to that category. The conclusion is that "there is nothing but objects" must be false if simplicter the following. A.) objects relate, even if temporarly to themselves as self-same identical substances with careers carrying forward into the future and B.) if truly distinct from the first substance (object pluralism), the form of that relation composes at least one other object existing relative to the first but distinct from it, and thus its name refers to something equally real. Thus, the distinction is not absolute but relative - but this does not detract from the reality of either term.

    So, it appears that it is not the "merely" which could be taken as reductionistic and thus as a problem ("reductionistic" or "undermining" - a verbal choice), but the fact that only one pole of an ultimate contrariety affirmed. This even if one slinks past the criticism of an arbitrary, (rather than metaphysically necessary) affirmation of a category named "object."

    The broader conclusion is that it cannot be as simple as calling everything "objects" any more one would be good to call everything "becoming" (not what a good process philosopher does, by the way).

    Suppose we grant the arbitrary category given the speculative viewpoint, that category (or concept) must be parsed into its logically necessary features so as to count as an ultimate in the universe. This goes past "temperament," I think, and there may be an inner and perhaps reformed notion of some good criterion for metaphysics.

    At that point, however, we may even avoid both pitfuls simply due to historical associations (abandoning both "process" and "object") and going for something abit more accurate. As I said, I am going to try for "dynamic singular agent" for now.

  2. Post Scriptum: Sorry for the typos - I typed that in a rush.

    Leon / after nature

  3. I prefer "process" because it invokes temporality, which I think is essential for understanding what is going on in becoming. "Dynamic" does not connote this, and one of the greatest failures of much temporal thinking is to spatialize time, which I am convinced many do when talking about "dynamic systems." They confuse "history" as a succession of events with "time." I'm on record for harshing the Deweyan pragmatists on this point. But if temporality is triadic or even quadratic--at minimum--then a spatialized or dyadic conception grossly misinterprets it. I think phenomenological temporality is quadratic: past, present, future, and the structure of their continuity.

    I can forward my article on realist, pragmatist phenomenological intentionality etc. if you want an in-depth explanation, especially qua "structure of continuity." You would only need to read 2 sections of it. I know that Hartshorne and Whitehead have this down, but it might be helpful to see a different view on the issue.

  4. p.s.

    If you go with "the unity of contraries," have a counter-argument against being labeled "crypto-Apeiron" ready in addition to the more obvious counters. If you get hit with that, your interlocutor is probably substance-thinking.

  5. Jason,
    I wouldn't advocate a unity in the sense of dissolving their opposite nature; the principles serves as a measure of contrast in order to distinguish the integrity of two distinct but symmetrical ideas, neither idea tipping the "more real" scale.

    Hartshorne puts it like this, "One must not affirm one pole of an ultimate contrariety in such a fashion that it excludes the contrary pole. Both poles apply positively" (Creative Experiencing, 2).

    Leon / after nature

  6. I'm playing devil's advocate. What if your critical interlocutor says, so, if we have all this "becoming," then where does "being" go? If it's dynamic, changing, temporal, etc. all the way down, then where is the persistence? Does it hide in the Apeiron and get trotted out?

    My own answer, by the way, is to distinguish the concrete as the emergence of an actual event, whose qualities (Peircean firstness) are singular and irreducible to it. Whitehead would call this concresence. This apple, in being this apple, is a persistent actuality. The fact that it maintains its being as things apple does not mean that the process of becoming that apple is not real--it does not hide out in the Apeiron and sort of switch places. However, and this is key, there is an asymmetric hierarchy at work. The processes of becoming are constitutively prior to the actual event, whereas the actual event mediates the past and the future. This point about the asymmetry was made in Hartshorne's essay in _Pragmatism and Phenomenology_. In contrast, the Apeiron is atemporal and symmetric.

    Becoming is skewed and irreversible--and thus irreducible unless one robs it of its temporality---but this is also what distinguishes any persistent actuality from mere process. I believe Royce pointed this out as well in his temporalist, thought idealist, metaphysics.

  7. Jason,
    Let's go along with this. I want to veer slightly however and draw the conversation toward the being (nature) of a thing "hiding out" (a very good way to put it).

    Do you think that this is what *may* preserve the value (worth) of a thing - the fact that its own nature forever transcends the trace of its emergence? In your words, and perhaps in Whiteheadian language, the actual event is whatever is left at the moment of that "first," that essential individuated nature. Now I know for Peirce that is a potential, individuated from more general possibility - but personal identity seems to be asymetrical while "pure identity" (non-persons) is not.

    I am a panpsychist so for me there is an element of "person" (better, "perspective," "agency") in everything.

    I don't want to get side-tracked, but I wrote a post to some of these issues:

    Maybe the point is, is that identities-in-process are indeed always "skewed" (transcending our own frozen pictures of them) and irreducible in terms of value. I agree completely that it is time which fixes the relations. In a timeless state *the inner essential nature of all objects would be apparent* for it is a process of becoming which conceals those natures simply by establishing them as actualities. But, with Peirce, that would mean death. Ceasing creative becoming means death.

    I know I've gone off track, but wanted to personalize the discourse. A creepy Apeiron depersonalizes the being of things.

    Leon / after nature

  8. The issue of whether nature can "hide out" can be thought at least two ways. Probably more. Is "hiding out" occuring because something is merely potential rather than actual? Or is something "hiding out" insomuch as it exists in a different mode of being at present, e.g., the present-to-handness of the hammer will no longer hide when the hammer becomes unworkable, unready-to-hand, as the event of transition to presence. Aside, I would interpret the Apeiron as of the latter, though that's debatable amongst preSocratic scholars I bet.

    I'm not an actualist metaphysician; actualism tends to go with materialism. I think the more common term for actualism is "physicalism." They might ask those Apeiron questions, because everything is supposed to exist. As you know, I'm with Peirce and at least three modalities of being that are generative--generativity is key.

    What is "value?" I will guess that it implies both an aesthetic and a selection of what is normative in that aesthetic. But that's a guess. Another guess. The "value" of a person is the temporalizing is the cosmos; what one was, is, and will be. Thus only God can truly judge a person, because only God can see all three at once (going with a Boethian argument on causality, temporality, and God's fore-knowledge--aka God's knowing your options doesn't cause them and you can change them). I don't think Peircean categories can cover this, but I'd need more study to know for sure. I'm sure that Hartshorne handles this; I have some of Randall Auxier's articles on this if you want.

    Yes, identities-in-process are always "skewed" and irreducible because time is asymmetric as both Royce and Hartshorne noted (cf Hartshorne on Americanist phenomenology in _Pragmatism and Phenomenology_).

    To nitpick, time is not an agent that "fixes" relations. (The subject-verb-object grammatical structure of our language makes talking about this hard.) Time is the name for the asymmetric variance of relating. Time is a very close cousin of chance. Actually, doing that would be more than death for Peirce--it would be needlessly obscuring phenomena. Heidegger would call it forgetfulness.

    Yes, the Apeiron is the trickster thief of being. It keeps stealing being and replacing it with becoming when no one is looking.

  9. Why can't you think of the "hiding out" (this is closet Heideggerianism) in functional terms? It seems to me that Jason is taking it in a Kantian way, and fearful of it, while Leon is still attempting to "preserve" some sort of substance way of thinking about objects. Functionality would fully temporalize it.

  10. There are more forms of "hiding out" than "closet Heideggerianism." I've been naming the Apeiron the whole time, which is distinct from actual vs. potential, modalities of being, etc. I am using a vague term "hiding out" precisely because there are so many articulations of the notion, and it really matters which one we engage. For Heidegger, it's about tool-being and presence, etc., which has a semiotic flair. Which "hiding out?" Each has very different consequences.

    It is odd to claim that a pragmatist cannot think of "hiding out" in functional terms; it's like asking if the Pope is Catholic. Honestly, your questions baffle me as I can only conclude that you misunderstand both Leon and myself. Leon trying to preserve substance? A process philosopher? Functionalists not being functional? Leon thinks, unless I am mistaken, that OOO is reducible to substance metaphysics unless certain conditions are met.

    I am not "fearful" of "hiding out" in the least, as it runs through everything I do, although in my case its about the asymmetric temporality of processes and not a Heideggerian semiotic of tool-being. Or semiotic, non-representational theories of experience. The problem and solution is *how*, which is why I fill my blog with technical articles and frequently ask for references from my interlocutors so I can go read theirs.

    My concerns with OOO is that prima facie it seems to want to have various points both ways. So I ask questions and push things for answers. Over time, I've seen more and better responses, but the responses seemed at times problematic. See my many posts on nominalism. In this case, if we are talking about "withdrawal" as a form of hiding out, prima facie OOO can have problems--depending upon which OOO. I barely know Morton's, for instance, so I almost never mention it.

    If an object "withdraws" from all else and itself, then functionalizing the concept of withdrawal does not eliminate the pitfals of absolute withdrawal. I am still trying to figure out how Harman handles this--anyone feel free to point it out--but it appears well-handled by Levi and Bogost gave me a few hints per "promiscuity" that I have to look up. Btw, the pitfalls of absolute withdrawal are that if objects never directly interact, then one must explain how they could interact ever. Once absolute discontinuity is posited, continuity becomes something that one cannot easily get back. The other problem of functionalizing is giving into nominalism, which I have explained at length on this blog.

    All of my concerns and criticisms should be understood as open questions awaiting an answer. At the end of the day, I will remind OOO scholars that while their articulations are new, many of the underlying dynamics are not. It's all familiar to me--well Harman's really is as novel as he says it is--and thus when I see familiar moves I ask the stock questions.

  11. I have posted a preliminary on discussing what "functionalizing" something does.


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