Friday, January 13, 2012

Pragmatism: Another Solution for Correlationism

I was reading Meillassoux's "Potentiality and Virtuality" in Collapse II when something hit me.

His criticism of Nelson Goodman's solution to the problem of causality in Hume does not address the solution of classical American pragmatism.  Recall the problem.


We experience a "cause" and "effect" whenever we experience concurrent events in which case a psychological habit assigns one the title of "cause" and the other of "effect."  What we experience is a sentiment from which we tacitly infer this relation.  But there is no necessity to this relation other than an arbitrary psychological one that can be rescued only by assuming the uniformity of nature, etc.  I will presume that the rest of the story is known.

One way of putting the Peirce or subsequent Deweyan solution is to say that by analogy they ontologize habit.  That is, the connection of events is not merely a psychological habit, but a cosmic one.  Nature itself has "habits," and in that consists the uniformity of nature.  However, this is temporal and historical self-similarity rather than identity.  Moreover, "psychological habits" that allow us to experience "causes" and "effects" are not identical with the cosmic habits.

However, this does not solve the original problem, but restates it, which might appear to be the "abandonment" and "reformulation" of the problem that Meillassoux derides.  It is not.  Rather, all the assumptions that lead to the problem, most of the modern tradition, are abandoned.  Experience is not representational.  Experience is not even, prima facie, something humans do.  Rocks can experience.  I will leave that part of the story untold, especially since I have addressed it numerous times on this blog.

Hence, the problematic that Meillassoux elaborates dissolves:

"Can we prove the effective necessity of the connections observed between successive events? The presupposition made both by Hume and by Goodman is that, if we cannot, then any ontological treatment of what is called real necessity (that is to say, of the necessity of laws, as opposed to so-called logical necessity) is consigned to failure, and consequently must be abandoned." (58)

Real necessity is either a posit or a myth.  It's contingency all the way down, but contingency does not mean arbitrariness.  One need only accept the problematic if one accepts the Humean premises, but classical pragmatism does not.  It's another way out of the problem ... by avoiding it entirely.  One need only work around a problem that is placed in one's path, or one can take another path.

Hence, Meillassoux's claim is old hat to classical pragmatists:

"the ontological approach I speak of would consist in affirming that it is possible rationally to

envisage that the constants could effectively change for no  reason whatsoever, and thus with no necessity whatsoever; which, as I will insist, leads us to envisage a contingency so radical that it would incorporate all conceivable futures of the present laws, including that consisting in the absence of their

modification." (59)

We're a small group.  I don't think anyone noticed we were left out.

Continuing, on this view, the principle of sufficient reason, that everything occurs according to some necessary logos, finds its analogue in the notion that every cause has a natural history, though perhaps not necessity.  In his defense, this position might not qualify as "metaphysics, any postulation of a real necessity" (61).  Metaphysics becomes reformulated as an abductive entreprise, wherein what is really real is experience and not the theory of experience.  (See above: "experience" is not just something humans do.)

I would continue, but I wanted to make a small but important point.  It seems that Meillasoux's concerns about the "pragmatic" moves of Nelson (Editor Mackay first called it "pragmatism") have nothing to do with the tradition of classical and neoclassical American pragmatism.  Road less travelled and all that.

2 comments:

  1. "Hence, Meillassoux's claim is old hat to classical pragmatists:

    'the ontological approach I speak of would consist in affirming that it is possible rationally to envisage that the constants could effectively change for no reason whatsoever, and thus with no necessity whatsoever; which, as I will insist, leads us to envisage a contingency so radical that it would incorporate all conceivable futures of the present laws, including that consisting in the absence of their modification.' (59)

    We're a small group. I don't think anyone noticed we were left out."

    I noticed, Jason. *gives hug* The few and the rare.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks, Leon.

    I am not trying to attempt a reductio. Rather I am trying to demonstrate the legitimacy of American thought to this group of problems. Or, to borrow the title of Larry Hickman's book, indicate "Pragmatism as Post-Post-Modernism."

    Meillassoux's solution is not the pragmatic solution and need not be. I'm just saying there are other options.

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