Friday, June 8, 2012

Aristotle, Dewey, and Temporality

John Dewey uses teleological language in service of expressing temporality. In my Deweyan phenomenological pragmatism, I have been misunderstood when I use the terms “form” or “telos” as indicating either Platonism or magical final causation. This is incorrect, since I use these terms to express the temporality and purposes of nature, wherein nature’s purposiveness is dynamic and emergent and not fixed or latent. The presumption of the latter is a case of the genetic fallacy. I will briefly describe how I use the terminology in service to temporal expression in Dewey’s process philosophy, and my use stems from Thomas Alexander’s in John Dewey’s Theory of Art, Experience, and Nature. It might be no surprise to a regular reader that this is from a section of my book, and I advise you to read my prior post “What Is Process Philosophy?” first, and perhaps odler posts on how a quality emerges from nature, in which I explain the neo-neo-Aristotelian vocabulary in more detail.

Recalling that a “‘process’ is a dynamic, interconnected series of act-events” maintaining a continuity of nature and human nature ...
    I will describe the relation of present, past, and future in teleological language that also prefigures the study of Alexander’s work. Recall that an act produces an event, although the act and event are a real distinction and not a substantive one. An act, in Aristotelian diction, is a potentiality, a triad of capacity or dunamis, activity or kinesis, and realization unto actuality or entelechy. The past is fully actual and contains the local capacities of the present. While all things are in principle related, not all relations are significant for a local change, and past events have concretized what relations and events are relevant for the present. The present is the phase of activity, of selection and chance, that is the moment of becoming given local capacities. The future is the realm of the possible, of what might become actual, of what is anticipated. A potential future of an event is called its telos.
    Unlike Aristotelian teleology, no act or event is logically necessary in an absolute sense. Dewey calls necessity a “superstition” and affirms Peirce’s views (EW 4:19). He rejects the idea that a telos or final causation mysteriously forces a thing to become its telos. Rather, the telos describes what might occur in the next moment, and should be understood as an abductive rather than deductive inference, a hypothesis rather than a necessity. A telos is just where the train appears to be going given current conditions, which is non-trivial when there are no tracks. The word can have metaphysical, biological, phenomenological connotations, in which case one would employ different logics.

The reference to a train is to the metaphor and analogy that I use to explain process philosophy; both the analogies and dis-analogies are informative.

As I have written here before, “form” is the name for the momentary structure of an event. However, potentiality precedes form, which is not an Aristotelian view. One deep implication of this view is that  in ontogenesis, when the most basic elements of a cosmology have not become more complex structures, there might be no distinction between time and chance.

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