Friday, June 8, 2012

Varieties of Empiricisms: To Levi Bryant

Levi and I corresponded on the An und fur sich blog criticizing Harman and OOO recently.  There he expressed confusion about why, given his expressed adoption of Deweyan logic, I reject much of his argumentation. I gave an answer then, but in hindsight I could have been far more direct. I think this as I peruse The Democracy of Objects again. Let me be more direct, and I intend this to aid in seeing where the criticism comes from.

John Dewey has a Hegelian empiricism, not a Locke-ian empiricism, and Levi appears oblivious to this crucial fact. This is no small difference, and most if not all the neopragmatists, some of which were cited in our exchange, also miss this point. Except for Rorty, who just outright ignores it and says so. I will add a few other secondary points.

Thought is abductive. An event of thinking is an fleshy instantiation of an abduction. When I talk about "semiotics," I am ipso facto making functional claims about biology and nature. So is Dewey, and that is the point of the biological side of the "biological-cultural" matrix of inquiry of Deweyan logic. Hence, denigrating signifiers is also undercutting Dewey and pragmatism in general, since it also applies for Peirce and James, though in quite different ways.

Moreover, I am puzzled about why Levi conflates "empiricism" with Hume in his discussion of Bhaskar in The Democracy of Objects, and defines the term such that by implication Locke is not an empiricist because he believes in "powers." (This is around footnote 25 of Chapter 2; I don't see page numbers on the web edition.) Arguably, even the definition of "empiricism" in general is wrong, because it is not true of modern empiricisms that "the empiricist attempts to eradicate all unfounded ontological presuppositions by resolving to tarry with what is given in sensations alone" (ibid). Reason and mind is a source of knowledge for most of the moderns, both rationalists and empiricists alike, including Hume.

Given all this, I am puzzled how the following statement can be made without more qualification in our post-Kantian era.

"Needless to say, a tendency or power is a real feature of objects themselves, a feature of the being of objects, and not the being of objects for-us." (near fn 32).

So far, I haven't seen a direct rebuttal of Kant, an address of how this is anything more than a round-about way to Locke, etc. Regardless, the reason I bring this all up is because Dewey is a Hegelian empiricist, which is a term almost unique to him.

In conclusion, Levi, you appear to be misidentifying Dewey, modern empiricism, and also Kant such that your arguments against or from them miss the mark entirely.

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