Friday, April 27, 2012

Summer Reading Group: Deacon's Incomplete Nature

Matt, Leon, and I have been talking about having a summer reading group over Terrence Deacon's Incomplete Nature, which is recent text attempting to explain how emergence in nature is possible.  I have asked those far more familiar than I, the Peirce-L list in fact, what is special about this text, and they said that it gives a good overview of the issues and its unique contribution is its thermodynamic explanation for teleology.

I am inviting readers to join our reading group whether just to follow along or to contribute.  I presume that we will have a reading schedule and have at least one member offer commentary or a precis that will be posted on our blogs.  Please contact myself or Matt if you are interested in being an active member (offering regularly to write a commentary or precis).  I suppose we might start in a few weeks, as the U.S. university semesters come to a close in 2-3 weeks depending on the circumstance.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

CFP: Ethical Theories East and West at APA


Society for Indian Philosophy and Religion
"Ethical Theories: East and West"

The Society for Indian Philosophy and Religion will have a
session at the Eastern APA in Atlanta, December 27-30.

The topic will be "Ethical Theories: East and West".
Kindly send a 150-word abstract to Chandana Chakrabarti

The due date for submission of abstracts is MAY 20, 2012.

Selected papers will be published in The Journal of Indian
Philosophy & Religion. has information about
The Society for Indian Philosophy and Religion

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

CFP: Philosophy and Public Policy Quarterly


Philosophy and Public Policy Quarterly

Editor Mark Sagoff
Assistant Editor John Shook

The Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy, now at George Mason
University, is relaunching its journal Philosophy and Public Policy
Quarterly, published since 1981. The journal seeks papers that address
normative and conceptual dimensions of issues of importance and timeliness
in public policy.

As previous issues suggest, the editors favor articles that are fewer than
5,000 words and are written in a style that will appeal to a broadly
informed public. Short opinion pieces are welcome, as are longer essays
that might serve as target articles for solicited responses. Articles will
be reviewed by the editors and outside referees and, if accepted, will be
carefully edited for publication.

Please send manuscripts by email to

Reality Is Not Transparent

One way to misintepret pragmatist philosophy is to presume that it has a Lockean view of experience.  This is one of the most common misinterpretations.  For Dewey, the prototypical conception of experience is Hegelian, not Lockean!  To experience a thing is not to apprehend and mirror it.  To experience a thing is to mediate it, to transact with it.  “Experience” is transaction, an activity, and it not foremost something a mind does.

Nature experiences.  Nature’s experiencing becomes human experience when it includes a human organism.  Under certain conditions, the experience becomes conscious and then mental.  When experience achieves a “higher” level, i.e., goes from bodily to conscious, the prior phase is integrated into the later but is not subsumed.  The bodily phase continues, though some of its eventuates may now register at a higher level of complexity.

Nature is never fully transparent.  Even at the level of non-human experience, or transaction, there is chance.  Chance is real; the laws of nature are habits for which exceptions occur without warning that are beyond any description.  At the level of human experience, any lower phase of experience is not transparent to a higher phase; the body does not become transparent to consciousness.

Scholastic realism, as I have been championing, does not imply transparency.  It merely implies, along with the notion that nature is continuous, that the content of human experience, e.g., qualia, phenomena, etc., have a real relation to what is experienced.  Hence, it rejects both Humean and Kantian accounts of the reality of the universal while not sliding back into Lockeanism.  By implication, there is much that is hidden, unknown, and unknowable in this view.

CFP Pragmatist Aesthetics at the Université Paris

*Conference and Art Show: 

Pragmatist Aesthetics: 20 years later, 

The Université Paris 1, Panthéon-Sorbonne *

For updated details on this conference and art exhibition, please
The Université Paris 1, Panthéon-Sorbonne will be holding a one-day
conference, on May 25th, 2012, to mark the twentieth anniversary of
the publication of Richard Shusterman's *Pragmatist Aesthetics: Living*
*Beauty, Rethinking Art* (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992), simultaneously
published as *L'art à l'état vif: la pensée pragmatiste et l'esthétique*
*populaire* by Minuit in Paris. The title of the conference is:
"Pragmatist Aesthetics: 20 years later" / "L'art à l'état vif: 20 ans

To accompany the conference and trace the impact of Shusterman's work
not only in aesthetics, philosophy, and the human sciences but also in
contemporary art, the Sorbonne will also be organizing an art show.
The exhibition, from May 24th through June 6th, 2012 at the Michel
Journiac Gallery in Paris, is entitled "AESTHETIC TRANSACTIONS: Art et
philosophie à l'état vif" or in English "AESTHETIC TRANSACTIONS:
Pragmatist Philosophy through Art and Life." It is curated by Richard
Shusterman and includes seven artists with whom he has worked: Luca
Del Baldo (Italy); Carsten Höller (Sweden); ORLAN (France); Pan,
Gongkai (China); Thecla Schiphorst (Canada); France); Yann Toma (France);
and Tatiana Trouvé (France).

The Michel Journiac Gallery is located at 47, rue des Bergers, 75015
Paris; Métro: Lourmel or Charles Michels;
Barbara Formis and David Zerbib are providing organizational and
curatorial assistance in Paris.

The conference will be held at the Amphitheatre of the Sorbonne's
adjacent Centre Saint Charles, 47-53, rue des Bergers, 75015 Paris.
The entire project is led by Richard Conte (professor of art and
director of the UMR ACTE, U.F.R. 04, Arts Plastiques et Sciences de
l'Art, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne) and by Barbara Formis
(Maître de Conférences en Esthétique et Philosophie de l'Art, U.F.R.
04, Arts Plastiques et Sciences de l'Art, Université Paris 1

Conference speakers will include the exhibited artists (in a panel
discussion) and philosophers such as Jean-Pierre Cometti (France) Peng
Feng (China), Mathias Girel, (France), Roberto Frega, Giovanni
Matteucci, and Salvatore Tedesco (Italy), Sandra Laugier (France), as
well as scholars of aesthetics, literature, and the social sciences
such as Wojciech Malecki (Poland), Spyros Franguiadakis (France),
Chantal Pontbriand (Britain), and Jacinto Lageira (France). The
project leaders from the Sorbonne - Barbara Formis and Richard Conte -
will give opening talks and Richard Shusterman will provide a
concluding lecture.

This twofold project is organized by the Université Paris 1, Panthéon-
Sorbonne, Faculty of Arts Plastiques et Sciences de l'Art (UMR ACTE,
Arts - Créations - Théories - Esthétiques). French institutional
partners in the project include the Université Paris 1, Panthéon-
Sorbonne, Faculty of Philosophy (Equipe de recherche Philosophies
Contemporaines) and the Ecole Normale Supérieure d'Ulm: Centre
International de Recherches en Philosophie, Lettres, Savoirs. The
project is also supported by other international partners: Peking
University's Center for Aesthetics and Aesthetic Education; China's
Central Academy of Fine Arts (Beijing); and Florida Atlantic
University's Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters.

*For updated details on this conference and art exhibition, please*


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Real Necessity of Modality

This is a response to Michael, but it also illustrates some good points for a general audience, as I have not articulated the difference between the ontic and the ontological.

Michael, we agree that “relations are indeed real” and disagree on relations being “identical to structure of possibility….”

Michael, all along you have been arguing as if you are an pure actualist, which is a point of disagreement (or misunderstanding?).  I argue that there is more to reality than the mere actual.  Pure possibility and the structure of possibility are ontologically distinct from actuality (Peircean firstness, thirdness, and secondness, respectively).  The ontic structure of the possible (what is possible in this cosmic epoch) describes the possibilities for the realization of relations, i.e., a “habit.”  It is logically necessary that there be such a structure (ontological claim via transcendental or abductive argument), else persistence and pattern is either impossible (if arguing via transcendental argument) or inexplicable and implausible (abductive argument).  Exactly what that structure is now, an ontic claim, is a matter of physics and astrophysics, e.g., the speed of light, Planck’s constant, etc.  Moreover, if this ontic structure were purely actual, then cosmic evolution would be either impossible for inexplicable.  By cosmic evolution, I imply the reality of chance, the mutability of natural laws across cosmic time or epochs (used to explain many principles in astrophysics and cosmogenesis, etc.).  The fully actual annihilates the possible.

From what I can see, Levi’s and your view cannot explain structure except to make it a mystery; it withdraws from explanation even as explanation is claimed.  That’s all I will say about his view, and I don’t want to get into that discussion, so tell me whether I have you right or how you would respond.  Moreover, you appear to embrace absolute contingency, which is not a first, but this is just the other side of the coin of not explaining structure.  It is also not very fruitful if I might invoke another abductive criteria.

Matt is using most of that “eternal form” talk.  He takes a religious-spiritual perspective on the ontological, whereas I’m willing to be a quietist.  I also accept a Jamesian “will to believe” on this point, and Matt could argue from that as well.

Finally, we might disagree again, though I just addressed this case.  You write that forms are “NEVER to be taken as realities in their own right external to their particular occasions.”  I say that forms are never to be taken as “existing in their own right …;”  I am no Platonist.  They are real, where in part “real” is to have existential effects.  A form need not exist per se for it to have existential effects; “form” is a real distinction but not a real thing as the term has no singular existential referent.

On Immanence and Nature

A quick thought on my recent posts.

When I write of of the cosmos placing tendencies on any particular thing or event, one should realize that this is all immanent to nature. It is strictly incorrect to write that there is something (absolutely) outside a thing that forces it to be anything in particular. Instead, I insist that relations are real; any claim about a relation is also a claim about either existence or its possibility (either the possible or potential structure of existence), which always implies something existential in any actual case. Is it really so odd to insist that the cue ball in a game of billiards exerts force on the eight-ball, which implies that they are already related? One should grant that they are related spatially (i.e., referring to the connectivity of entities and not discrete units of separation, which is how people conventionally conceive "space"). In short, nature is always immanent to itself.

There has been some rumbling in the blogosphere of late about positions such as mine implying that there is something external to existence of reality (transcendent) that forces something upon nature. That misconceives the position entirely and, for instance, neglects all the important qualifiers, as I give above, that sometimes I will articulate something as a binary for ease of communication and not strict accuracy.

So, "where is form?" is a silly question from my view. "Form" just describes the pattern to which any particular event/existence is tending towards. In fact, "form" is a futural notion--it is explicitly tensed because I have been describing a modal view of reality. When "form" is past, we are just describing history and not what is to be. Why the distinction? Because there's no logical necessity (or existential necessity if the phrase makes sense) that any particular event must adhere to its form. "Form" is at best a real distinction is should not be reified, which is precisely what someone who refers to the discussion of form as "hylomorphism" is doing. Reification, fallacy of simple location, neglect of the modal view of reality being presented, etc.

In the view here-presented, the ontology could be described as "flat," yet since neither possibility nor habit (form) are existential per se, the "flatness" only registers with regards to existence or force, which is the only mode of reality that can be properly referred to as spatial. Why all this talk of modes? Ah, that is another talk and goes back to scholastic realism and the reality of chance.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Preview: A Defense of the Reality of Experience

Shortly, I will post on exactly what scholastic realism offers to my view, which is to say what I inherit from Peirce and Dewey.  In short, it is not the idea that the metaphysical vocabulary that I speak has some hook into reality; the inheritance is far more basic and primal than that and has no special relation to a vocabulary at all.  It has something to do with the reality of experience and not any particular vocabulary or language.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Reality of Unity and Plurality

Here I engage in a questing argument.  It is in the form of an argument, yet through it I seek to provisionally delineate how to respond more forcefully to those who suppose that matter “contains” its structure such that talk of “form” is bogus non-sense.

If one explains unity (form/identity/structure) in terms of material immanence, then we may ask what generates that unity.  It must be either something within or without (outside) that thing.  If it is without, is it a singular source or multiple?  If it is singular, we are on the way to a form of Platonism.  Either that source emanates form (one direction of causality) or the matter yearns for form (the other direction).  If the source is multiple, then we may be on our way to process philosophy of some sort.  If the source is within, then then we may ask if there is some internal potentiality that generates it.  This leads to a problem, if the source of something's unity or form is always within, then everything must be atomic and autonomous.  But that means that either everything contains within itself the potentiality to be all things, or that each thing is unique in its potentiality.  In either case, problems result since explaining the source or differentiations of these potentialities or "seeds" is problematic.  Finally, if we try to split the difference between these two and suppose a combination of internal and external causality, then we still have the problem of unity.  I hold this last view, wherein the focal problem is to explain “emergence,” e.g., how potentialities and then actualities come to be without positing a mechanistic account.

If possibility is real and primordial, then there must be some limitation on pure possibility else all would be chaos and persistent structure would be impossible.  This limitation can be understood to be in some sense external to the thing. (I border on the fallacy of simple location merely to be better understood.)  The source of cosmic order must be in some way external to the thing, else we must suppose that every singular thing contains these principles.  By the abductive criterion of simplicity, I dismiss that.  Sorry, Leibniz.  What is internal to the thing, in some sense, if its cosmic limitations are not?  Its principle of generativity, its "powers."  Hence, we see here that there is a diremption of the source of cosmic order and generativity.  If we do not separate these two, then philosophies of necessity and mechanism appear to be the result.

After establishing all of this, we can loosen the binaries that I have presented; I have presented it as binaries merely for ease of communication.  As we slowly move away from this provisional structure and into a fuller articulation, I would note that unity (form/identity/structure) is a habit in my view.  The structural and characteristic tendencies that the cosmos places upon any particular event are just that—strong tendencies.  A local event can violate natural laws on this view, which is another way of saying that chance is real and primordial.  There is a level of discussion above describing cosmic structure, and that is asking the question of cosmogenesis, which is a special case of ontogenesis.  That is something that I am still thinking through and for which I recommend reading Matt’s work at Footnotes2plato.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

A Challenge to Materialists

A challenge and a query.

My recent posts on nominalism vs. scholastic realism are a challenge to any philosophical view that insists on pure immanence, such as common materialist, physicalist, etc. views.  Any view that rejects the existence of universal descriptive categories now faces a challenge when trying to justify any metaphysical claim, and any transcendental or abductive methods risk anthropomorphizing such claims, because the descriptions cannot claim universality beyond the human.  There are many ways around these problems if one chooses to embrace nominalism, but few embrace the consequences of the alternative solutions, e.g., rejecting the principle of sufficient reason.  Instead, they hold conflicting and paradoxical views.

I now have a query for various individuals that would propose materialism, nominalism, etc.  How do you handle this charge?

I will offer one.  A metaphysics based on a derivative of Nietzschean will-to-power.  If everything that is, is conflicting points and perspectives of power, then any description is an interpretation performed by one able to impose its will.  The cosmos may be pure chaos except as it is ordered by a powerful will, whether the power occurred spontaneously or through chance striving, eventially it imposes order on the rest.  The entire structure of our universe is, in fact, the product of a cosmic agon between mad chance that would rend order and the tyranny of a superior will.  Dionysus and Apollo battle yet.

Friday, April 20, 2012

CFP: Special Issue of the Austrian Journal of Sociology

CFP: Special Issue of the Austrian Journal of Sociology

(ÖZS – Österreichische Zeitschrift für Soziologie)

*“Potentials of Pragmatist Social Theory. Contributions on the occasion of
the 150th anniversary of George Herbert Mead's birth”*

From the beginning the reception of American Pragmatism has shown striking
peculiarities and ambiguities. This holds especially true for the European
reception of Pragmatism. Here, it was conceived to be a kind of “logical
utilitarism” (Émile Durkheim), a “philosophy of the Dollar”, a shallow
American reception of Nietzsche (Georg Simmel) or the reduction of all
thought to *Herrschaftswissen *(knowledge of domination; Max Scheler).
Interesting similarities to other philosophical schools and/or mutual
influences – e.g. to phenomenology, vitalism, philosophical anthropology,
or the Durkheim School – were ignored.

These distorting interpretations of Pragmatism have determined its
discussion and reception in sociology down to the present day. On the one
hand, authors like George Herbert Mead and Charles Horton Cooley have been
canonized as sociological classics since the 1970s. Especially, Symbolic
Interactionism refers to Mead and secured his place in sociological
consciousness. On the other hand, one can hardly find an accurate treament
of Mead’s and Cooley’s basic ideas in contemporary sociological textbooks.
Often, the colloquial and the sociological meaning of the terms
“pragmatist” and “pragmatic” are blurred by ascribing an exclusive focus on
usefulness and utility to Pragmatism. Even the “renaissance of pragmatism”
since the end of the 1970s – closely linked to Richard Rorty’s seminal
study *Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature *– has to a great extent been
ignored by sociologists. Aside from Jürgen Habermas, the sociological
reception of pragmatism was marginal.

In recent years, however, the voices emphasizing the “incredible modernity”
(Hans Joas) of American pragmatism increase. Besides efforts to develop a
systematic Pragmatist theory of action (Joas), a growing number of
positions in social theory refer to and deal with Pragmatism – at present,
for example, the “praxis theories” of Bourdieu, Thévenot, Latour etc.
Furthermore, one can identify substantial similarities to current results
in the cognitive sciences such as Michael Tomasello's cognitive psychology
of culture. Additionally, more and more empirical studies in sociology make
use of pragmatist concepts – for instance, Jens Beckert in the area of
economic sociology.

The modernity of Pragmatism is – in the main – based on its anti-dualistic
impulse. Because of this impulse, Pragmatism attaches crucial sociological
importance to intersubjectivity, corporeity, creativity, and emotions –
topics alltogether neglected by sociology for a long time. More
consequently than other Pragmatists, Mead applies this anti-dualistic
perspective to the relation of the individual and society. This explains
the particular relevance of his work to sociology which has been burdened
with dualistic conceptions from its beginning. According to Mead, humans
are intrinsically social beings who develop self-consciousness only through
social interaction and communication. On this basis, individuals develop
the possibility to reflect on their own actions and their social
environment. In this way they become able to intentionally form their
social interrelations and to re-organize them when faced with problems
which permanently arise in society.

On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of George Herbert Mead's birth in
2013 the Austrian Journal of Sociology (Österreichische Zeitschrift für
Soziologie – ÖZS) will publish a special issue to explore the potentials of
pragmatist social theory. The volume aims at the systematic and creative
continuation and development of sociological Pragmatism. We invite
contributions to the following topics:

• critical discussions of the sociological and philosophical foundations of

• analyses of important approaches to Pragmatist theory of sociality and
society (e.g. Herbert Blumer, Anselm Strauss, David R. Maines, Richard
Bernstein, Hans Joas or others),

• studies on possible “synergy effects” with current findings in
psychology, anthropology and the cognitive sciences, •discussions of
Pragmatist elements in other sociological approaches, similarities
and differences to competing perspectives, • examples of empirical
Pragmatist social research and Pragmatist philosophy of science,

• evaluations of the potentials of Pragmatism for normative social theory
and social criticism.

The editors of the volume invite authors to submit papers which critically
discuss Pragmatist thought in sociology and/or make a contribution to its
further development. In particular, contributions which deal with Mead`s
social theory and philosophy are welcomed.

Please, submit your abstracts (300 – 500 words) until May 18th, 2012.
Feedback will be given until May 31st. The length of articles should not
exceed 55,000 characters including spaces. The deadline for submitting the
papers is November 30th, 2012. Papers will be subjected to a blind review
process by two peers.

Please send the abstracts to the editors:

*Frithjof Nungesser*, University of Graz and Max Weber Center, University
of Erfurt: *Franz Ofner*, University of

Whitehead and Repetition

Suspended judgment has a nice post on Whitehead and repetition that goes along well with recent local blogosphere musings.

I had forgotten the word "repetition," which is an analogue of "habit."  Analogy is not identity of course, but it is helpful to bring 19th century idealism into the picture, as it has much to teach us realists.

I have not pointed this out, but one can be a "scholastic realist" and still be what many would call and "idealist."  The former thesis says something about what is real.  The latter says something about what reality is.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Reality and Non-Existence of Natural Laws, Habits, and Patterns

I wish to give a brief argument against nominalism.  Though I have not to time to verify its formal correctness, I do intend to give a fairly formal argument and not the layers of hints and explanations that I have previously given.

What this post also offers, in addition, is a rebuttal to the common response from nominalists that only the concept is universal and that nothing in nature is.  But that presumes that the human is not natural; if the concept is universal, then nature is universal.  

If natural laws (habits/patterns/etc.) exist and are real only in and through through their instances, then there is not such thing as a universal or general law.  Why?  “Law” implies generality or at least habit (natural tendency towards a probable pattern).  Yet if a supposed law exists only as particular, then there is no law, universality, or generality.  There is no pattern in nature at all.  If one insists that there is at least a pattern in the mind, i.e., a concept, then one is mistaken.  Why?  Because that concept does not refer to anything in particular—not even the particular instance of which it is claimed.  How so?  Because if the natural pattern or law is not universal, then it can neither be duplicated in nature or in the mind.   Hence, claiming that the universal is in the mind and never in the world solves no problems unless one makes the mistake of thinking that the mind is not in nature.  That is the “Cartesian shadow.”  If one wishes to call the the law or concept an approximate pattern, one could argue in that way as Hume does, but then like Hume then one must give up metaphysics entirely as he did.  Consign it to the flames!  If one refuses to give up metaphysics, one might use transcendental or abductive methods to argue for metaphysics, but then that proponent openly admits that any use of the method cannot be said to be based on any truth or reality outside of whatever happens to occur to humans—and certainly cannot be justified independently.  Any such justification would invoke extra-human criteria that requires some hook into nature that neither concepts nor mere being in the world can provide if one accept the position described.

This is called “nominalism.”  It should be obvious why I reject it.  Its modern variant is the child of Descartes and raised to maturity by Kant.  If the universal is merely  a human affair, then Kant might be the end of philosophy.  The inwardness of subjectivity that sprung from Kant does not entirely solve this problem as long as it does not reconnect to nature and cease to treat human nature as non-natural.  Solving this problem through a reconnection with nature, and not a mystic one, is precisely what American philosophy provides.  It is not the only philosophy to do so.

In short, the solution that I accept is to affirm that natural laws, habits, or patterns must be real in some way apart from mere particular existence.  This is called “scholastic realism.”  Mere “realism” does not affirm this, but instead is often defined in opposition to idealism; I will not enter into that discussion here.

I expect that my opponent might proclaim, again, that patterns emerge out of nature and cannot be understood to be independent from that particular materiality.  Then I say, again, you are talking non-sense and confusedly if we accept your position, because you cannot refer to any patterns at all as the terms have not meaning.  But if your position is true, then explain why nature is so terribly regular whether humans are there or not?  And how can be know these laws?  I am not saying, by the way, the the laws are “eternal.”  They are temporal and still subject to contingency, which is why the term “cosmic habit” might be appropriate.  Different cosmic epochs may have different laws and fundamental cosmic constants, and this view makes the Big Bang and other extreme occurences easier to explain.  Finally, this whole view, when expanded, encompasses evolutionary metaphysics.  Nature evolves, where biological evolution is a special case of a cosmic phenomenon.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Materialism, Realism, Explicability, and Contingency

There has been an involved debate between a number of parties, including Matt, Adam, Michael, and myself, concerning the viability of Whitehead, object-oriented ontology,  materialism, etc. here.

I explain a number of pragmatist positions, including the definitions of "consciousness" and "mind," and what I mean by "form" and its necessity, among others.  I also get the sense from the discussion that my interlocutors are beginning to understand why I insist on talking about nominalism vs. scholastic realism and what is at stake.  It is the key to so many debates but is often hidden and renders so many arguments intractable unless someone tackles the issue head-on ... or at least that's what I think of the matter.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Thought on Pragmatic Agency

I have been musing on how to explain human agency within my Deweyan-pragmatic framework.  Here, I muse upon the basics.  Much of this will be familiar to those who know the embodied-mind framework as there are many similarities.

Many believe that agency begins in conscious thought.  This view holds that freedom allows choice, where human freedom is understood as the ability to generate and choose between options.  Some might argue for absolute freedom, though most contemporary views will accept some limitation originating from biology, the contingencies of the subject’s background or lack of reflection, or anything else that limits either the appearance or ability to realize a choice.  John Dewey offers the view that agency begins in the environment.  The appearance and making of choices not only does not begin with conscious awareness, but does not begin in the individual at all.  Those answers do not go far enough back into how the habits and dispositions of the individual were formed, sometimes going back decades, and how they guide our behavior on levels well below conscious awareness.  Many would balk at extending the concept of human agency to include far more than consciousness, but Dewey would insist that the separation is arbitrary and conventional.  It misleads as much as it explains.

“Habit” should be read as “historic natural patterns such as natural laws” and not “recurrent behaviors such as nervous ticks.”

For scholars, I tell you that I accept James Gouinlock's views though not his conservatism in his more recent work.  I also meld Foucauldian concerns into my perspective, which were issues not fully visible until after Dewey's time.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Humanity on Full Display

Here's a fantastic post by Alan over at Suspended Judgment.

I like how he explains that the "ugliness" of poverty, social hierarchy, etc. is well-hidden in the U.S., whereas in India they do not have the same practice of hiding.  I have long noted this problem, but have not expressed it so eloquently.  So often when speaking to students or even friends I come to a stand-still because they just do no encounter all the ugliness--sometimes even when it is right in front of them.  Having lived through some socio-economic ugliness myself, I have been shocked in the past when people fervently deny my experience, e.g., what it's like to be poor, a graduate student, un- or under-employed but vastly over-qualified, etc.

People believe with their eyes unless they're believing with their preconceptions.  Neither do anyone justice.

CFP: Society for Analytical Feminism: Analytic and Continental

CFP: Society for Analytical Feminism at Vanderbilt in October

This will be the third conference organized by the Society for Analytical Feminism, and it welcomes papers related to women and feminist thought in all areas of ethics, metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of science, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, etc. etc.

Special Conference Theme:

Take it to the Bridge:

Crossing between analytic and continental feminist philosophies

October 4-7, 2012

Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, USA

Submission deadline: May 30, 2012

Take it to the bridge: 1. (In music) A phrase that connotes a change of key, a connecting but distinctive series of notes

The Society for Analytical Feminism invites long abstracts (1000-1500 words) on all topics in feminist philosophy. Accepted papers will be given 30 minutes of presentation time.

Analytical approaches to feminist topics are happily invited as usual. In addition, special consideration will be given to abstracts that bridge feminist analytical and continental approaches, including the history of the analytic/continental “divide” in philosophy, mutually informing applications of analytic and continental philosophical methods to specific questions, analyses of the work of philosophers who bridge analytic and continental traditions or of collaborations between analytic and continental philosophers, methodological debates about the study of philosophy, including the value of different traditions, theoretical accounts of pluralism in philosophy.

Plenary speakers
Brooke Ackerly, Vanderbilt University
Amy Allen, Dartmouth College
Samantha Brennan, U of Western Ontario
Sharon Crasnow, Norco College
Heidi Grasswick, Middlebury College
Kelly Oliver, Vanderbilt University
Anita Superson, University of Kentucky
Naomi Zack, University of Oregon

Submission information
Send abstract in MSWord as an attachment via email to the chair of the program committee at . Please delete self-identifying information from abstract. Include in body of e-mail: name, title, contact information, and, if applicable, institutional affiliation.

For questions about local arrangements, including accessibility, at Vanderbilt University, contact Marilyn Friedman: .

Generous support for the conference has been provided by the Philosophy Department and the Dean of Arts & Sciences of Vanderbilt University

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Phenomenological Pragmatism: A Reintroduction

I have re-commenced editing my book manuscript, which is 230 pages at the outset.  Part of the editing includes offering a more general introduction to Dewey studies targetted at those either familiar with pragmatism or willing dive head-first into an unusual tradition of philosophy.  The other part includes making some of the technical moves clearer, as "obvious" inferences common to phenomenologists are not always common for contemporary pragmatists, and Dewey scholarship is not very unified beyond the basic theses.  Below is a draft of the re-introduction that includes the first two paragraphs that are meant to get the reader's attention.

Another’s choices are inscribed into my body and mind long before I call them my choices.  They are my choices in the sense that I claim them, yet I am not their author, but their performer.  I am easily led to think I am the agent of my actions, because the tincture of my intention pervades the scene.  We all mistake our being actors for being agents, because we read the script of history one line at a time, a script that no one holds before us, but we all follow.

Society and civilization engender patterns of desire, wherein instinct, impulse, and want motivate action and not mythic free will.  Human agency grows through the cultivation of desire, whose patterns and objects are given definite form by culture.  We are not first motivated by choice, but by want, and only subsequently realize the suggested idea.  Only that realization frees us from the tyranny of instinct and impulse, from another’s choices written into my body and mind, and frees us to be intelligent.  Freedom is not absolute, but exists to the degree that we mold desire by thinking it against its anticipated consequences.  We begin our thought as free to the extent that the habits of our locale, society, and civilization encourage, since they provide the proximate objects of desire that we only afterwards call “my choice.”

Friday, April 13, 2012

Realism vs. Nominalism

There has been quite a back-and-forth between Matt of Footnotes to Plato and Levi of Larval Subjects.

Speaking just to principles, Matt is arguing a variant of a scholastic realist position per Whitehead, while Levi is arguing a nominalist position that he attributes to Deleuze.  The former argues for the reality of universal (generals); i.e., the basic categories of metaphysical description are not merely convenient fictions of the mind, but are real distinctions (per Scotus).  One motivation for this is to explain why nature appears to have patterns, i.e., laws of nature, even if we may only know them fallibly.  Levi's position, in contrast, rejects these as unknowable.  This kind of move is fundamental to object-oriented philosophy's notion of withdrawal, though that is not to say that it is shared by all such philosophies.

Matt is doing a great job of articulating the position and reasons, but Levi refuses to acknowledge that this is a reasonable fundamental disagreement.  Some months back I tried to argue this with Levi, and I have given up.  Part of the problem is that as hard as Matt tries, the position is position is mischaracterized as it was in Levi's latest post.  I will use Aristotelian terminology rather than Whiteheadian to explain the mischaracterization.

It is not that forms impose something upon matter from without, which appears to give forms some kind of agency.  Rather, forms are within the thing, where a "form" is a description of the law-like possibilities of nature.  The thing realizes the form within itself through its own powers; the "form" merely describes an immanent possibility.  If a person affirms nominalism, then the person denies either that there are law-like possibilities of nature or that they are knowable.  Levi claimed the latter view some months ago.  Matt is trying to explain something that Levi thinks is in principle unexplainable.

Contra Levi, I insist that if nature is law-like, and all evidence points to "yes," then explanation is both possible and a worthwhile pursuit.  That is, there is no need to accept a Humean or Kantian position on the regularity or purposiveness of nature; it is neither a "habit" (Hume) nor a necessary fiction (or antimony) of human understanding (Kant).  There is no reason to accept Kant's submerged Cartesian dualism and sever human knowing from nature.

If nominalism is the case, then Levi's own position is nothing more than fiction by his own account.  Any principle or rule is a mere human imposition on reality for nominalism.  He has invoked pragmatism per the pragmatic maxim to defend his account, which is ironic as the classical pragmatists were scholastic realists.  The maxim allows one to decide on competing abductive hypotheses based on the consequences of adopting either position given abductive criteria.  Levi would have us believe than onticology provides the best consequences, since as a nominalist he can claim neither reality nor truth for it.  This is not the intended use of the pragmatic maxim, which is intended to compensate for human fallibility and not provide a meta-theoretic justification for nominalism.

Why do I bring all this up?  Nominalism vs. realism is the root of the disagreement, and further discussion is intractable without discussing that.

See one of my previous and detailed posts on this:

I just added the following comment, which I took to be obvious at the time, but perhaps is not:
"Transcendental argumentation cannot be claimed to be human-independent if one is an epistemic nominalist.  And since Levi Bryant was arguing for the human-independence of his work, he enters into a contradiction.He then denies to scholastic realists (Peirce, Dewey, Whitehead, etc.) their own solution to this problem."

This is also happening in Matt's case; I am trying to show the general structures underlying each form of argumentation without delving into the special terminology of each.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

CFP: Graduate Philosophy Conference on Personhood

Interdisciplinary and Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Personhood

15th Annual "Building Bridges"

Graduate Student Philosophy Conference
Southern Illinois University Carbondale

November 16 -17, 2012

Keynote Speaker: Dr. Fanny Söderbäck
Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Siena College, Loudonville, New

Deadline for submissions: September 14, 2012

This fifteenth annual Building Bridges conference will be held at
Southern Illinois University Carbondale November 16 -17, 2012.

This year’s topic is the concept of the “person,” its formation, and
meaning. What does it mean to possess “personhood,” to be considered
“less than a person” by virtue of attributes or attitudes? What
attributes, biologically, socially, and culturally enable someone to
be a person? Can non-humans be persons? Is “personhood” a valuable
concept? The topic is to be construed broadly and we invite papers and
presentations from all areas of philosophy, as well as philosophically
interesting papers from other disciplines.

Submission Guidelines:Papers should not exceed 3000 words and should be prepared for blind
review. Please do not include any personal information in the paper.
On a separate cover page include the following items:
The paper's title
The author's name
Institutional affiliation
E-mail address
Word count (3000 words maximum)
An abstract (150 words maximum)

E-mail a copy of your paper and your personal information, as
attachments, in MS Word format (.doc), (.docx) or in Adobe Portable
Document Format (PDF) to Please name the
file of your paper with an abbreviated paper title and title the file
of your contact information with your last name and first initial.

Conference Statement:The purpose of “Building Bridges” is to bring into dialogue diverse
elements not commonly associated. We seek interdisciplinary as well as
intra-disciplinary themes that address problems from multiple
philosophical standpoints, from different traditions, or in which two
or more thinkers not customarily brought into conversation are
compared. Our goal is to provide a pluralistic forum for constructive
and critical communication across boundaries. For more information
visit our website:

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

CFP: Peirce's Semiotics at 11th World Congress of Semiotics

Call for Papers
Round Table 44: Peirce’s Semiotics

11th World Congress of Semiotics

The 11th World Congress of Semiotics
Time: October 5 – 9, 2012
Location: Nanjing Normal University, Nanjing, China

Ahti-Veikko Pietarinen
(Department of Philosophy, History, Culture and Art Studies, University of Helsinki)
Priscila Borges (University of Ouro Preto – Brazil)

Peirce’s Semiotics
We call for abstracts that make a contribution to the Peirce scholarship. In particular, we welcome proposals that deal with theoretical aspects of Peirce’s work (his logic, philosophy, pragmaticism, semeiotic, the theory of signs) or applications of his thought to the contemporary inquiry across the sciences, including philosophy, human, social and cultural sciences. We specifically encourage proposals by scholars from East-Asian countries.

Please send abstracts and papers in Rich Text Format or Word doc attached to an email to the Round Table organizers ( The abstracts must have no less that 200 and no more than 500 words (including references) and the paper must be delivered in 15 to 20 minutes (including discussion). The RT is held in English.

The following information must be send together with the submission:

Round Table: No. 44
Professional / positional / academic title:
Paper title:
Mobile phone:

Deadline: June 30, 2012. Notification: July 15, 2012.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

CFP: Psych and Philosophy Edited Volume for Open Court

Call for Abstracts

Psych and Philosophy

Edited by Robert Arp

(1) Submit abstracts of no more than 300 words to:
(2) Abstracts due: June 1, 2012
(3) Notification of accepted abstracts: June 15, 2012
(4) First drafts due: September 1, 2012 (flexible)
(5) 10 to 12-paged papers are written in a conversational style for a
lay audience (this definitely ain’t no JPhil, Mind, or Nous

Any relevant topic considered, but here are some possibilities:

- Crime scenes and the relationship between deduction, induction, and abduction
- The use of logical fallacies to influence or manipulate beliefs
- Pseudo-science vs. science
- Psychic abilities, hypnosis, and skepticism
- A psychosocial explanation of a psychic’s “abilities”
- The ability to recall numerous facts and what counts as being “smart”
- Shawn’s abilities and Bloom’s taxonomy (remembering, understanding,
application, analysis, synthesis, evaluation)
- Photographic memory and other forms of evidence
- Knowledge of the facts vs. getting lucky regarding the facts
- Non-creative vs. creative forms of problem solving
- Solo vs. communal problem solving
- Shawn’s justified true beliefs, or lack thereof
- Shawn’s proofs and disproofs for the existence of god
- Yin, Yang, and dualist themes in Psych
- Straight men, funny men, and the philosophy of humor
- Shawn’s relationship to his father, moral education, and virtue ethics
- Shawn, Gus, and the nature of moral and intellectual friendship
- An analysis of the nature of murder vs. other forms of killing
- Deontological vs. utilitarian themes in Psych
- The moral perspectives of the various characters in Psych
- Rationale for the continued use of psychic detectives by the police
- The continued apparent need for charlatans in our 21st-century societies
- Shawn, Gus, race relations, and Psych

Psych and Philosophy will be a book in Open Court Publishing Company’s
Popular Culture and Philosophy Series: Submit ideas for
possible future PCP books to the series editor, George A. Reisch, at: Thanks for your consideration.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Sokal and Lynch on First Epistemic Principles

The Stone, a New York Times philosophy blog, hosts an exchange between Michael Lynch and Alan Sokal.  For those not familiar with them, Lynch is a famous proponent of social constructivism (“all truth is made up”), while Sokal is famous for the Sokal Affair in which he published absolute garbage in an academic humanities journal to make a point about the weakness of knowledge claims in the humanities.

The NYT only allows 10 free articles a month, and a login might be required.

Harman on Second-Rate Philosophers and Religion

I'm a bit late in linking this, but it's still good.  My own students can never guess my own religious background, because as soon as they guess one thing--whatever I am teaching at the time--I will soon discuss something deeply counter to it.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Problems in Dewey's Theory of Continuity

Below is an abstract for an article that I wrote.  It concerns a problem in Dewey's theory of continuity.  In short, every situation must be a problematic situation in some sense, else 

There is a paradox at the heart of John Dewey's theory of experience.  Every situation both is and is not a problematic situation.  Experiencing a situation as problematic is a gestalt shift in the continuity of experience, a reorganization of present and emergent elements, that is not emergent ex nihilo.  Since Deweyan naturalism excludes spontaneous causality, and continuity implies that everything has a natural history, the process of a problematic situation must be explained.  I will account for the paradox, elucidate the process, and resolve a conundrum that results.  The conundrum is, why is not every situation experienced as problematic, when logically every situation is problematic.  The explanation includes a synoptic account of Dewey’s theory of experience that emphasizes its processive character as a natural history.  I will also elucidate some implications for agency, intentionality, and the gestalt conditions for problematic experience.

In short, every situation must be a problematic situation in some sense, else a problematic situation emerges ex nihilo.  The essay discusses in what way all situations must be "problematic" or contain a "felt difficulty."  This has several implications.  One, we can only attend to the "problematic" on Dewey's theory.  Two, the emergent "problem" is also the genesis of intentionality; the object calls out our attention to it, though "object" does not have the usual denotation.  Three, if "mind" is an event founded on a "conscious" event and then upon a bodily one, in what way is this event translated or encoded from environment, body, consciousness, and mind?  That is, there is a continuous progression of events; what can be said of the event-structure given a Deweyan framework?  I leave it to later work to compare this to contemporary articulations, e.g., Deacon, Varela, etc.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Motivations: Over-Promising on Our Agency, Imagination, and Morality

I would like to bring it back to basics.  What motivates my work?  Social, cultural, political and moral issues.

Most people believe with their eyes.  We are unaware of the extent to which our upbringing, culture, education,  etc. influence how and we they perceive.  This is not a problem so much as a troubling fact.  The problem begins when we think that behavior and perception are as malleable as ideas.  Our contemporary American culture tends to treat ideas as instruments to some given end.  Change the end or ideal, and our behavior and perceptions change, do they not?  No.  We believe with our blood and bones, and while ideas might begin change, they might also beget lies … lies about what we have been doing, made intentionally or not.

I am a moralist at heart.  I do not fear iconoclasm.  But I also harbor a conservative sentiment whispering that publicly breaking sacred cultural idols is often no more than a temper-tantrum.  Rather than breaking, I wish to understand why—and thus I became a philosopher—but this is founded on an existential and practical ground.  

Because I am a moralist, I call “lying” what some might call “mistakes” or “hermeneutics.”  Why?  So many claim ignorance, but it is a vincible ignorance motivated by morally deficient factors.  I say this in an indirect and odd manner because commonsense ideas of freedom, agency, consciousness are all monolithic notions of discredited faculty psychology.  We want to believe these notions because they allow us to suppose more agency and knowledge than we have at the same time we hide in the shadow of those discredited ideas.  Oh, I didn’t even mean that!  But I didn’t intend that!  I cannot be responsible!

Updates: Americanist Associations, Institutes, Libraries

I have been updating the blog.  I am adding a number of resources on American thought, and I welcome suggestions for anything in any country or language.  I am most familiar with the English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and Nordic centers and sites, and will be slowly adding them.  I know that there are also centers in China and Japan, for instance, but I am still hunting down that information.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Phenomenological Delving: What Is a Habit?

The following is a snippet from my book manuscript that is the beginning of the explanation of John Dewey's theory of habit, which undergirds my own phenomenological pragmatism.  The habitual body is the primary, proximate source of meaning for human experience.

Dewey writes,

The essence of habit is an acquired predisposition to ways or modes of response, not to particular acts except as, under special conditions, these express a way of behaving.  Habit means special sensitiveness or accessibility to certain classes of stimuli, standing predilictions and aversions, rather than bare recurrence of specific acts (MW 14:32; 143).

            "Habit" primarily refers to the capacities of the organism to reconstruct its environment.  While the latent structures of the environment and situation have been discussed, the inclusion of the biological phase of habit in organic processes focuses on how the organism actively structures and restructures its environment and thereby the situation.  Habits "incorporate an environment within themselves.  They are adjustments of the environment, not merely to it"  (MW 14:38; 142).  Hence, habits are a continual incorporation or embodiment of the environment and are continuous with it.  They are not "inner forces," "powers of an autonomous organism," "individual reflexes," "psychic associations," or "repeated actions."[i]  They are "structured processes integrating the organism-environment field … general paths of integration and interpretation … situational structures."[ii]

[i]           Alexander, Horizons of Feeling, 142.
[ii]           Alexander, Horizons of Feeling, 142.

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