Tuesday, July 24, 2012

How Pragmatists Commit Hubris


I am editing the last major chapter of my book. By now, I have completed a synoptic reading of Dewey's metaphysics and phenomenology with emphasis on its processional and temporal elements, and begin critiquing his concept of valuation. The problem? Dewey's analysis of valuation is incomplete, and most subsequent scholars follow him in this blindness, which leads them to commit hubris. They promise more of Deweyan method that it can accomplish, rarely admit its short-comings, and thereby hamstring any attempt to rectify deficiencies. Below I give you the introduction to the last chapter.
**

We have come full circle. In the beginning I asked how intelligence and agency are possible when impulsivity and desire are their root. For many, this formulation might have come as a shock, for western thinkers frequently understand the two to be opposites. John Dewey championed the view that intelligent inquiry is the transformation of impulsive desire through harmonizing it to ideal ends. However, I challenged his view because he promised more of our transformative capabilities than is warranted. He presumes that individuals are either more transparent to themselves or more integral of character than they are, and thereby assumed that desire is always ideational and available for reflective control at least in principle. Since I broached the question and criticism, I have presented a synoptic vision of Dewey’s philosophy focused on his metaphysics and phenomenology through the lens of Alexander coming to the following conclusion.

Every reflection is grounded upon what does not come to light, and this insight is fundamental to Dewey’s theory of experience. Experience is a process in which the unconscious phase occurs first and constitutes the conscious phase that becomes reflection. The “unconscious phase” includes the local environment, the active human body, the situation, habits ranging from instinct to the finest refinements of culture, etc., although I focus on only one strand of the unconscious phase, the process inclusive of “desire” or motivated human purposiveness that is a species of valuation. Our habits give us purposes without conscious intentions, and these purposes are the coordinated activity of biological impulses. When these purposes are sufficiently disrupted, the tension in ongoing activities may give rise to emotion and affectivity or a “felt difficulty” that initiates reflection and a problematic situation. Only then may we be an intelligent agent rather than rely on intelligently educated habit. However, the original impulsivity continues to constitute the situation, and supposing otherwise ignores the continuity of thought. The problem that confronts us is not whether an individual has a felt difficulty that provokes thought, but whether the individual may interpret the situation to re-educate habits and engender future felt difficulties that otherwise may not have been likely.

We cannot assume that every disruption launches us into reflection or reveals every unthought purpose. The conundrum is that only physical resistance necessarily provokes a felt difficulty, but the problem might be symbolic rather than physical. Symbolic resistance is possible only when a person interprets an event as a sign for a particular meaning. That is, morality does not walk across the street and slap sense into you. Racism is not only about conscious intention, but about attitudes, preconceptions, behaviors, and the material endurance of institutions that are frequently unthought. Culture is as much symbolic as physical, but only interpretation converts the physical into the symbolic. Intelligence requires resisting impulsive behavior, but when the event requires a symbolic resistance, talk about the possibilities of the situation become narrowed to the possibilities of interpretation.

In the process of experience, the unconscious phase occurs first and constitutes the conscious phase in which intelligence and agency occur. Part of the unconscious phase includes instinctual and habitual impulse that are primary in the direction of semi-autonomous behavior, and they function as gatekeepers of what might become conscious or what we might experience as meaningful. Every reflection is grounded upon what does not come to light, and this insight is fundamental to Dewey’s theory of experience. While there is no necessity for the occurrence of any particular event, the asymmetric flow is necessary, which establishes the enduring possibility of unconscious habits fragmented behavior from the reflective apprehension of their meaning. This is an unavoidable limitation of Dewey’s theory of intelligent inquiry that he did not adequately address.

Where I've Been Hiding

I took a break.

That's why I haven't posted regularly in some weeks. For those who follow my articles, blog, and FB posts, one might get the correct impression that I work non-stop seven days a week. I do. I'm a perfectionist about pedagogy, obsessive about scholarship and interpretation, and teach through the summer. I plan to start posting again, though more slowly.  Speaking of.....

Monday, July 23, 2012

A Kantian Meditation on Bacon

A colleague of mine, Randall Auxier, offered this fine meditation on Facebook, and I couldn't help but share.


A doubt has become a real problem for me. We all know that bacon is sort of an end in itself. It's almost a Kantian Idea of Reason --God, freedom, immortality, and bacon-- the ideas without which nothing else can really be good. And home grown tomatoes, while certainly a widely acknowledge intrinsic good, are commonly seen as contributors to other goods, but still very, very good all alone (with a bit of salt, perhaps). But here is the problem: I can't shake the feeling that bacon and homegrown tomatoes, even with good bread, can become a mayonnaise delivery system. Now, I know what you're thinking: "bacon isn't a system in the service of anything but itself." I know, I know. BUT HEAR ME OUT. How can you KNOW that unless you leave the mayonnaise off of the BLT? And no one has ever done that, and no one ever will. That's MY point. It's not just French ancestry speaking here. I am asserting that bacon CAN be subordinated in the hierarchy of goods, or at least, it is impossible to prove that it CAN'T BE, since no one is going to test this.

The Morality of Killing: Drone Strikes

The morality of the American use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) has been debated much recently. Consider the recent New York Times discussion at The Stone. A colleague directed me to an argument by Bradley Strawser in the Journal of Military Ethics. To his argument in favor of the use of drones, I have the following reply.



I strongly disagree with Strawser, and am almost tempted to accuse him of sophistry. Objection 6 covers my principle objection to the use of UAVs; it lowers the threshold for what counts as a just war (jus ad bellum) action. Below is his summary of the objection and response.

“Hence, although it is certainly possible that use of UAVs could lower the costs of going to war for a given state and, thereby, lower the threshold for going to war such that a state might have an increased likelihood of engaging in a war that is unjust, such predictions cannot be the basis for demanding an intentional violation of PUR given our present epistemic limitations.” (361)

 The author’s rebuttal shifts the focus of moral concern to what is owed the offensive combatant per the “PUR” principle (protect our soldiers), and not the societal and political issues of lowering the threshold. Not only does he shift the focus, from one issue to another, but he assumes that we would seek the same war action regardless of the technology. That is, his PUR principle, upon which his defense of UAVs is based, only works assuming that we seek the same war actions regardless of technology.

In sum, the arguments for objection 6 are beside-the-point, on the edge of fallacious if not fully committed, because of the shifting of focus and assumptions. They do not address the core concerns of such objections, and thus the whole argument is also implicitly a straw man argument, because the author posits that the objectors share the same assumptions, but they do not; the argument would be successful if they did.

Friday, July 20, 2012

CFP: THE SOCIETY FOR GERMAN IDEALISM

THE SOCIETY FOR GERMAN IDEALISM

Call for Papers

The Society for German Idealism will meet at the APA Pacific Division.

Papers must not exceed a length of 3000 words. Include the following ten items:

(1) word count -- 3000 words maximum!
(2) author's name
(3) academic status (professor, unaffiliated, graduate student)
(4) highest earned degree (BA, MA, PhD)
(5) institutional affiliation (if any)
(6) mailing address
(7) email address
(8) telephone number
(9) the paper's title
(10) an abstract -- 100 words maximum!

Include this information in the body of your email and on the first
page of your paper.

No more than one submission by the same author will be considered.

Email a copy of your paper, as an attachment, in Microsoft Word
(.doc), Rich Text Format (.rtf), or Adobe Portable Document Format
(.pdf) to idealism@lclark.edu.
Label your attachment as follows:
YourLastName_YourFirstName -- for example, Hegel_Georg.doc

Papers must be received by SEPTEMBER 1.

Papers will be reviewed by a committee. Three papers will be selected
for presentation, and each paper will have a commentator.
Notification of acceptance will be made via email in October.
Submissions whose authors cannot be contacted through email will be
rejected.

If you would like to serve as a commentator, please email
idealism@lclark.edu by September 15.


http://legacy.lclark.edu/~idealism/SGI.html has more information about
The Society for German Idealism.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Pragmatism and Existential Philosophy

I translated an article by Hans Lipps that discusses the relationship of pragmatism and existential philosophy, including Heidegger. It might be of interest to readers, and is available here in the Journal of French and Francophone Philosophy.


Abstract
Hans Lipps compares pragmatism (William James and John Dewey) existentialism (Friedrich Nietzsche, Soren Kierkegaard, and Martin Heidegger) in this 1936 article translated from French. He claims that they aim at the same goals, e.g., a return to lived experience and a rejection of the Cartesian legacy in philosophy. While summarizing the commonalities of each, he engages in a polemic against philosophy then that remains relevant now into the next century.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Is Abduction a Transcendental Method?


Is abduction a transcendental method? It can be construed as such, and I occassionally refer to it in that way, but that misses the core of abduction.

If "transcendental" means "arguing from a fact to the conditions of the possibility of that fact"--what must be true for this to occur--then abduction can be understood to be "transcendental." However, that is not the core of Peirce's intention or even more so how its used, because that ignores temporality. Abduction proposes a hypothesis given some facts understood to be evidence, and the hypothesis is true if it allows for the prediction and control of later events and facts. Let me phrase abduction in terms of how it is used to combat modern epistemology.

 In short and in Humean terminology, pragmatists no longer say, in a strict sense, that the thing causes the idea and the idea is like the thing, because you cannot beat Hume that way. Instead, we say that an idea is "true" if having and acting on the idea allows us to predict and control the flow of further ideas (experiences). This is abduction, the heart of scientific method, only it forms the basis of a theory of meaning and a phenomenology. However, unlike Hume and the whole modern tradition including Kant, we don't drink the Cartesian Kool-Aid and presume that the mind is radically separate from the body or the world. Hence, we shift the idea of knowledge from correspondence and related issues of representation to semiotics and how to represent ideas such that we can predict and control further experiences. However, the ideas have a real relation to the world even if it is neither direct causation nor representation; they cannot fail to be real without invoking solipsism or paradoxes. In this way we respond to Kant, a topic that I have discussed in more detail previously.

Perhaps you see how this relates to temporality. If an idea is true insomuch as an anticipated future occurs, and we say that reflective thought is abduction (literally), then knowledge and temporality are irreducible in any account of truth, knowledge, meaning, inquiry, etc. Transcendental method does not have this relationship to time.

Leon of After Nature asked me this question, and I thought that I would roll in a few other things while responding.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

A Bullseye for Shapiro

The Peirce Blog brought an excellent riposte by Michael Shapiro to my attention.  Recently, Anthony Gottlieb wrote a New York Times article containing the typical falsehoods about American pragmatism that I  usually just ignore. Michael Shapiro has my thanks for having this reply published.

Gottlieb trots out the usual mis-interpretation of pragmatism being about "what works," which laughably mis-construes the entire tradition. He then refers to neopragmatism, which is really a cousin three times removed from classical pragmatism.

Hard Data on Recent Hiring Practices in Philosophy

Prof Jennings has posted a lot of hard data on recent hiring practices in philosophy in American.  Check it out here.

I have already heard jokes that it might put the Philosophy Smoker blog out of business!

Caged in Thought

I have not posted recently; I have been so busy editing my book, teaching, and looking for a tenure-track job (and temporary work until then) that I have not had the time to post. Glancing around the blogosphere, I am not alone in this, and I suspect that academics everywhere I deep into their projects. Before I trapped myself in a cage of thought, I explored my on-going projects in temporality spurred in part by an analytic metaphysics reading group in which I am a fortunate participant. The readings have been a trial because the accounts of identity, time, causation, etc. are so at odds with my training in American, continental, and even Asian thought that it makes separating what they are saying and what I think they are saying difficult. Thankfully, the group is diverse and accommodating.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

CFP: SAAP at the Pacific APA

Call for Papers

2013 American Philosophical Association, Pacific Division Meeting Westin
Saint Francis, San Francisco, California The Society for the Advancement of
American
Philosophy is scheduled to have a session at the 2013 American Philosophical
Association, Pacific Division meeting (March 27-30, 2013). The date
and time of
the session are TBA, but group sessions are always scheduled in
the Evenings.

Theme: The publication of John Dewey¹s *Unmodern Philosophy and
Modern Philosophy* this year provides scholars of American pragmatism
and naturalism the unusual opportunity of re-evaluating Dewey¹s corpus
from the perspective of a work believed lost. Philip Deen of Wellesley
College, who assembled and edited various
manuscripts from the 1940s to reconstruct the lost work, believes
that Unmodern Philosophy was to be Dewey¹s philosophical interpretation of
the history of Western man,² and as such, the project differs substantively
from Dewey¹s other mature monographs, from Experience and Nature to Knowing
and the Known.

Completed papers or paper proposals that address Unmodern Philosophy,
situating it against Dewey¹s epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, or history
of philosophy are sought. Comparative works that treat the text against
other philosophical histories, or that interrogate Dewey¹s arguments in
Unmodern Philosophy from related perspectives or themes in American
philosophy may also be tendered. Submissions from graduate students are
welcome.

Submission Guidelines: E-mail paper proposals or completed papers to Kevin
S. Decker at kdecker@ewu.edu by September 10, 2012. Paper proposal
submissions should be between 500-800 words in length. The word limit for
a completed paper submission is 3500 words. If you decide to include your
submission as an e-mail attachment, please send it in one of the following
formats: .doc, .rtf, or .pdf file. All submitters will be notified of
their submission status via e-mail by September 20, 2012.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Unconscious and Hermeneutic Phenomenology


Every reflection is grounded upon what does not come to light, and this insight is fundamental to Dewey’s theory of experience. Experience is a process in which the unconscious phase occurs first and constitutes the conscious phase that becomes reflection. The “unconscious phase” includes the local environment, the active human body, the situation, habits ranging from instinct to the finest refinements of culture, etc., although I focus on only one strand of the unconscious phase, the process inclusive of “desire” or motivated human purposiveness that is a species of valuation. Our habits give us purposes without conscious intentions, and these purposes are the coordinated activity of biological impulses. When these purposes are sufficiently disrupted, the tension in ongoing activities may give rise to emotion and affectivity or a “felt difficulty” that initiates reflection and a problematic situation. Only then may we be an intelligent agent rather than rely on intelligently educated habit. However, the original impulsivity continues to constitute the situation, and supposing otherwise ignores the continuity of thought. The problem that confronts us is not whether an individual has a felt difficulty that provokes thought, but whether the individual may interpret the situation to re-educate habits and engender future felt difficulties that otherwise may not have been likely.

We cannot assume that every disruption launches us into reflection or reveals every unthought purpose. The conundrum is that only physical resistance necessarily provokes a felt difficulty, but the problem might be symbolic rather than physical. Symbolic resistance is possible only when a person interprets an event as a sign for a particular meaning. That is, morality does not walk across the street and slap sense into you. Racism is not only about conscious intention, but about attitudes, preconceptions, behaviors, and the material endurance of institutions that are frequently unthought. Culture is as much symbolic as physical, but only interpretation converts the physical into the symbolic. Intelligence requires resisting impulsive behavior, but when the event requires a symbolic resistance, talk about the possibilities of the situation become narrowed to the possibilities of interpretation.

In the process of experience, the unconscious phase occurs first and constitutes the conscious phase in which intelligence and agency occur. Part of the unconscious phase includes instinctual and habitual impulse that are primary in the direction of semi-autonomous behavior, and they function as gatekeepers of what might become conscious or what we might experience as meaningful. Every reflection is grounded upon what does not come to light, and this insight is fundamental to Dewey’s theory of experience. While there is no necessity for the occurrence of any particular event, the asymmetric flow is necessary, which establishes the enduring possibility of unconscious habits fragmented behavior from the reflective apprehension of their meaning. Nothing that I have written runs counter to Dewey, but it gains from many decades of scholars in myriad philosophic traditions pursuing this thought. We now know perhaps better than Dewey how divided a person can become, and thus I would retool his work.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

CFP: Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy

CALL FOR PAPERS

SOCIETY FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF AMERICAN PHILOSOPHY
40th ANNUAL MEETING
March 7-9, 2013
The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey

The Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy cordially invites the submission of papers and proposals for its 40th annual meeting, to be held at Stockton Seaview Resort in Galloway, New Jersey. The theme of the conference is: American Philosophy and Cosmopolitanism. Papers in all areas of American philosophy are welcome.

SUBMISSION GUIDELINES

One does not need to be a member to submit a paper, but one must be a member in order to present his or her accepted paper. To become a member, please visit the Society’s membership page: http://www.press.uillinois.edu/journals/plur/saap_membership.html.

DEADLINE for submissions is September 1, 2012. This is a firm deadline. We will stop accepting submissions at midnight Pacific Standard Time on September 1. Please submit your paper or proposal following the guidelines below.

All submissions must be submitted electronically via the annual meeting website:
http://www.american-philosophy.org/saap2013/openconf/openconf.php

Electronic submission requires the following: (1) Submission Title, (2) Submission Type, (3) Author(s) Information, (4) Abstract, (5) Keywords, and (6) a Submission File prepared for blind review.

Anonymity: Papers, Discussion Papers, and Panel Proposals must be suitable for blind review. Please refrain from making references to your own work, your location, or anything obvious that could reveal your identity. If the author’s identity can be determined through self-references, endnotes, etc., the submission may be disqualified. Avoid headers/footers because they often contain information that breaches anonymity. NOTE: MS Word documents can sometimes reveal the author's identity through word tags. Microsoft explains how to change or erase these here:http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/word/HA100240611033.aspx#1

Number of Submissions: Please note that multiple submissions will not be accepted and that persons participating in invited sessions may not submit to the regular program.

Commentators and Session Chairs: Persons interested in serving in these capacities should contact the 2013 Program Co-Chairs, Felicia Kruse fkrusealex@gmail.com<mailto:fkrusealex@gmail.com> and Dwayne Tunstalltunstald@gvsu.edu<mailto:tunstald@gvsu.edu>, and indicate areas of interest.

SUBMISSION TYPES

Submissions that do not meet the following guidelines will not be considered.

Traditional Paper: Papers should be no longer than 3500 words. Longer papers will not be considered. Submissions must include a 100-150 word abstract Accepted papers will be presented in their entirety by the author during a session and, in most cases, will be followed by a ten minute commentary and a period of open discussion.

Discussion Paper: Papers should be no longer than 6000 words. Submissions must include a 100-150 word abstract. Discussion papers accepted for the program will be made available online prior to the meeting. Those who attend discussion paper sessions are expected to have read the paper in advance. Therefore, authors of discussion papers should prepare a concise summary or introductory statement limited to 10 minutes. The session's remaining time will be devoted to an invited commentary and open discussion. The Program Committee may limit the number of discussion paper sessions due to space constraints in the overall program and their estimation regarding which papers can generate sufficient interest to be read in advance.

Panel Discussion: A panel discussion should provide an opportunity to examine specific problems or topics from a variety of perspectives and should do more than present a set of related papers. Panel proposals should include a description of the issue that the session will address, an explanation of the relevance of this issue to the study of American philosophy or to wider social and philosophical issues, and an indication of how each paper in the panel addresses this issue. Panel Discussion proposals should include: (1) a title, (2) an abstract of 450-600 words for the panel as a whole, and (3) either complete papers (of no more than 3500 words) or abstracts (of no fewer than 600 words) for each paper in the panel. Please do not send a separate file for each panelist.

Author Meets Critics proposals must include:


* Name and affiliation of book's author(s)
* Complete title of the book
* Publication date and name of publisher (only books published in 2012 will be considered)
* Brief statement of the book’s significance for American philosophy and rationale for inclusion in the program
* Names and affiliations of confirmed critics and session organizer, and why they were chosen

The committee anticipates a very limited number of these sessions, perhaps two.

Poster Presentation: Proposals for Poster Presentations should be in the form of a description of the research project to be presented. The description should not be longer than 2600 words and should include a description of its relation to issues in American philosophy or wider social and philosophical issues. The proposal should also include a brief summary of materials to be included in the visual display. Poster Presentations will be on display throughout the meeting, with presenters available in the display area for a designated time during the meeting. Presenters may provide accompanying papers for distribution in the display area.

Book/Article Discussion: Proposals should include a brief summary of the book or article to be discussed and its general relation to American philosophy or wider social and philosophical issues. Proposals should not exceed 1500 words. All accepted book/article discussions will be scheduled as round-table discussion breakfast sessions at the hotel restaurant.

NOTE: To encourage the development of original philosophy rooted in the American tradition while creatively developing it, the SAAP Program Committee plans to set aside a special session to feature such works. If you would like your paper to be considered for this session, please indicate this in the “Optional Comments” field of your electronic submission.

If you have ideas for special sessions beyond the categories indicated in this CFP, please contact the Program Co-Chairs by July 1.

Please note that only Book Discussions, Poster Presentations, Author Meets Critics, and Panel Proposals can submit with only an abstract.

Please note any AV needs with your online submission by indicating them under “Optional Comments.”

Confirmation: All persons making submissions to the annual meeting website will receive automatic confirmation of receipt of their submission. If you have not received an automatic confirmation within 48 hours, the submitter should contact the Secretary directly. If you have not received notification regarding the Program Committee’s decision about your submission by 15 November, please contact the Secretary.

Scheduling: The Program Committee assumes that it may schedule a paper or session at any time between Thursday at 2:00 p.m., and Saturday late afternoon.

Student Travel Funds: Limited travel funds are available to assist students whose papers are accepted for the program. Please Contact Bill Myers, SAAP Treasurer, for more information, bmyers@bsc.edu<mailto:bmyers@bsc.edu>.

PRIZES

Prizes: Only papers that are accepted to the regular program, that is, not panels or invited group presentations, are eligible for the Greenlee, Blau, Mellow, Addams, and Inter-American Philosophy Prizes. Papers previously submitted to The Pluralist are not eligible for prizes. For full descriptions of the prizes, please visit the SAAP website: http://american-philosophy.org/about.htm

Greenlee Consideration: If you are currently a student or within five years of having completed your Ph.D, you are eligible for consideration for the Douglas Greenlee Prize. If you fit within these qualifications, please indicate this in your submission by checking “Yes” for “Student” when prompted during the online submission process.

Publication Possibilities: SAAP will plan to publish selected papers from the annual SAAP conference. If your paper is accepted for the annual meeting, it will be considered for publication unless you indicate in your submission under “Comments to Chair” that you do not wish this to be the case. Only those papers that are complete at the time of submission will be considered for publication.


CONTACTS

For all correspondence regarding the program content, contact the Program Co-Chairs:

Felicia Kruse
Southern Illinois University - Carbondale
fkrusealex@gmail.com<mailto:fkrusealex@gmail.com>

Dwayne Tunstall
Grand Valley State University
tunstald@gvsu.edu<mailto:tunstald@gvsu.edu>

Local Arrangements and Conference Host:

Herman Saatkamp
The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey
Primary contact: Brian Jackson
Brian.Jackson@stockton.edu<mailto:Brian.Jackson@stockton.edu>

SAAP Secretary:

Chris Voparil
Union Institute & University
chris.voparil@myunion.edu<mailto:chris.voparil@myunion.edu>

How a Leaf Thinks Its Root: Continuity, Experience, Thought




This is a study of the implications of continuity for experience, where “continuity” and “experience” have the significations given to them in the American tradition of philosophy in such thinkers as C.S. Peirce, John Dewey, and A.N. Whitehead. Rather than define these terms as I have done many times before on this blog and in my glossary, I will instead exemplify them through their use in am example that should indicate the unusualness of their denotation.

The leaf becomes “aware” of its root, for example, through the capillary actions that bring it sustenance. It need not “know” what its root is; it needs no idea that mirrors the facts of roots. It needs only the continuous connection and the ability to make use of it. Yes, this implies that the leaf’s being aware of its root is multiply realizable; the root could in fact be many different things, but the only thing that matters in this sense of “awareness” is a functional identity, not an essential one.

Likewise, a human becomes aware of the world through a continuous connection with it. Knowledge is not a matter of ideas mirroring facts and is more than a formal system of justifying a belief. Knowledge is demonstrated through the ability to use one’s connection with the world to produce an anticipated effect; all knowledge is a form of abduction. Yet, going deeper, Dewey claims that all reflective thought is abduction in How We Think. We encounter something in the world, and the encounter is felt as a pervasive quality of the situation, we might become drawn to the encounter and experience or think it as a meaning. To experience something as meaningful is to anticipate how to interact in the encounter, whereas familiarity with an encounter implies a richness of meaning. However, the more familiar something is, the less aware we are of this richness, as its novelty has been bled and absorbed into habitual actions rather than careful and curious ones.

In the leafy and human cases, there is no need for the correspondence of an idea to its reference. Experience is informative not because of some mirroring, but because the occurence of an event may be taken as a sign for the future. The reliable ability to recognize an event as a sign for the future is the basis of meaning and how an experience become one of knowing rather than mere experiencing. This is a non-representational and non-cognitivist understanding of experience that is not exclusive to humans, since anything that can transact or interact in nature can “experience.” Given that definition, in principle everything that exists can “experience,” and this definition places the human conscious experience in continuity with the rest of nature. It is no longer a mysterious, unexplainable, or dualistic notion.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Object-Oriented Philosophy and Politics



I have been watching the blogosphere debates between OOP and its detractors on the issue of politics for the last two months. For the most part, I have been at the sidelines, since I felt I had nothing to contribute. Finally, I do have something to note now that things have calmed down.

Why do I get the feeling that OOP is being hit with a beloved cudgel? You know, those common attacks that any tradition of philosophy enjoys leveraging against its opponents. Onto-theology. Correlationism. Dualism. Under/Over-mining. Lack of clarity. Unsupported by science. Honestly, I really cannot comment on those debates, but it has become obvious that the beatin’ stick is being wielded by many. Does OOP deserve it? I’m not sure, but I always get a little wary when your opponent selects their favorite petard before they hoist you up the flagpole.

There is the issue of valuation. I have brought that up, because it is unclear how OOP can speak of normative value without either merely asserting it, or running into the naturalist fallacy. I leave the issue to scholars with axes to grind.

What’s the take home point? Be skeptical when anyone leverages their favored critique, as they likely have spent more time wielding it than in identifying proper targets of their ire.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Experience of Truth



Below I discuss the basics of truth and experiencing truth in John Dewey. While reading it, I think it best to keep in mind the modern empiricist tradition, its culmination in Kant, and the alternative solution to Kant proposed by Husserlian phenomenology. Dewey takes another route via Peirce.

The denotative method is Dewey's mature method for understanding experience. It articulates a phenomenological attitude in which we ask how things are experienced, as being what. It opposes overlaying an experience with a theory of experience. The attitude notes experience in its immediacy, which is not primordially true or false, since experience becomes true through operations upon it that integrate the prior experience into a new one. If the truth of an experience is sought, the inherent indeterminateness of the situation leads it to be questionable, and this contextually unique quality guides the development of inquiry. The denotative method is not a Cartesian procedure that determines the truth of experience by external criteria; truth and falsity must be internal to experience to be experienced as such. Though this might sound like idealism, wherein truth is a mental category as opposed to a worldly one, Dewey redefines “experience” to mean the transaction of things in nature. The experience of truth is neither an internal phenomenon of a subject nor a metaphysical description of an object, but a product of human and environmental interaction. A true idea is one that proposes how to act in a situation to produce the anticipated effect, which is to be a demonstrated abductive hypothesis, and the question of whether the idea is like what it represents is not immediately relevant.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Must Phenomenology Remain First-Personal?


Is the logic of the phenomenon fully contained in the experience of it?

A friend asked me a very pointed question today. It was a fantastic and clear question. In short, he implied that I was using the word “phenomenology” in a very strange way. He is absolutely right. As I have been using the term, it has almost no overlap with “phenomenology” of the Husserlian tradition. Why? Not only are the methodologies incompatible, but they are not even aimed at studying the same thing. Wait, what?

Phenomenology is the study of conscious phenomena. In continental philosophy since Husserl, that is almost always understood to mean that the phenomenologist takes a critical first-person standpoint. Given the experience of a conscious event, it can be analyzed in the present or from memory as the analyst focuses a ray of attention on the event.  Yet this is not how I have been using the term.

If phenomenology is the study of conscious phenomena, we need not always take only the standpoint of first-person or immediate experience. Given an immediate experience, we can ask the question of the conditions that transcend that experience. Rather than as a classic transcendental question, we can ask that as an abductive and scientific question. This is precisely what I mean when I talk about the “unification of metaphysics and phenomenology.” It is really a unified method for speculative process metaphysics that ask how this phenomenon might have come to be experienced. It is closer to a Heideggerian or existential phenomenology, except that it admits methods that he would never condone.

Why should be only study conscious phenomena from an immediate perspective? I offer an alternative and complementary analysis; I do not think that “phenomenological pragmatism” is truly offering the same thing as the phenomenologies of the Husserlian tradition. I do not think that it can and retain a robust living connection to classical pragmatism.

Ennis Critiques OOO and Levi Bryant

Paul Ennis of AnotherHeideggerBlog posts a script of a critique of object-oriented ontology given in person to Levi Bryant at a Dublin conference. It's really interesting and provocative reading.

Thanks to Adam Robert for the link.

How Nature Thinks: New Introduction


I have rewritten the introduction to my book, How Nature Thinks, since it moved too slowly while being insufficiently direct and clear. I share with you the first paragraph.


Tradition teaches that intelligence and impulsive desire are contraries, wherein intelligence must subjugate desire. However, studies over the last century have established that we are bodies first and minds second. Believing that intelligence must conquer desire is akin to expecting the tree to conquer its roots. It is an absurdity, but one that we are still trying to comprehend, since our intuitions lead us to believe that we cannot be responsible individuals if we cannot control our desires. John Dewey insists that we have misunderstood the problem. Intelligence and agency arise from well-ordered desiring, such as a moral character that bends impulse to productive purposes. We should improve the soil from which individuals grow, because the roots of a good character are the environment, culture, and community. Terroir gives us our characteristic intelligence, and a bad ground can twist and corrupt it. Dewey approached the problem as an educator, a champion of democracy, a philosopher of culture, and a scientist.


To recap, the topic of my dissertation is the interrelation of "desire," or motivated human purposiveness,  and experienced meaning. In truth, the whole theory is analogous to a Freud's theory of repression, although without the notion of a subconscious, etc.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

What You Don't Get about Process Philosophy



Today I will talk about probability, because most philosophers interpret “probability” in logical rather than mathematical terms. When most people think “probable,” they have such a narrow definition in mind that they are foreclosed from comprehending the deeper implications of some philosophical theories. I hope that readers might forgive me for the presumptuous title of the post, but this has been a communication-stopper for discussions of process, emergence, time, continuity, and teleology for far too long.

For instance, a friend of mind, when hearing that I planned to write this, quipped that A.N. Whitehead has frequently been misunderstood--and I would add C.S. Peirce as well--because he was writing as a mathematician, an algebraist especially, and thus readers not trained in mathematics may misunderstand the subtleties of concepts of a mathematical origin. For example, "continuity" is a mathematical concept that most misinterpret as meaning "discrete continuum." Process philosophy cannot be understood unless one has the mathematical concept of continuity, else they do not fully grasp what it means for a process or time to be continuous. Moreover, in my own work, John Dewey describes an event in terms of frequency structures in Experience and Nature, and I wonder if one reason that reviewers seem puzzled over my articulations of Dewey is perhaps because they do not realize the pertinence of probability structures.  Last, but not least, those interested in emergence would have a deeper insight into "emergent teleology," which is a form of probable causation, is they realized that a telos may be described through a probability function. In my exchanges with Levi Bryant, he appeared to miss this point entirely, as he accused myself and others of Platonism.

In philosophy, there are three common definitions of probability: logical, physical, and technological or practical. A proposition is logically possible if it does not violate the laws of logic, which conventionally include the law of non-contradiction, law of excluded middle, and law of identity. Different logical systems may include more laws or modify standard interpretations of the three basic laws. A proposition is physically possible if it does not violate the laws of physics, which are not logically necessary, but are often understood to pertain necessarily in the actual world. A proposition is technologically or practically possible if it is physically possible, and its realization is merely a matter of knowledge, technique, materials, etc.

None of these three common philosophical definitions of possibility pertain to mathematical possibility in anything other than a trivial and uninformative way. Mathematical possibility is about the structure of possibility regardless of whether it pertains in any actual world, and is a species of logical possibility. Mathematical possibility, or more commonly denoted “probability” is about the frequency of an event given some axiomatic assumptions that define a “space” or what philosophers might call a collection of “possible worlds.”

Assuming that we are talking about a continuity of events (a “continuous distribution” in math-speak), we can visual a “structure” of possibility by graphing it. The most well known such graph is the “bell curve,” which might also be called a Gaussian or normal distribution. What the graph tries to communicate is that that most events occur and display whatever traits are being measured around some normal range indicated by the peak of the graph. The further something is from normal, whatever that is, the far less likely it is to occur, which is included by the rapidly declining slope or “tails” of the graph.



However, this is not the only kind of probability distribution. Consider a poisson distribution. The graph is skewed. In a poisson distribution, it is not necessary that the frequency of events be symmetrically “balanced” around some point or common occurence.



My point is not to teach a lesson in probability. My point is to indicate that most people unfamiliar with mathematics think “uniform” or “normal” probability distributions when asked to think about probability. They think in terms of coin-tosses or of the one-time odds of their favorite football time winning a match. But those are singularly calculated events. If we were to model the likelihood that a team wins any given match against various opponents, the graph is not likely to look uniform. Probability has a structure. In mathematics, one way to capture and visualize that structure is through graphing probability distributions as shown. Moreover, the more conditions that are added, especially erratic conditions, the more gnarly a probability distribution may become—very far from intuitive. Many commonly recurring probability distributions have names, as do the examples I give, wherein to name a probability structure is to indicate what the structure is, e.g., the relative frequency of events.

How does this compare to logical possibility? Logical possibility says nothing about the structure of probability, e.g., the frequency of an event occuring given certain conditions. Only the mathematical concept of possibility indicates anything about structure, e.g., a function represented as a probability distribution.

When I write about “probability structures,” peer interlocutors, reviewers of my articles, etc. rarely have any idea what I mean by it. It took me quite awhile to realize that knowledge of probability and statistics, and thus working knowledge of probability structures, is uncommon among philosophers. We should change that and require some discussion in any advanced logic class, I propose, else it is likely that only philosophers in certain subfields will have very valuable concepts at their command.

Erotic Realist Phenomenology



Continuing my series of posts about the book on John Dewey that I am editing, I present a pivotal paragraph that connects metaphysics, phenomenology, and the core insight of my book, “desire” as a process and event. “Desire” denotes the process of “motivated human purposiveness.”


This chapter completes the metaphysical and phenomenological background required to understand how desire as motivated human purposiveness partially constitutes experienced meaning. In the last chapter, I explained how “desire” is an organic process that spans the environment, body, and mind, and becomes a conscious event. In this chapter I will recast this metaphysical description as a biological and psychological one leading to a provisional phenomenology described in the next chapter. Unlike Husserlian phenomenologies, Dewey does not take the perspective of consciousness looking out to world, which begins with the mind as a starting point, but instead asks how a continual coordination of environment and human organism becomes a conscious event. Mind comes last, not first, and is the product of a continual natural process. To say it another way, nature thinks, not the human over and above nature, and the insistence that mind cannot think external nature presumes a tacit dualism of mind and nature that we just need to get over. Deweyan phenomenology, or what he once called the “denotative method,” is a robust realism that combats both Husserlian idealistic tendencies and the Kantism of many recent philosophers who think that descriptive categories are fictions of the human mind rather than elements in nature. It is crucial for the reader to keep this perspective in mind. Nature thinks, and human thought is a rare natural activity that births meaning. The guiding question of this chapter is how meaning is born, and what is the relation of meaning and motivated purposive human activities. 

Monday, July 2, 2012

Harman Responds to Mistranslating Meillassoux

He claims that he did not mistranslate or chose excerpts of The Divine Inexistence maliciously. For those just tuning in, the role of God and the divine in Meillassoux's philosophy is extremely controversial among his followers, as he became popular outside of France before much of the "religious" content of his work become more widely known. Harman is responding to Adam Kotsko's recent post on An und fur sich.

How Peircean Continuity Defeats Zeno’s Paradox



Zeno’s paradoxes argue that motion is impossible. For example, if an arrow is to move through space, and space is a (discrete) continuum, then for the arrow to move through any interval it must move through an infinite number of discrete points. However, if the arrow travels no distance during any instantaneous moment, and there are an infinite number of such moments, then how is the arrow to pass through any of them? That is, to move, it must somehow escape the instantaneous moment, but if space is infinitely divisible per continuity, then any such escape will be met with another moment ad infinitum. The key to this argument is that if an arrow does not move in any instant, but moves only through a succession of instants, then it cannot move at all since we can always find another instant that it must pass through in order to move to the next.

Peirce’s simple solution, which I follow, is that there is no such thing as an discrete instant of time. If there is an instant, it must maintain a real relation to its past and future. I have argued elsewhere about what these relations must include if we are speaking of a thing existing in time: e.g., about only the past being fully actual and determinate, etc. Against what I propose, if one insists that instants are discrete or fully “present,” then defeating Zeno’s paradox in a satisfactory manner will become difficult if not impossible.

Prima facie, it seems that perdurance theories can handily defeat Zeno’s paradox, though I would question the stipulations required, but I have difficulty imagining how endurance theories do so. They conceive instants as fully actual; e.g., the present is all that exists.

A last note. The definition of “continuity” that I see people use is not the mathematical one that Peirce, Whitehead, or myself would invoke. When people use the word in my experience, they almost always mean “discrete continuum of absolute points.” The mathematical conception invokes a limit-concept that cannot be absolutized or made fully actual. (For mathematicians: the part of the definition that invokes an epsilon-neighborhood is what I am talking about as being unable to be absolutized or made fully actual.)

Summer Institute in American Philosophy

The full schedule is now up and available here. It includes sessions on John Dewey 's rediscovered and published Unmodern Philosophy and Modern Philosophy, Jane Addams, Alain Locke, and a cross-disciplinary session on philosophy and politics.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

What is Immanent Transcendence?


John Dewey proposes that we grow our ideals. Any ideal should be a normative practice fit for the present situation. However, if we must grow an ideal from the soil of the situation, then how can an ideal have merit beyond being a “good idea at the time,” which is a low standard. The solution is to improve the soil of the situation continually by progressively reconstructing our habits and desires so that we desire ever greater ideals, but ideals still fit for the situation.  This is also why I have named my blog “Immanent Transcendence.”

Below, I have another meditation from my book in progress that indicates my dissatisfaction with Dewey. We could become hypocrites, and perfect our stories of how great we are without perfecting ourselves. We would have situations and ideals with glass ceilings. We would put our moralities in museums of the mind centered in the barren wastes of practice.


Exactly how does a felt difficulty become an idea? I ask the question because without a precise answer, Dewey’s insistence that every desire is ideational and might achieve its ideal is insouciant (LW 13:240). As a matter of fact, any desire might lead to an idea, but the serious question is how we may attain an ideal if only desire and not the ideal is motivating. Ideals that do not motivate soon die quick deaths and become the relics of history and conventional morality that we would better do without. A hypocritical morality is no morality at all. Dewey proposed a method to conceive the ideal as motivating, by which we might coordinate desire and an idea towards some ideal of action in the present situation. We would grow ideals with a hold on us, whereas growth requires immanence, not transcendence. In the next chapter I scrutinize his method, show how it argues in a circle as stated, and then recast his argument to eliminate the circularity.

BLOG UPDATE: Page on Time, Continuity, Thought

I have added a page wherein I will aggregate my thoughts on time, continuity, and thought, as well as provide links to Americanist dicussions.

Peirce and the Continuity of Time




In manuscripts 215-217 and 237-238, Peirce argues against the notion that it is coherent to speak of “instantaneous” time. There is no such thing as an instant of time, because any such instant must include more than an instant. In manuscript 237, he articulates the difference between what mathematicians now call “continuity” vs. a “continuum,” or what Peirce calls “continuity” and “discrete continuity.” In short, if time is continuous, then an instant must have parts that are not confined to a discrete instant. 

My prior posts about time, especially about its structure, inherit this insight.

Consciousness cannot be instantaneous, argues Peirce in manuscripts 215-217. Moreover, in manuscript 239, he argues that the significance of thought is its reference to the future, which is a core position in pragmatism and my own thought. In Dewey’s terminology, meaning is the anticipated consequences of action, and thus an experience is meaningful only insomuch as we grasp the situation as something to respond to.


C.S. Peirce on Time and Thought
Credit goes to Arisbe: The Peirce Gateway for the original collection.

I have annotated some of the manuscripts differently, since my focus is on time and thought in contrast to thought as semiosis.


Why no thought is an instant.


Consciousness cannot be instantaneous, but must be a process.


Yet another account of why thought takes time.
Introduces the notion that thought is a sign that requires an interpretant.

Time as continuous continuum, not a discrete continuum.
A continuous instant must have parts not confined to an absolutely discrete point.


Restatement of MS 237


“That the significance of thought lies in reference to the future”



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