Sunday, March 31, 2013

William James Society Essay Prize

The William James Society would like to announce the creation of an annual award for the best unpublished paper by a young scholar (less than five years beyond the Ph.D.) on any topic relevant to the thought of James. This year, the prize will consist of a $500 prize, a place on the program to read the paper during the William James Society session at the APA/Eastern Division meeting in Baltimore (or some other William James Society event), and the eventual publication of the paper in WILLIAM JAMES STUDIES.

The deadline for submission is July 31st, and the winner will be announced in early September.

Papers are to be submitted in WORD or PDF format to the William James Society Secretary, Todd Lekan of Muskingum College [].

Jim Campbell, President (2013-4), William James Society

Are All Relations Internal?

Leon of After Nature has an excellent post discussing internal vs. external relations. Of course, like many Americanists, he transforms the dualism rather than accept it.

Both of us have had many discussions with interlocutors, both in person and online, that are utterly baffled when we talk about relations. I think the problem is, at least for me, that I constantly under-estimate how radical my own perspective per Americanist thought is for analytic philosophy. I suppose continentals get the gist fairly quickly, since Americanist and (post) Heideggerian translate easily, but both of those groups are in the vast minority.

I am mostly interested in the temporal relation understood in its causal aspect.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

William James Society at APA Pacfic

The William James Society will be at the APA Pacific Division Meeting in San Francisco.

APA Pacific Division Meeting, San Francisco
6-9 p.m., Saturday March 30

G9M Meeting of the William James Society

Panel Topic: James vs Peirce on Affective Belief and Rationality

Cheryl Misak (University of Toronto)
Alexander Klein (California State University – Long Beach)
Kyle Bromhall (University of Guelph)
Aaron Massecar (University of Western Ontario)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Cranberries

After Nature posts so much music that I just have to post at least one.

NPR presents The Cranberries starting up a new tour after a long hiatus. This is part of the "Tiny Desk Concert" series.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Mindless Experience

This is my paper for the New Mexico-West Texas Philosophical Society in San Antonio, TX from March 22-24. Also, for the first time, here's a podcast of me reading the paper.

Mindless Experience: Pragmatism’s Concept of Experience

Experience is a “weasel word.” It can mean many things, and invoking it more often obscures than clarifies. “Because I experienced it,” is an answer that we commonly take for granted. Experience is the most important concept in pragmatism, a philosophical tradition that began with Charles Sanders Peirce in the mid-19th century, and whose most famous members were William James and John Dewey.
            My goal is to explicate the pragmatist understanding of “experience” for two reasons that are more than mere historical scholarship. First, the prevalence of neopragmatism has skewed the common understanding of pragmatism, which I aim to correct, because its popularity has obscured the other branch of contemporary pragmatism, neoclassical pragmatism. Neoclassical pragmatism inherits most of the tenets of classical pragmatism, whereas neopragmatism accepts few of them, yet the neopragmatist interpretation has come to dominate the popular understanding of pragmatism as a whole.[1] “The truth is what works,” to paraphrase James, is a footnote and not the core of pragmatism despite popular belief.[2] Second, I will address pressing problems in contemporary philosophy of mind concerning the relation of mind and world, how mind may be an emergent phenomenon of nature, and reconciling phenomenology and naturalism.
            I will begin by defining “experience” and explaining what motivates the pragmatist’s radical redefinition of the term. I will conclude by distinguishing “experience,” which anything in existence is capable of having, from “mental” or “conscious” experience, which few things in existence are capable of having. Along the way I will discuss various premises that demarcate the pragmatic conception of experience. Before beginning I must propose a few caveats. My explication will place emphasis on John Dewey’s pragmatism combined with a strong Peircean interpretation. The explication will not be controversial and applies more widely than Dewey, although I will omit many of the qualifications that specialists expect for the sake of brevity and accessibility.

§1        Experience without Mind
Pragmatism radically redefines the concept of experience, and likewise alters every related conceptual framework. If at any time my words seem obscure, it may be because my audience “thinks left” while I “veer right” in thought. I will try my best to be easy to follow.
            By definition, “experience” is the “interaction” or “transaction” of things in their environment.[3] That is, whenever any existing thing acts upon another, “experience” occurs. Experience is a third thing, the transaction, of two other things. For example, rocks experience each other when they physically interact. The baseball experiences the catcher’s mitt when caught. The catcher experiences the baseball when catching it. The denotation of “experience” in all these cases is the same: one existing thing interacts with another. I expect some hesitation when I state this; we are so used to thinking of human experience as special. At its basis, it is not special. To understand pragmatism, one must first decouple the term “experience” from its human connotations. Second, one must stop thinking of experience as reducible, unreal, or exclusive to minds.
            Experience is not exclusive to minds. I am not saying that rocks or baseballs have minds or awareness; I am rejecting the notion that experience is something a mind does. Experience is something nature does; it is any and all natural interactions. Human conscious experience is just a rare species of experience that includes more than brute physical interaction. Before I continue explicating the pragmatist’s definition of experience, I will explain what motivates the redefinition.
            Pragmatism rejects Cartesian dualism as a foundational premise, and attempts to scrub the Cartesian legacy from its philosophical language. From a pragmatist’s perspective, the Cartesian legacy continues in theories that separate mind and world, or experience and nature. For example, we now talk about internal vs. external theories of justification, where the distinction asks the question, “are the conditions for being epistemically justified internal or external to mind?” The question already presupposes that the distinction of mind and world is important, coherent, and a categorical one. Pragmatism rejects this.
            Much contemporary philosophy takes mind to be a basic category and a necessary condition for experiencing the world. In contrast, imagine that nature is a basic category, and experiencing is its basic activity. Rocks “experience” each other when they collide, although they do not have minds. “Mind” is merely a rare type of natural activity, and not a separate category, substance, or thing. In sum, pragmatism redefines “experience” as natural transaction and does not accept the foundational premise of Cartesian dualism. Thereby pragmatism avoids much of the Cartesian legacy at the outset.
            Pragmatism accepts other foundational premises that shape the conception and implications of its theory of experience. Pragmatic naturalism, rather than declaring what kinds of things are real as is common in contemporary naturalisms, merely rejects “supernatural causation” and affirms “causal closure” combined with a theory of “continuity.”  Causal closure states that all effects have a cause, and both causes and effects conform to law-like regularity that we call “natural laws.” This premise is common to almost all naturalisms, but pragmatism also proposes a robust realism.
            Laws of nature are real, as pragmatic naturalism affirms scholastic realism. The difference between contemporary “realism” and “scholastic realism” is stark. Mere realism accepts the reality of the external world, and is opposed to idealism. Scholastic realism also accepts the reality of “universals” or “generals” such as qualities or laws of nature. Scholastic realism is opposed to nominalism, of which particularism is a common contemporary species, that holds that only individuals exist and thus general laws of nature are fictions. For scholastic realism, “redness” is a real quality of nature that may be instantiated in “red” things, and is not merely a dependent epiphenomenon of human nature. Likewise, the conservation of energy is a real law of nature, and not a Humean “constant conjunction” of human experience. Note that “abstract” entities, such as numbers, are arguably not “universals” since it is not obvious that they share a logic, and are usually treated separately.
            In addition to scholastic realism, pragmatic naturalism also affirms “continuity,” which implies that nature cannot be said to exist in utterly discrete natural kinds or substances; likewise, the formal distinctions between cause and effect, identity and change, and other basic metaphysical concepts must be re-examined. Otherwise, if we suppose that elements of nature are discontinuous, then the continuity of a continuum of time, space, change, identity, and so forth, becomes a mystery. In this respect, pragmatism has more in common with Buddhism than most western philosophy, since both recognize the inter-being or conditioned genesis of all things, in which absolute individuality or self-identity can only be a formality and cannot be real. I ask forgiveness for the short explication of continuity, as this treatment is far from adequate, but I must continue to exhibit two elucidative implications for the pragmatic concept of experience.[4] These concern the irreducibility and causality of experience.
            Experience is not reducible to its constituents. I cannot say that a singular human or rock experiences, because neither alone produces an interaction. When I kick the rock, “experience” denotes the transaction of myself and rock, which is a third thing. Analogously, and in contradistinction, if I were to reduce an activity to its actors, then I would proclaim that the actor is real and the action is not. Likewise, I would proclaim a cause is real and the effect is not, yet both of these cases are absurd. Experience is not reducible to its constituents; it is a distinct category of reality. It is activity, force, and energy, that may depend upon something else to exist, but is not reducible to its basis.
            Experience implies two-way, asymmetric causation, which is why Dewey calls it a “transaction.” Both parties participate, both are changed, but both may not be changed in the same way. For instance, when I kick the rock, we experience each other, but only the human side of the experience is characterized by awareness and meaning. The experience is asymmetric, yet alters the attributes of each. However, I am not saying that both parties in an experience directly alter each other. For instance, I am not saying that my seeing a distant car thereby alters that car. I am saying that “being a car” is an activity that can enter into my perceptual activities and become “being a car that is seen,” which is distinct from either “being a car” or “seeing.” But since I have seen that car and know where it is parked, I may later directly alter it as a practical joke. This is an example of how the two-way causation of an experience is not reducible to efficient causation. The practical import of experience being transactive is that there is no such thing as wholly fictive or self-produced experience. Nothing acts in a void, and even a “false experience” has “true” causes.

§2        Mental Experience
What is the “cash value” of these technical terms and subtle distinctions? They are the first step of a discussion about how human experience is different from rock experience: humans have a special kind of experience we call “consciousness” or “mind.” Rather than assume that “mind” is a kind of thing or substance, pragmatists propose that it is an event with causal conditions. To make this point, James famously argued that “consciousness does not exist.”[5] His point was that consciousness does not persist; when it exists, it is a continual event with causal conditions. We may now ask, “what causes mind” or “what causes minding something?” This question is anti-Cartesian, because it presumes that natural conditions produced mind, rather that assuming that mind already exists. We investigate mind not by finding what is essential to its nature, which presumes that it has an essence, but by investigating its origin and characteristic conditions. Mind has no essence. Minding gains its character and qualities from what it is about.
            Mind is a rare kind of experience, but what renders it special is not some secret additive such as rationality or freedom. Pragmatism denies the conventional views of both rationality and freedom, though that is a topic for another time. I will broach the discussion of the specialness of mental experience by undermining any lingering expectations of the correspondence theory of truth you may have, since pragmatism cannot support them, but does have something to say about representation.
            What does it mean for human experience to be “true” if experience is nothing more than the product of the human body slamming into its environment? What makes one experience true and another false? The experience of falsity is not what our common intuitions, primed by modern philosophy, take it to be. Traditionally, we “err” when an idea within mind does not represent the object without mind; we have committed erroneous judgment about the world. Otherwise stated, a true idea corresponds, copies, or mirrors what it’s about, and this view is called the correspondence theory of truth. But in pragmatism, there is no inside or outside experience: to experience something is always already to be intimately engaged with it. For pragmatism, truth cannot be correspondence, because truth is not about correlating two things, such as the idea and the fact. If experience is a transaction, then the difference between the experience of truth or falsity is a distinct kind of interaction. Humans can discern a difference that few other beings can, and the difference has something to do with temporality and our ability to represent the future.
            Humans have “minds,” which implies that they can create two rare events in the cosmos. One, humans can anticipate and represent an experience before it occurs and thereby seize control of the future. Two, they can alter how they represent that anticipated experience to improve predictive capabilities. For instance, when seeing a vase about to fall, I can put out my hand under where it might go to catch it. That is, we experience the world in terms of what might happen next, from dark clouds meaning “rain” to a fuel gauge warning that indicates “pull up to a gas station or face a looong walk.” Moreover, we may devise an infinite number of ways to represent an anticipated experience, from “the storm gods made it rain” to contemporary metereological explanation, that allow us to improve our predictive abilities.
            The difference between mere experience and mental experience is stark. Mere experience transacts at the level of the present and the actual. Mental experience uses the present and actual to represent the possible and future in order to change it. Hence, the difference between a human mind and a rock, when both are experiencing a sky dive, is that the human anticipates death if the parachute release cord is not pulled. The rock, however, is kind of dumb—I would say indifferent—towards this prospect.
            The skydiver’s idea exhibits the difference between a true and false experience. The idea is “true” if the activity of pulling the parachute release cord saves one from death; it is false otherwise. A proposed “true experience” is a promise that a certain interaction will result in specified future consequences. Thus the truth of a mental experience implicates the world, but the relation is not the correspondence of an idea in mind and an essence in the world. Instead, the relation of mental experience and world is temporal, active, and does not depend on any specific representation.
            In summary, mind can discern “true” and “false” experiences, whereas the difference is between a mental experience—which is both a physical transaction and a representation of its future outcome—that secures an anticipated future or fails to do so. The ability to anticipate the future to secure more satisfactory experiences is what “mind” is, and it is nothing more than this. Mind has no essence and does not exist as such; it is the event in which a being anticipates the future and uses that anticipation to alter the future.
            My goal has been to explicate the pragmatist understanding of experience, and in conclusion, I will revisit the popular view of pragmatism as claiming that “the truth is what works.” Why does the truth “work?” Not because we should conceive the truth as instrumental to human desire or amelioration. The truth “works” because the experience of truth is an activity. It is experimental reconstruction of our ideas and the world to produce an anticipated future outcome.  Hence, the present experience is “true” or “works” if it in fact leads to that outcome. This aspect of truth is experimental in the same way that science is experimental: there is nothing “soft” or “slippery” about it, which some attribute to the pragmatic theory of truth. Although Peirce, James, and Dewey—let alone contemporary pragmatists—may not agree on a single interpretation of the phrase, contemporary discussions about pragmatism will benefit from a greater understanding, and it is my hope that current discussions of philosophy of mind, emergentism, and phenomenology may as well.


[1]           The best succinct discussion of the distinction between neoclassical and neopragmatism is David Hildebrand, “The Neopragmatist Turn, in Southwest Philosophy Review, Vol. 19, No. 1 (January 2003): 79-88.
[2] See William James, Pragmatism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1979), especially chapter six. 
[3] In general, see John Dewey, Experience and Nature, in The Collected Works of John Dewey, 1882-1953, The Later Works Vol. 10, ed. Jo Ann Boydston (Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1967-1991). For a specific treatment, see John Dewey and Arthur Bentley, “Interaction and Transaction,” Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 43, No. 19 (September 1946): 505-517.
[4] For those who are not familiar with processive or temporal metaphysics, such as Buddhism in which continuity is a foundational concept, I offer the example of mathematical continuity that should aid in comprehending the more general notion. The popular, though incomplete, definition is that given any two points there is a third point between the other two. If we accept this definition, then we will quickly succumb to Zeno’s paradoxes exemplified in flying arrows and foot races. The moment we name a beginning point, Zeno will always name another point between that point and our goal that we have yet to traverse. In contrast, the modern mathematical definition of a continuous continuum cannot be specified in absolute or fully determinate discrete points, else the continuum is discontinuous. This definition defines an element of a continuous continuum as a “neighborhood” rather than a discrete point, and thereby movement through a continuum is possible. Likewise, and returning to its application in pragmatic naturalism, there cannot be an absolute distinction between cause and effect, identity and change, and other basic metaphysical concepts, else we cannot explain: how a cause becomes its effect, how an given identity changes—or most importantly for the moment—how experience emerges from and is not reducible to its constituents.
[5] William James, “Does Consciousness Exist,” Journal of Philosophy, Psychology, and Scientific Methods, 1, 477-491.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Defending Philosophy against Scientism

In recent blog discussions, I have encountered familiar arguments against philosophy:  it's not a science, it's endlessly up for debate, it's merely a matter of opinion. I would respond to this line of thinking with what might be a novel rebuttal for many readers. This post is motivated by the continuing discussion at Three Pound Brain

Philosophy is transformative of its practioners, and I propose that to be its primary purpose. Philosophy, as the love of wisdom, is not aimed at knowing theory, and thus criticisms based on the gap between the stability of philosophical versus scientific conclusions aim at the wrong target and are fallaciously beside the point. Philosophic practice renders a person capable of the finest critical, rational thought and that is its primary purpose, not theory-craft.

Whenever philosophy achieves heights of success, that field becomes a science, which is another reason why criticism of philosophy is misguided. Its own success has become a mark against it, since only the science of logic has remained its own. Every time science is lauded over philosophy, one blinds oneself to science's origins, and may I suggest, is in danger of reducing science to technology and current practices (techne) while momentarily forgetting the theoretical framework that founds those practices (theoria). I'm alluding to Kuhnian and Heideggerian counter-critiques.

Academic philosophy, in its current disciplinary and institutional situation, is likely the real target of such criticisms. Yes, few academic philosophers who want to hold a job would publicly admit that publish or perish, Sisyphean workloads, and a number of other factors have bloated academic discourse and publications for fear that they would implicate themselves. However, that is again a contingent and side-issue.

Philosophy handles fields that empirical science cannot in at least three ways. First, normative studies cannot be a science. I suspect this is often over-looked, because many engaging in anti-philosophical conversations do not hesitate to conflate normative and descriptive theories; e.g., there is nothing more to morality than what people happen to accept. Second, as a theoretical discipline, science is not self-sustaining. For example, we will always need a theory of evidence before we have evidence, because nothing in the world ever speaks for itself. Meaning is always in part a human construct, and we cannot perform scientific practice without making the world meaningful, which cannot be self-contained within empirical science.  This is a well-tread area of scholarship in the philosophy of science. Third, not every field of study can be a science or is yet an empirical science. For instance, the value fields, e.g., politics, ethics, aesthetics, etc. cannot be a science, because their object is not a natural thing or kind, which does not imply that the results of such fields are a mere matter of opinion. If you think so, I suppose the difference between a liberal democracy and a cannabalistic tyranny is merely a matter of opinion, as opposed to the former being a more stable form of government. Seriously, many very useful ideas cannot be reduced to some material, energetic, or law-like correlate, and that does not render those ideas pure fantasy.

I will propose one well-known way to adjudicate between philosophic theories. What difference does the theory make? An ethic can never be reduced to science, but the scientific study of the consequences of its adoption can be the subject of scientific study. Would we then claim that ethic for science and not philosophy? I hope that the reader realizes at that point the distinction becomes foolish.

In sum, blaming philosophy for not being a science misconceives both what philosophy and science are or can be. There may be philosophies that do not fit the mold described here, but that is another matter, and they can fend for themselves.

CFP: Law, Culture, and Morality: East and West


Topic: Law, Culture and Morality: East and West
Dates: October 4-5, 2013

Place: University of Illinois

Abstract: 150 words

Email to Chandana Chakrabarti <>

Sponsored by:
The University of Illinois, The Society for Indian Philosophy and Religion, and The Institute of Cross-Cultural Studies and Academic Exchange

Date of proposal acceptance: Week after the proposal is submitted

Legal Philosophy; Philosophy of Right; Morality & Law; Law & Marxism; Legal Positivism; Legal Realism; Virtue Ethics; Virtue & Jurisprudence; Utilitarianism, Deontology & Law; Dworkin & Interpretivism; Philosophical Approaches to Legal Problems; Justice & Globalization; International Law; Natural Law; Bentham, Austin & Dworkin; Natural Law & Natural Rights; Law, Authority & Morality; Law of the Land & International Law; Ancient Law; Laws of Manu & Other Hindu Lawgivers; Confucius Theory of Virtue; Islam & Law; Law & Human Rights; Postmodernism & Law; Virtue & Knowledge; Morality & Society; Confucius Ethics; Perfectionist & Situational Ethics; Moral
Relativism; Humanism & Positivism; Ethnic Identity & Culture; Human Nature & Human Culture; Cultural Anthropology; Consumption & Morality; Politicizing Consumer Culture & Effects on Morality; Dynamics of Group Culture; Ethnic Boundaries; Constructing & Deconstructing Ethnic Identity; Cultural Transformation; Culture & Morality; Christian Ethics; Buddhist Ethics; Hindu Ethics; Jewish Ethics; Islamic Ethics & Global Ethics.

The above list is suggestive and not exhaustive.

Advisory Board Members:
Panos Eliopoulos (Greece), Yolanda Espina (Portugal), Gordon Haist (USA), Robin Kar (USA), Elizabeth Koldzak (Poland), Simi Malhotra (India), Maria Marczewska (Poland), Debkumar Mukhopadhyay( India), Rizwan Rahman (India), Ming Shao (China), Tommi Lehtonen (Finland), Andrew Ward (UK), Su-Chen Wu (Taiwan)

Papers from the Conference will be published subject to editorial review (Journal of International and Interdisciplinary Studies/Journal of Indian Philosophy & Religion)

Chandana Chakrabarti <>
Vice President
Institute of Cross Cultural Studies and Academic Exchange

CFP: Josiah Royce Society at Eastern APA

Call for papers/abstracts & commentators: Josiah Royce Society Session at the Eastern APA, to take place December 27-30, 2013, in Baltimore, MD at the Marriott Waterfront

This session will include two or three paper presentations and brief commentary on each presentation.

Papers should be able to be read in 25-30 minutes (around 3000-3500 words). If submitting an abstract, it should be no shorter than 250 words.

Please prepare your paper or abstract for blind review. Attach a separate document with the paper title, author name, affiliation, and contact information (email and phone number).

Prospective presenters/commentators are asked to email Mathew Foust at:

*Deadline: May 1, 2013

Notification regarding submission status will be made before May 31, 2013.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Ptolemaic Restoration: Object Oriented Whatevery and Kant’s Copernican Revolution

Thee Pound Brain has a good post up analyzing Speculative Realism and Levi Bryant's Object-Oriented Ontology in particular. Reading it is like being at the Mad Hatter's tea party (which is jolly good fun). In particular, I note this passage:

It’s a good rule-of-thumb, I think most will be inclined to agree, to be incredulous of any systematic set of claims that argues against incredulity. But this is precisely what Bryant does in arguing that, even though all his claims are in fact conditioned by his cognitive capacities, personal history, social context, and so on, one should pretend all these potential confounds are out of play. There is no question more honest than, “How do you know?” yet he would have us relegate it on the basis of speculation that, coincidentally enough, has no way of answering this very question.

I have addressed this issue before and argued against recourse to transcendental arguments to find certain knowledge. Even Kant noted that his arguments had the duality of being empirically real but transcendently ideal, while the modern version of transcendental argumentation, abduction, proposes only scientific hypothesis and speculative metaphysics.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

CFP: Pacific Association for the Continental Tradition


The 5th Annual Meeting of the Pacific Association for the Continental Tradition (PACT)

Topic: “PLACE”

September 26 - 28 2013 University of San Francisco

Abstracts of 500 words (or complete papers) addressing the topic of “place” can be submitted through email to Gerard Kuperus ( The deadline for submissions is APRIL 15, 2013.


The aim of PACT is to create a platform for philosophical dialogue on the West Coast. The annual conference alternates between Seattle (Seattle University), Hawai’i (University of Hawai’i, Hilo) and San Francisco (University of San Francisco).

PACT takes “Continental Philosophy” in its broadest sense, and everyone with an interest in continental thinking is invited to send in a submission and to participate.

For more information, please contact: Jason Wirth ( or Gerard Kuperus (


Friday, March 8, 2013

Wake-Up Call for Academics

Three-Pound Brain has a poignant and punny post about the plight of "post-academics," "para-academics," and the insularity of the academy.

Perverse Egalitarianism has a response discussing post-academic employment and para-academics.

Agent Swarm continues in this line.

Three-Pound Brain paints an enlightening image of the problem. The small group of Ph.D.s who make it into the academy cast a large shadow of para-academics, those Ph.D.s who did not alight on an academic job. Masses of post-academics desire to be part of scholarly culture, but do not have the resources or the social inclusion to participate as an equal member--if even recognized at all. For the most part, the academy is unaware of how large a shadow it casts and how complete the division is. However, this also means that the far larger proportion of America's intellectual acumen seeks an outlet, and it remains to be seen if this will alter the dynamics of academic power, scholarship, and institutions.

White Women's History and Black Feminist Complacency

Associate Professor Tommy Curry on how Black feminists' alliance with white feminism allows them to be co-opted into white social, cultural, economic, and even sexual power structures. Tommy, as always,  is a powerful and provocative thinker.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Why It Sucks to be a Historian of Philosophy

After Nature has a post up about the history of philosophy.

I concur with his assessment and encounter similar problems, though we have different audiences in mind: contemporary continental vs. mainstream analytic. I would add a few other scenarios.

When bridging the gap from American to analytic philosophy, I often try to discuss a contemporary topic by way of shared historical figure, e.g., Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Locke, or some other figure I would expect any professional philosopher to know something about. However, I am frequently met with the reaction that I am "just doing history," when in fact I am using a historic and shared language to communicate a problem that, e.g., Aristotle never would have considered. I get quite frustrated, because I get the impression that my interlocutor is unfairly dismissing the point, and I am not the kind of person to drag someone to the point. No blood sport here.

When discussing a contemporary topic from my mostly historical background, I often use a neutral contemporary vocabulary to describe a criticism motivated by historical insights. I do not try to use my field's technical contemporary or historical vocabularies, because it's not a shared language. Yet once again I am frequently dismissed because I am not speaking the technical language of my interlocutor, who is usually an analytic philosopher.

I understand that discussing technical points with someone not within your specialty is difficult--believe me since almost all my conversations are such--but some philosophers are just too ready to dismiss anything that does not already speak their language or to their obvious interest no matter how on topic it is.

In practice, academic philosophy is far less pluralistic and historical than it claims. I am really worried about this since the rise, at least within the U.S., of treating historic philosophy as a means to treating contemporary problems--not itself a bad thing--through re-interpreting history in terms of the needs of the present--terrible historiography. I have posted a number of times about the plight of my own field, American pragmatism, and our co-option by analytic philosophy that tends to interpret all pragmatism through lens of neopragmatism.

Monday, March 4, 2013

CFP: XVII Congress of the Interamerican Philosophical Society

Faculdade de Filosofia e Ciências Humanas, Universidade Federal da Bahia
Salvador, Brazil


From 07th to 11th October 2013, in Salvador (Bahia, Brazil), the XVIIth conference of the Interamerican Philosophical Society will take place. The Conference will gather among the most distinguished philosophers from the three Americas and Europe to discuss the general theme of the Conference: “Science and Culture”.

Who can submit a paper? Graduate Students; Post-doctoral fellows; Professors of colleges and universities.

The papers are submitted in the form abstracts of 500 to 1000 words. They can be submitted in Portuguese, Spanish, English or French, the official languages of the conference. 

In order to submit a paper, you must first register an e-mail in our “Virtual Community” and, after that, to fill in the inscription file of the conference. Once this is done, you can submit a paper by filling the form for submission, using the link “Paper” (that will automatically appear for the user after the previous steps of register and inscription to the conference.) 

Until the deadline for submission, on April 15th 2013, the form will remain open for you to change the data.

The list of keynote speakers can be found at

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Why My Transcendental Ontology is Flat

Levi Bryant has been serial posting on naturalism for weeks, though this is a response to "I Guess My Ontology Ain't Flat".

For now, I would note a difference between pragmatic naturalism, including Peirce whom he references at length, and his materialistic naturalism. I would insist that qualities are not "in" or "outside" of "objects" or things. Phenomenal qualities come into being through interaction (kind of like his endo-qualities), while absolutely "intrinsic" qualities ... well ... there cannot be said to be any. That is, if something is intrinsic to a thing and never external, then we have nothing to say about them since they are essentially closed and private to all of nature. They are nominal, not universal, and thus cannot be discussed or communicated. They cannot be the subject of an ontology, unless one admits that one writes pure metaphysical fiction as opposed to transcendental or abductive arguments. In that case, one should write metaphysics like Rousseau writes ethics in his "Discourse on the Origin of Inequality"; he admits his fictions, but writes them for political expedience in his iconoclastic way. Or maybe he could take the Rortian route and call his metaphysics "edifying literature." But he will not.

Is my transcendental ontology flat? Sure. I think there's only nature. But why exclude spirit from nature? Why assume we know the line between the natural and supernatural? Why assume the natural is only physical? If we are indeed talking about what is "inside" objects, to which we have no access, then we're just making an ad ignorantum argument, are we not? Likewise, I'm not saying that there is a supernatural per se; I just do not reduce nature to my concept of nature.
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