Sunday, October 30, 2011

Deweyan Pragmatists Cannot be Humeans: An Ethical Polemic, Part 2

There has been a movement among Deweyan pragmatists towards moral aesthetics.  Numerous articles have called for moral creativity, often invoking the metaphor of jazz music performance, as well as calling for moral imagination.  This approach to morality is dangerous in general, and especially dangerous for Deweyans.

If morality is merely a judgment of taste, an aesthetic that we cultivate like we practice our jazz performance, then morality becomes mere social conformity.  That was one of the obvious problems of Hume's morality, especially when we no longer take the moral sentiments as universal.  But, my fellow Deweyans, if we continue to employ Jazz metaphors to explain our ethics, do we not engage the same problem?

Not necessarily.  Although it is not always emphasized, Dewey insisted on conjoining ethics with solid science.  No, he was not saying that there should be an ethics of science or that there are "moral facts" that we can treat as if they were an object of science.  Rather, he thought in terms of the public commons and the disciplines of urban planning, criminal justice, social work, and the many other fields that are today called "applied science."  I point this out to counter the implication that some scholars propose we become aesthetes.

However, the problem of imagination does not go away even after we include this crucial point.  Per my earlier post, if we cannot imagine something, then we cannot consciously experience it as meaningful.  Hence, if we do not already anticipate something as a moral problem, then we are not likely to comprehend the situation as such a problem.  The problem with the employment of jazz metaphors, for example, is that it stresses the creativity of the imagination.  But as my former professor Randall Auxier says, we usually look upon moral creativity with horror.  Hitler was as morally creative as Gandhi.  Creativity is good only when it is needed, and only when we know what we are about in advance.  But that wouldn't be good jazz, now would it?  At least, that's not why that metaphor re-appears in the literature.

If music education took a more Platonic or Aristotelian turn, then we would be better off.  We learn harmony so that we may harmonize with others and ourselves, our souls.  Then we may anticipate and be ratio-nal, because creativity is not quite what we really need.  What we really need is education, and to that all Deweyans would agree.

We are all Humeans: An Ethical Polemic, Part 1

We are Humeans about morality, for in practice morality is an aesthetic.  We approve what we approve, and disapprove what we do, and if something does not look or feel right, it's wrong.  Don't kid yourself about what you think--you think with you eyes most of the time.  You have the possibility to be other than Humean if you notice this, but not if you do it from a theoretical perspective.  You must do it from a practical perspective, from what you do rather than what you think.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Thesis of My Upcoming Article on the Imagination

If you cannot imagine it, then you cannot consciously experience it as meaningful.

It seems simple, but one you parse what a Deweyan pragmatist means by "imagine," "conscious," "experience," and "meaningful," it's as far from obvious as you can get.

If I were to add some assumptions, it would read:

Since consciously apprehended meaning arises from the imaginative projection of anticipated consequences, then if you cannot ....

If I were to explain what meaning is and how it is projected, it would read:

Since meaning arises from the habitual association of qualitative experience with remembered enactions of that experience, and since .... (continuing with the previous qualification).

Finally for this teaser, I would add that "experience" is the interaction of body and environment, i.e., the local temporal-spatial field of interactivity, and thus the "remembered enactions of experience" is actually a description of the behavioral patterns of a local environment inclusive of a human being....  

For those who haven't heard me say it before--or read it--the point is that I'm working on a realist, pragmatist phenomenology that is also processional.  The "integral ecology" and OOO folks who like their flat ontologies may note that the only privilege given to human being is that it is the focal point of experience only because I'm interested in human conscious experience.  It I were interested in bare human experience, I could write a "phenomenology" of my shoes.  The difference would be that the shoes as a "body" do not experience (its) potentiality as qualitative.  Experience is modal, and not all things are capable of all modes, including humanity.

Dewey on Desire, Valuation, and Evaluation: A Motivation for Pragmatic Phenomenology

First substantive post in awhile … first I begin with some criticism of Dewey, my own explanation of its failure, and James Gouinlock on Dewey's failures that I am attempting to rectify in "pragmatic phenomenology."

Dewey was often accused of committing both the naturalistic and is/ought fallacies.  He claimed that we can evaluate our "desires, aims, and purposes" by determining if they are "desirable."  He says this from a Hume-like standpoint, whereas valuative process are what determine when, where, how, and what we think or conclude, although he was closer to Max Scheler's Ordo Amoris than garden-variety Hume.  Morton White famously criticized him for converting de facto desiring into de jure normative valuation.1  Specifically, Morton accuses him of having "'generated a normative or de jure proposition by performing a suitable operation on merely de facto propositions'" (LW 17:482).

For Dewey, "desirable" does not mean "what can be desired" in the sense that something is desirable first and desired second.  He is not claiming, as was historically claimed and still needing to be defended, that we can convert de facto desiring into a de jure normative valuation.  Rather, it means that we desire something first and then see it as desirable only in a subsequent reflective moment.  The first moment is a valuation, while the second is an evaluative moment not necessary to the first in which evaluation might occur.  

Dewey also does not mean that we make these distinctions immediately from a third person view, as those who scream "naturalist fallacy!!!" are likely to do.  Rather, in any actual situation, the desirable is a horizon of possible coalescing desireds that may or may not exist.  What Dewey is recommending when making the desired/desirable distinction, is that we lead our present desires along to some possible future fulfillment.  He is not commiting a confusion of is from ought, but rather stating the psychological--or dare I call it a phenomenological--point that in any actual situation we are led to think of what might be from where we are and have been.  His ethics is horizonal and progressive; just as the sunlight horizon differs from where we stand, the horizon of our moral ideals differ.  Hence, he thinks non-horizonal norms, or static ideals, misconstrue the actual human conditions and limitations in which we find ourselves and are therefore unhelpful at being moral in addition to being disingenuine since their creators propose an ideal position that they cannot actually have.

However, I agree with James Gouinlock's criticism.

“If White were to address himself to Dewey's actual argument, the analysis would have to be directed at three questions: (1) Is it indeed true that the qualities of experience are functional constituents of continuous natural processes? (2) Can the methods of experimental intelligence be used to reconstruct natural processes in a deliberate way? (3)  Has Dewey in fact presented distinctions which are appropriate for recognizing the principal phases of experience from the problematic to the consummatory?” (224).2

My dissertation and subsequent work has been aimed at addressing questions  (2) and (3), whereas I rely on scholars such as Mark Johnson for (1).  My criticism, noted in Victor Kestenbaum's recent work, is that we need a structural account of the "function constituents of continuous natural processes" to determine--on Dewey's own ground--if the methods of experimental intelligence to accomplish what is promised.  In short, the answer is no.  However, they may be corrected and expanded to perform the task, which has been my task.

1. Morton White, "Value and Obligation in Dewey and Lewis, Philosophical Review 58:4 (July 1949): 321-330
2.  James Gouinlock. "Dewey's Theory of Moral Deliberation," Ethics Vol. 88, No. 3 (April 1978): 218-228. Reprinted in John Dewey: Critical Assessments, edited by J. E. Tiles. New York: Routlege, Chapman and Hall, 1993.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Philosophy of Attention: A Recent Book and Some Thoughts

I was really excited to see this and read this work, as much of my pragmatic phenomenology is also a theory of attention.  I have discovered, unsurprisingly, that my work is far afield from what is being discussed in this work, as the review makes me doubt that the author is writing from the perspective of process metaphysics, especially since such a background could not reasonable lead to cognitivism of any sort (because we then would take a later phase of the prior as if it were a prior phase, which is an implication of James' psychologist's or Dewey's philosopher's fallacy).

  I would welcome discussion from anyone who is more familiar with the work and its line of scholarship.  For myself....

Attention arises from tension, a disequilibrium in the dynamic equilibrium of ongoing organismic-environmental transactions.  We feel tension before we a-ttend (cf Peirce and Dewey on feeling).  Likewise, to sound like Merleau-Ponty, the bodily has an in-tensionality that directs its ongoing body-environment interactions and thereby is a major factor in the dynamic equilibrium by which an event is felt as a disequilibrium, or tension, sufficient to draw a-tension and possibly cognitive function.  Each of these are indistinct phases of the ongoing process that may or may not lead to either consciousness or consciousness-of.  One of the primary functions of a-tension is to lead to perception, by which sensation becomes meaningful through the association of quality and memory, and perhaps apperception by which we become aware of this meaning.  Note that "meaning" is not foremost a cognitive or linguistic affair, as most any Peircean third is also a "meaning," and thus with Heidegger I can say that this thing here means "good for sitting" long before I think "chair."

Much of my dissertation was on how attention arises from "desire" (~conatus) for Dewey and how our particular desirious makeup, or "character" or body of habits that lead to valuation, influences our perception of meaning....  Hence, part of its subtitle was "the Immanent Transcendence of Desire."

Ah.  Continued thought is foiled by office hours!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

CFP for First Schelling Society Conference

The SSNA is open to anyone who conducts research on Schelling and Schellingian philosophy in the English language. The SSNA mission is to (1) further research in English, both historical and systematic, on Schelling and related figures (eg., Boehme, Oetinger, Baader, Fichte, Novalis, Hölderlin, Schubert, early Hegel, Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Oken, Fechner, Coleridge, Bradley, Peirce); (2) organize a stand-alone Schelling conference every other year at a North American University, with proceedings published online, and the best papers published every four years with an academic press; (3) gather data concerning current graduate research in English on Schelling; (4) coordinate translation projects of Schelling into English.

CFP On Michel Henry for JFFP

CFP : The Practical Philosophy of Michel Henry

The Journal of French and Francophone Philosophy ( invites submissions for a special issue on the practical philosophy of Michel Henry. Increasing attention is being paid to Michel Henry’s work, especially with reagrad to its impact in the areas of phenomenology and theology. This issue hopes to build on the existing momentum in Henry studies by extending it to his important contributions in the areas of social and political philosophy as well as ethics. Important questions in this domain might include What are the implications of Henry’s philosophy of life for a theory of action, normative ethics or an analysis of socio-political questions? What results might his philosophy of life yield, if applied to contemporary issues? Papers that explore Henry’s practical philosophy in relation to other thinkers of interest or that creatively apply or extend under-appreciated aspects of his own work are especially welcomed. Papers can be submitted in French or English. Papers should not exceed 8,000 words in length, and citations should follow the Chicago Manual of Style. All papers will be peer-reviewed by at least two evaluators. To receive full consideration, completed papers should be submitted through the short, five-step submission process on the journal’s website by August 1, 2012. 

Saturday, October 22, 2011

A Question about Withdrawal In Object-Oriented Ontology

I have a question to ask of object-oriented philosophers, and I hope that they can clarify a crucial point.  If they cannot, then much of their ontology remains a mystery.  I suspect that such individuals have an answer, but even if they do, then the exact details are significant unto the entirety of its ontology, and it would be good to explain them.

If the real being of an object is withdrawn, then what does "real" mean in regards to it?  And what is this "real being" as contrasted with whatever the term is not signifying?  I ask the question from the standpoint of a person not satisfied with answers that repeat and reinscribe withdrawal, because then one merely defers a keystone question of their metaphysics.

My insufficiently tutored suspicions are that "withdrawal" is much less novel than it first appears.  Can not many process metaphysicians also point out that what is becoming is processional, then what exist now comes into the light from out of a dark past, out of a dim hallway of its history to which we cannot have immediate access?  We could call that "withdrawal."  The more I think about it, the less mysterious the concept becomes, until I remember that OOO frequently claims to be a substance metaphysics.  Then I wonder whether the confusion is my own, or whether what is discussed is not clear, and I hope to be enlightened on the subject.

I suspect that the answer depends on the specific thinker, and I would welcome responses from any.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

CFP for Ecstatic Naturalism

Call for Papers

2012 Conference on Ecstatic Naturalism
April 13th & 14th, Drew University - Madison, New Jersey

Plenary Speaker:

Robert Neville

Departments of Religion, Philosophy and Theology – Boston University

Dean, Boston School of Theology

President, Highlands Institute for American Religious and Philosophical Thought 

"Ecstatic Naturalism" is a relatively new but influential school of philosophical theology which proposes to conjoin continental phenomenology and American pragmatism from within the tradition of philosophical naturalism. Broadly put, ecstatic naturalism recognizes a deep and self-transforming dimension of nature: the difference between natura naturans (nature naturing) and natura naturata (nature natured).  It is natura naturans which affords the possibility of religious transcendence via the ejection and subsequent semiosis of its potentials that take the shape of nature’s sacred folds. The religiosity of such transcendence is fully natural, as according to ecstatic naturalism, there is nothing other than nature.  Ecstatic Naturalism's founder, Robert S. Corrington (Drew University) is heavily influenced by both the American and continental philosophical traditions generally, but in particular by philosophers such as C. S. Peirce, John Dewey, and George Santayana, as well as by F. W. J. Schelling, Martin Heidegger, and Karl Jaspers, to name but a few.

Paper topics may include the following, but should include reference to ecstatic naturalism: philosophical naturalism, speculative and systematic philosophy, process philosophy, phenomenology, existentialism, hermeneutics, German idealism, mysticism, Asian religious traditions (Hinduism, Shamanism, Buddhism, Daoism, etc.) or philosophers such as Peirce, James, and Dewey; Buchler, Emerson, Schelling, Hegel, Leibniz, Spinoza, Heidegger, Tillich, Jaspers, Whitehead, Hartshorne, Bergson, Deleuze, Badiou, Žižek, Marion, etc.

This year the conference especially welcomes interdisciplinary papers, and papers which discuss contemporary American philosophy and ecstatic naturalism vis-a-vis recent developments in the continental tradition (speculative realism, object oriented philosophy, Caputo, Kearney, Desmond, Meillassoux, Harman, Latour, Laruelle, etc.) 

Submissions require a proposal only, 250 words.  Conference registration fee includes the conference, dinner, and an after-dinner presentation on the campus of Drew University which houses the Graduate Division of Religion and Drew Theological School. 

Please email proposals by December 31st, 2011 to:  We intend to notify authors of our decisions by January 31st, 2012.

The conference is being organized by Wade Mitchell and Renee Blanchard (both Drew University), with support by Leon Niemoczynski (Loras College).

Harman and Bryant on the Analytic/Continental Divide

And Levi Bryant commenting.

I agree with both, of course, and have previously discussed the issue.  Per Harman, there is a divide.  It's not necessarily a bad thing.  Those who deny the divide often call for us to do just "philosophy," which happens to accede to the existing (power) structures under another name.  As Levi Adds, its also about power, e.g., political and institutional power.

I am very glad that in the just-released JFP a number of ads specify that they want someone with the analytic take on the AoS, or someone who teaches the analytic variant of this or that course.  Some might find the recognition of the division as unhelpful for reconciliation.  I say quite the contrary; I prefer that we be honest to each other as a starting point of genuine communication.  Thank you, departments, for not wasting the time of either of us.

Pluralism does not mean assimilation.  It means that we work together and allow each of us to be different.

Friday, October 14, 2011

CFP: Pragmatism, Law, and Language

Call for Abstracts for the 15th Annual Inland Northwest Philosophy

Topic: Pragmatism, Law, and Language
Location: University of Idaho, Moscow, ID
Dates: March 23-24, 2012
Contact: Graham Hubbs <>

This conference will bring together philosophers and legal scholars
interested in the pragmatist tradition, whether as critics or
advocates, so that each might learn from the other.

The Keynote Address will be delivered by Robert Brandom of the
University of Pittsburgh.

Participants include:

David Boersema (Philosophy, Pacific), Brian Butler (Philosophy & Law,
UNC Asheville), Tom Burke (Philosophy, South Carolina), Matthew
Chrisman (Philosophy, Edinburgh), Janice Dowell (Philosophy,
Nebraska), Heidi Li Feldman (Law, Georgetown), Danielle Macbeth
(Philosophy, Haverford), Martin J. Stone (Law, Cardozo), Karl Schaffer
(Philosophy, Pittsburgh), Michael Sullivan (Philosophy & Law, Emory),
Robert Talisse (Philosophy, Vanderbilt), Lynne Tirrell (Philosophy,
UMass Boston), and Benjamin Zipursky (Law, Fordham).

We invite papers in all areas of philosophy and law related to the
conference theme, including but not limited to the following:
pragmatic accounts of the evolution of legal meaning, the common law
method, constitutional law, law and economics, hate speech, justice
theory, and normative discourse.

To participate in this conference, submit an abstract of no more than
300 words via email to The deadline for submissions
is December 1, 2011. Individuals will be notified of decisions
regarding submissions in mid-December. Chairs and commentators are
also needed: if you are interested, please indicate areas of

A selection of the conference's papers will be published by MIT Press
as part of its Topics in Contemporary Philosophy
Series. All accepted papers, including commenting papers, will be
considered for publication.

Additional information about the conference can be obtained at our

Graham Hubbs
Assistant Professor
Department of Philosophy
University of Idaho
409 Morrill Hall
Moscow, ID 83844-441110

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Public Philosophy Network

Encouraging and Supporting Publicly Engaged Philosophical Research and Practices

This network has become popular with members of the Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Lecture on Peirce, Part 1

I was preparing a critical thinking lecture that included some C.S. Peirce and thought that I would present a variant of it to a wider audience.  Since many of the SR and OOO crowd is more familiar with Whitehead than his predecessor Peirce, I hope that this is helpful and informative.  Note that I have simplified it as befits an undergraduate course, and thus I have significantly rephrased some of the questions.  That said, the re-phrasing might be more obviously informative.

"Questions Concerning Certain Faculties Claimed for Man"
Peirce asks seven questions in this article concerning thought and its ability to know.

Question 1.
Without previous knowledge or reasoning, can we immediately distinguish between introspection and perception?

We feel that we have this power or faculty, but there is no evidence that we do.
There is lots of evidence that we do not.
"Every lawyer knows how difficult it is for witnesses to distinguish between what they have seen and what they have inferred" (CP 5.216).

Two of the four sources of knowledge, introspection and perception, are not distinct.

Question 2.
Do we have an intuitive knowledge of ourselves, i.e., have self-consciousness?

"I" or self-reference has to be taught to children.
So does ascribing what others says to ourselves.

Question 3.
Do we have a power to distinguish subjective from objective elements of thought?

We have no intuitive power, but we have methods of verification.
Much of this follows from question 1.

Question 4.
Do we have a power of introspection, or is our knowledge of the internal world derived from observation of external facts?

No evidence.
Per question 3, we cannot know immediately.
The only way to investigate it is through psychology, but that is not based on introspection.
We cannot use non-introspective methods to prove the power of introspection.

Question 5.
Can thought reference nothing?

Thought is always about something.

Thought is intentional, although for Peirce we should understand this as originating from the thing, not mind.

Question 6.
Is anything unthinkable?

To be is synonymous with to be thinkable.

To be is to be related, which is to be thinkable.

Question 7.
Can we think things other than thought itself?


*The last few questions concern his semiotic.  As for question 7, I suspect that it has significance for the OOO crowd and others worried about anthropocentrism.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Pragmatism is a Realism and Leads to a Realist Phenomenology

I would highlight some important tenets of pragmatism that do not appear to be not widely known.

Recently, it was argued that William James argued that the truth was what was expedient to believe.      The next thought that James would have is, "what about the situation makes this an expediency?"  He would then transfer the issue from one about facile truth-wishing to one about a scientific study of the conditions for belief and knowledge.  He was particularly interested in those cases for which insufficient evidence is given to believe on thing or another, but we still find ourselves forced to make a decision.  One does not usually find existentialism so closely accompanied by experimental science.    Let me point out some other perhaps unexpected points about pragmatism.

Pragmatism is a realism.  It is not the common contemporary realism that argues that only things that exist are real, and therefore science is the proper study of the real.  It argues for the reality of universals, e.g., of qualities, and thus argues against those who would say that phenomenal experience either only partially or not real.  It is opposed to nominalism, whether open or crypto, the view that leads to the thought that universals are arbitrary.  E.g., whiteness is just a name, and thus "whiteness" or any quality is just an occurence due to arbitrary events none of which can be said univocally to give rise to "whiteness."  In consequence, "whiteness" might have an intension (description) but certainly has no extension.  But that means that "whiteness" is an arbitrary description.  This nominalist view has monumental consequences for phenomenology if one adopts it.

Pragmatism argues for a derivative of scholastic realism about universals, following Peirce, that culminated in the Peircean triad.  Reality can be described in terms of the generative categories of firstness, secondness, and thirdness, which have many denotations since they are generative, but include possibility/quality, existence/activity/force, and determinate existence/habit/law, respectively. Pure quality has reality, but does not exist.  Aside, one consequence of this view, popularized by William James, is the thesis that relations are real.

Pragmatism is, in contemporary parlance, a mixed constructivist view.  That means that we take everything that exists, whether love, rocks, fancy handshakes, etc., to be a combination of what exists in nature and semiotics (the science of relations)--and it all is real.  Many contemporary "naturalists," whether of the hard or soft (scientific) naturalist variety would not agree with this and call phenomenal qualities a "non-natural kind."

When I speak of a pragmatic phenomenology as a realist phenomenology, I am insisting that the phenomenon is a real sign of that which gave rise to it.  I am insisting that we not fall into the trap of the contemporary Cartesian dualist--still well practiced by so many who disavow it--and look only for the (efficient) "cause" of the phenomenon for only that is reputedly real.  A pragmatist, following the theory of continuity (synechism), would say that there must have been causes that gave rise to that real phenomenon.  Though there may be various existential conditions that give rise to "whiteness," we should not assume a nominalism about whiteness, but investigate the semiotic conditions, e.g., what are the relations in the situation and which were taken by the human organism as significant relations.  This includes, as researchers like Mark Bickhard note, the notion that hierarchy and structure is causal, and thus an effect can point to a structure rather than singular existents.

As a researcher, I am interested in the embodied cultural (semiotic) structures that are also embodied hermeneutics.  Specifically, I am not interested in the actual structures per se, e.g., what Johnson would call metaphors and a metaphor logic, but the habitual structures that limit concrete habituated or learned structures.  E.g., why we take this or that to be meaningful.

Monday, October 3, 2011

CFP: Epictetus and Stoicism at RIT, April 2012

Epictetus and Stoicism at RIT, April 2012

Rochester Institute of Technology Department of Philosophy announces a conference:
Epictetus and Stoicism: Continuing Influences and Contemporary Relevance
Thursday 26 April and Friday 27 April 2012
Keynote speaker: Katja Vogt (Philosophy, Columbia University)
Call for Papers: The RIT Philosophy Department invites papers that address any topic on or related to Epictetus and Stoicism, including, but not limited to: happiness, tranquility, detachment, reason, fate, volition, agency, what is (and is not) under our control, our moral purpose, virtue, cosmic order, divine providence, death, the Stoic sage, Epictetus as teacher, influence of earlier thinkers on Epictetus, Epictetus’s influence on later thinkers (including writers of our own time), the “practical” philosophy of Stoicism, and comparisons and contrasts with other traditions (such as Buddhism, Epicureanism, Christianity).
Submission Deadline: January 15, 2012. Papers should be 4,500–5,500 words in length (35–40 minutes reading time), and prepared for anonymous review. Please submit full papers as email attachments to (and direct inquires to):

*This is my undergraduate alma matter.