Saturday, December 31, 2011

A New Way of Thinking the Object vs. Process Divide

An excellent post here:

The best part (for me):

"If the analogy holds, attachment to objects in ontology are somehow like the attachment to concepts concerning thought content. The issue is whether there is more to the world than ready-made objects, more to content than ready-made concepts."

Yes, and that lays the ground for why I am critical of OOO.  It wants its fundamental ontological unit, the object as substance, ready-made.   I think that's wrong.  It's that simple.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Experience and World as Many-to-Many Relation

Thinking out loud, again, and building upon prior sessions.  This was long promised, and I hope that it is interesting.  Yes, I am aware that many of these topics are discussed in Peirce, Hartshorne, Whitehead, Neville, Corrington, etc., but I haven't read enough of them to engage their scholarship as such on this level.  Besides, I find that being able to generate much of a thinkers insights on one's own greatly aids one's ability to understand the complexities of other's thought, especially when it is careful, formal, and systematic.

Among realists, it is often assumed that the external world is one thing, a unity.  I would argue that the experience-to-world relation is a many-to-many relation.  I take it for granted that no one would argue that experience is at least a many-to-one relation.  Many experiences can be had in one situation.  However, that what is experienced is always a plurality is more controversial.

Experience adds to what is experienced, and thus the experienced world is always more than just the external world.  For example, experienced meaning is not something fully contained in things as independent of the human mind, especially when one holds meaning to be more than mere reference.  Moreover, the world is more than any finite experience, and thus we could experience more.

This would be a trivial observation except that we cannot think either the totality of the world or of experiences of it except as an abstraction.  If we presumed that we could arithmetically sum the disparate experiences, we would treat both experience and world as atemporal, which is false.  The world is not static, but changing.  Moreover, though more controversially, we would treat relations as unreal, which is false.  The spatial and temporal configurations of the world are causal just as much as what exists is causal, and we can think neither the totality nor morphology of spatio-temporal structures such that we could claim to know that the world is one thing.

The problem is that a unified world is assumed in commonsense realism without explaining the unity of the world.  Do we know or experience the world as one?  How does it reveal itself in its unity?  If one insists that realism is meant as a metaphysical doctrine, and thus the issue of knowledge or experience is moot, then I insist that one must explain how one describes what is beyond description?

Assuming naturalism, i.e., that there are no uncaused causes or that causation is “closed” (meant in an algebraic manner), then there is a sense in which the possibilities of experience are real.  I take it is uncontroversial that the potentialities of experience are real, i.e., that given an existential context certain future eventuations are possible.  However, I hypothesize that possibilities themselves, unmoored from any given existential context in contrast with a potentiality, are real.

What does it mean to say that possibilities are real?  I will address two premises required to make sense of the statement.  First, nature is causally closed, which I discuss here and here.    In short, I propose that thinking the totality of nature is possible if we are merely thinking its causal closure.  Again, “causal closure” is a sophisticated way to say that there are no uncaused causes. Thinking  the totality of nature per causal closure is thinking in terms of all the possible transformations of nature given the varieties of natural causes.  Second, and as part of causal closure, I will assume that the varieties of causality is not limited, but that any cause must have an effect that remains within the bounds of nature.  There are no “leaps” in nature that cause discontinuities; hence, I affirm a variant of the principle of sufficient reason.  However, since I do not bound the set of causes, I likewise do not bound the set of effects that are “natural.”  This means that nature can grow, i.e., that nature thought as an algebraic structure is not isomorphic.  In simpler terms, nature need only be continuous, but not self-identical through time.

If nature is creative or “grows,” then time is an irreducible ontological category.  Hello, process metaphysics.  Given all this, the experience-to-world relation cannot be understood as static, because both terms of the relation are multiple and temporal.  Now I will return to the question of the reality of possibilities.

If we accept this processional emergent naturalism, then possibility qua possibility must be real.  Why?  Because causal closure implies that there is an ultimate ontological structure to possibility such that closure and continuity is possible.  Said again, if there are no self-caused causes or no ex nihilo causation, then that formal logical possibility is closed.  (I do not accept the argument that closure is logically necessary, because that inference requires that Being qua Being is bound by logic, which is an assumption.)  This alone is insufficient to convince one of the reality of possibility; for that we must turn to continuity.  If each existence or event is to be related to every other such that discontinuity is impossible, yet we observe a regularity of what and how things are related, then by abductive hypothesis I propose that the possibilities of existence are bound.  Otherwise, the cosmos would be utterly chaotic and permanence would be the exception rather than the rule.  Hence, the structure of possibility must be real, where the “structure of possibility” just means “the possibilities of possibility.”  I believe that the ontological vs. ontic distinction might be helpful to distinguish the structure of possibility from determinate possibilities.  The reality of possibility only implies that in any given situation there are some limitations on the possibilities of present (and future) existence, which is an ontological statement.  It does not imply any determinate or concrete possibilities or potentialities, which is an ontic issue.  

What is the difference?  I reject physicalism, materialism, and all the -isms that posit that reality is of one sort or another.  These  -isms make ontological restrictions on the ontic that are merely posits, bold assumptions.  There may be reasons for doing so, but making those assumptions is neither necessary nor always compelling.

Finally, I will return to the original topic and tie this in.  If possibility is real, then what does this have to do with experience-and-world as many-to-many relation.  Well, if the world contains both the potentialities and (ontic) possibilities of experience, then when we experience the world we experience both what is actual and what might be, i.e., the present and the future.  Hence, the “many” in the “many-to-many” cannot be thought of as an enumerable totality or collective in which calling it a “unity” makes sense.  It is unified only insomuch as it is continuous, but this means “connected” and not “one.”  And thus, the experience-to-world relation is not many-to-one ever.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Shaviro: Harman on Metzinger

One of my favorite Shaviro posts is here.

There is lots to love, or maybe because I just happen to agree with most everything Shaviro says and wish I could communicate it so effortlessly.  Points I like:

1.  critique of scientism and eliminatism
2.  recognition that "armchair" philosophy (anything not backed up by science) is indispensable
3.  description of an event of perception as a reification of the process
4.  recognition that scientistic philosophy contradicts itself when it belittles "folk" belief while championing science

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Difficulty of Processional and Temporal Writing

A thought on the difficulties of processional and temporal writing.

I am in the midst of finishing edits to an article.  A reviewer suggested that I harbored an “unexamined essentialism” in my writing as grammatically I refer to substantives too often when talking about functional and processional concepts.  I mention this because I am likely not alone in having this problem, thought I have an uncommon but not unique solution.

Resist verbing and nominalization.  That is what I am doing that is throwing my reviewer off, and it is also why these articles take so long to write and edit.  It has been common for decades in philosophy in America, and philosophy in the West in general, to “verb nouns” (through usage to transform their functional part of speech from noun to verb) or to perform a “nominalization” (write the noun form of a verb and use it as the subject of the sentence).

My own compositional style has been compared to a “inexorable freight train” as I build my arguments linearly and always with a sense of an anticipated goal (that I do not always reach).    

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Objections and Responses to Object-Oriented Ontology

Jussi Parikka at Machinology posts some tentative criticisms here and gets a lot of response.

I am in a similar situation with Parikka, though perhaps slightly more knowledgeable, and I agree with most of his concerns.  My foremost question is why?  Why do this theory?  That is my first question because much of what I've seen in OOO is at best a radicalization of concerns expressed in novel ways that motivates an intellectual machinery.  However, I do not see why we need OOO to address many of these concerns, e.g., correlationism or a want for "flat ontologies," as pre-existing metaphysics already known to them accomplish this.

I never ask a question that I do not already have an answer to, although having an answer is not the same as having knowledge.  I suspect that what motivates OOO is more due to the current state of the discourse, political structures in the discipline of philosophy, and a lot of other reasons that are not philosophical per se.  

In the comments, I see Ian Bogost and Levi Bryant responding.  Dr. Bogost writes that Parikka's comments amount to "I don't like it."  Well, I think that Bogost is right in that regard--educated guess--but he also has substantial questions that Bogost ignores that other posters bring to the fore.

Let me explain why "I don't like it" so far.  In short, I am not convinced that the formal distinction offered by the term "object" is worthwhile.  This is part of Parikka's and commenter "shane" 's point as this approach has a lot of consequences that we might not want to embrace.  I like Levi Bryant's approach of the issue as a counter to this, e.g., his processional approach that I've discussed before and that he posts upon in response at machinology.  However, I still do not see what this gets us beyond Whitehead; i.e., why not just do Whitehead? Or some other thinker?  When I see responses to this, which are being fervently posted, I remain unconvinced except for one point.  Since I encountered it, OOO appears to be way for a continentalist to do process philosophy while not being "just" a Deleuzeian, etc.  I suspect that the freedom the new field allows is what motivates many, especially since continental as a tradition is very beholden to philosophical-figure thinking, i.e., centering work around thinkers rather than problems.

Speaking of, I wrote the previosu thought before seeing it replicated in Glen Fuller's response:

"Levi, if it is ‘very similar’ why then would I bother with OOP? Why not stick with Whitehead? Is it the whole ‘God’ thing you don’t like? I read eternal objects the same way as Shaviro, Massumi, etc as virtual singularities that can be repeated in different ways under different conditions, like the boiling point of water."

Conclusive Thoughts
I would discuss some of the fallout and its relation to my own engagements with OOO.  I share Parika's puzzlement here about why posting or comment about OOO/OOP causes such heated and often unfriendly debate.  For example--and this is not the only one as one need only peruse the comment threads--Harmans' response here is unfair per "normally someone reads something before attacking it."  I have been accused of that, and my response is this: must I become a scholar of someone's work before I ever make a criticism?  Parikka later makes that statement in a later post; he's read quite a bit but is not a scholar.  This move sets the bar so high that it can only be read as a rhetorical move, i.e., a power-play to silence any criticism.  Aside, every time I do look up a reference when given to me, it doesn't answer the criticism, excepting Levi's discussion of the processional nature of objects in onticology, which I think may contain a solution to my criticisms.  This goes right back to Parikka's puzzlement that I also share; why would I want to discuss OOO, if it's not central to my own research, when that kind of reaction is common?  For another example, see Glen Fuller's comments in Parikka's thread (this is my only knowledge of this person and the same for Parikka): what I take to be good, solid criticism is bashed as belligerence and speaking in a poor tone.  That looks familiar, again, as I have been hit with that.  Where am I going with this?  I feel both validated and validating (of Parikka and others) that there is too much touchiness in *some* members of the OOO community.  That is, they cannot seem to tell the difference between curious but critical interlocutors, and opponents cranking them; I am of the former.  Sadly, I do not think they would believe me--even those commenters on Parikka's blog that I've never exchanged words with.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

CFP: Feminist Pragmatism in Place Colloquium

Feminist Pragmatism in Place Colloquium

*The University of Dayton*

*October 19-20, 2012 *

This colloquium will address feminist pragmatist approaches to place,
broadly construed, including natural and built environments, and spaces of
exclusion and belonging in historical and contemporary contexts.

*Plenary Speakers:*

Lisa Heldke, author of *Exotic Appetites: Ruminations of a Food Adventurer* and
Professor of Philosophy at Gustavus Adolphus College, will speak on "Urban
Farmers and Rural Cosmopolitans? Pragmatist Musings on Contemporary Food

Louise W. Knight, author of *Citizen: Jane Addams and the
Struggle for Democracy* and *Jane Addams: Spirit in Action,* Visiting
Scholar, Northwestern University Gender Studies Program and School of
Communication, will speak on "Reading Addams's Rhetoric on Social Justice"

*Due Date: May 28, 2012.**  *Papers will be blind reviewed. Please submit
two files, one with the paper title, your name, and email address, and the
other with the full paper of no more than 3500 words of text, without your
name or other identifying information. Send to Cynthia King (**).

For more information  please contact the colloquium organizers, Denise
James (**) and Marilyn Fischer *(*), of the Department of Philosophy, University of
Dayton, Dayton, Ohio.

Friday, December 16, 2011

CFP: Metaphysical and Religious Naturalism

Pamela C. Crosby, Florida State University,

Submission Deadline: January 15, 2012
Submit proposals to:

Proposals should contain a descriptive title and brief (no more than 500 words) but informative and readable description of the paper to be presented, with some indication of why the proposer considers the paper to be an important contribution. Proposals should also include a brief (150-word) biographical sketch of their authors.
The theme of the 2012 HIARPT conference encompasses exploration, defense, and criticism of the various forms of metaphysical and/or religious naturalism that have been proposed in the past, are being argued for in the present, or are thought to be inviting possibilities for the future.

Part of the task of the conference will be to address issues concerning the nature of naturalism itself as a metaphysical position or religious outlook and commitment. For example, was Aristotle a naturalist? Why or why not? Is panentheism a naturalistic position? Does adequate explanation of the present existence and character of the universe require the positing of an ultimate source or ground that is not itself a part of the existing universe—and if so, does this mean a departure from naturalism? Did the universe begin at some point, or has it always been, in some shape or form? Is natura naturans a part of nature, or does it transcend nature? What is the relationship of naturalism and materialism? Can an idealist be a naturalist? Does naturalism simply mean rejection of anything that could be termed supernatural? How are metaphysical and epistemological naturalism to be distinguished?

Other questions to be considered might include the following: What are the specific merits or strong points of a naturalistic outlook? How can such an outlook be criticized? What is the relation of metaphysical or religious forms of naturalism to the findings of the natural sciences? What sort of case could be made in favor of some sort of transcendent theism or spiritualism as over against various forms of naturalism? Which, if either, is primordial or emergent, matter or mind? What is matter and how does an adequate metaphysical or religious definition of it relate to current physics? How does naturalism relate to scientism? How does it relate to the natural sciences in general? How does naturalism account for evil or provide resources with which to respond to and cope with the menace of evil? Does evil exist only among human beings or is it a feature of nature itself? How do humans relate to the natural order? What are their responsibilities to that order?

These questions are only suggestive. Proposals relating to the history of naturalism or the future prospects of naturalism are welcome, as are constructive or critical attempts to come to terms with any aspect or aspects of a naturalistic metaphysics or religious naturalism. Proposals for panels on the theme are also invited.
As in the past, proposals are also invited in areas different from the theme of the conference but relevant to HIARPT’s mission statement and will be considered on their merits.

For a printable page containing the information above, click on this link:

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Every phenomenon is a valuation.

Do the Dewey, and you too will see the light.

Seriously, however, John Dewey's position has been compared to Max Scheler, although I cannot recall a systematic treatment.  Anyone know of any?

CFP: Special Issue of The Monist: Naturalizing Religious Belief

CFP: Special Issue of The Monist
Theme: Naturalizing Religious Belief
Deadline for Submissions: July 31, 2012
Advisory Editor: James Beebe, University at Buffalo (
The cognitive science of religion brings the methods and resources of the cognitive sciences to bear on questions about religious thought and action, such as how ordinary cognitive structures inform and constrain the transmission of religious ideas, why people believe in gods, why religious rituals tend to have the forms that they do, and why afterlife and creation beliefs are so common. Findings in the cognitive science of religion raise a variety of philosophical questions, such as whether these findings undermine, threaten or explain away religious belief; whether those who believe in the supernatural can consistently accept a strongly naturalistic explanation of those beliefs; and whether traditional notions of religious belief are compatible with the view that explicit expressions of religious commitment are often post hoc rationalizations of intuitive but often unconscious inclinations of evolved mental structures. Contributions are invited that address these and other philosophical questions raised by the cognitive science of religion.
Submissions should be sent via email to the Advisory Editor, James Beebe (University at Buffalo)

Monday, December 12, 2011

Once Again Revising My First Book

Below is a quickly drafted introduction to what will be my first book.  One thing I learned from my dissertation defense and subsequent journal articles is that I need to reframe the entire project, and do so within invoking phenomenology at the outset.  I have spent months doing so on this blog.

John Dewey’s theory of valuation is inseparable from his theory of experience.  This is a point often missed, and even when captured, its ramifications deserve more consideration from scholars.   We human creatures value first and consciously experience second, yet we mistakenly believe the reverse—that the reflect first and value second.  This is an instance of the psychologist’s or philosopher’s fallacy, wherein one reverses a natural history and takes its outcome as most real, certain, stable, etc.  Dewey dealt frequently with this problem, but his work is insufficient, in part because of his characteristic unwillingness to theorize on the darker aspects of this theory.  Some defend Dewey by pointing to his awareness of the problems, but neither Dewey’s awareness nor scholarly reminders are sufficient to solve the lingering problems.

I propose to elucidate and begin resolving the problems not for the sake of historic Dewey scholarship or from a sense of “saving the Master,” but towards the aim of systematizing a basis from which to launch neoDeweyan scholarship that traces its roots in the now quiescent discourse on the intersection of pragmatism, phenomenology, and valuation that roared in the 70s and 80s.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Robert Neville on Realism and Universals in Process Theology

Leon of After Nature has posted on Dr. Neville, and shared with me an article on realism and universals in Peirce, Harsthorne, and Whitehead.  I must admit, Neville's work is amazing!  Like Leon, I have met him several times, e.g., at his talk on cosmic creativity at Southern Illinois University, and at the Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy.  I can confirm that he's a nice guy, and since we're on the topic of leading thinkers who are nice guys, I will extend that to Joseph Margolis and Mitchel Aboulaffia, among others.

For a detailed discussion on the topic, see "Experience and Philosophy: A Review of Hartshorne's Creative Method and Philosophy."  What is key in this is the difference between what is described as "Aristotelian" and "Platonic" notions of universals; e.g., whether universals are generated immanent within nature (Aristotle) or whether they are transcendent to natural existence (but not reality) (Plato).  One thing that Neville discusses that is new to me, are the precise arguments for the temporality of the particular instantiation of a universal.  

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Forthcoming: The Multiplicity of the World

I believe that I have sufficiently addressed realism and nominalism to broach my next post on the multiple relation of experience-and-world.  This is where the discussion is headed, for me.  How can I say that the experience-world relation is a many-to-many relation and maintain realism?  "Realism" usually means that the world exists independently of human thought, is a unity such that an idea might "correspond" to an object in the world, and that the correspondence relation is at least many-to-one (many perspectives on one object).  I will argue that the world is a multitude in its unity, which is not a novel thesis I'll admit, although I might give a novel articulation of it.  I will argue for a realism that does not require the idempotent unity of the world.  

What is really going one, behind all the fancy words?  I will be arguing against Lockean empiricisms, by which I mean much more than Locke himself but also all forms of derived empiricisms, and I will be arguing for Hegelian empiricisms, wherein relations are real and the mediated immediacy of the phenomenon is not a copy, correlate, or mirror of nature.  It is better understood as a real emenation of nature.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Universals vs. Genera vs. Generals in Realism vs. Nominalism

I am continuing the discussion of realism and nominalism.  Here I make the distinction between genera (genus-species relationships), generals (e.g., Lockean abstractive processes), and universals.  I also explain the importance difference between a realist and nominalist on several key points of metaphysics and phenomenology.

Leon and I were discussing the basics of Duns Scotus, etc., and my own appropriations of the terms that adds some Aquinas.  Below is an edited portion of our discussion.

The terms are “real distinction,” “formal distinction,” and a third term I do not know off the top of my head.  We often just say a “mere distinction" or "merely formal."

Universals and genera are of the second kind.  I forgot what the perfections are, which are special cases of this ontological problem.  Note that genera and generals are distinct, whereas the latter refer to principles arrived at via an inductive process, e.g., Locke’s “abstraction” or logical induction.  The former refer to genus-species relationships, e.g., categorical logic.

Correct, generality (generals) is neither a real nor formal distinction.  Hence, a nominalist often thinks that generality is all we have—not universality or genera of being.

As for essence vs. thing, you are right.  If we are Hobbes-style nominalists and think that all things are (corpuscular) particularities, then we deny essences.  Recall that essences are a kind of universal, while quality is another kind of universal.  Also, "essentiality" is not the category of uniquity (uniqueness); the latter is "quiddity."  As I wrote in my post, nominalism gives up on substantial or essential identity—identity is a best a function of something.  It does not necessarily give up on absolute particularity.

As for whiteness, it is a universal and a general, but not in the same way for both.  Insomuch as whiteness has reality, it is a universal.  Insomuch as we experience or know whiteness, it is a general; we infer from experience that this encounter is of the category of whiteness.  Now, if we are not realists about universals, then we know merely the generality “whiteness.”  The problem here is that we no longer experience the real thing, but merely a generated appearance.  If one is a nominalist, one does not think that there is anything “under” this generation.

In my Peirce-Deweyan position, for instance, we add to the idea that whiteness is a universal and general.  We talk about the generation of the phenomenal quality, so we are talking about a generated quality.  However, since we think that generation is a real process, then the generated quality maintains a real, non-arbitrary relation to the thing experienced.  (Note that the “thing experienced” is not an entity or object, but I’m keeping it simple for now.)  A nominalist, on the other hand, can merely say that the phenomenal quality was generated, full stop.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Response to Leon on Realism and Nominalism

I am responding to Leon of After Nature’s response to my previous post, which is all a response to….  It just keeps going, and that’s a good thing.  I will good down through his post and respond to various portions, and much of my musing is riffing of off Leon rather than addressing and accusing him of anything.  In fact, I add a lot of qualifications to what he attributes to me and what he claims of himself.

I apologize in advance for the -isms, for this is a case where they do far more harm than good, and this reads more like a comment than a post.

1.  I did not say (and was wrong if I did) that realist metaphysics is impossible if one is a nominalist.  Rather, I do not think that there is a plausible or non-trivial metaphysic that accomplishes this.  The cases that I can think of are not considered vaguely plausible by contemporary standards and and contradict much establish science.

To be clear I am referring to cases wherein one is a realist about the external world, but holds either a form of metaphysical nominalism that eliminates identity/essence (perhaps a pure corpuscular metaphysics in either a Greco-Roman or Modern European variety), or holds to epistemic nominalism (e.g., Hume).  However, one can pull if off if one is a speculative realist of a pragmatic or sort; e.g., one presumes the independent existence of the world and knows it through induction or abduction.  However, one then has a very, very anthropocentric metaphysics by necessity, because one does denies oneself any methodology to achieve more than that.  I am sure that there are ways around this limitation, especially given the number of non-Western views that I know, but all that come to mind are either trivial or not plausible, especially if we maintain a secular view.

Note that affirming “substance” without “essence” is still a nominalism and falls into the cases of corpuscular metaphysics and such.  I would accept conceptions of identity that attribute identity to structure and not Aquilinian notions of essence, which is much closer to my own view.  However, insisting on identity as a structural rather than a substantial concept does not save a nominalist from being hamstrung when attempting to do metaphysics.

2.  I am not certain that pure immanentism is a problem.  It depends on what that means, and my first  hypothesis is materialism.  If all reality is material, then transcendent identity is impossible.  That is, if identity has no fixity other than momentary configurations, then we are at best in a materialist version of Heraclitean flux.  I think pragmatic-abductive arguments can still be made within this view, because pragmatism doesn’t strictly require absolutist notions.  However, one is reduced to realism of the external world and not of universals.  In the best case scenario, metaphysics might extend to making abductive hypotheses about the cosmic conditions of our epoch, since there can be no laws of nature (or Peircean habits, which are the temporalized version), but at best localized constancies.

3.  Realism of universals, though it implies transcendence, need not imply “ultimate governance among the particulars.” (I do not recognize the reference.)  First, there need not be ultimacy.  Second, we need more than universals for “goverance” of laws of nature, e.g., continuity.  Continuity is a onto-logical concept and not a universal, e.g., a formal and not real distinction (Scotus).

4.  Leon writes “Speculation necessarily extends beyond the singular term, and realism admits both the reality of terms, relations between those terms, and then the generic principles applying to both terms and relations.”  Leon is being hasty again and will see my rebuttal coming the moment I start.  Leon, you’re rolling separate theses together because they happen to coexist in your metaphysics, e.g., Peirce.  The separation in order of mention: 1)  realism about the external world, 2) realism of universals, 3) reality of relations (Peircean continuity as a case of Thirdness), 4) and the semiotic by which we come to know or speculate on those relations, etc.  Leon, these are separable and you know this—don’t forget.

5.  Leon has a point about the correlationist circle and flatness about immanence qua nominalism; he appears to be channeling some Peirce and then some Whitehead.  He does not say this explicitly, but temporality might be a problem for pure immanence depending on what we mean by the term; it can mean much more and other than my “materialism” example.  Note that we can take his words on the “show of the present moment” to include both metaphysical and phenomenological-empirical denotations.  What’s the reference for that, Leon?

6.  Leon describe the sense of transcendence that gives this blog its name “Immanent Transcendence”: “speculation necessarily involves transcendence—but transcendence with reference to particulars, and certainly never with reference to itself alone.  I wonder if there is a widespread confusion of “transcedent” and “transcendental.”  What is transcendent needs not be Kants’ “transcendental” or “conditions for the possibility of” in a strict logical manner of a transcendental deduction.  When I think “transcendent,” I am usually thinking cases of emanence.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Varieties of Nominalism and Realism

I wish to address the topic of realism vs. scholastic realism vs. nominalism.  I hope that it will further clarify my earlier comments on the subject both here and at Footnotes2Plato, Knowledge Ecology, and After Nature.  The remainder of my discussion should not be construed as a continuance of that conversation, but that it was the occasion for the present thought.

“Realism” is usually short for “realism about the external world” that is opposed to “idealism.”  The former supposes that the world exists independently from mind, while the latter supposes that mind is fundamental to existence.  Idealism is closely associated with “rationalism,” which holds that rationality or intellect is fundamental to existence.  Given that mind implies rationalism—at least in a historic western context—rationalism implies idealism.  “Realism” is commonly affirmed by those who merely assert the existence of the external world, and that was how it was defined by Levi Bryant in the mentioned conversations, who affirmed realism and (epistemic?) nominalism.  

Suppose that one is a metaphysical nominalist, e.g., a Heraclitus or Thomas Hobbes.  This kind of nominalist asserts that things do not have a discrete identity, e.g., denies either the reality or application of the logical law of identity.  To deny the reality of the law is to say that there is no identity to anything, e.g., all is flux.  Heraclitus might be said to approach this view, as the only unities within his metaphysics are the fact of flux and the persistence of the upward and downward way, e.g., change and logos.  One could also deny the effective applicability of the law, e.g., arguing a Hobbesian corpuscular metaphysics in which body and motion are the primitives.  In this case, nothing has an essence, even though diversity might be real in the sense that different configurations of bodies and forces may have different effects.  Although neither of these examples is perfect, they do give an idea of the problems and common historic variants of metaphysical nominalism.

Suppose that one is an epistemic nominalist, e.g., a David Hume.  This kind of nominalist does not deny (metaphysical) identity, but does deny that human beings can know it.  Hume is an excellent example with which to move forward, because he is also an empiricist, and is thus a kind of nominalist that we are likely to see today, unlike Heraclitus and Hobbes.  The combination of empiricism and epistemic nominalism birth a conundrum for such a thinker who also wishes to do metaphysics.  Metaphysics becomes impossible.  Barring exotic re-definitions and qualifications, this person has denied all the intellectual tools in which to do metaphysics.  That is, an empiricist-nominalist is limited to immediate experience, because such a person cannot unequivocally name anything beyond experience.  If the person equivocally names something, then the naming has nothing to do with the (metaphysical) identity of the thing.  There are still options, for example, in pragmatic moves that redefine truth in terms of anticipated consequences.  However, such options still court Hume’s inductive fallacy of assuming that the past will be like the future, which becomes a suffocating limitation for a nominalist.

The problem with nominalism is that one berefts oneself of the intellectual tools to do metaphysics.  It is not impossible, but it greatly limits what positions one can claim without begging the question and becoming incoherent.  If one is an epistemic nominalist and an empiricist, one must defend, to an extreme degree, one’s ability to perform metaphysics.  You affirm that you experience something, but you know not what.  Even if one asserts realism (about the external world) along with nominalism, this gets that person little, because the person admits that reality cannot be known in principle.  Perhaps the best that person can do is affirm a Jamesian pragmatic principle about the “cash value” of holding this-or-that metaphysical theory.  That is a defensible hypothesis, but a pragmatic abduction requires that one should that one’s metaphysics leads to actual change in the world.  A Jamesian pragmatic hypothesis substitutes a traditional truth claim with an empirical and consequential one, and that metaphysician better like working with one’s hands.  It’s a change of intellectual venue entirely, and cannot be purely theoretically justified.  I say this because it’s too easy to claim Jamesian pragmatism and then overlook his verification requirement—having one’s cake and eating it too.   (Note that James’ view does not hold for the other pragmatists, which is something often overlooked, but the other pragmatists were unequivocal realists vs. James’ ambiguity at points.)  

Metaphysical nominalism is opposed to scholastic realism per the reality of universals.  If one affirms the reality of universals, i.e., the reality of descriptive categories (cf Aristotle’s Categories), then one is much empowered.  One need no longer perform the contradiction of claiming to do metaphysics without the descriptive categories to do so.  When claiming the reality of universals, by the way, one is not claiming that (human) conceptual categories match the ontological categories.  One claims that there are ontological categories towards which our conceptual categories might aim, i.e., that unity in the universe is real.  In contrast, recall that Kant said that unity (or rules) are a feature of the (human) understanding, and therefore at best metaphysics extends little past sensibility.  That is precisely what being a realist about universals denies.  Moreover, if one is a process metaphysician rather than a substance metaphysician, another option is opened.

Process metaphysicians following in the wake of C.S. Peirce, who affirm the reality of continuity, may rest assured that there is a continuity of the ontological categories and the phenomenological and conceptual categories.  That is, to leap a few steps ahead, experience is real.  We experience things in their immediacy, and not through some annihilating Kantian mediation.  However, I did not say that the experienced quality is isomorphic to the thing itself, because what also frequently comes with this view is non-representation theories of experience.  Human experience is a semiotic process by which we interact with the thing and encode part of the interaction as consciousness.  Sorry, no mirroring of nature here, despite being twice-over a realism and a naturalism.

I am, of course, describing in my own way the pragmatist position.  Its empiricism is too often mistaken for a Lockean empiricism rather than a Hegelian empiricism; i.e., experience is a mediated immediacy.  Following Peirce, phenomenologically-speaking, the mediation is physico-semiotic.

I hope that this post has been informative.  My intent was to further delineate the various forms of nominalism and give some historic examples, while explaining my own interest in the topic.  I have more to say that  I will likely add in the comments.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Forthcoming Posts

I am currently working on posts on the following topics:

1.  Realism and Nominalism (again)
2.  Experience and World as many-to-many relation (within realism)

Harman on Bergson and James

Graham Harman, on Object-Oriented Ontology, writes,

"You can take the other path, of course. This is done most bluntly by Bergson in Matter and Memory and James in Essays in Radical Empiricism (I just wrote a critique of the latter book at the request of Kronos, though it will only be in Polish translation initially). Bergson's "images" and James's "experiences" are designed to circumvent the whole problem by eliding the difference between image and reality from the start. However, their arguments for this aren't very good, and succeed only if you share their distaste for the phenomenal/noumenal distinction."

I am less familiar with Bergson, but I can definitely speak for James, especially as he is taken here as the "other path" that culminates in the pragmatist tradition although Harman did not mention that. I would like to see his argument. So far, I would repeat Harman's own words used earlier in the post to defend his concept of "allure;" "I’ve not heard any objections to it that amount to anything more than personal distaste."  His description of it as a "distaste for the phenomenal/noumenal distinction" is not wholly inaccurate, but the majority of philosophers are likely to misinterpret pragmatism by thinking its a Lockean empiricism, e.g., either that we are dancing the correlationist tango, or are getting around the problem  by "eliding the difference between image and reality from the start."  Again, that is not strictly false, but without a background in pragmatism, the average reader is very likely to read that in the customary way given to us by modern philosophy.  One then misunderstands and misinterprets the tradition.  Or, to give Harman more credit, perhaps he has grasped one of James' weaknesses, as many of James' arguments "aren't very good" but not for the reasons mentioned.  They are not very good because James was more a visionary in his later work than a careful, systematic thinker.  He relied heavily on C.S. Peirce, who was everything James and Dewey were not in this regard, and many misread both of them because they do not have this background.

In closing, I do hope that the translation will come out soon, as I am curious how James was read, especially since this can be dicey at times even among the James scholars when consulting his later work.

p.s.  I could not help but be drawn in as pragmatism phenomenology and theory of representation is what I do, and James is hard to pin down definitely on these subjects, and thus I am curious how Harman does so.  James' theory of truth, that also informs his theory of experience, is a derivation of Peirce's "How to Make Our Ideas Clear" and the notion of "abduction," the logic of science.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

From Hume to Dewey: Lockean vs. Hegelian Empiricism

The following is part of a digital presentation and review that I am making for my Introduction to Philosophy class; it summarizes Hume's argument in An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding that the the will is necessarily determined and yet free.  I want to take a moment to leap from this Locke-derived empiricism into Dewey's Hegel-derived empiricism.  This description is an alternative to what I provided in my dissertation and my forthcoming article, both of which are copyrighted, and I might edit this post as I add to it.

The Will Is Necessarily Determined and Yet Free
·       We feel ourselves “making a choice.”                                      Cause = Feeling
·       We act in accordance with that “choice”                                  Effect = Act
·       We infer that the feeling is the cause of the act as effect.      Habit

·       If the effect follows the cause, we assume we have to power to will our actions.
·       We have not proven that power exists; we have proven that the inference occurs.

·       We are “free”—according to Hume—if the act follows the feeling.
·       But we are not free to “cause” the feeling.
·       Nature and our surroundings “cause” the feeling, not us.
·       Therefore, thus the will is necessarily determined, yet free.

I will add qualifications piece by piece to begin building a bridge from Hume to Dewey.  I will not be able to add all the pieces, but I hope to have just enough to give one an idea of what occurs in Dewey if one is already familiar with Hume.

What if "feeling" is not a "moral sentiment" (an affect or emotion)?  A moral sentiment is an affective response to the situation; a distinct and biologically-innate affect is aroused given an "environmental trigger."  While the peculiarities of the sentiment are innate, its proper object or "environmental trigger" has only some natural tendencies but no fixities.  Education and custom are what fix the precise object of a sentiment, its magnitude, etc.

What if "feeling" denotes, rather than an affective event, an organic process?  Dewey uses a derivation of C.S. Peirce's definition of "feeling."  Feeling is an activity born of the interaction of the environment and body; "feeling" denotes the receptivity of the body to its environment.  Hence, to jump many steps forward, the feeling of making a choice is a late phase of a process of environmental-bodily transaction rather than an epiphenomenon.

How does this differ from Hume?  When we "feel" that we are making a choice, the sentiment is not merely an affect resulting from a psychological principle.  The affect results from a reality that extends beyond consciousness and the body, and into nature beyond ourselves.  Perhaps the best way to conceive this is to imagine that the sentiment emanates from the environment, although the emanation is neither direct nor linear.  The feeling of freedom is not an epiphenomenon, but the result of something bound to the world with a greater reality than merely a psychological principle.

A feeling is not an affect; it is a natural process or temporal activity.  Feeling is not the whole of the process, as the whole is the unity of environmental-bodily transaction, but a phase of the process that occurs when sufficient dynamic conditions are met.  Feeling is synonymous with the phase of the process in which the body may respond to the transaction, in which it make take an active rather than passive role.  Feeling denotes the phase in which the response is represented, i.e., in which the body registers resistance to its activity upon the environment (and itself).  Feeling is thus the inception of a Peircean Third between environment and body.

Suppose we accept the structure of Hume's argument, e.g., that the idea of freedom comes from a habitual inference and that we cannot presume absolute freedom.  That is, we may not be the author of our thought of "making a choice;" nature and our bodily nature is the author of our choices, and our consciousness of this provides no agency.  Dewey does not give up on free will; he reinvents what agency is in a manner that sounds Humean, but is not.  Part of the puzzle is that he uses C.S. Peirce's notion of habit, not Hume's.

Agency is the cultivation of habits that allow for the mediation of (external) natural forces.  We become more free as we develop habits to forestall and reflect upon what accosts us, what instincts we have, what prior habits we may now creatively repeat.

For Those Knowledgeable of Peirce
Peirceans may note that I am using the Peircean triad in an unusual way, although in one that does not strictly violate his principles.  Dewey derives his notions from Peirce, and here I am formulating and formalizing a Deweyan conception, since Dewey never did so himself.

The triad is generative.  E.g., "feeling" is commonly a First, while I describe it as the inception of Thirdness, the transitory phase from Secondness to Thirdness.  I will give the schema that explains this generativity and use of terms, which requires that one understand that I write from a phenomenological point of view and what that means, although I haven't the time to fully explain.  I am looking at things from how they eventuate in consciousness, and thus I take a speculative position because I view the process as if it were eventuating in consciousness even though any given process need not.  One assumption that goes with this is temporality that begets the generativity.  If I did not assume temporality, then the triad would not be generative.  I give finer distinctions elsewhere than I may give here.

The schema.  The act is First, where it remains forever ambiguous whether the act was the environment or the body.  It would be the fallacy of false dilemma to insist at the outset that it is either one.  Resistance is Second; the act is resisted and thus act becomes force.  First becomes Second, or firstness is subsumed into secondness. Feeling is the movement from secondness to thirdness; as an activity it is synonymous with resistance.  Yet the transition begins when there is sufficient resistance to disrupt the dynamic equilibrium secondness, whereas feeling becomes an event called "felt quality."