Saturday, December 17, 2011

trip to Northwoods (part 2)

passing through Necedah Refuge, Wisconsin winter darkness
I've posted before on my previous trip to the Northwoods of Wisconsin (Wausau area and further north - see here, here, and here).  One of my favorite parts of the four hour drive is passing through the Necedah Wildlife Refuge.  The photo to the left was taken while passing through the refuge on the way home this evening.

While I passed through this area, the song "The Fool" by Coolrunnings happened to come on my iPod radio mix that I was listening to.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

the marrow of incarnation

Came across this from erratic impact/ecologic blog and thought that it was interesting enough to post:

[Merleau Ponty]  writes: "Our goal is to understand the relations of consciousness and nature: organic, psychological or even social." (SB, p. 3) And it is evident this theme was still with him at the end of his life, for there are numerous references to this selfsame goal in his last work-in-progress, The Visible and the Invisible. For example, he writes: "Do a psychoanalysis of Nature: it is the flesh, the mother." (VI, p. 267) 

And on the very last entry of this unfinished work, he jots down an outline to a threefold scheme. It reads:
I The Visible
II Nature
III Logos (3)

Under this he puts down a few clarifications to what he means by these words, and given them, we can see that Merleau-Ponty is attempting to reconsider these 'concepts' in light of what has been handed down to us through the Western tradition, but in such a way as to escape all the presuppositions embedded within them. He says:
Since the enigma of the brute world is finally left intact by science and by reflection, we are invited to interrogate that world without presupposing anything. (VI, p. 157)
And, in working though what he means by "the intertwining," it becomes evident that these three interrelated words (visibility, nature, logos) were to become cornerstones of a new philosophical paradigm, one which was to be set against traditional concepts such as "mind," "matter," and "logic." This new paradigm was to overcome many of the traditional dichotomies which have plagued philosophy from the very beginning. It was to be a phenomenological ontology of nature, one which would call into question the whole tradition of western metaphysics, not only as it pertains to the persistent and irreconcilable dispute between rationalist and realist conceptions of the world, but also as it pertains to those 'postmodern non conceptions' as well. Once set free, this new ontology would be able to shoulder the task of interrogating directly "the mute or reticent interlocutor of our questions" (VI, p. 129).

This return to preobjective Being is no easy task, since it seems to demand a reinstatement of the original wonder in the face of our being in the world which spurred philosophy in the beginning. "We do not even know in advance what our interrogation itself and our method will be" (VI, p. 158). It seems to insist on our being satisfied with the absence of both grounds and explanations, for it requires, not only the exclusion of formal logic, but all concepts which have been tainted by objective thinking. As he says, "We must, at the beginning, eschew notions such as 'acts of consciousness,' 'states of consciousness,' 'matter,' 'form,' and even 'image' and 'perception'" (VI, pp. 157-158). This statement strikes us as incredible since the directory of concepts he is flagging for us includes a term which epitomizes Merleau-Ponty's entire philosophical career: the "primacy of perception." But he makes clear what he means here:
We exclude the term perception to the whole extent that it already implies a cutting up of what is lived into discontinuous acts, or a reference to "things" whose status is not specified, or simply an opposition between the visible and the invisible (VI, p. 158).
This fragmentation of the world is the problem which this return to ontology is addressing. But, we are caught within our questioning stance, hemmed in on one side by our metaphysical concepts which shatter experience and destroy our faith in the body's aboriginal ability to tell the truth; hemmed in on the other side by the fact that this new beginning can only be activated through an interpretation, one which dangerously, though Merleau-Ponty claims superficially, resembles the perpetuation of the very idealist enterprise we are intending to destroy. We must find a way back to a certain attitude, and thus a certain relationship we indwell towards the world.
Let us therefore consider ourselves installed amongst the multitude of things, living beings, symbols, instruments, and men, and let us try to form notions that would enable us to comprehend what happens top us there (VI, p. 159; VI, p. 183).

We must find our way back to that opening which exists before our "perceptual faith" becomes stained by the presuppositions of science and religion. We will refine our meaning of the term 'perception' so as to bring it into a new vocabulary which will address the very encounter between language and Nature, language and Being...

Notes: Works by Merleau-Ponty: VI, The Visible and the Invisible.
And, in a similar vein ... 

Exploration of Alfred North Whitehead’s influence on Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s ontology of nature.

"This is the first book-length account of how Maurice Merleau-Ponty used certain texts by Alfred North Whitehead to develop an ontology based on nature, and how he could have used other Whitehead texts that he did not know in order to complete his last ontology. This account is enriched by several of Merleau-Ponty’s unpublished writings not previously available in English, by the first detailed treatment of certain works by F. W. J. Schelling in the course of showing how they exerted a substantial influence on both Merleau-Ponty and Whitehead, and by the first extensive discussion of Merleau-Ponty’s interest in the Stoics’s notion of the twofold logos - the logos endiathetos and the logos proforikos. This book provides a thorough exploration of the consonance between these two philosophers in their mutual desire to overcome various bifurcations of nature, and of nature from spirit, that haunted philosophy and science since the seventeenth century." - SUNY Press (June 2011)

50 best ecology blogs

Forensic Science Technician states, "You can check out these blogs in order to get information about animals, the environment, and ecology in general. These are particularly good for those who just want to know the basics about this topic, but there are also some specialty blogs for people with an interest in specific subjects within ecology."  50 best ecology blogs Link HERE.

I'd like to recommend Talking Nature and Ecology Today from that list, and Rob's Idaho Perspective, not on that list but should be!

Metaphysical and Religious Naturalism: CFP

Highlands Institute Conference, 2012
Metaphysical and Religious Naturalism:
Present Forms and Future Prospects

June 11-14, 2012
Manitou Springs, Colorado
Keynote Speakers
Lawrence E. Cahoone, College of the Holy Cross
Nancy K. Frankenberry, Dartmouth College
Ursula Goodenough, Washington University in St. Louis
Robert C. Neville, Boston University
Intellectual Autobiography
Nancy R. Howell, Saint Paul School of Theology

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:

HIARPT 2012 Announcement.

life and matter

I've been making my way through Bergson's Matter and Memory, and on the side have been reading some related articles from the Cosmos & History issue dedicated to the question, "What is Life?"  

In addition to that I've latched back into some books concerning Hegel and the philosophy of biology, glancing back through relevant sections of Hegel's own book on the philosophy of nature.  

In essence I have been posing Hegel's necessitarianism against Bergson's emphasis on creativity, decision, and free will (found also in Bergson's Creative Evolution and Time and Free Will) as I wrangle with the question, "what is life?"  Perhaps I would say that my broader interest in that question concerns the relationship between life and matter. 

Bergson's Matter and Memory is a tough book, but well worth the labor.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Zizek - "The Reflection of Life in Hegel"

Beginning at 3:33, The question of the arbitrary (and nominalistic) division of nature into identities and their predicates is addressed; that is, whether identity truly has its ground in nature.  The broader question is one of organic form and relationality versus the self-determination of thought and self-same identity.  

The minimum of identity, its first moment, Zizek theorizes, is the difference between "inside" and "outside," given a border that emerges.  Life, we are told, presupposes a minimum of self-relation; of a self "on the inside" and anything "on the outside."  Relation-to-other is thus always mediated by self-relation.  However, this is fundamentally organic; that is, the living organism is the basic element.  

In speculative terms on the other hand, onto-logically (rather than bio-logically), identity is a category of reflection.  It is not the most simple thing.  One may talk about identity only when one has "the one" - some unifying feature that cannot be problematically reduced.  Hegel believes that it is the function of the name to designate that "oneness."  

Sunday, December 11, 2011

the viability and impossibility of Whitehead's God

I've only met Robert Cummings Neville once, and he is such a friendly, intelligent, and generous man.  Robert will be presenting the keynote at EN 2012, and he has contributed an introduction addressing the other Robert (Corrington) in the forthcoming A Philosophy of Sacred Nature: Prospects for Ecstatic Naturalism, edited by Nam T. Nguyen and myself.

Reading Neville's article on Whitehead, "The Impossibility of Whitehead's God in Christian Theology" (a response to Lewis S. Ford's "The Viability of Whitehead's God for Christian Theology") is inspiring me to go and track down some of his other work.  As you can see HERE, Neville has produced an amazing amount of work and established quite a remarkable career.  It will be an honor to hear him speak at this year's conference.

For those who don't know, Robert Neville is a Professor in the Departments of Religion, Philosophy and Theology at Boston University, as well as Dean of the Boston School of Theology, and President of Highlands Institute for American Religious and Philosophical Thought, an organization which helps to publish the American Journal of Theology & Philosophy (published through Indiana University Press).

Friday, December 9, 2011

who's afraid of realism? (post 5): immanence and transcendence

From Charles Sanders Peirce and a Religious Metaphysics of Nature (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2011), 3-4.

In my judgment, the modality of possibility (or, pre-ordinally speaking, the infinitely dense layer of reality that is the supreme power of generation, potential—as opposed to mere conceptual possibility) serves to function as a basic, yet crucial, mechanism, if not primal ground, for such a disclosure. Many philosophers throughout the history of philosophy, for example Aristotle, Duns Scotus, Schelling, Heidegger, Sartre, and Jaspers, have struggled to clarify just how the modality of possibility relates to transcendence, whether personal or divine. These were philosophers of the natural, the existential, and the immanent, yet they acknowledged the possibility for transcendence, too. That thought can grasp the divine in some significant way was the philosophy of Plato, Plotinus, Augustine, Hegel, and Emerson. They were philosophers of the transcendent, but they also recognized the importance of the historical, existential, and embodied conditions that are required for what is transcendent to appear, to be disclosed, or to “immanentize” within human experience. Yet, in all of these accounts, a tension still remained between what is of this immanent world called “nature,” and what was thought to be a wholly other transcendent world, the supernatural “beyond” (even after Kant, who attempted to mediate such tensions through his “correlationism”)  


I believe that it was the American philosopher C. S. Peirce (1839-1914) who was one of the first philosophers to be sharply clear about the issue as he developed in a fully open triadic metaphysical structure one of the most evocative and insistent descriptions of a divine nature capable of mediating the tensions between natural and supernatural, immanent and transcendent, or finite and infinite. It was Peirce who, in his trichotomous metaphysics, ventured to articulate how a “beyond” (for him, God) may find disclosure through a primordial ground and modal category of real possibility (potential, spontaneity, chance, power, freedom, and creativity; that is, “Firstness”) that is accessible from within nature.  Because this ground is not purely abstract or rational, as in Hegel, it presents itself first as a feeling, and this, I think, helps make room for naturalized forms of transcendence to occur ... 


A distinction should be made between the transcendental (a metaphysically subterranean and infinitely dense layer of sacred potential or power, i.e., a ground of real modal tendencies that help to constitute the divine life, or, as called by some, nature naturing) and a plane of the actuated immanent (the existential representation of actualized divine potential). Stated in different terms, as Peirce fashioned his metaphysical categories, including the category of Firstness, he attempted to better understand the divine and cosmic relationship between the real modal conditions that establish the very possibility of nature/Being which underlie all of experience and these conditions’ corresponding interplay of existential actualization. It is important to note that these modal conditions underlie nature and establish its possibility as such, and so they are transcendental, but they are also “beyond” the sheer immediacy of any actualized experience, and so they are also transcendent, but not entirely so, for they are not absolutely disconnected from the wider realm of nature’s reality (here Jaspers’s notion of the Encompassing, an all-enveloping yet ontologically borderless reality, may be of aid). “Ecstatic transcendence” affords a glimpse into the transforming power of an infinite nature—the divine life—and in this transcendence Peircean Firstness, I think, is key.

[1].   In the American philosophical tradition the debate between what should properly be called “natural” or “nature” as opposed to what is deemed “supernatural” or “beyond” nature (what cannot be or even be meaningfully experienced and known) is a debate detailed in American Philosophic Naturalism in the Twentieth Century, ed. John Ryder (New York: Prometheus Books, 1994). “Correlationism” refers to the idea that the real of the world is to some extent unknowable (Kant’s noumenal, or perhaps the supernatural or transcendent) because human knowing is always to some extent conditioned. The term may be attributed to Quentin Meillassoux. See Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude (New York: Continuum, 2008), 5, 19, 20.
[2].   I use the term “structure” with intent. To say that Peirce maintained an “open” metaphysical philosophy with a triadic structure alludes to Hegel’s triadic system and the debate whether a metaphysical “system” by its very nature and definition should aim for closure (totality) in the description of what is most general. Peirce’s philosophy was an architectonic and its systematic features permitted revision to the overarching vision of the structure, thus the “openness” to his system (I see this trait in Whitehead’s philosophy as well, though it is more systematic, strictly speaking). Mainstays to Peirce’s architectonic were the general features and categories dictated by reality. Details of this debate may be found in Hegel and Whitehead: Contemporary Perspectives on Systematic Philosophy, ed. George Lucas (New York: SUNY Press, 1986); see especially Neville’s “Hegel and Whitehead on Totality: Failure of a Conception of System,” 86-109 and Van der Veken’s “A Plea for an Open, Humble Hegelianism,” 109-21. In handling the tensions between finite and infinite and immanent and transcendent, 20th-century philosophers such as Gilles Deleuze did grapple with the virtual or possible’s relationship to the plane of immanence, as well as with empiricism and transcendentalism, although I do believe that Deleuze did owe much to philosophers such as Whitehead who did not leave one wondering what is transcendental about the empirical, at least in clear or succinct terms (and thus the lack of a systematic approach in Deleuze). To add an additional point, interestingly Bergson’s and Whitehead’s ontologies are remarkably Peircean, and so given Deleuze’s indebtedness to Whitehead this makes Peirce’s treatment of possibility all the more important in this context. See Deleuze, Whitehead, Bergson: Rhizomatic Connections, ed. Keith Robinson (London: Palgrave Macmillan 2008).

who's afraid of realism? (part 4): immanence and transcendence

Continuing on with my thoughts in this series, let me turn to an unlikely source: a review of Charles Hartshorne's Creative Synthesis and Philosophic Method.  In the review, theologian Robert Neville discusses the problem of participation with process philosophers in mind.  The actual review is HERE, but pertinent to the transition from the realism and nominalism debate to questions of transcendence I have copied below the following excerpt. 

An Aristotelian realist -- and Hartshorne is one -- holds that the problem of universals has to do with accounting for how similarities and identities develop in the concrete flow of events. Along with Peirce and Weiss, Hartshorne holds that particulars are completely determinate, and therefore can only be past events, and that universals are somewhat indeterminate, and can therefore characterize only the future. ‘When universals are abstracted from the concrete particulars, characters are derived from the past as vague potentialities for future realization. In this sense, all potentiality derives from concrete actuality, an Aristotelian thesis. This makes sense of Hartshorne’s contention in his chapter "Abstraction the Question of Nominalism," that the novel forms emergent in a creative event are not determinate before the event but become determinate by decision in the event; to deny this is to deny any real meaning to creativity. For the Aristotelian position, the real problem is to explain how forms get into the temporal process, and it makes sense to say that they emerge. 

The Aristotelian story of how the universals come to be relevant to and function in the process of concrete events is compatible with the Platonic account of how change depends on its formal possibility. Platonists like Whitehead provide theories about the ingression of forms in things through prehension of the past as well as theories about the constitution of formal possibility as such in terms of eternal objects, the divine primordial decision, and the like. Whitehead unfortunately failed to emphasize the fact that eternal objects are norms, and had to say that eternal objects are empty except insofar as they are graded as relevant to the world by God. But his theory of propositional valuation is congenial for interpreting the eternal objects as norms, given determinate shape by the components they must measure together.

What sense does it make to say a universal is contained in a concrete particular? It is clear that an instance of a universal can be so contained. (Perhaps it is better to say that the concrete particular itself is an instance of the universal, and perhaps of several other universals also. Or perhaps the preferable language is to speak of the particular as instancing the universal.) In what sense is the universal contained in the particular when the latter is an instance of it? To this kind of question, two kinds of answers falling within the "realist" camp have been given. They can be called, for historical reasons, Aristotelian realism and Platonic realism.

An emergent universal is nonsense to a Platonist, however. For a Platonist the only things that can change or come to be axe those essentially related to the existential temporal process, e.g. things that make decisions -- events, and the like. A universal is that by which we measure change and diversity as well as continuity. As Plato argued in the Parmenides, instances of forms can be alike or similar, but there is no similarity between the instances and the universal itself; otherwise you get into a third-man argument. So in a sense universals are not things, desiccated shapes imaging or being imaged in concrete particulars; rather they are norms, indeterminate in themselves, but determinate as measures of how the particular components of a complexity ought to go together. For a Platonist it is possible to abstract the pattern of a concrete thing and call it the form of the thing; but this is a shortcut to speaking the truth. The pattern is no more the universal than is the concrete thing so patterned; the only advantage of the pattern is that we can imagine it to be found in other particulars. But as Hartshorne. Weiss and others so well point out, concrete particulars always differ in their overall patterns; in fact, difference in individual identity comes down to difference in determinate pattern. The universal or form itself is the value finding embodiment in the world in "a certain way."

Two particulars are alike because the same value measures their similar components with a pattern ingredient in both. Their components are similar by virtue of being measured by the same component values, and so on down. The causal reason why things are similar may well be that they both prehend the same past events, and therefore have the same components to be measured in their own subjective forms. But the metaphysical reason for the possibility of similarity and difference, according to the Platonic realist, consists in the fact that value can be ingredient with multiplicity in different parts of a process only by virtue of different structures or patterns. As a Platonist would say, the structured world is a compromise between chaos and the Good. There is ultimately only one real universal, the Form of the Good. We distinguish different forms because there are similar patterns of complexities recurring and therefore exhibiting similar patterns, each one of which seems to name a universal.

Whereas the Aristotelian story is about how universals appear in the historical process -- and in that sense they do seem to emerge -- the Platonic story is about how determinateness is possible. Regarding the latter, a decision to make pattern X ingredient in oneself as a measure of components a, b, c, is not possible unless X is indeed a way of measuring a, b, c, . . . together. Whether a, h, c,.. are measurable by X is totally irrelevant to whether a, b, c, . . . are in fact actual in the temporal process. The relation between the pattern in which the form measures the pattern’s components and the patterns of the components is quite eternal. Of course, if the components are never actualized in the real process, that relation is totally irrelevant to the course of events. But whether universals are relevant to the world makes no difference to the universals, conceived in this Platonic sense.

Aristotelians, however, have been less charitable in allowing the importance of both kinds of problems about universals. They assume that universals themselves must be like the instances of them in particulars, and then say the Platonic account ascribing independent existence to them is forced to believe in ghostly, wraithlike, disembodied essences. In discussing Platonism Hartshorne himself says, "I do not believe that a determinate color is something haunting reality from all eternity, as it were, begging for instantiation (p. 59). In light of what the Aristotelians are trying to explain, universals can be treated as patterns derived from past actualities. But thc function of universals to explain the Platonist’s problem of formal possibility precludes their being conceived as proceeding from actuality; they are necessarily the antecedent condition of actuality. The Platonic universal for some determinate color is the value that would be actualized if certain refracted light waves and certain conditions of perception are patterned a certain way; in no sense does the universal beg for instantiation, although the concrete world might be better if the color were instantiated.

And so whereas I have no important complaints to make about the positive things Hartshorne says about universals, since he is giving a good account of the Aristotelian problem, his negative points are ill-taken. It is a great mistake to reject all Platonic theories of universals, such as Whitehead’s regarding eternal objects (not that Whitehead’s particular account is necessarily satisfactory). This mistake has serious ramifications for Hartshorne’s view.

Return to his claim that the abstract is contained in the concrete exhaustively, that is, that the union of the abstract and the concrete is simply the concrete. With respect to how universals are ingredient in the world, this claim presents no problem. Universals are structures in the past abstracted as potentialities for actualization in the present, and they have no reality in the world except as potentialities; the concrete realization of them contains them. But with respect to the formal possibility of those universal structures, Hartshorne’s theory gives no account. That they are actually possible is not the issue, since they were actualized in the past. From the Platonist’s side, the interesting question is why certain forms of togetherness are coherent and others not, why certain forms have great harmony and others little or none. Unless this kind of question is addressed, the ontological structure of the world is taken for granted, not made intelligible. Although the question of how this or that form gets ingredient in the world is interesting, the more interesting question is what structure is, how it unifies multiplicity, how it stands related to chaos.

Pushed far enough -- and Hartshorne would surely push it that far -- the claim that structure itself needs an explanation might be thought self-contradictory. First principles are structures, and what could lie behind a first principle? But then, as Peirce said, the only thing that does not need an explanation is pure chaos; order is most of all in need of explanation, and the explanation of a state of affairs in terms of first principles is not as penetrating as the explanation of the first principles themselves. Whereas Hartshorne cites Peirce’s categories as illustrations of eternal metaphysical principles (in contrast to emerging ones), Peirce himself thought his categories of Firstness, Secondness and Thirdness evolved, evolution being the only way to explain the origin of order from chaos (7: pars 12-13). Whitehead in his turn, as Lewis Ford has pointed out, claimed that anything complex needs an explanation in a decision somewhere, and even the metaphysical structures of the world are the result of the divine primordial act giving order to the otherwise chaotic eternal objects (cf. 2). Admitting that difficulties can be raised with both Peirce’s and Whitehead’s accounts, some account of the formal possibility of potentialities is necessary.

who's afraid of realism? (part 3): realism and nominalism

John Duns Scotus (1265-1308)
The realist-nominalist conversation has forced me to go back and look at some of the work on John Duns Scotus that I did within our Medieval philosophy seminars, during graduate school at SIUC.  Scotesian realism seems to defeat nominalism, but only by accommodating it.  Scotus was a nominalist (for some) only by "a hair."  In Mayorga's book on Peirce she has a chapter or two about this.   While current speculative appropriations of Scotus are not thoroughly "classical," the conversation is fitting as Scotus can be a resource for clarifying what nominalism means philosophically. 

This is from Peter King's article on Scotus that Jed gave us: 

In his Oxford writings, Scotus typically asserts that within one and the same thing (res) there are formally distinct realities (realitates), entities (entitates) or formalities ( formalitates), as he variously terms them, corresponding to our discrete concepts of it.3 Scotus calls this distinction between such entities ‘real’ in the sense that it does not arise solely from the mind but exists in the thing (ex parte rei ) prior to the action of any intellect whatever, human or divine. At the same time, he says that these formally distinct entities are really identical, since they can never actually exist apart but only as united within the same individual. Scotus argues that genera and their differences, species and their individual differences, and certain kinds of relations and their foundations, are in each case formally distinct. 

I think the point in question is whether there is an essence in the thing distinct from the thing.  If I remember correctly Scotus states that generality is not even a distinct thing, but is found in the particulars that instantiate it.  Still, there is a difference between the particular and the instantiated general.  So, there is no form "white" but "whiteness" is the general instantiated by objects with that power.  "Whiteness" is not the *product* of the object, the object does not trump the general even though the general depends on it for instantiation.  It is a matter of contracting the general that is dormant within the object.  I would add that it is impossible for eternal objects (per the reference to Whitehead) to be created products of any finite particular.

Jason's response is as follows: 

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

Meillassoux's re-installation of Bergsonian intellectual intuition

Per the realist-nominalist discussion, Brassier's article on the "enigma" of realism.  I don't think that Bergson is mentioned in the article but nevertheless the concept of intellectual intuition seems relevant.  

From Brassier's talk below:  "We must penetrate to the non-particular foundation of the particular and recognize that the qualities of sense are dynamics of a process which occurs only in connection with individual terms, which, when cut up [by the organism according to practical habit] become complex particulars [generals, universals] which register the complete nervous system."  This is not to say that universals, born of repetition in habit, are somehow not *real*, nor is it to say that they do not often take a predominate influence in the governance of life.

It is the fact that practical habit must adjust both to the extensities and intensities of the real, as well as nature's orders conceived of in their universality (equally *real*), which renders generality good.  This is both epistemic and metaphysical realism.  It is a controversial thesis to state that generality does not exist, and that metaphysics is *simply* a science of particulars.  That just begs the question:  science of x here really equals the speculation of physics, as in developing a generic but also genetic account from within the real - not somehow opposed and outside of it, taking its properties to be constructions of the mind, constructions of particulars, and so on.  In a surprising way, the analysis of lived experience is the bearing witness of the genesis and birth (and possible death) of (statistical) universality.  Thus the sort of generality, that for a time, transcends its own particularity, but then is subject to an ontological death.

who's afraid of realism? (part 1): realism and nominalism

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
Jason / immanent transcendence has THIS to say concerning realism and nominalism. 

The broader point, as I see it and as Jason articulates in his post, is that a speculative realist metaphysics is especially difficult if one endorses an immanentism gone so wild that it is impossible for there to be transcendence of the particular terms which comprise the immanent plane.  The result, epistemologically speaking, is nominalism.  Metaphysically speaking, immanence ultimately refers to one form of transcendence or another.  The question becomes: is there such a thing as "pure" immanence?  And, more basically, immanent to what?

A view of transcendence acceptable within an intelligent immanentist viewpoint might be something like taking transcendence to involve the recognition of an "ultimate governance" of immanent terms, where that governance states "there shall be no ultimate governance among the particulars."  It seems that the non-contingent (transcendental) principle that "all is contingent" applies to particulars as well as universals, true, but  it is the one reality to which contingency itself applies as a "functional" ground or transcendental "hyperground" which is determinative of all other grounds - that is, as a transcendental reality whose basis admits contingency within itself and yet still holds non-contingently (we may say "groundless" ground). Transcendence, ontologically, simply references recognition of these conditions, the possibility of any x - there can be more, so let there be more.  There is no universal principle "locking in" the continuous metaphysical addition of particulars to an immanent plane.  Epistemologically speaking transcendence is simply the ascension of thought through into being by speculating such conditions of novelty (and temporality) for any and all particulars and creative addition to them.

Metaphysically, transcendence involves something altogether different than what is traditionally understood (the invocation of a supernatural realm of universals): instead of concrete ground and universal, here metaphysics involves relations, function, and composition with respect to particulars.  Speculation necessarily extends beyond the reality of singular terms, and realism admits both the reality of terms, relations between those terms, and then the generic functions applying to both terms and relations. Nominalism on the other hand is confined to "the show of the present moment."  For the nominalist, there is no transcendence of even the singular self-term "itself," and thus terms are immanently "flattened" in a correlationist circle which begs all to be referred *back* to the present self, what is present for *it* without regard for any in-coming future experience (and so there is no way to proceed beyond the self to the "great outdoors" for the correlationist, even in a temporal sense).  There is no identity other than the immediate first term of experience, there is no other particular to affect the first particular, there is no reality of relation between the two.  One just has the circle of correlation: what exists exists *for* the first term of experience. 

Stated differently, nominalism admits no room for the metaphysical relations between things, the compositional connections in any given instant.  (And yet stated another way: There is no room for the sort of compositional particular that "behaves" as a universal in its own transcendental function.  This is the worst kind of correlationism, as the transcendental function is what permits there to be real non-contradiction, real identity, measure and principle without specifically human measurement or reason.)  

Transcendence, given the above, is available from within and between the particulars; yet it is in some sense what renders particularity as such as a process.  It is recognition of ground (as transcendence), but as "grounding activity" (transcendental condition) - from each particular and to each particular in a nexus of relation, function, and composition (relatively transcendent).  

In the below lecture, using process philosophy and cosmology we find out why any speculative metaphysics must be grounded in the empirical and in the particular, and being so cannot be nominalistic.  However we also learn that to deny what is most generic about nature, what is in effect transcendental, leads to an unfounded skepticism relegated to that "show of the present moment" without regard for an other.  Using Whitehead, we find out that any metaphysical description of nature takes us "beyond" the particular and toward the generic, the universal, the transcendent, even if in the future temporal creation of a self.

Relations and transcendence are as real as the particular facts. If the radical nominalist (and immanentist) admits no such generic description, i.e., universal whether in principle or name, then they are no realist that can inhabit any camp of speculative metaphysics or ontological and epistemological realism. More boldly: speculation necessarily involves transcendence - but transcendence with reference always to the particulars which help to establish the actuation of that transcendence.

An Introduction to Process Cosmology
by David Ray Griffin

This lecture provides an introduction to the relationship between process thought and cosmology, and the potential role or influence that the former should have in the latter.

Date Recorded: October 5, 2006
Claremont School of Theology
66 min
Download Lecture
: (MP3 - 21Mb)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

metaphysics of the infinite (part 2)

Zizek's edited Hegel volume (published in 2011),
Hegel and the Infinite.   

When it comes to German idealism and the infinite, you always have Schelling who is the underdog and my personal favorite.  

For an outright comparison of Schelling and Hegel I would suggest, Schelling versus Hegel: From German Idealism to Christian Metaphysics.

Catherine Malabou on Epigenesis and the Plasticity of Life

From the "To Have Done with Life" conference in Zagreb of 2011.  I knew that the audio was out there for awhile but not the video. 

Ray Brassier on Bergson

I have to say that while I disagree with Brassier simply because we are different kinds of naturalists, I share his respect for the sheer complexity and novelty of Bergson's ideas as found in books like Matter and Memory.   

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Meillassoux and process theism

To create and destroy even becoming ...

Over the past few days I have been re-reading some texts in metaphysical theology by Quentin Meillassoux, especially his essay "Immanence of the World Beyond" and his dissertation The Divine Inexistence. I have come to the conclusion that Meillassoux's God has process -relational features as much as it does, ontologically and epistemologically, features similar to the God presented by both Caputo and Kearney. Similarly, these features are also found in German idealism, especially in Schelling and Hegel.  In this post I just want to jot down what I take to be the process-relational features of Meillassoux's God.  I can approach Caputo's and Kearney's process thought at another time.

In terms of the radical contingency behind Meillassoux's God, I am first struck by how it reminds me in some very qualified but important respects of Whitehead's and Hartshorne's process God.  I say this because while Meillassoux's God in total does not exist but someday *may*, it is his Hyperchaotic ground which seems to encompass many of the aspects of the di-polar process God's contingent or virtual pole as a sort of transcendental condition or "ground."  And while there certainly is a difference in how power is conceived (Meillassoux's version is an unbridled power and utterly absolute, independent; the process philosopher's power is relative and non-coercive), it is the ontological scheme of how that power forms a sort of transcendental creative condition  which makes me think of process thought.  This transcendental ground (the Hyper-chaos, and also the virtual) is also quite similar to what some of the German idealists were doing, especially Schelling with the "unruly ground" and the divine "Potenzen" (this even despite Meillassoux posing being and becoming against each other in correlationism: Schelling and Hegel are important influences for him as he has already admitted in interviews).  Add emphasis on the process by which the virtual real spontaneously creates, and again, thinking about Meillassoux's God in process terms seems to make more sense.  The concepts of creativity and novelty both arise from the pole of Meillassouxian contingency. And so Meillassoux and process thought seem to fit together, but so far only on one hobbling leg of contingency.

One must keep in mind the places in Meillassoux's philosophy where the actual pole seems to take on a crucial function, most particularly the arche-fossil, for example.  Here one may consider the arche-fossil, ancestrality, as the "objective immortality of the past" and the other side of Whiteheadian or process di-polarity.  This is readily provided by the actuality of the "great outdoors" and the individuated reals which communicate their mathematizable properties.  These artifacts do not require the human, but nevertheless propel inquirers along into future worlds (whether of matter, life, thought or justice).  Further, science and empirical thought are the guiding lights to consider these "preserved" actual occasions in their immortal temporal tomb.  Reason and mathematics, prized lights of Whitehead as well, offer their own services in discerning the material real as empirical condition.  And so here we have the other leg of di-polarity: the actual. 

What reinforces these two pieces of Meillassouxian "process" thought?  Answer: the virtual God.  Meillassoux is thus close enough to a process theologian who seems to be emphasizing the virtual or contingent pole and its power for ethical, and religious, redemption, alebit more than likely unbeknownst to him.  Why?  

Although a specific deity does not "exist" (yet) in Meillassoux's ontology, the divine inexistence nevertheless possesses a role of truly divine power warranting the name "God" (that non-deity whose power is involved with the creation of time itself). This virtual force whose function is divine and God-like - something whose appearance is to be hoped for so that s Fourth World of Justice may be come to pass - arises from within a necessary contingency and is thus is entirely "possible" even though it is beyond ontological possibility itself (it is virtual).  Give that, such a power truly must be a divine inexistence.

This virtual entity is able to embrace both poles of the divine life found in process theisms of whatever variety (Whitehead or Hartshorne).  

To conclude: the nature and importance of a necessary contingent ground (which equals a sort of divine or ultimate freedom), the place of empirical thought vis-a-vis the divine and speculation about it (pace Whitehead), and the hope for justice through the coming to be of a virtual God (pace Caputo, Kearney), one seems to find a being "to be" freed from its virtual prison as a sort of ontological being in process of adventing itself before the world. This being seems to have a distinct ontological integrity all of its own.  

If the Meillassouxian Hyper-chaos can destroy even becoming, in *its* own power, then I ask how why not regard such a ground as divine, as Godhead birthing a process or coming to be God? Regarding the real possible as ground for creative addition, an addition and power that is even "beyond" becoming is still included within the divine life as an aspect of the di-polar God (Whitehead himself speaks this way by making creativity the ultimate category of nature) ...  [I have Peircean Firstness, the "can-be" possible, in mind here as well].
This hyper-chaotic time is able to create and destroy even becoming, producing without reason fixity or movement, repetition or creation. That’s why I think that ultimately the matter of philosophy is not being or becoming, representation or reality, but a very special possibility, which is not a formal possible, but a real and dense possible, which I call the “peut-être”- the ‘may-be’.   
- Q. Meillassoux (Time without Becoming)

Monday, December 5, 2011

an appraisal of Whiteheadian nontheism (and why it is insufficient)

Alfred North Whitehead’s analysis of present immediacy in terms of a succession of acts of becoming, called “actual occasions,” focuses attention on the problem of subjectivity, particularly upon the way it originates anew in every moment.  In part this is understood in terms of creativity, the ceaseless activity whereby many past occasions are unified to form one actuality, itself in turn becoming one actuality among many for the superseding occasions.  But creativity by itself is simply blind activity, supplying the drive but not the focus for such convergence.  Without an ideal possibility for the process to aim at, there is no reason why creativity would not be just as divergent as convergent, achieving unity only accidentally if at all.  Subjectivity is not merely sheer activity, for the activity must be capable of unifying itself, and for this it must be purposive to some degree.  Whitehead therefore suggests that subjectivity is this purposive process of unification guided by that ideal possibility at which it aims.  This subjective aim must be derived from somewhere, from an actuality which is not anyone of the occasions of the past.  Since it is the ultimate source of all values, and hence properly worthy of worship, Whitehead calls this nontemporal actuality “God.”

in defense of relations

"No doubt as long as man and all other animals are viewed as independent creations, an effectual stop is put to our natural desire to investigate as far as possible the causes of Expression ..." -Charles Darwin, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872)

While at a conference recently I brought up the ethical value of prehending specifically animal expressions of interior life, but also of all life and possibly the inorganic as well.  Expression, aesthetic expression I should say, is the semiotic key of access to the infinite value and worth of all things, of the interior life of objects, or better put, what I would call dynamic singular agents.  

At the conference my goal was to introduce the panpsychist idea of extending "perspective" or "agency" (in place of something like "subjective" interior experience) to all things organic and non-organic.  My point was that there is something forever inaccessible about the withdrawing nature of a thing's interior life, its infinite value and worth, that nevertheless is aesthetically communicated through feeling and sensation; perhaps even through the emotions - in other words, a trace of the vanishing intensity which crystallized as a material emotional expression.  

Aesthetic feeling directed is a "sensate message" in its value-intensity: it is an aesthetic and semiotic communication to be prehended (and thus also a power).  This is all to say that the "perspective" of things may be felt not only in the persistence of a thing's own powering, but also as an expression communicated semiotically in a message that is to be felt.

Darwin's quote is meant to indicate that when we see these expressions of interior life as being unrelated to others (entirely "independent" creations) we tend to mute rather than respect the very power and capacity of a living perspective to communicate its own experience of meaning to another. 

It is that power and capacity of a perspective to communicate its own interior life, to speak for itself to another, that is to be honored and cherished, along with its value and worth as a perspective persisting in its own right.  This is not to say that relatedness must always mean something for someone but only that there is a power whose own interior emanates a trace of the interior: perspective and agency signified and made known, only if partially so.  There is a value in "making known," expression is always two sided: at a minimum between agent and an agent's own self-making as a form of expression which individuates it.

To conclude: Communication, the making-known-of-meaning, seems to be a cosmic act, indicative of an interior intention that may have no other receiver than the universe itself.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

God and the logic of worlds


I. Introduction to Modality and Possibility  

A. Modal Logic Introduced (download .pdf file) 

B. Introduction to Modality and Possibility (G. W. F. Leibniz and David Lewis)

II. How Modal Logic Enhances Theology 

A. In the second clip below, around 1:20, we find out how a logic of possible worlds can enhance theology.

III. Plantinga on Leibniz's best of all possible worlds argument

IV. Is God a necessary being (in all worlds)?  Or is God an absolutely contingent being that may be (now), but once is, must be?

V. Why this World?  Modal Realism and God

VI. Charles Hartshorne: The Logic of Perfection 

D. "Charles Hartshorne and the Ontological Argument" (Process Studies, Vol. 14, Number 1, Spring, 1984): 11-20.

E. Hartshorne's Modal Argument 

we have never been material (part 2)

This goes way, way beyond Cartesian dualism and the "how do you know that this isn't a dream" gimmick.  Contemporary science has some insights into something very strange indeed ...   

Closer to Truth - "Is this Universe a Simulation?" (Minsky, Lanier, Rees, and others)