Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Nature's Sublime review (Introduction and Chapter One)

PORTRAIT: Robert S. Corrington
Corrington's Introduction to Nature's Sublime: An Essay in Aesthetic Naturalism begins by stating, "some methods are better than others for particular tasks and that a judicious choice at the outset of philosophic exploration and query can make the difference between a fecund and powerful portrayal of nature and a sterile and truncated caricature of the world and its innumerable orders."  Four dimensions are at stake: the human process; the nature of human communities; the powers of religion; and the nature and power of art.  Corrington lays out a four-fold methodological "prism" in the sense that nature is to be explored in a methodical manner which "reveals" rather than "claims" the positive and general metaphysical characteristics of a reality.  This reality can be refracted via a number of specified natural orders.

In the positive of metaphysical truth (thus following the great speculative philosophers but also the systematicists, e.g. Hegel, Leibniz, Hartshorne), what is revealed within an advent of truth is indeed a claim, but the claim of natura naturans and not (merely) human doxa.  Indeed, nothing short of a metaphysical demonstration through a thoroughly naturalist metaphysics is the goal of the method chosen here. Yet, if epistemology is made secondary to metaphysics by virtue of method alone, then what of "the human process"?  How are we to approach a method of query that may import human, all too human, contrivances upon a subject matter whose categories and principles define the very correlation of the human to it?  In classical form: what of a transcendental methodology that may used within a realist metaphysics designed to traverse (but also account for) the natural in its most generic and pervasive scope?  Thus we are met with the problem of correlationism in its classical form, and Corrington provides a brilliant response.

Corrington writes, "the term “metaphysics” refers to the study and articulation of the most pervasive traits of the one nature that there is.   For Dewey metaphysics is the study of the “generic traits of existence,” while for Buchler it is the exploration of “whatever is in whatever way it is.”  And for aesthetic naturalism metaphysics is the analysis of the potencies of nature naturing and of the innumerable orders of nature natured (or “creation” in a monotheism).  Ordinal phenomenology replaces both the hermeneutic and transcendental kind.  Ordinal phenomenology, for Corrington, uses pyschoanalysis as its conceptual medium within metaphysical philosophy.  As nature (and the human process) are both fully natural and semiotic, the method struggles to "describe the generic traits of nature with as much openness to the 'way' and 'how' of nature..."  The mixture of ordinal phenomenology and psychosemiotics (semiotic psychoanalysis) is ordinal psychoanalysis.  Corrington writes, "Ordinal psychoanalysis will struggle to illuminate the rhythms of the unconscious as they directly impinge on the shaping and unfolding of meanings in the intra-psychic and inter-psychic spheres.  One of the most striking aspects of this dual approach will be the phenomenology of the unconscious of nature and of the human unconscious that is rooted in nature’s unconscious." 

The methodological move here is important enough to warrant being called out as the high point of the Introduction  In it phenomenological "description" is repitched as a sort of abductive argument rather than being taken to mean some form of human reportage of appearances, the traditional definition of phenomenology.  The goal is to convert phenomenological descriptions as seen an sich into natural modes and orders.  Following Peirce (and the importance of "musement" in Peirce), abduction is thus a strategic transcendental move.  Nature's "how," its "unfolding way" of orders is presented in terms of "traits" rather than "essences."  Trait language, as well shall see, proves to be metaphysically more inclusive if phenomenology is used from within an ordinal perspective.  From Corrington's methodological standpoint, there is no such thing as the trait of traits or the order of orders.  There is no "nature" - no "it" to refer to.  Rather, we have a nature that is whatever is, in whatever mode it is.  Anything that can be in any way contributes to one's analysis.   

Chapter One is titled, "Selving."  Beginning with the orders of nature Corrington focuses first on the process of individuation as it is found within the human order.  Doing so pulls psychoanalysis and semiotic analysis closer together within the ordinal perspective.  Individuation of psychical life reflects individuation on the level of "externalizations of semiotic life."   As Corrington puts it, "Ordinal psychoanalysis is that branch of psychosemiotics that focuses most directly on the pathology and healthy aspects of selving per se."  Fundamental to this process of individuation is "will," a concept understood in usage by Schopenhauer.

The Will is most importantly found operating within: within our own bodies, within our own psyches.  However, the Will does not just operate within the human, it operates and moves all things:

Not only in those phenomena that are quite like his own, in human beings and animals, will he acknowledge the same will as their innermost essence, but further reflection will lead him to recognize as well the force that drives and vegetates in plants, even the force by which crystals form, that turns the magnet toward the North Pole, that produces a shock when two heterogeneous metals are brought into contact…. It is that which is innermost, the core of every individual thing and likewise of the whole: it makes its appearance in every blindly effectual natural force; it also makes its appearance in the reflectively considered actions of human beings. (Schopenhauer 1819: 148)

Shriven by this Will, the self is "bi-sected" in process.  Using Heidegger's fundamental "ontological difference," Corrington asserts a natural difference between nature naturing and nature natured.  The Will is the closest analogue one has to nature naturing.  The Will found within this "difference" is a fissuring that opens out within the self, differentiating conscious life from the unconscious.  However, there is no greater teleology involved here with the creation of consciousness, no higher and higher telic consciousness emerges from nature naturing "willing" - propelling and pulling, fissuring and individuating.  If one were pressed, so says Corrington, nature's "Will" would be largely unconscious and indifferent to human needs.  Without this primordial structure, on the other hand, nature would not "be."  In essence, this is what distinguishes Corrington from most other process thinkers.  Nature is not to be "sugar coated."  Individuation casts the self as a foundling, where its conditions of origin are indifferent to what is created.  In terms of an ordinal metaphysics, one can only remain indifferent in return to such an origin.  Without a telic whence and whither, the "multi-forms" of semiosis come and go, weaving this way and that, ultimately "back" into the origin from where the self was individuated.