Saturday, March 31, 2012

another good looking book about Deleuze and theology

Link HERE.

Deleuze's relationship with theology is a complex one. Indeed, there seem to be many possible objections to such an 'assemblage' taking place. In the first book of its kind to engage with this seemingly problematic dialogue, Kristien Justaert shows the ways in which Deleuze's thought can in fact advance issues in political and liberation theology in particular, while also exploring the important theological and spiritual aspirations contained in Deleuze's philosophy itself, as part of his lifelong quest for the 'Absolute'. 

Justaert examines the theological components in Deleuze's writings, investigating the theological potential of four notions that circle around the central Deleuzian concept of ‘Life’: immanence, spirituality, creativity and politics. The book goes on to connect Deleuze with both established theologies and possible theologies for the future, identifying areas in which Deleuze can contribute to the dynamics of contemporary theology, and argues that aspects of Deleuze's philosophy can enable theology to become more meaningful in a globalised world. This is the ideal introduction to Deleuzian theologies, and Deleuze's own theology, for advanced undergraduate and postgraduate students

Zizek and the philosophy of biology

THIS post had me reflecting on a few figures that I was looking into recently: Lynn Margulis, Marjorie Grene, and Grace De Laguna.

Highlights of the post:

The key idea Lynn Margulis is known for is symbiogenesis.  Symbiogenesis obviously takes the word symbiosis as its root.  Symbiosis is simply defined as two organisms living together that are different from each other.  Margulis writes “Different types of organisms stick together to make a third kind of organism. This fusion is not random."

Zizek writes about Varela and Margulis in The Parallax View.  Zizek taking a cue from Schelling when he states that nature is horrifying and antagonistic.  Nature should never be looked at as some kind of whole in perfect balance.  There is no balance in nature, nature is an imbalance, novelty exists because of the contradiction between expansion and contraction.    

Zizek writes that Lynn Margulis’s ideas and the “evolutionary cognitivist” is the standard metaphysical “enigma of the relationship between chaos and order, between the multiple and the One, between parts and whole”.   Of course a materialist must contend that there is a fissure in being itself that will lead to subjectivity.

Zizek isn’t done with Margulis’s ideas.  He of course uses these ideas to explain his ideas of subjectivity or the hard kernel of subjectivity.  Zizek states that a consistent self is only virtual; and that “it’s an inside that only appears from the outside”.  

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

in defense of panpsychism

HT Bill Meacham, original post HERE.  (credit to Bill Meacham, Philosophy for Real Life blog - retrieved March 27th, 2012.  All rights reserved and credited to the author)

In Defense of Panpsychism
by Bill Meacham on March 2nd, 2012

Panpsychism, the idea that everything has an aspect of psyche or mind to it, seems nutty to most people. In our everyday experience some things are alive and some aren’t, and the difference is obvious even if there are some grey areas. Living things have minds. At least we ourselves do, as we know from direct experience, and it is not too much of a stretch to say that all living things do. But what sense does it make to say that dead things have minds?

I have written about panpsychism a couple of times before (see “Dead or Alive?” and “Mental Causation”), and some readers have asked for a more rigorous defense of the theory than I have given in those articles. It is all very well to say that Panpsychism is a more coherent metaphysics than others, but what does that actually mean? OK, here goes. This is a bit more technical than usual, and longer, so please bear with me.

First, some context. This is all about the mind-body problem. Mental objects, such as thoughts and feelings, have no extension in space and are directly perceivable only by the person thinking or feeling them. Physical (bodily) objects have extension in space and are perceivable by more than one person. The question is, how are they related?

Here is the argument in its bare logical form as adapted from contemporary philosopher Galen Strawson:(1)
 0. Reality is made of only one type of stuff. There is only one ultimate category that applies to everything. We call this view Monism. assumption
1. Everything real has a material aspect. That is, every instance of the one type of stuff of which reality is made is observable from an external, publicly-available point of view. premise
2. Our own experience, directly observable only from the point of view of the one who is having it, is indisputably real. premise
3. Hence, at least some of reality has an experiential aspect as well as a material aspect. lemma (1,2) (A lemma is a conclusion that is then used as a premise in a further chain of argument.)
4. There is no radical emergence of experience from non-experiential stuff. The experiential aspect of something does not radically emerge from the material aspect. (By “radical” I mean strong, as opposed to weak, emergence. See discussion below.) premise
5. Hence, experience is as fundamental to reality as matter. conclusion (3,4)

5. Experience is fundamental to reality. lemma
6. What is real is ultimately made up of very tiny elements; these are its fundamental constituents. premise
7. Hence, at least some fundamental constituents of reality are intrinsically and irreducibly experiential as well as material in nature. For short, we call this idea “micropsychism.” conclusion (5,6)

7. Micropsychism is true. lemma
8. The assertion that all fundamental constituents of reality are experiential as well as material is simpler than and preferable to the assertion some are and some are not. premise
9. Hence, all fundamental constituents of reality are intrinsically and irreducibly experiential in nature as well as material. For short, we call this “panpsychism.” conclusion (7,8)

Well that is terse, but it shows the logical structure of the argument. As in all logical arguments, the final conclusion is demonstrated to be true only if the logic is sound and all the premises are true. There is a surprisingly large body of recent work on this subject examining each of the premises in detail. I am certainly not going to reproduce it all, but I will go over the premises and give some reasons why I think each of them makes sense.

We start off by assuming monism, the view that everything is made of the same kind of stuff. Depending on whom you ask, that might be matter (wholly non-experiential), the view known as materialism; mind (wholly non-material), the view known as idealism; or something in between that takes on aspects of both matter and mind. The alternative is dualism, which says that matter and mind are two entirely distinct kinds of stuff. The problem with dualism, of course, is how to explain the interaction between the two. I take it that monism is not a controversial assumption.

The first premise says that everything has a material, or physical, aspect; so the argument starts off agreeing with the materialists. I am giving an operational definition of “material”: what is material is detectable or observable by more than one person. The first premise says that what is real is objectively there, and can be discerned by anyone with suitable training and instruments.
You would think that the second premise, that our own experience is indisputably real, would be equally uncontroversial, but that is not the case. Surprisingly, some people say that experience isn’t really real. Most notoriously, Daniel Dennett, a materialist, makes the following assertion, where “phenomenology” means the various items in conscious experience:(2) “There seems to be phenomenology. That is a fact …. But it does not follow … that there really is phenomenology.”(3)
As Strawson points out, seeming itself is a type of experience, so the argument fails on the face of it.(4) Dennett’s claim is not so absurd as it sounds, because Dennett is arguing that what is really real is the brain activity that creates our experience. He says, for instance, that our experience seems smooth and continuous, but the physiology behind it is discontinuous and full of gaps. Hence, our experience is not really continuous at all.(5) But that just begs the question. In order to know anything about brain activity we have to see readings on dials, squiggles on paper, etc., and seeing is a kind of experience. The one thing we cannot doubt, when we are experiencing something, is that experience is going on. We can find out that we are mistaken about the objects of our experience, as when we see a hallucination or an optical illusion, but that we are experiencing is the bedrock of everything.

The conclusion from the first two premises is that experience is an undeniable aspect of whatever the universe is made of. And so is matter, of course. Now the question is, what is the relationship between experience and matter? A common claim is that experience emerges from non-experiential matter when matter reaches a certain degree of complexity. Premise 4 denies this claim.

The basic idea of emergence is that new properties arise in systems as a result of interactions at an elemental level.(6) A case in point is liquidity. A single molecule of water is not liquid, nor are its constituent atoms. But when you put several molecules of water together, you have a liquid (at certain temperatures). Liquidity is an emergent property, specifically a form of “weak” emergence: the emergent quality is directly traceable to characteristics of the system’s components. Water molecules do not bind together in a tight lattice but slide past each other; that’s just part of their physical make-up.

Some say that consciousness is an emergent property as well, that it arises when constituent parts – neurons, sense organs and the like – are organized with sufficient complexity. If so, the emergence of consciousness would be a “strong” emergence. The new quality, consciousness, would not be reducible to the system’s constituent parts; the whole would be greater than the sum of its parts.
Strawson denies the possibility of such strong emergence. He says “there must be something about the nature of the emerged-from (and nothing else) in virtue of which the emerger emerges as it does and is what it is. You can get liquidity from non-liquid molecules as easily as you can get a cricket team from eleven things that are not cricket teams.”(7) We can do so because in those cases “we move wholly within a completely conceptually homogeneous … set of notions.”(8) But there is nothing about the nature of inert, non-experiential matter that would lead to the emergence of conscious experience. The two notions are not homogenous, but radically different. So consciousness does not emerge from non-conscious matter.

That, at least, is the argument in favor of premise 4. If you want to dispute it (and philosophers certainly have done so), you know where to take aim. But if we assume that it is true, then conclusion 5 follows: Experience is as fundamental to reality as matter; it is not something additional that emerges from what is primitive or more fundamental. In Strawson’s argument this is a stopping place; the rest is elaboration.

The next premise, 6, is that the ultimate constituents of reality are quite tiny: electrons, protons, quarks, muons and the like. This reflects the current findings of the physical sciences, and there is no reason to doubt it.

Hence (conclusion 7), at least some fundamental constituents of reality are intrinsically and irreducibly experiential in nature as well as material. For short, we call this idea “micropsychism.”
Micropsychism should make the idea of panpsychism a bit more palatable. The theory does not assert that inert substances such as rocks and concrete walls are conscious or have any kind of experience. It does assert that the ultimate components of such materials do have a kind of experience, some way of taking into account of their surroundings in a manner that, were it expanded and amplified quite a bit, would be like our waking consciousness of our world.

Premise 8 is an application of Occam’s Razor, which advises us to adopt the simplest theory that adequately explains all the facts. Conclusion 7 says we have reason to think that at least some elemental parts of reality are experiential as well as material. We have no positive reason not to think that they all are. So it makes the theory simpler and more elegant to apply it to everything. Hence we end up with full-blown panpsychism (conclusion 9): all fundamental constituents of reality are intrinsically and irreducibly experiential, as well as material, in nature.

There is no way to tell for sure, of course. We cannot perform a scientific experiment to demonstrate that tiny particles or waves or whatever they are have some kind of experience of their surroundings. Physics tells us, with mathematical precision, how they interact, but physics tells us nothing of their internality. It’s just that it makes a more coherent and refined theory to assume that every element, rather than only some of them, has some sort of experience. As I like to say, everything has an inside and an outside, the inside being the world as experienced by the entity itself and the outside being the way that the entity is experienced by other entities.

That’s the argument in a nutshell. The whole thing hinges on premise 4, the denial of strong emergence. Materialism requires strong emergence to account for human consciousness. Panpsychism requires emergence as well, but only of a weak sort. If the fundamental units of reality are experiential as well as material, then it makes sense in principle that elaborate combinations of them would result in the vivid consciousness that we all enjoy while awake. But what is the nature of that combination? Without an account of that, panpsychism has little more explanatory plausibility than materialism.

If everything has both an inside, as panpsychism suggests, and an outside, as both panpsychism and materialism agree, then the organization of the outside should have some bearing on the richness of the inside. Let’s go back to the initial conundrum, the difference between what is living and what is not. Is there something unique about how matter is organized in living beings that would account for the emergence of the complex and vivid form of experience that we know as waking consciousness? The answer is yes; it is what persists through time. The physical matter of non-living things persists through time, and their form changes through the impact of external forces. Living beings are the opposite: their physical matter is constantly changing through time, and only their form persists.
The physical matter of dead things just persists from moment to moment without changing, or changing only through external forces. In any given slice of time, the substance of a dead thing is the same as it is in any other slice of time. The totality of what it is can be encompassed in a single instant.

Living things are strikingly different. The physical matter that composes living things is constantly changing through metabolism, the process by which matter is ingested, transformed and excreted. What persists is not the matter itself but the form in which that matter is organized. A single slice of time does not encompass the unity of the living being at all. Only across time can we grasp its functional wholeness. I follow Hans Jonas here.(9) The sense of being a whole conscious entity emerges with metabolism, the ability of a simple organism to maintain its structure through time by exchanging physical matter with its environment. The physical matter changes, but the organizational form doesn’t. (Or, it does, but it evolves so there is a continuity.) The structure of the material aspect – a changing material process that has a unity of form over time – gives rise to a unity of experience over time, a macroexperience, which is of a higher order than the microexperiences of the constituent elements.

Jonas’ insights map nicely to those of other panpsychists, the process philosophers. Charles Hartshorne has made the distinction between “compound” and “composite” individuals, which is roughly the distinction between what is living and what is not.(10) A compound individual is one which (or who), on a macro level, has a “dominating unit,” an inclusive locus of experience, a single subject that unifies the experiences of its components into a coherent whole. Non-living things, although made up of actual ultimates that each have a mental or experiential aspect, have no such unification of experience. Hartshorne calls them “composite” rather than “compound.” David Ray Griffin calls them “aggregate.”(11) In compound (living) individuals the experiences of the components bind together and reinforce each other, giving birth to a higher-level experience, a dominant subjectivity among the micropsychic components, which is in some ways superior to and capable of directing them. In composite (dead) things, or aggregations, the experiences of all the component simple individuals remain separate, and no higher-level inclusive experience arises. It is the persistence of form in compound individuals that enables the merging of the mentality of the micropsychic units into an inclusive subjectivity that, in its most developed instantiation, includes all the richness of human mental life, including a sense of freedom and a knowledge of its own mortality.
(1) Presented at a colloquium for the Department of Philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin on 20 October 2011. I am paraphrasing Strawson’s terminology. Strawson starts by agreeing with materialists that concrete reality is entirely physical in nature and then argues for a meaning of “physical” that includes both the material and the mental. I prefer to use the term “physical” as most people do, to mean material only.
(2) Dennett, Consciousness Explained, p. 45.
(3) Dennett, Ibid., p. 366.
(4) Strawson, “Realistic Monism,” p. 6, footnote 7.
(5) Dennett, Consciousness Explained, p. 356.
(6) Wikipedia, “Emergence.”
(7) Strawson, “Realistic Monism,” p. 15.
(8) Idem.
(9) Jonas, “Evolution and Freedom,” pp. 64-67. (Jonas, by the way, is fascinating. A student under Heidegger, he is rooted in both existential phenomenology and in biology, so his language is quite a bit different from Strawson’s. He is germane because he takes seriously the possibility that other beings besides the human have subjective experience, what he, along with many existentialists and phenomenologists, calls “interiority.” The germ of many aspects of human interiority is found in the simplest of living beings: a sense of freedom, of independence from the givenness of the material, along with a sense of necessity, of dependence on the material for one’s existence; a sense of Being, of life, in opposition to the ever-present possibility of Non-being, of death; a sense of value, of the attractiveness of what is nourishing and repulsiveness of what is dangerous; a sense of selfhood, of inner identity that transcends the collective identity of the always-changing components, and a sense of the world that is other than oneself. Delicious stuff, but too much to cover in any depth in this essay.)
(10) Hartshorne, “The Compound Individual,” pp. 215-217.
(11) Griffin, Whitehead’s Radically Different Postmodern Philosophy, pp. 58-61.
Dennett, Daniel C. Consciousness Explained. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1991.
Griffin, David Ray. Whitehead’s Radically Different Postmodern Philosophy. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2007.
Hartshorne, Charles. “The Compound Individual.” In Philosophical Essays for Alfred North Whitehead. New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1936.
Jonas, Hans. “Evolution and Freedom: On the Continuity among Life-Forms.” In Mortality and Morality: A Search of the Good after Auschwitz, ed. Vogel, Lawrence. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1996.
Strawson, Galen. “Real Naturalism”. Draft paper delivered at the University of Texas at Austin, 20 October 2011.
Strawson, Galen. “Realistic Monism” in Consciousness and its Place in Nature, ed. Freeman, Anthony. Charlottesville VA: Imprint Academic, 2006.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Hartshorne's rationalism and the logic of coherence

Hartshorne's attack on anthropocentrism is found, most interestingly perhaps, in his "rationalism" and logic.  More and more as I read Hartshorne I see him as a speculative philosopher of the future.  As I work on my book review of his Creative Experiencing I continue to find this to be so.   

Creative Experiencing will be available through SUNY Press in paperback July 2012 (hardcover is available now).  The article below is worth taking a look at.

Article: Piotri Gutawski, "Hartshorne's Rationalism" Process Studies, pp.1-9, Vol. 19, Number 1, Spring, 1990

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Peirce and the Threat of Nominalism

Paul Forster, Peirce and the Threat of Nominalism, Cambridge University Press, 2011, 259pp., $82.00 (hbk), ISBN 9780521118996. 

[Credit: originally from NDPR Reviews, please visit the review there as well.]


Reviewed by Nathan Houser, Indiana University 

Charles Peirce is an enigmatic figure in philosophy. He is widely regarded to have been important historically and to have continuing relevance, but what his influence was and how he is still relevant remains unsettled. Key ideas and insights from Peirce are frequently featured in contemporary research ranging across much of philosophy, and across other disciplines, yet when these ideas are considered together, it is difficult to see how they can belong to one system of thought. A notable accomplishment of Paul Forster, in the book under review, is that he has achieved a comprehensive account of most of Peirce's leading ideas in a way that gives the reader a grasp of how everything fits together in the context of Peirce's battle against nominalism. This is no mere device for unifying Peirce's wide-ranging ideas; his opposition to nominalism motivated him as nothing else did and, as Forster shows, is central to his philosophical program. While Peirce's argument against nominalism was strictly philosophical, his objection to it extended beyond logic to what he regarded as the undesirable consequences of nominalism for civilization. This gave Peirce a sense of urgency in his effort to provide a realist alternative for philosophy and science. 
Peirce understood nominalism in the broad anti-realist sense usually attributed to William of Ockham, as the view that reality consists exclusively of concrete particulars and that universality and generality have to do only with names and their significations. This view relegates properties, abstract entities, kinds, relations, laws of nature, and so on, to a conceptual existence at most. Peirce believed nominalism (including what he referred to as "the daughters of nominalism": sensationalism, phenomenalism, individualism, and materialism) to be seriously flawed and a great threat to the advancement of science and civilization. His alternative was a nuanced realism that distinguished reality from existence and that could admit general and abstract entities as reals without attributing to them direct (efficient) causal powers. Peirce held that these non-existent reals could influence the course of events by means of final causation (conceived somewhat after Aristotle's conception),[1]and that to banish them from ontology, as nominalists require, is virtually to eliminate the ground for scientific prediction as well as to underwrite a skeptical ethos unsupportive of moral agency. 
Forster begins his systematic account of Peirce's argument against nominalism with a review of his treatment of logic as the science of inquiry. Peirce held that notwithstanding claims to the contrary, nominalism, as well as realism, rests on metaphysical assumptions; and he held that "logic provides the only secure basis for metaphysics" (p. 13). Logic, on Peirce's account, concerns the principles of right reasoning broadly speaking and therefore deals not only with deduction but with abductive and inductive forms of reasoning. "Logicians, on Peirce's view, seek to uncover the nature of concepts, the principles by which concepts combine in propositions and the principles by which propositions combine to yield warranted inferences" (p. 13). Although Peirce was a staunch proponent of the view that human life and thought is continuous with the rest of nature, he rejected the idea that the science of inquiry is a natural science. Logic is "an a priori science of formal, universal, necessary norms that license metaphysical conclusions" (p. 23). Peirce believed that logical/mathematical proofs are independent of any results of the natural sciences and rely on what he called "diagrammatic reasoning," operations on symbolic relational constructions of a kind with the geometric diagrams Euclid used in proving his theorems of geometry. Diagrams put one in direct contact with the relations under investigation and facilitate observation and experimentation of a kind with inquiry in the natural sciences. 
Forster next examines Peirce's non-standard treatment of continuity and his claim that every general concept defines a continuum (p. 43). On Peirce's view, a continuum is not a collection of individual points, however dense, for between any two points on a continuous line there is room for any multitude of points ("the elements of continua, though distinguishable, are not discrete" (p. 57)). There are no individual points on a truly continuous line until a selection is made, in effect marking a place on the line and thereby creating a discontinuity; "the nominalist's attempt to define continuity as a kind of collection is doomed to fail."[2] According to Forster, Peirce's criticism of the nominalist account of continuity applies also to the nominalist account of general concepts. Generality is a form of continuity: "just as a true continuum is defined by a description that delimits a space of possible elements, so a general concept is defined by a characteristic that delimits a space of possible objects" (p. 60) and not by a collection of individuals. So far, Peirce's argument is formal and demonstrates only that laws and general concepts define continua without yet making any ontological claims. 
The next step in Forster's account of Peirce's general argument against nominalism is a demonstration of the inadequacy of theories of cognitive content which attempt to account for the meaning of general concepts with reference only to individuals or sets of individuals. Peirce insists that "the notion of continuity is essential to understanding the testable content of any cognitive claim" (p. 66). His alternative theory, his pragmatic theory of meaning, associates the meaning of a concept with "the conceivable experimental consequences of its application to an object" and posits that the "conditionals that specify these consequences imply lawful relations between the acts involved in carrying out experiments and the results they produce" (pp. 72-73). Forster reminds us that continuity, on Peirce's account, cannot be reduced to a collection of individuals so "the content of these laws exceeds any collection of claims about individuals" (p. 73). This challenges the nominalist account of cognitive content. 
The initial argument Peirce gave for his pragmatism, published in 1877-78,[3] was based on his conception of belief, derived from Alexander Bain's idea that beliefs are habits of action (p. 78), along with certain psychological principles. Peirce later discounted his original argument as psychologistic and devised new arguments based exclusively on formal (non-material) considerations. Drawing from Peirce's writings of the period of his original argument, Forster was able to reconstruct a strictly formal (a priori) argument for pragmatism that does not limit conceivability to material conditions: "the idea is to argue that given a proper analysis of inquiry certain general conditions must obtain in the world if inquiry is to be possible" (p. 80, n. 5). Forster's reconstruction is based on Peirce's identification of conceptions with signs and the claim that every sign represents an object as having certain characteristics and conveys this information through interpretation (an indirect effect of the sign's object on the interpreter). 
Forster works through his proof in great detail showing what is essential for general conceptions to have cognitive meaning; among other requirements, meaningful cognitions must not only predicate characteristics of their objects but must also have an index to fix denotation. According to Forster, the "core of Peirce's theory of cognitive content" is expressed in the so-called "pragmatic maxim" which is a conditional of the form, "If act A were performed under conditions C, result R would occur," and this is the guiding maxim of "a theory of the meaning of those signs that are essential to the pursuit of truth by means of inquiry" (p. 66). Forster concludes his discussion of the proof by claiming that Peirce's pragmatic maxim implies that symbols (signs that make truth claims) "are meaningful only in a world governed by general laws or habits . . . a world in which objects behave in predictable ways when actions of a certain kind are performed on them under appropriate conditions" (p. 105). In the world as conceived by the nominalist, "the conditions for the application of concepts would never be fulfilled" (p. 77). 
Having articulated Peirce's method for applying concepts (symbols) meaningfully to an actual world, Forster takes up the question of the role of experience in inquiry. Though contact with the external world may be direct, it is only through sensory and perceptual processes that experience can inform inquiry. The sensory given in experience, the percept, has no cognitive content but simply compels attention and triggers developed habits for using general terms. It is the general terms (propositional signs) triggered by percepts that constitute perceptual judgments and profess to represent objects and states of affairs. "Peirce takes perceptual judgments to be the first premises of knowledge -- the ultimate source of evidence in inquiry" (p. 128). He regards perceptual judgments as limit cases of abductive hypotheses which are justified not by how they are caused but on how well they accord with future experience. "For Peirce, then, the problem of verifying perceptual judgments is a special case of the problem of verifying hypotheses generally, a problem his theory of induction is intended to solve" (p. 146). Forster reviews Peirce's defense of induction as a self-corrective method and how abduction, induction, and deduction work together in inquiry. 
Up to this point (through Ch. 7), Forster has reconstructed Peirce's logical argument for the intelligibility and verifiability of his hypothesis that laws and general kinds are real, and has demonstrated that Peirce's pragmatism "shows that the reality of laws is implied by the truth of any symbol" (p. 155). Forster is now almost ready to take up the central question of the reality of laws: does Peirce have a convincing justification for his claim that laws are real? Why does he think this is true? But first Forster gives a critique of the principal nominalist conceptions of truth and an account of Peirce's alternative which "challenges the foundations of the nominalist conception of knowledge" (p. 157). According to Peirce, each of the traditional nominalist theories, correspondence, coherence, consensus, and instrumental reliability, "rightly identify essential elements of truth" (p. 174) which are all "essential conditions of the truth of a symbol" (161). Forster claims that these competing nominalist accounts are reconciled in Peirce's pragmatic theory of truth which holds that "truth is a property that attaches to symbols that represent real objects" (p. 174). 
Forster is now ready to address the crucial question: are laws real and how can they be accounted for? Peirce's alternative to nominalism was predicated on a positive answer to this question. Several factors come into play. Though Peirce was convinced that laws were part of the furniture of the universe, he was bound by his theory of inquiry to find a way to explain how they came to be. Nothing was to be admitted as inexplicable. But, as Forster points out, Peirce was confronted with this dilemma: 
if the lawfulness of the universe is explicable, it seems there must be laws in terms of which the explanation is couched. But in that case lawfulness is explained in terms that presuppose it, and the explanation fails to account for lawfulness in general. On the other hand, if we posit a state prior to the emergence of lawfulness in which there are no laws operative, then we are left with no principles to appeal to in accounting for the emergence of laws. Whichever horn of the dilemma Peirce embraces, it seems he must violate the principles of rational inquiry (pp. 181-82). 
Peirce's solution was to posit an original lawless chaos without any order but with an incipient tendency for habit-taking, "a potential for orderliness as yet unrealized but tending towards realization" (p. 184). The emergence of order in the cosmos could only have started by accident, as a spontaneous chance occurrence, but once started it would have strengthened "with the result that laws come increasingly to determine the course of events" (p. 183). According to Peirce, then, laws of nature are products of an ongoing evolution and their emergence results from an original tendency to form habits. Peirce's account of the evolution of laws explains what he calls the growth of reasonableness in the order of things. 
Peirce's cosmology is much debated and is frequently disparaged. Although Forster acknowledges that Peirce's cosmology is "among the most difficult and controversial elements of his philosophy" (p. 176), even calling it "hideously obscure" (p. 184), he contends that it as an integral part of Peirce's philosophical system and an important part of his case against nominalism. It should be noted that Peirce was a scientist by profession and was well learned in late nineteenth-century physics. Although his cosmology may be properly said to be a metaphysical cosmology, it is not unreasonable to regard Peirce's effort as an early attempt to formulate a modern physical cosmology.[4] According to Forster, Peirce's cosmological views result from the application of his mathematical analysis of continuity, his theory of symbols and his account of the method of inquiry to the question of the nature of being. On this reading, his account of reality is an attempt to draw out the implications of the hypothesis he calls 'synechism' -- the view that the continuity implied by laws affirmed in true symbols is real. . . . Synechism is an especially important hypothesis to consider, he thinks, because if it is correct, then, far from being ontologically superfluous, as the nominalist supposes, laws (i.e., true continua) form part of the order of things and, indeed, are essential to its intelligibility (p. 177). 
Of special significance for Peirce was the need to posit chance as operative in the universe: "laws result from the working out of a tendency to generalize events that happen by chance" (p. 205). This view of chance as operative in nature was the central tenet of Peirce's doctrine of tychism and the basis for his objection to determinism. Peirce believed that "the prevalence of appeals to statistical laws in the kinetic theory of gases, evolution and social science" provided grounds for questioning whether the laws of nature are as exact as nominalists claim (p. 207). The issue for Peirce is not whether absolute chance causes events, a position he does not hold, but "whether the laws operative in the universe are deterministic -- in which case the order of events could not be other than it is -- or whether instead they are merely statistical" (pp. 212-13). Forster points out that Peirce's tychism provides a better basis for explaining growth, variety, lawfulness, and consciousness than the necessitarian hypothesis adopted by nominalism.
Forster concludes with some ethical considerations. Peirce's realism tends to favor community good over individual good, favored by nominalism. Peirce challenges the distinction that nominalists draw between facts and values and between theory and practice. He argues that the principles of inquiry are norms of conduct and "takes himself to have demonstrated the coherence of the idea of a science of norms and undermined the nominalist's view that normative questions are beyond the scope of rational inquiry" (p. 237). Finally, Peirce argues that truth is an intrinsic good and that to "attain truth is to attain reasonableness in the way of belief," and that reasonableness "is the only end that is unconditional and universal" (p. 237). 
The preceding is a mere sketch of Forster's detailed account of the system of philosophy Peirce developed as an alternative to the received nominalism of his day (to some extent still dominant). This is the best and most comprehensive account to date of Peirce's challenge to nominalism, and it is a handy introduction to Peirce's philosophy in general. Forster correctly emphasizes Peirce's synechism, the view that continuity is the overall key conception, and he convincingly makes pragmatism a central component of Peirce's philosophy rather than a stand-alone theory of meaning as it has sometimes been regarded. 
But there are shortcomings that must be mentioned; most notably Forster's mixing of references to Peirce's early and later writings and, to some extent, a neglect of Peirce's more developed ideas. For example, Forster makes frequent reference to symbols as the class of intellectual signs that pragmatism addresses, but it will be known to readers acquainted with Peirce's late semiotic writings that there are several kinds of symbolic signs, including arguments, and it might be wondered whether Forster means to refer to all of them. Also, there are some signs that are not symbols (e.g., different classes of legisigns) which are general signs and might be supposed to be subject to pragmatic analysis. One wonders whether Forster had Peirce's early work in mind where he used just three classes of signs: icons, indexes, and symbols. Another example is what Forster says about Peirce's proof of pragmatism. He concentrates on Peirce's earliest proof, which Peirce found to be inadequate, and neglects his later sustained attempts to formulate more satisfactory proofs. Forster ingeniously reconstructs an alternative to Peirce's early proof based on his early semiotic conceptions, but he doesn't mention that in 1907 Peirce constructed his own proof of pragmatism also based on an analysis of semiotic conceptions.[5] These shortcomings, as well as Forster's decision, however practical, not to examine related work of other scholars, detract from the usefulness of his book as a sourcebook for Peirce's main theories and doctrines. But as an account of Peirce's answer to nominalism and as a general account of Peirce's overall system of philosophy, Forster's book is a notable accomplishment.

[1] For a recent treatment of Peirce's conception of final causation, see T. L. Short, Peirce's Theory of Signs (Cambridge University Press, 2007).
[2] For a discussion of Peirce's theory of continuity see Hilary Putnam's "Comments on the Lectures" in Peirce's Reasoning and the Logic of Things, ed. Kenneth Laine Ketner (Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1992).
[3] "The Fixation of Belief," Popular Science Monthly 12 (Nov. 1877): 1-15 and "How to Make Our Ideas Clear," Popular Science Monthly 12 (Jan. 1878): 286-302; these papers are reprinted, with variations, in Essential Peirce: Selected Philosophical Writings, vol. 1, eds. N. Houser and C. Kloesel (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1992), pp. 109-141.
[4] For critical examinations of Peirce's cosmology, see Andrew Reynolds, Peirce's Scientific Metaphysics (Vanderbilt University Press, 2002) and T. L. Short, Peirce's Theory of Signs (Cambridge University Press, 2007), Chs. 4 & 5, and Short's "Did Peirce Have a Cosmology?" Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society 46 (2010): 521-543.
[5] See "Pragmatism," in Essential Peirce: Selected Philosophical Writings, vol. 2, eds. Peirce Edition Project (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1998), pp. 398 -- 433.

Devil's Lake, WI

(PHOTO: After Nature)

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

anatheism and strange strangers

Review of Richard Kearney's book, Anatheism (Columbia University Press, 2010).  Excerpts copied below.
Anatheism is a fresh attempt to reconceive the possibility of the sacred for the 21st century, seeking a way, as the subtitle suggests, of “returning to God after God.”

So what is anatheism? Kearney describes it variously as a movement, a paradigm, an invitation, a wager, a drama; a position between, before, and beyond the division of theism and atheism; “another word for another way of seeking and sounding the things we consider sacred but can never fully fathom or prove” (p.3).

Yet it bids adieu to the God of metaphysics and traditional religion whose surname has long been “Almighty” taking seriously the critical and iconoclastic force of atheism.

Thus, anatheism works back from the experience of God-loss toward a genuine renewal of the sacred to recover forward a second, more mature faith. While insisting that anatheism is “nothing particularly new” (p.7), it seems to be of particular moment in this age where the gods have withdrawn. “Ana” – seeking ‘after’ (toward) God ‘after’ (subsequent to) the death of God.

Anatheism–seeking a rebirth of faith after the loss of faith.

The thematic core of Anatheism: Returning to God after God is the encounter with the Stranger and the event of hospitality/hostility. In this basket Kearney’s places all his eggs. While official theologies and the popular religious imagination typically emphasize stories of creation, salvation, miracles, power, or final judgment as inaugural solicitations of faith, Kearney takes up the neglected figure of the Stranger.

The second half of the book (Interlude and Postlude) details the third moment of Anatheism: sacramental transformations in the everyday, mostly in secular scenes,

The sacred for Kearney is “in the world but not of the world” (p.152). Hence the preference for the figure of the Stranger over a disembodied, otherworldly traditional Omni-God, and over the rather abstract and well worn master concept of postmodernism –‘the Other’.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Hartshorne's neoclassical approach to Plato on the soul and Absolute Beauty

From Chapter 3 "Plato's Near Miss: The Soul as Self-Moved," in Hartshorne's Insights and Oversights book.

How did Plato conceive soul or psychical process?  After exploring the logically possible sorts of motion or change, he finds one of them unique to soul, that of self-change, together with the power to change others.  Souls initiate change as well as transmit it to others.  In contrast bodes merely receive and transmit change.  Souls create processes, other entities merely constitute them…

What does Plato mean by self-moved or self changed?...Whatever self-motion may be for Plato, it cannot be the only power of soul or psychical process if it is to provide the explanation of change generally.  We need to ask, What gives psychical or self-changing process the additional power to change others?...If soul can explain reality, it must a threefold power: to initiate change, receive it from, and transmit it to, others.  Bodies must have at least the second and third of these powers…

How close or not close Plato came to solving the problem dualism is shown by the following, from The Laws X (897, 897):

The self-moved is…that which has the name soul.
The self moved…is the source of change and motion in all things.
[The movements of soul are] will, deliberation, joy, sorrow, confidence, fear, hatred, love, and other primary movements which again receive the secondary movements of corporeal substances and guide all things.

Here matter is contrasted with mind in the negative, as that which is without self-movement, but in the positive as that which is corporeal….

Leibniz argued that whatever is positive in spatiality is attributable to mind.  This positive meaning is coexistence.  And few philosophers have denied that minds coexist.  Thus matter is “not-mind” only by negation.  And negation always implies a positive grounding.
            It is remarkable that Plato seems almost to think that mind “receives” motions only from bodies, not from others minds.  But clearly souls are influenced constantly by other souls, at the very least by the supreme or divine soul…

Plato’s attempt in the Phaedo to derive personal immortality from the primacy of soul as self-changing and the key to all change is, so far as I can see, a confusion between soul as such and this or that individual soul.  Soul as such is immortal in the sense in which change is unchangeably there.  Reality cannot change but from a changing to an unchanging reality; hence, not from a besouled to merely unbesouled reality…

That souls are moved from without is implied by the Platonic doctrine of Eros, as expounded by Diotima in the Symposium: Love (in this sense) implies deficiency, which one seeks to overcome by admiration and longing directed to the Absolute Beauty, the good that is without deficiency.  And what is this beauty?...

Is absolute beauty the concrete union of all possible values or “perfections,” all fully actualized?  This idea conflicts with the truth (perhaps first clearly stated by Leibniz, who, however failed to draw the implied theological conclusion from it) that there are “incompossibles.”  Not all possible values could be coactualized.  Nor will it do to argue, as Leibniz did, that in the divine perfection there are only positive values and that these cannot conflict….

On the contrary, positive values can and do conflict, as Kant pointed out….There are contraries as well as contradictories!  Red-here-now conflicts with green-here-now, and the one is as positive as the other….The expression Absolute Beauty has never been given a lucid explication, unless in the formula of Leibniz, maximal unity in maximal variety, or as he put it in his rationalistic way, “maximal consequences from minimal premises.”  But what does “maximal” here connote?  It cannot be all possible variety, for that could not be actualized?  What short of that?  Leibniz could not tell us…Aesthetic value is logically incapable of an unsurpassable maximum.  There  can be a factual maximum, namely all actual variety ideally integrated.  But any actual variety is logically capable of being surpassed…

Perhaps another reason why Plato almost omits capacity to be moved by another from soul’s nature is that he thinks it would imply mortality; moveable by another, then destructible by another (Phaedrus 246).  However, capacity to be moved by another implies mortality only with certain qualifications.  An individual that can be influenced by its environment must, to maintain its integrity, “adapt” to that environment.  It must be able to find a response to stimuli compatible both with the forces and with its own already formed character.  In this way morality is implied: The environment may present forces to which the individual cannot adapt at all, in which case it dies.  But suppose an individual so perfectly adaptable, that failure of adaptation is excluded.  In other words, suppose infallible powers of adaptation to (or control of) the environment, the union between the two powers constituting an infallible capacity to survive environmental change.  Just this is how I read the account of the “world soul” in the Timaeus….