Wednesday, February 20, 2013

more on Latour's natural religion and "speculative naturalism": on processes of pluralization

Agent Swarm has been a great interlocutor ever since I began reading his blog (see his latest HERE).  In my last post about Latour, my intention was largely polemical, as I have been in the past when I identify the astonishment that philosophers feel when today's popular "anti-heroes" (someone like Latour, for example) suddenly reveals religious affinities or possibilities.

This happened with Quentin Meillassoux some time back.  Not that he was confessing Catholicism, but that first, scholars with interest in Meillassoux were forced to admit that his work *could be* theologically relevant (for whatever theological tradition).  But more importantly, and second, that Meillassoux intentionally used the title "catholic" to describe a philosophical social concept applied within the truth regime of spirit: a "civil religion" more public and universal.  Agent Swarm is not guilty of being an academic expressing horror at someone's statement of their theological commitments; quite the opposite.  In my post I was trying to point out his identification of a very subtle and interesting feature concerning Latour and his discussion of natural religion: namely that Latour is a Catholic who is engaging the nature of "pluralization" and regimes of truth (including the "magical" truth regime of Catholicism), where the "unfolding" of a certain spirit animates the naturalist's religion as well as its "extension" ("one size fits all" I believe was the phrase).  Of course here both "regimes of truth" and "magic" are put into question.

Now, it is certainly no secret that Latour is something of a "process philosopher," but he is that within the domain of the "new metaphysics" including 21st-century process philosophy (I am talking about his actor-network theory and its affinity with process thought).  If I am correct, Latour's lecture is not only a clarifying statement of naturalism and religion, it is a statement concerning a new sort of process pluralism (what he is mostly known for, sociologically or anthropologically). A statement of process and pluralization with respect to a natural religion.  To me, this is intriguing given his own confessed Catholicism and the relationship, historically, between naturalism (think back to Aristotle) and the Catholic philosophical tradition.  Terry does identify this "coincidence."

A quick aside here: these extreme qualifications seem necessary given that my own relationship to religion is constantly questioned - whether by readers of my blog or readers of my books and articles (and so too put to question would be my own use of the term "Catholic" and how I understand it), given that I have taught for Catholic institutions my entire career, and given that I have taken an unapologetic interest in process philosophers who are conducive to the Catholic tradition, however it could be understood for them (I am thinking of Whitehead here).

I might distinguish - even in Latour's case it seems - between functional approaches to the spirit of Catholicism, understood as a kind of philosophical description that could even be "fully natural" (and deeply secular) thus better, "deeply natural," and what such a spirit is "typically" understood to mean or be.  Therefore, this new understanding of a "deeply natural" spirit in question can be quite radical in in character, scope, and power.  This spirit might have nothing to do with Catholic social tradition or even with theology per se, but moreso with the substance of a concept used to describe processes within the natural world, including the public and social - thus a concept whose substance more truly expresses how social bonds can be cemented through public civil religion.  More broadly, this is not anything unlike altering a description of "God" such that it no longer resembles "the God of the philosophers."  Of course the question then becomes, why the title "God?"  Or why "Catholic?"  Why "spirit?"  Especially if these terms look nothing like what many take such terms to mean.  Can those terms even be useful in discourse?  Why not prefer in their place what I (perhaps) more precisely mean: the Absolute for God, and so on?

I go into such detail because I think sometimes readers of my blog may presume my own religious commitments concretely, however my own position is still evolving and fluid.  So far I remain uncommitted to any certain phraseology bound to a specific tradition, and I am comfortable substituting the Absolute for God (obviously this is a qualified concept for me) for whatever else philosophically and theologically such a concept could inspire.  And thus, back to my original thought here concerning Terry's post.

Philosophically adequate forms of pluralism indeed need not be reactionary.  This is interesting because, unfortunately, many 21st century forms of pluralism are these days reactionary, Latour excepted, and, unfortunately, many theological traditions in their own right, these days, are equally reactionary.  We should qualify both with appropriate precision, and Terry seems to be trying to do that.

The best pluralisms are those that Terry calls "open and porous, whose unification is an ongoing process." (He mentions Deleuze, Stiegler, Feyerabend, and Stengers, and I would also add Whitehead and Peirce even though I am aware of Latour's modest critiques of Whitehead, the essential connection is there I think.)   I do not find Latour's pluralism to be wholly reactionary, though it does embrace conflict.  It also embraces negotiation and resolution as it does the general "constitution" of a network (and a nod to Dewey's same notion of inter and intra-action, organisms as networks, which can be traced back to Hegel).  At stake here perhaps is even a notion of "healing" (in the vein of Schelling, to match the Hegelian notion of synthesis).  From here we could certainly debate whether plurals, units, objects, concepts, orders, complexes: individuals understood in various ways, can also be understood to be their own primary causes (powers) or effects (affected conditions), or in some unique way, both.  For me however, the more interesting work to be done, especially concerning natural religion, is concerning the ongoing process of individuation, of pluralization and the "integrity" or "relevance" of that process of pluralization.

I found this astounding in Terry's post, and given Latour's talks on natural religion, I wanted to call out that even in the multiplex infinities of these processes (being pluralized) and given my own interest in natural religion, it is the powering of these processes which is my most pressing concern - at least at this stage in the game. 

In other words, when it comes to the coding of natural "religion" I am not interested in how such "a process" is a totality (it's not in the strict sense), that is, it is not strictly a "thing" or an "a" taken to be a singular, but I am actually not at the moment going to accept a notion of plural grounds either, unless "ground" is shared and is responsible for generation only in the most generic sense, plurally distributed.

By contrast, I am however inquiring into the nature of pluralization as "powering," as a naturally occurring reality that is "pluralization" and not "something else," thus its distinct ontological "integrity" - and thus my interest in its ultimacy as natural (and generic) category.  I can say that this power of individuals, generativity, is something worth talking about. 

While there is no universal "proper" or generic to be sought in this particular discussion - and I think I am in agreement with Terry if I have that right - it is, for me rather, the processes of pluralization that in the unfinished activity of its pluralization is something that could be called out as "an activity of integrity" that is generic enough to apply univocally to all individuals.  This "integrity" should be of especial interest for those whose research areas are nature, religion, and perhaps even art/creativity (as generativity is also a creative act).

Monday, February 11, 2013

individuated possibles and possibility as type (a general)

A typical charge against a philosopher who secures a transcendental basis for creative virtual conditions is that the philosopher undergirds creative activity with an ontological soup of would-be possibles; already individuated eternal objects or inverted Platonic forms or Ideas (e.g. Deleuze) that are eternal in their own nature and stand ready for their eventual instantiation.  This trancendental ground as it were is often called out as a "monistic soup" of would-be possibles.  Deleuze and Whitehead both have an ontology with this sort of transcendental basis, so it is claimed.

On other other hand, there are philosophers such as Quentin Meillassoux and Charles Hartshorne who state that the virtual does not "properly exist" - that there is a distinction to be made between the virtual and the concrete, and the concrete cannot said to "be" until *after* its actualization, whether possible or actual.  While possibles and their corresponding actualizations are discreta, units or objects of the world, all of these individuals are susceptible to the more basic conditions of change or temporality rendering them powers as such rather than specific discreta such as virtualities or eternal objects.  Surchaos, the eternal act of positive creative addition to the real, is no transcendental ground in the sense that it can be called out as a pre-individuated field of already fully formed individuals in tendency or specific generality (pace Deleuze's or Whitehead's ontology). The transcendental ground that Meillassoux or Hartshorne has in mind demands qualification with respect to this, however.

Pragmatically, one "refers" to this power of pre-individuation though it is never a "thing" itself proper, as "nature" any more is some "thing" to refer to beyond a pragmatic concept within ordinary language.  All individuals require this power for their actuality given the transcendental basis of creativity as ultimate category.  Paul Weiss referred to this power as Dunamis, Meillassoux as Surchaos, Hartshorne and Peirce (influenced by Whitehead, though disagreeing with him about the reality of eternal objects) as creativity - a kind of "inexistence" that makes *for* existence.

The question is not whether there *are* pre-individuated reals, nor whether any *individuated* real goes all the way down into the virtual realm (for example, it is "individuals all the way down" - a logical and ontological impossibility).  It is rather a question of whether and how the *act* of individuation itself is a power deserving to be called out as having an especial ontological integrity.  In essence, it is not the individuals which are interesting in metaphysical pluralism.  It is what individuals *do* which is crucial, and even more crucially, what power they draw from, a power responsible for any doing whatsoever, which seems to be the animating feature of the universe - thus deserving perhaps the character of "ultimate" or even "divine," if one were to follow the Presocratic nature ontologies in identifying as divine those ultimate categories or conditions which are responsible for the world's generative and dynamic activity.

Any so-called "powers ontology" must necessarily refer to this ground of creativity and positive creative addition for it is what animates pre-individuated (possible) reals as well as their actual counter parts.  Such is the nature of power as ultimate category hence making the ontology deserving of the name.

As a closing thought: Meinong's theory of possibles or Leibniz's particularism probably isn't the best way to go here.  Insistence on how individuals are collected, aggregated, and then set into union through the *act* of "functors" (category theory) is much more helpful.  Peirce, Hartshorne, but also at times Whitehead, point to this kind of thinking.  The below interview with Hartshorne draws out many of these contrasts. Note his example concerning Shakespeare.

Appearance, Reality, Mind
by Charles Hartshorne

This audiotape recording features Charles Hartshorne lecturing on the nature of perception and other topics. Date unknown.
Lecture: 55 min
Date Recorded: Unknown
Location: Unknown
Date Added: Unknown
Download Lecture: (MP3 - 50Mb)

why objects aren't particularly interesting for me

Because they are contingent. What is more interesting is contingency itself.

"What is strange in my philosophy is that it's an ontology that never speaks about *what is* but only about what *can be*. Never about what there is because this I have no right to speak about."

Q. Meillassoux