Monday, June 30, 2014

Animal Experience now published through Open Humanities Press + radio interview with the Philosopher's Zone (BOOK and MP3 AUDIO DOWNLOAD)

Animal Experience: Consciousness and Emotions in the Natural World has now been published in the "Living Books About Life" series through Open Humanities Press.  The book is open-access, free, and online for you to read. 

ANIMAL EXPERIENCE, edited by Leon Niemoczynski and Stephanie Theodorou (both at Immaculata University, US)

Additionally Leon Niemoczynski and Stephanie Theodorou appear on ABC National Radio's The Philosopher's Zone promoting the book.  Direct link to MP3 DOWNLOAD HERE (11.2 MB). 

A link to the radio program's webpage where you can listen to or download the program:

A link to an article about us with snippets from the program and links to closely related topics: 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

the "dark" Deleuze

 HERE.  From Anarchist Without Content see the below.  The chart is his.  Others may be interested in my "cold materialism" posts HERE or HERE and ; or "The Ruthlessness of Metaphysics" HERE.

Those who knew Gilles Deleuze consistently note his firm commitment to joyful affirmation and his distaste for the ressentiment of negativity. Beatifying this sentiment, Deleuzians have established a whole canon of joy. But what good is joy in this world of compulsive positivity?

It is time to move from the chapel to the crypt. There is sufficient textual evidence to establish this counter-canon. And from it, we can create a glossary of the “Dark Deleuze.”

Joyous: Dark:
Our Task Create Conceptions Destroy Worlds
Substance Techno-Science Political Anthropology
Existence Genesis Transformation
Ontology Realism Materialism
Subjects Assemblages Un-becoming
Speed Acceleration Withdrawal
Diagrams Complexity Asymmetry
Affects Intensity Cruelty
Flows Production Interruption
Difference Inclusive Disjunction Exclusive Disjunction
Organization Rhizome Unfolding
The Sensible Experience Indiscernibility
Distribution Crowned Anarchy The Outside
Cinema The Forces of Bodies The Powers of the False
Nomadism Pastoral Barbarian
Politics Molecular Cataclysmic
Ethics Processural Democracy Immanent Communism

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The secret life of bacteria: small, smart and thoughtful (AUDIO)

Radio ABC Austrialia is at it again with a very interesting program on bacteria.

We can't survive without them -- and we've long underestimated their prowess. Controversially, bacteria could even have cognitive talents that rival our own. Predatory behaviour, cooperation, memory -- Jules Verne eat your heart out -- Natasha Mitchell takes you on a strange adventure into the secret world of microbial mentality.

While I have you: check out what Charles Hartshorne has to say about "the mind of a microbe"  and why intelligence and freedom, creativity, and desire for the future, are fundamental ingredients throughout all of nature.  (MP3 HERE)

Listen to the beginning moments (00:00-7:33) as well as (33:18-35:07)

One may also want to see my post "Can Plants really communicate with each other" HERE.

Neuronal Panpsychism

"Panpsychism is the view that everything has a mental life. Many people find this implausible because it seems weird to think that rocks and dust bunnies are cognizers in the same way that people or animals are cognizers. Panpsychism also seems to contradict the growing consensus among neuroscientists who claim that consciousness only “arises” when a certain level of cortical connectivity or information integration is present in the brain, especially in fronto-parietal circuits and other global workspaces."

"The key to explaining this data in a way that’s consistent with neuronal panpsychism is the “nesting” solution. The idea is that the “macro” consciousness of normal human adults is actually composed of the “micro” experiences of all the individual neurons. The feeling of global unity is therefore an illusion according to neuronal panpsychism. The feeling of being one great unified stream of experience is actually an aggregate of billions of microexperiences in the same way that a river is composed of countless water atoms."
Switch "illusion" with "form" and he's got it.

From: Minds and Brains blog (

See also "Hartshorne, God and Metaphysics: How the Cosmically Inclusive Personal Nexus and World Interact" HERE.

Also my "We're Microbial than Human" post and how it fits with process philosophy HERE.  In particular from a book on Hartshorne,
Hartshorne's ethical treatment of Leibnizian monads in Whiteheadian vein - that is, as societies of occasions guided by a dominant monarchical monad, is something that I look favorably upon due to my metaphysical commitment to panpsychism and panentheism.  For more information on that, see the section "Social Process," HERE.    
And, who is the dominant experiencer, then?  HERE.

Monday, June 23, 2014

"the human" and meso-mining

Wait a minute, who advocates for "the human" (as a general, or a universal, concept) today anyway? 18th-century rationalists? Come on.

Ok, ok, we get it: so deanthropocentrism means advocating for actually existing humans (so you say) and non-humans alike.

But there again is that age old preference for the *actual* over the possible; or more accurately: potential is downgraded before the categorically reductionistic move of "meso-mining" (neither sham category of so-called "over" or "under" mining). Meso-mining means reducing always the entities of the world to their supposed finished states as frozen objects.  What's fully formed or fully individuated is always primary for the meso-miner.

But that is an ontological impossibility.

Sure, we may have an ideal state of complete information/entities/particulars where they are, let's say, "complete" in their process of individuation. But that is a regulative ideal, and a general, or the Absolute realized (Whitehead, Peirce, Schelling).

If meso-mining is true all absolutes are already realized. But this is patently false in an a continually becoming universe; an evolving universe where forms change.

This is where I side with Hartshorne rather than with Whitehead.  I am not sure that there are fully formed particulars save for their temporal contribution to the past.  There is, however, I am sure, the capacity for further future particularization.

Maybe there will be "objects" when the universe is extinct, as that could be the only complete, final state of information. But then again, at that point there wouldn't "be" anything save for the objective immortality of the past, as everything that could occur will have occurred and thus be accomplished (note again: this is a regulative ideal).  Only in the past is anything ever truly finished, fully formed.  Only in a final state of affairs (a would-be future) could anything ever be fully accomplished.  But that would be extinction, and creativity forever forestalls that.

Well then, the question then becomes: does the fact that one takes creativity (as process philosophers do, e.g. Whitehead, Deleuze, Peirce, Hartshorne, James, or even now Stengers, Simondon, Latour, etc. etc.) to be a fundamental ingredient in the universe mean that you are some kind of "undermining" monist?  Hardly.

Update: Thanks to Terry from Agent Swarm blog for pointing out this fantastic post:

Update 2: See my post "Individuated Possibles and Possibility as Type" HERE.

Update 3: Why "fully-formed" or completely individuated (if that means non-accomplishing, unchanging, resting entities) is an impossibility, or so says science, HERE.   "All things restlessly search for rest."  It's not exactly a bad thing.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Lecture: On Latour and Simondon’s Mode of Existence

Very good write up on Latour on Simondon.

"Beatnik Brotherhood": Process just works better than object when it come to possessing an adequate ontology of what is

Fellow process-relational ecophilosopher Adrian Ivakhiv has his latest article published (see HERE) discussing the productivity of a Deleuzio-Whiteheadian axis.  There seems to be, quite oddly, one or two philosophers out there who deny such a coupling (I've heard Graham Harman is one of them) – but it struck me immediately why I found this to be so odd.  If one reads the literature and those who have spent years studying the process tradition (Whitehead, Deleuze, but also Schelling, Peirce, Hegel) one finds that without a shadow of a doubt such an axis does in fact work quite naturally.  Just look at the work of Iain Hamilton Grant, for instance.  His books and articles (see his latest Cologne Media lecture or even his interview with After Nature blog) shows that, in theory, such a coupling works indubitably.  Also, more concretely, what about Steve Shaviro?  Or Didier Debaise?  Their work draws together Deleuze and Whitehead in a variety of ways.

Let's generalize abit.  Is it true that "process" is a word that really dupes one into believing the world is some mysterious "underflow" or nothing else?  Hardly.  It's simply a bad read of Bergson, Whitehead, or even Deleuze to say that that is how they conceive process.  Moreover, it's a false dilemma to state that there are *only* two ways to look at becoming: pure monistic flow or are pure plural flow of entities.  This isn't "process" philosophy at all.  At least not any that I've ever read.  Yes, concepts (for Bergson, or Deleuze) cut away from more primal conditions; but primal conditions link to and establish concepts and how they cut.  They aren't relativists, so it is not the other way around.  It is not as if however I cut the flow of the world with my arbitrary concepts that the world is concretely.  No way.

Whitehead states individuals are primary, but not in the sense under discussion in this conversation.  Primacy has different meanings here.  Primacy as in most efficacious, or as in the last things of the world, or eternal objects?  Of course actual entities do not become (in the ways described above), they only perish in the sense that, as actual, they are final things! Actual occasions are not endurances like substances, they are activities. But one only needs to pause a moment and ask why they are the final things of an activity.  Answer?  Creativity.  "The many become one and are increased by one."

To say that there is no becoming in Whitehead?  Come on.  Certainly there is subjective aim, and those grasping desperately for objects avoid this nearly always, what of creativity and time?  What of future temporal relations?  If individual entities are absolutely self-contained then change and future temporal relations becomes a BIG problem.  I've argued about this ad nauseum.  The world simply isn't a composition of static frozen instants,  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Why is this debate so important?  It's what's at stake here: ideas like "substance" or "fully-formed individuals" aren't to be rejected because they are fossilized, they are to be rejected for their reductionist tendencies to foreclose what things are within their own abundant identities, regardless how one's ontology tries to orientate toward what is.  These identities have temporal natures; not frozen and static natures that are magically hidden yet mysteriously revealed through the eyes of a grand wizard with the right ontology.  

Finally, if the Deleuzio-Whiteheadian axis is "non-existent," then I must be suffering hallucinations when I read books like Deleuze, Whitehead, Bergson: Rhizomatic Connections; the work of Keith Robinson, Keith Pearson, John Mularkey, Isabelle Stengers, Didier Debaise, Steve Shaviro, or even Iain Grant (a Deleuze-Schelling connection, but I am seeing more and more Whitehead in Grant); let alone other philosophers who have blogged incessantly about process in the past few years regarding this debate (Jason Hills / immanent transcendence comes to mind).  Face it: process just works better than object when it come to possessing an adequate ontology of what is.  I mean, yes, you can clutch and cling desperately to a category of "object," but when it comes time to account for creativity, time, change, or subjective aim, it won't do you much good.

I'll balance the tongue-in-cheek snarkiness of this blog post (in good fun to keep the debate going) with a more sober and careful approach to the debate which is a forthcoming publication that I'll excerpt below.  It's the introduction to a book chapter that will be appearing in November as part of a broader anthology.


"Ecology Re-naturalized”
Leon Niemoczynski

“Nature is intricate, overlapped, interweaved, and endless.”

-          Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Fate” (1860)[i]

“This isolated line and the isolated fish alike are living beings with forces peculiar to them, though latent….But the voice of these latent forces is faint and limited.  It is the environment of the line and the fish that brings about a miracle: the latent forces awaken, the expression becomes radiant, the impression profound.  Instead of a low voice, one hears a choir.  The latent forces have become dynamic.  The environment is the composition.”

- Wassily Kandinsky, “Writings on Art” (1935)[ii]


I open this essay with the above quotes for a reason.  For too long now recent contemporary philosophy has isolated the objects of the world from their internal (temporal) and external (aesthetic) relations, from their nurturing source(s) of generation (natura naturans or the “producing activity” of nature), from the expressive forms of semiotic communication and the corresponding “overlapped” nature of perspective associated with semiotic expression within environments (natura naturata or the “products” of nature), and most profoundly, from what it means to be an agency within an ecological network among other agencies in general. In short, looking at the fecund agents of the world as nothing more than isolated objects hinders one from accomplishing a truly ecological metaphysics.

Philosophies of nature, reacting against the view that nature is a “whole” or a “container” have become obsessed with the items of the world in an ontological “discretism,” which is to say, for these object oriented ontologies only discreta are real.  While “nature” does not exist, particulars of the world do.  This may be true, however such a reaction has placed so much emphasis on the particulars of the world that it is claimed that there is nothing but particulars in the world.  Excised from these ontologies (in favor of the object alone) are internal and external relations; the complexity of nature founded by the reality of aggregates and compositions that group together agencies into meaningful societies or wholes; the future-oriented temporal nature of any agent’s identity; the contours of nature which are established by nature’s orders and always changing classes of forms; the very powers and agency of the particulars of the world which draw upon a sustaining a-temporal ground of natura naturans (or, at the very least, the nature of agency that is exhibited in the activity of agents themselves); the semiosic processes that govern the communication of perspective between and among agencies; or even the variable relationships or laws that govern agents within larger-scale ecological networks of identity.  These rich facets of the natural world all have been lost when absolute preference is given to the objects of the world alone.

In short, philosophical ecology is no longer truly ecological - it has become categorically “naturalized” in the scientistically pejorative sense of the term, as in nature is “nothing but” (Nature is nothing but matter; Nature is nothing but spirit; Nature is nothing but monads; etc. etc.) where Nature (with a capital “N”) is “nothing but” objects.  Then, what of these objects?  Particular objects of the world are now collected for ontological orientation and analysis and are spoken for (instead of allowing the objects of the world to semiotically speak for themselves).  Any object oriented ontology that sees already-individuated objects of the world as its sole focus necessarily misses out on what nature is: an ecological network of processes, relationships, and agents drawing on sources of generativity, including the ultimate a-temporal ground of natura naturans.  Indeed, these agents’ perspectives may be plural and diverse (“alien”) in the sense that each agent’s perspective is uniquely its own, however for a truly ecological metaphysics to be in place those perspectives must be recognized to be always subsisting within larger networks of activity and relationship; that is, as agents of the world located by other agents’ as much as they actively locate other agents in turn.  Thus, one must always transcend the nature of a particular agent’s identity to establish a more general conditioning feature that establishes particularity qua particularity. Indeed, containing transcendental features, nature is overlapped and interwoven: it is endless in capacious scope of relation, identity, and activity; it contains within it features that are common among and between all or that support and sustain all.  As radical object oriented pluralism cannot accommodate such a capacious scope of the natural nor account for how the items of the world are enmeshed within larger environments.  There may be no “container” of nature but it is impossible to establish that for any agent which exists that that agent is absolutely unrelated or unsupported by at least some other agent or more generally by a cosmic environment (something that is not a particular).  Thus, even though nature is not a “thing” an absolutely “relationless” universe cannot be.

The dangers of the object oriented view and the pernicious form of pluralism it espouses (as opposed to an open and ecological process form of pluralism) are numerous.  Whatever is is already individuated and stamped as an object standing ready for data collection and analysis.  The perspective of a said agent is always filtered through and spoken for by the ontologist orienting their perspective toward that agent (which is just as observer-oriented as the phenomenologies that these ontologists critique).  Moreover, agents of the world are cut off from other agents in any meaningful relationship to affect positive ethical or political change.  It is difficult to see how things affect other things (“magical” forms of vicarious causation must be imported if internal and external relations cannot be accounted for), and it is impossible to establish how communication is possible, for a minimum of some kind of relation must exist for information to transfer from one to any other.  From my perspective, I cannot say that this a truly ecological metaphysics – one that allows environmental philosophy and ethics and politics to proceed in any positive way where change is accomplished in the world – at least according to a view which recognizes objects and nothing else: not the relational features of the universe, not the processive nature of identity that is agencies in process, not the transcendental and generative aspects of the non-particular that enables particulars to be what they are.  This is all to say that one must account for relationships and all that relationships entail in their ontological diversity.  This not only means accounting for any diversity of agents in relation, the processes that structure and permit that agent to be as a particular among other particulars (natura naturata), but understanding those relationships to sources of generativity that permit agents to be (natura naturans).

Of the problems just mentioned, this paper seeks simply to articulate the transactional, related, and nested form of identity that constitutes any particular agent in the world in hopes of providing a fuller ecological metaphysics of nature.  Given the form of identity adopted in this essay, then, it may be better to use the label “process” (as in “human process,” or “creaturely process”) rather than “object” in order to describe the nature of agency and actors within the natural world.  I wish to understand agencies in the world as processes, as embedded creatura or organisms, rather than as inert objects with some isolated, substantial or essential fixed nature toward which one ought to orientate their ontology.  In order to “re-naturalize” ecology, then - in order to better describe nature as an ecological network of agents - I will turn to the value of recognizing relationships and their reality within an ecological metaphysics.  My goal is to simply analyze what these relationships may afford and discern why opting for the reality of relational universe actually may enhance and affirm the notion of agency and identity rather than detract from it. 

[i] Cited in Robert S. Corrington, Nature & Spirit (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1992), insert.
[ii] Cited in John J, McDermott, “Deprivation and Celebration: Suggestions for an Aesthetic Ecology” in The Culture of Experience: Philosophical Essays in the American Grain (New York: New York University Press, 1976), 82.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Caputo to return to Villanova for the the fall

Radical theologian John Caputo returns to Villanova University in the fall of 2014 to deliver two seminars.  You can find out more about each HERE.

Thanks to Jack for sending me the syllabi.  I am thinking about asking to sit in on the Hegel and Zizek seminar.

Deleuze on Rousseau lectures, interesting take on Deleuzian politics

From the Translator's Introduction:
Indeed, it would be easy to dismiss Rousseau as too romantic, too aristocratic, and too much of a State thinker in order to have any profound connection with Deleuze. However, the course’s typed summary of twenty-seven pages, never published but available at several places online, suggests otherwise. The document is a surprising encounter between Deleuze and Rousseau, one in which Deleuze explicitly transforms Rousseau into a thinker of genesis, virtuality, and actuality, each a key concept in Deleuze’s own thought.... 
In general, Deleuze’s political philosophy is interpreted as one with an almost exclusive focus on resistance, escape, locality, and minoritarian gestures. It is always the war machine versus the state, the nomads versus the royals, and the moleculars versus the molars. If there is such a thing as a ‘Deleuzian political theory’, it is predominantly presumed to be a manual of how to escape ‘the system’ for as long as possible. 
Yet the Rousseau manuscripts pells out an alternative. Here, genesis, virtuality, and actuality are placed in the service of the construction of a just and good society. From the actual situation of inequality, one returns to the virtual conditions which have engendered it. A discovery is made, namely that ‘natural goodness’, the ‘before good and evil’, has always subsisted, which provides the opportunity for a new actualization (a counter actualization, a reterritorialization). Only this time, the result is formal. Not an actual distribution of power and prestige in a hierarchy, but an empty method which allows us to focus on things. 
In other words, the people henceforth decide to focus on that which truly unites them, which can only be those situations in which they find themselves (not abstract ideas determined in advance). Such a society would not cling to the past, but instead open up the present to the future. Justice would be synonymous with jurisprudence. It would forego all teleology (a projection of the past into the future) in favor of pragmatism and constructivism. It would, as much as possible, abandon all transcendent overcoding in order to become capable of acting according to immanent criteria concerning the things (machines, assemblages) that present themselves in a situation. It is obvious that much of this is highly compatible with both the letter and spirit of Deleuze’s thought.

Link to lectures HERE.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

quote of the day

"Relations are not foreign to the material known, but are organic to it."

- G.W.F. Leibniz, New Essays on Human Understanding (1704)

"An organic body does not remain the same for more than a moment; it only remains equivalent.  And if no reference is made to the soul, there will not be the same life, not a ‘vital’ unity either."

- G.W.F. Leibniz, New Essays on Human Understanding (1704)

“This isolated line and the isolated fish alike are living beings with forces peculiar to them, though latent….But the voice of these latent forces is faint and limited.  It is the environment of the line and the fish that brings about a miracle: the latent forces awaken, the expression becomes radiant, the impression profound.  Instead of a low voice, one hears a choir.  The latent forces have become dynamic.  The environment is the composition.”

- Wassily Kandinsky, “Writings on Art” (1935)

"Contingency without Unreason" Joshua Ramey on C.S. Peirce, Deleuze, and Meillassoux

HERE.  Special issue of Angelaki on "Immanent Materialisms: Speculation and Critique."  Link to the whole issue HERE.

Congratulations are also in order to Josh (who I only know indirectly) for obtaining his new tenure position at Grinnell College in Iowa.  I also made a similar move in my career - from Philadelphia to Iowa - a few years ago before returning to Immaculata here in Pennsylvania.  Josh was teaching at some familiar institutions here in the area, according to THIS article published by Haverford's The Clerk.  If we ever met in person I bet we'd have alot to talk about because we share many of the same interests.

Latour on semiotics and ontology (VIDEO)

Yale Tanner lectures, Bruno Latour "How to Better Register the Agency of Things: Semiotics and Ontology"

Monday, June 16, 2014

new article "Ecology Re-naturalized"

Books I am using and view of the woods from my front porch where today I am typing a new article, "Ecology Re-naturalized."

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Another bear encounter

Na and I were taking our evening walk and came across an enormous black bear. Vigilant of bears in the area (my sister saw one a few hours earlier, to see her fantastic photo of a bear and her cubs click HERE) our only main concern was a mother and her cubs.

Na saw the bear first, who was astonishingly quiet for what looked like to be an animal in the 700-800lb. range.

I was only able to grab a few seconds of video as we backed away to a safe distance. Initially the bear appeared from the woods literally less than about 30' from us.

Hopefully I am able to post this small clip. Again, this clip is after we backtracked away from the animal, but still from the proportion of its size to the road you can see its body is nearly as large as a half to three quarters of a single lane of the road. On all fours it was up to Nalina's shoulders.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

a recent interview with Brandom on Hegel and "Some Pragmatist Themes in Hegel’s Idealism"

Interview with Robert Brandom from July of last year, HERE.  Also, a very good Brandom on Hegel paper that I happened to stumble upon HERE. Brandom's work on Sellars is equally good.

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Scope of Semiosis: Can Non-living Systems be Considered Semiosic?

An interesting paper on how biosemiotics approaches non-living artifactual, semiosic systems.

Link HERE.  Copying abstract below.

"Peirce, Biosemiotics, and the Scope of Semiosis"
Jonathan Beever
Rock Ethics Institute, Penn State University

Biosemiotics relies on an account of semiosis, or meaning making. That account is fundamentally Peircean, using Peirce's triadicity to extend semiosis beyond human communication to all living systems. But the scope of semosis is an open question whose answer might be that not only all living systems but also some nonliving ones must be considered semiosic: an unpleasant result for the biosemiotician. This paper will demonstrate the Peircean basis of biosemiotics and examine a range of justifications for stopping semiosis at life, finding each one insufficient in distinguishing between our common conceptions of life and artifact. This problem - namely, how the biosemiotician might conceptually differentiate, say, trees from thermostats within the Peircean framework - points to an important problem for both biology and Peirce scholarship.

Andrew Bowie interview at 3:AM

HERE.  I read many of Bowie's books while working on the Schelling chapter in my dissertation back in graduate school.

Thanks to Dirk for the pointer.

varieties of naturalism

This month I am finishing editing for A Philosophy of Sacred Nature: Prospects for Ecstatic Naturalism (due to Lexington for production by the end of this month).

With that said, I've been revisiting the current scene of philosophical naturalism to establish a current bibliography.  I came across some of these good SAAP papers that readers of After Nature blog might be interested in.

"Naturalism: Fallible, Plural, Emergent" by Lawrence Cahoone (HERE)

"New American Naturalisms" Panel of Ryder, Cahoone, Corrington (HERE)

"Ecstatic Naturalism" by Robert Corrington (HERE)

Also of potential interest may be Cahoone's recent The Orders of Nature (HERE).

Thursday, June 12, 2014

John McDermott on Experience and the Real (VIDEO)

quote of the day

"If existence in its immediacies could speak it would proclaim: ‘I may have relatives but I am not related.' In aesthetic objects, that is in all immediately enjoyed and suffered things, in things directly possessed, they thus speak for themselves." 

- John Dewey, Later Works Vol. I, pg. 75

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

From China, With Pragmatism (New York Times article)

Highlights below.  Thanks to dmf for the pointer.
[P]ragmatism. It is centered in the ideas of a small group of late 19th- and early 20th-century thinkers that includes John Dewey, William James and Charles Sanders Peirce (whom James acknowledged as pragmatism’s philosophical founder). American pragmatism’s influence in both academic and intellectual life was significant but not long-lived...
In a 1906 lecture, “What Pragmatism Means,” James said that the pragmatic method sought to “interpret each notion by tracing its respective practical consequences.” I would argue that at this moment, that method seems more Chinese than American...
Most Americans are familiar with Beijing’s pragmatism when it comes to foreign policy. Uninterested in moral debates with other nations, China takes the position that its policies are “just business,” and trades with saints and tyrants alike. The United States, at least publicly, looks down its nose at this seeming lack of principle, but it is my view that we fail to understand the deeper pragmatic ethic in Chinese culture...
These days, it seems that pragmatism is more commonly embraced by Chinese intellectuals than by Americans. In China, enthusiasm for Dewey’s philosophy in particular is growing rapidly, while back home interest in it languishes. The dean of my school in Beijing Foreign Studies University, Professor Sun Youzhong, explained that an extensive new translation of Dewey’s voluminous works is underway at East China Normal University in Shanghai, and these will include many lectures that Dewey gave when he lived in China from 1919 to 1921. There have also been recent conferences on Dewey’s philosophy in Beijing and Shanghai, and my own undergraduate students all know his name, while most of my Chicago undergrads back home do not. If such evidence is anecdotal at best, there is some statistical indication that interest in American pragmatism is withering in its own soil: American graduate programs that offer the opportunity to specialize in our homegrown philosophy make up only around 10 percent of degree-granting philosophy departments...
The overarching theme of Dewey’s philosophy, and that of William James before him, is that an experimental approach to life  — one that tests ideas in the realm of action — should guide us in all domains, including religion, politics, ethics, art and, of course, science. Dewey argued against sclerotic ideology, absolutism and essentialism. Too many of us are overconfident about our opinions and tend to view them as gems of certainty, outshining those of other people, cultures and eras. To all this confident certainty, pragmatists pointed out that truth is fallible and we can’t be entirely sure when we’ve arrived at it. William James, in his “Will to Believe,” says, “the faith that truth exists, and that our minds can find it, may be held in two ways. The absolutists in this matter say that we not only can attain to knowing truth, but we can know when we have attained to knowing it; while the empiricists think that although we may attain it, we cannot infallibly know when. To know is one thing, and to know for certain that we know is another. One may hold to the first being possible without the second.”...
Our ethical claims, like everything else, need to be treated as hypotheses that we test in the social realm. Morality does not fall from the sky as eternal truth. We try out notions of the good in the realm of social interaction, and we validate ones that work for us (like sharing) and eliminate ones that don’t (slavery). Dewey, in his essay “The Influence of Darwin on Philosophy,” says ethics is not about utopian idealism, but needful matters like how to “improve our education, ameliorate our manners, advance our politics.” Pragmatism, heavily influenced by Darwin, holds that even ethics is an evolving adaptive response of Homo sapiens’ social life...
The current renaissance of Dewey and pragmatism in China stresses the secular ethics dimension as a way to remind a growing wealthy class of the common good.  Chinese people have been atheists for thousands of years, and pragmatism is very congenial with the deeply secular Confucian ethic. When I asked my Beijing students recently to explain Chinese pragmatism to me, I expected them to cite Deng Xiaoping’s famous dismissal of economic ideology: “It doesn’t matter whether a cat is white or black, as long as it catches mice.” But they went all the way back to Confucius and reminded me that when he was asked how we should best serve the ghosts and spirits, Confucius replied that we should first figure out how to serve human beings. Only after we solve the problems of the here and now should we worry about the supernatural realm...
Link HERE.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Notes on Philadelphia Summer School in Continental Philosophy with John Caputo (on Brassier, Meillassoux, Latour, and Malabou)

We had a number of very good submissions, so I am very, very excited about this event.  A good range of topics in Continental metaphysics and religion: whether Latour, Levinas, Badiou, Heidegger, Malabou, or Meillassoux, there's something for everyone.  Those accepted into the school will get the good news today.  As After Nature readers know by now, Caputo will be giving two one hour seminars with a lunch break in between.  The first seminar will cover Meillassoux and Brassier, the second Latour and Malabou.  Before and after the Caputo seminar folks will be presenting their own research having ample time for feedback and sustained discussion.

As an aside, I am thinking about streaming the event live on  This would give more folks a chance to watch the event.  Although, I am considering as an alternative trying to stream through Google Hangouts.  That way more could participate.  We'll see which works better as it could just be an issue of logistics versus ease of working technology.  As a last resort I'd just record and post online here at After Nature.

My presentation is actually just a small talk that will set the stage for the summer school.  A provisional title for my talk is "Continental Metaphysics: Realism, Materialism, and Religion?" where it will essentially paint the picture of where Continental speculative philosophy stands today: who the major players are, who we should be paying attention to, where things seem to be heading, regarding the possible infusion of religious philosophy into current speculative metaphysics.  I also have a special section on Adrian Johnston and Brassier as I have been engaging their naturalisms as of late, in addition to reading more and more of Laruelle whenever I get the chance.

It's nice because we have plenty of time for conversation, and as the school is really designed to be a workshop geared toward open collaboration I am envisioning good sustained conversations where all involved benefit and gain insight into each others' perspectives, as well as hopefully are able to gain enhanced vision of their own projects.

So, yes, I am very excited about this!

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Barbarian Principle: Merleau-Ponty, Schelling, and the Question of Nature (NDPR review)

HERE.  The question of nature is the organizing theme of this book - and incidentally - such a theme, or topic, is on the up and up with Merleau-Ponty scholars and Schelling scholars alike.  (See the NASS "Schelling in the Anthropocene: Thinking Beyond the Annihilation of Nature HERE for example.)

Considering that "the philosophy of nature" is really the core of my own philosophical project, whether when I'm studying philosophical ecology, animals and their emotions, bio and ecosemiotics, environmental philosophy and its relationship to the philosophy of religion, or even the "metaphysics of nature" - through logic, phenomenology, or philosophical cosmology -the concept of nature is always there framing what I'm working on.  So this volume was especially interesting for me, and timely, too, considering that right now we are going to be running The Philosophy of Organism reading group in July and the Metaphysics of Animal Rights reading group in August.

Definitely something to pick up along with the new Foti book (HERE).

I've also posted about The Barbarian Principle before HERE and HERE.

We'll Find Alien Life in This Lifetime, Scientists Tell Congress


Thursday, June 5, 2014

Berlin Accelerationist/Universalism Summer School

Good friend Pete Wolfendale is involved, who is always a pleasure to correspond with when I get the chance.  Fellow Peirce and Zalamea admirer Reza Negarastani will be there too. (I've never met Reza but we seem to have alot of common interests.  Would love to meet him and chat.)

The school is organized by Armen Avanessian who ran last year's "Anonymous Materials" event and the "Contemporary Realism, Materialism, and Metaphysics" event the year before.  He also curated the Accelerationism Symposium this past December.  Note that these are different than the annual German summer schools in Bonn run by Markus Gabriel, whose most recent (this year's) is on the philosophy of Hegel.

The deadline to apply to Armen's event is past but I'm sure if you act quickly you could probably attend if there are seats left.  I know the Philadelphia Summer School in Continental Philosophy filled up fast but with flexible seating we always try to accommodate those interested.

So far by my count there are four summer schools that are roughly related in terms of covering contemporary Continental philosophy (or involving scholars in that area).  Pittsburgh Summer Symposium in Contemporary Philosophy; Philadelphia Summer School in Continental Philosophy; A. Avanessian's Berlin Summer events/school; M. Gabriel's Bonn Summer School in German Philosophy.  While not a summer school the North American Schelling Society usually has their conference over the summer and many of the same folks who attend these summer schools show up at NASS as well.  But if I am missing one please let me know.

Link to the event is HERE.

metaphysics naturalized (featuring Ray Brassier)

A new volume, Contemporary Philosophical Naturalism and its Implications, is now reviewed at NDPR, HERE.  Among its contributors is Ray Brassier, whose outstanding essay "Nominalism, Naturalism, Materialism" establishes "a role for a priori philosophical theorizing" constrained by empirical inquiry.  In short, a "metaphysics naturalized."

Those interested in Brassier's rejection of nominalism may want to see my review of his article "That Which is Not: Philosophy as Entwinement of Truth and Negativity."  A link to that review is HERE.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

ecological metaphysics and the philosophy of organism

Knowledge Ecology blog has an interesting post up (within a series of posts) concerning ecological metaphysics and the philosophy of organism.  I had a student tell me I ought to check out the post given that it looks like we will, afterall, add a short three to four week reading group to take place before our Metaphysics of Animal Rights reading group that begins early August.  Originally planning to cover essays by only Dewey and Whitehead, I am thinking to simply re-title the reading group The Philosophy of Organism and cover one or two essays by each of Dewey, Whitehead, and Merleau-Ponty, closing with Merleau-Ponty on von Uexkull.  So no more than four to six short essays or short book excerpts in total covering those figures' ecological metaphysics and theory of organism.

In any case here are some highlights from the post:
The subject-concept relation is ecological insofar as the concept has a symbiotic relation to the subject that both displaces and creates new conceptual capacities. To be more specific, and to repeat my phrasing from the earlier posts, learning initiates a symbiosis between subject and concept that ends in the merging of the concept with the subject and of the transformation of the subject through its understanding of the concept.
Uexküll suggests that the forms of experience are species-specific, constituting a diversity of modes of possible experience that render space, time, and motion relative to each organism, and where the appearance of each are related to an organism’s organization as a dynamic and living body. 
These forms of experience constitute what Uexküll famously calls the “umwelt,” “appearance-world,” “surrounding-world,” “world-picture,” or “dwelling-world” of each organism. For Uexküll embodiment is thus the site of any transcendental form of experience. Each organism is a center of experience, just as each cell within each organism forms its own center of experience. As a center of centers, and as a center among other centers, the organism emerges at the intersection of a multiplicity of appearance. 
Mind is life, as Evan Thompson might say. The organism is, from this view, the factor who organizes space and time into a particular qualitative arrangement and is that which appears as a certain kind of meaning carrier within the appearance-world of another organism. The take away is that just as there is an ecological symbiosis playing out at the subject-concept level (as I argued in my previous posts), so too is there is a symbiosis playing out at the subject-meaning level, and this relation has important consequences for how we think about evolutionary processes. 
[I]n Uexküll’s ethological approach space, time, and motion are the variable forms of organismic intuition, an insight which calls forth the aesthetic nature of the ecological arena. Here we can see that Kant’s error was to focus too narrowly on one kind of transcendental ego — the human being — at the expense of all other species. Deepening Kant via Noë and Uexküll, then, we can see that aesthetic formulations of meaning, value, and significance are causal and necessary factors in evolutionary processes, and that any attempt to evacuate the enacted ecology of meaning that surrounds every organism undercuts the very mode by which evolution has transpired since the emergence of life on Earth. In other words, ecology is necessarily about transactions of meaning, translations of value, and transformations of significance, and it is in principle irreducible to mechanical description alone.
Read the full post HERE.

Peter Gratton on the pain of rocks

In a recent post, Peter Gratton had THIS to say:
The stuff on new materialism–I noted this at several times during the conference–has run its course. Liz Grosz talked about the pain of rocks, Barad discussed the unconscious of protons…we have moved to the stage where there’s no method for the use of these terms, except anthropomorphism. I almost want to analyze why certain figures (and there were many at the conference) want to arrive at the conclusion that rocks have a world, etc....[T]here’s this stuff about the pain of rocks and it having a “pure auto-affection”–it’s a conclusion that seems wanted at this moment. I’ll have to think this more through, but count meas incredibly dubious: it doesn’t multiply the differences in the world but in fact says to the world, you’re great, you’re like us. Martin Hägglund, who also gave a great talk, and I chatted about this quite a bit. (In any case, there’s an easy way out of not doing anthropomorphism, at least one from the tradition that inspires new materialists: just go Spinoza and say there are many more attributes to the modes than simply mind and body. And thus a rock’s self-relation may be many things that we cannot gather given our own attributes.)
This is perplexing.  I don't think that it is anthropomorphic to speculatively explore non-human consciousness supposing that non-human worlds of experience overlap or may be like our experience in some respects, as much as they may be unlike our experience in other respects.

In the tradition of Jakob von Uexkull or even to some degree William James and Alfred North Whitehead, it isn't about multiplying different world pictures nor even rendering them common to ours, even though the diversity of world pictures has its place.  I think it is about speculatively and phenomenologically allowing non-human worlds to exhibitively self-display their experiential features where these features are attended to for what they are.    Ordinal phenomenology is one method, speculative naturalism another; there is also semiotic phenomenology or more broadly bio and ecosemiotics.  For several years now I've commented on how it isn't anthropocentric/anthropormorphic at all to find that pain, for example, is part of a constituting domain which is extra-human (or non-human).  It's one thing to read a human face across nature by imposing human emotive qualities upon other things within the world, but another to realize the broader intensive aesthetic character of the natural world of which human beings are but a small part.  Equally alien (distinct with our own modes of perception, as are all organisms) we are nevertheless deeply natural - deeply "part" of nature.  

I realize the trend is to de-humanize nature as much as possible, but really, human beings are part and parcel of nature, and so we can expect that what we experience is continuous from the outside in rather than assuming it is always the case we project our experience (onto others) from the inside out.  This is what Gratton seems to miss. 

Even removing human beings from nature and stating, "Ok, the experience of others may not be like our subjective experience" doesn't mean that others aren't capable of experiencing emotion, pain, etc. etc.  The fact is, it isn't our experience to begin with.  If human beings didn't exist, elephants would still grieve the loss of a matriarch, dolphins would still express joy, crabs would still feel pain, and so on.  Further still, all things - taking a panexperiential viewpoint - would struggle to persist and would undergo self-relations.  We don't need to appeal to analogies involving human-centered experience to make that case.  No one is saying the world is like us.  I (for one) am simply saying that we are part of the world, naturally, like everything else.  If that is true then there is continuity as much as there is difference.  Neither is absolute in reality although it is possible to take either epistemologically true and absolute.

Schopenhauer stated that empathy, given the reality of suffering. could be a basis for ethics; and no one wants to suffer afterall, Yet it seems that the conclusion ontologically precedes what things are.  Which is to say, yes, all things do suffer in their basic and most essential persistence, ontologically. The ethical judgment regarding that ontological fact is a "second," as Peirce would say.  Not a "first."

For those interested I discuss some of this in my forthcoming Animal Experience: Consciousness and Emotions in the Natural World (Open Humanities Press Living Books About Life series) and did speak to some similar issues in my most recent radio interview with the Philosopher's Zone on ABC National Radio in Australia.  Regarding pain and panentheism (which involves a modal and multinaturalist or theistic naturalist account of pain and God; or how pain and intensive aesthetic quality transcends human beings and is not constructed by them), see my "Speculative Naturalism: A Bleak Theology in Light of the Tragic" (forthcoming through the Journal of Nature, Culture, and Religion this summer).

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Tracing Expression in Merleau-Ponty: Aesthetics, Philosophy of Biology, and Ontology

Interesting new book by Veronique Foti, HERE.  NDPR review HERE.

For me, Foti's book is timely.  There just aren't enough good books about Merleau-Ponty and the ontology of nature, even though, to me, that's the most interesting part of his philosophy.  It's something I've been thinking about for some time now, but back in March I had THIS to say.

Some of my former graduate students and I are considering adding a short month-long reading group in June/July to the Metaphysics of Animal Rights reading group that we'll be doing in August.  The new reading group would be called Dewey and Whitehead on the Philosophy of Organism.  But Merleau-Ponty would be an interesting figure to add to either reading group, actually.

Isabelle Stengers on the importance of a cosmic process-relational philosophy and phenomenology, Whitehead and Deleuze

Among other topics in an interesting interview, HERE.

Monday, June 2, 2014

If Twitter is fading, what's next? (The Atlantic article)

"Eulogy for Twitter" article referenced by Nick Land.  Some readers said I should post a direct link.  Ok, will do.


I see where the article compares Twitter to a new comments section.  Sure, I can see that.  Otherwise, I always found it to be the modern form of public instant messaging.  AOL Instant Messenger for the 21st century.  Buddies have become Followers, that's all.

The article doesn't say this, but when it comes to describing Twitter - the whole "friends meeting by the water cooler" bit doesn't seem like a good comparison to me, due to the fact that the whole office can hear you.

The "cocktail party" comparison doesn't seem to work either, because of the large noise to low signal ratio. It's just too noisy and very little actually sticks or gets through save for celebrity demagogues.

According to Pew (HERE), seniors (age 65+) are jumping on social media at increasing rates (mostly Facebook, though; not Twitter) while younger folks (18+) are leaving social media altogether.

I'm in the lower-middle of that age range, so where doe that put me?