Tuesday, September 9, 2014

thoughts on “A NeoPresocratic Manifesto”

I discovered the intriguing article "A NeoPresocratic Manifesto" which rather provocatively identifies how nature ontologies first and foremost also imply moral ontologies.

It is interesting to see that with the current recrudescence of nature ontology - of metaphysics as an engagement with, and exploration and explication of, nature in the most generic terms - a coherent theory of value, whether axiologically in moral or political terms - is largely absent.

Indeed Stengers makes headway with her cosmopolitics, and others such as Bennett and Connolly are not far behind.  Still, many of the movers and shakers today creating new and unique nature ontologies haven't made a much needed connection between the normative realm of value and the realm of nature that is itself intensely normative.

Part of the antipathy toward the normative realm involves the apparent divide between those ontologists who see psyche - or conscious experience or awareness, even agency - working itself down into the deepest recesses of the natural (or working itself "up" from the deepest recesses from the natural), and those who choose to excise subjective experience or intensity from the natural world altogether, indeed even stating that "mind" does not arise from matter as an emergent phenomenon, seeing such as "subjectalism" and a move reminiscent of reading human experience upon nature at large.  (So nature for them is "mindless.")

My take is that regarding valuation and the normative realm, that this is a rather elementary mistake to make (somewhat like identifying "correlation" with "relation" and then opposing oneself to relational philosophy without having an adequate nor even sophisticated view of internal and external relations).  I shall call this "the correlationist error of valuation" - that somehow nature requires human valuers to be making judgments of value in order for value to exist.  Also, when identifying valuation with human valuers or with beings who must somehow subjectively experience value in order for there to be value, that subjectalism is actually *not* an anthropormophic projection of human subjective experience upon nature at large.  Rather, to see the subjective in nature - to see agency within the natural - is to simultaneously recognize the intensity of aesthetic contrasts and values that make for subjective experience itself - experience as felt - but also experience that is deeply natural in its emotive intensive connection to a world that human beings (and other creatures) experience as emotive and intensive.

The other side of the coin is to divulge the rational conceptual space that is extra-human by identifying the interplay between emotive, subjective, or felt intensive-qualitative experience and the conceptual apparatus that assists in propelling the life of qualitative intensive experience.  In a sense, this larger intensive but conceptual space is even non-human in its "naturalness"; so it includes human beings but transcends human beings (thus it is "non-human").  (See for example HERE.)

By recognizing the larger-than-human space of rationality we see that a.) aesthetic contrasts of value create normative dimensions of experience that humans are subject to, and b.) these dimensions of experience transcend human-to-human ecologies of knowledge and therefore guarantee a truly rational but also normative aspect to reality itself.  Indeed, reality or nature is rife with "experience" that is both conceptual and of an aesthetic value yet which is, also, not human.

To go back to Pre-Socratic philosophy: I believe that the Pre-Socratics noticed this.  For example, the normative ontology of Empedocles recognized the intensity of love and strife within nature, but he wasn't referring to a specifically human-centered emotive or moral dyad.  Rather, the tension was implicit to the natural itself, of which human beings were said to be a minor part in the grand motion of such forces (Empedocles, like Anaximander, had purported a nascent form of fatalism given material forces - for him four of them - like Anaximenes motion was predominant - given those forces' dynamic interplay in love and strife).  Indeed, the tension described by Empedocles was, to use a point made about nature much later by Dewey - HERE, that experience is among the interactions and processes of the natural.  Or more succinctly, the dynamic interplay of material forces is nothing but ideal moral normative dimensions construing experience as such.  The rational, present within such normative dimensions of experience, demands a reassessment, then, of what it *means* to be a human being comprehending the rational, specifically among other beings.  With the notion of "arche" but also "logos," the Greeks were well aware of this.

J. Baird Callicott, "A NeoPresocratic Manifesto" Environmental Humanities 2 (2013): 169-186.  Link HERE.

Ancient Greek philosophy begins with natural philosophy (the Milesians, Heraclitus, Empedocles, Anaxagoras), followed after about a century by a focus on moral philosophy (Socrates and the sophists). The pattern is repeated in the Modern period: first natural philosophy re-emerged after the Dark and Middle Ages (Copernicus, Galileo, Descartes, Newton) followed by a correlative revolution in moral philosophy (Hobbes, Hume, Kant). In particular, moral ontology (externally related individuals) reflected the ontology of physics (externally related atoms). Individuals are, in effect, social atoms. Curiously, 20th-century philosophy has largely turned a blind eye and deaf ear to the vast philosophical implications of the second scientific revolution in 20th-century science, among them a correlative moral ontology of internal relations and social wholes. The environmental turn in the humanities, grounded in ecology and evolutionary biology, is a harbinger of the re-orientation of philosophy to the revolutionary ideas in the sciences and foreshadows an emerging NeoPresocratic revival in 21st-century philosophy.