Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Real Chance: the Necessity of Contingency

Fwd: Space and Time in an Ontology of Organism [feedly]

As I mentioned in my last post, in July we'll be doing Part II of our "Philosophy of Organism" summer reading group, this time covering Plato and Schelling, where last year we covered Whitehead, Deleuze, Dewey, and Merleau-Ponty.  Matt from Footnotes to Plato blog was kind enough to offer some inciteful comments below apropos the topic.
Space and Time in an Ontology of Organism
// Footnotes 2 Plato

Henri Bergson (1859-1941)

I'm thoroughly enjoying Jimena Canales social, scientific, and philosophical history of the Einstein-Bergson debate in The Physicist and the Philosopher: Einstein, Bergson, and the Debate that Changed Our Understanding of Time. There are quite a few pages on Whitehead's alternative rendering of relativity theory. There is one place (198-99) where Canales, while commenting on George Herbert Mead's criticism of Whitehead, offers what to me reads like a distortion of Whitehead's concept of eternal objects. It could be that Whitehead only worked out a more coherent understanding of eternal objects in Process and Reality as a result of his early exchange with Mead at Harvard in September of 1926.


I've often wondered if it makes more sense to replace Whitehead's phrase "eternal object" with the poet Charles Olson's suggestion of "eternal event." The poet's phrase may actually convey Whitehead's concept better than Whitehead's way of wording it. Perhaps Whitehead's original intent was to put eternal objects in irrevocable tension with occasional subjects, such that experience always presupposed participation in both. Every event or occasion is eternally temporal, a differential repetition or concrescence of Creative Process into creaturely product.

Earlier today, Justin commented under my essay on Whitehead's cosmological scheme titled Physics of the World-Soul. He took issue with Whiteheadian jargon and with what he thought was the "straw man" version of Einstein I spent several paragraphs critiquing. These are both valid concerns. I'd argue that the former concern is true of every significant thinker. Personally, if I don't find a philosopher's prose difficult to understand at first pass, I quickly become bored with the ideas. Sure, Burt Russell is often clearer and more straightforward than the "muddleheaded" Whitehead. But Russell's demand that the depths of the world reveal themselves to him in clear and distinct ideas may in fact do violence to the chaotic heteronomy of those depths. New ideas cannot always be expressed in old words. The latter concern is something I hope to respond to more fully after I finish Canales' book. The wider question of the relationship between space, time, and experience in an ontology of organism is one I hope to expand upon in my dissertation.


Shared via my feedly reader

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Is Materialism a Type of Idealism? [feedly]

Is Materialism a Type of Idealism?
// Alexander R. Galloway

I've already posted on Jameson's materialism and his theory of interpretation in light of today's new materialism and the larger ontological turn in contemporary theory. Much of the new materialism tends to elevate empirical, descriptive, even pragmatic approaches in its quest to unlock material reality, while denigrating hermeneutic pursuits as a kind of useless culturalism, or what Quentin Meillassoux in a different context labeled "correlationism." As I already described in the previous two posts, such a dramatic step is wholly incompatible with Jameson's conception of material reality. Jameson's "ontology" -- disclaimers surrounding the use of this term notwithstanding -- requires a reduction to material conditions, a determinism (no matter how weak or strong) of these material conditions, and indeed ultimately an accounting of the absolute horizon that conditions the world as a whole. Hence the dialectic of reduction-and-expression is absolutely necessary, as are the structures of figuration like allegory and metaphor engendered by them, along with the interpretive techniques required to parse them.

Let me offer one final post on Jameson, this time on his Hegelianism. This aspect has always mystified me. Jameson's primary influence is undoubtedly Marx. Yet he has never renounced the elder dialectician, nor does he have any intention of doing so. I generally hold a dim opinion of Hegelians, particularly those in whom there is no visible Marxist spark (unlike Jameson). Still, Hegel is popular again today, the academy well-stocked with Hegelians, while Marxists are only marginally less difficult to spot than, oh I don't know, fluent speakers of Esperanto.

At a young age I was taught to be skeptical of Hegelianism in all its forms. Metaphysical, idealist, bourgeois, and bound to a repugnant anthropology, Hegel was something to be avoided, something to be excised. The task of thinking, I was taught, was to identify Hegelian elements in order to invert them, remove them, or otherwise think beyond and without them. This is what Marx did. It's what Deleuze did. In fact a common thread united the kinds of thinkers I was drawn to: they all rejected Hegel.

Of course it's not that simple. And I'm realizing more and more that the idea, or perhaps the concept or form, is absolutely essential, even for any kind of Marxist endeavor. One might cite Deleuze and Guattari's late work, What is Philosophy?, in which the concept plays an important role. But the thinker who ultimately convinced me is probably Alain Badiou. I'd like to write more on Badiou in the future -- possibly even a full monograph -- but what convinced me is Badiou's structure of the event, particularly how subjects are created in relation to events.

(In fact Deleuze and Guattari's What is Philosophy? was a veiled attack on Badiou, at least in part. For instance, their "Example 12" contains a summary of Badiou's Being and Event, which had just been published; and chapters 5 and 6 in general seem to be geared against Badiou, specifically Badiou's privileging of mathematics within philosophy. In those chapters, Deleuze and Guattari aim to separate science from philosophy by separating functives from concepts. The "event" also appears a number of times the book. And Deleuze and Guattari's refrain of "Art, Science, and Philosophy" is surprisingly similar, at least structurally, to Badiou's proposed configuration of "Art, Science, Politics, and Love.")

As I understand it, materialism requires adherence to the concept. It's why Badiou talks about hypotheses rather than facts. Or why Laruelle talks about axioms rather than worlds. But not just any concept or axiom, and certainly not all of them. Materialism stems from one axiom. Indeed, sometimes it is simply called the axiom of the one, while other times it comes under different names like identity, equality, univocity, the common, or the generic.

Materialism means adherence to the concept of the one. Each element in this definition is important, and I'll gloss them in reverse order: (1) the one means radical identity (equality, univocity, the common, etc.); (2) the concept means that such identity is asserted axiomatically/theoretically; (3) adherence means an insistence or persistence (Badiou's term is "fidelity").

We have, then, a new formulation of that old philosophical pairing "genesis and structure," or what Deleuze in his own way called "difference and repetition." Genesis refers to the being and becoming of things, how things arise or are born. Ironically structure refers to the non-becoming of things, how they adhere to a particular plan or arrangement. Materialism interprets this pairing as follows: the concept of the one ("genesis" understood as the asserted axiom of radical equality) is sustained or upheld via adherence ("structure" understood as fidelity).

In other words, there's nothing natural about materialism; materialism doesn't spring from the earth, nor is it revealed by physical laws or material reality. Whoever begins with empiricism, physicalism, naturalism, or realism will never arrive at materialism. The same is true for all the journalistic pursuits (observation, study, description, documentation, modeling) and the ideologies they require (transparency, neutrality, foundationalism, the transcendental, principles of sufficiency).
Materialism doesn't mean "pay attention to the material conditions." You're doing it wrong if you say "I want to be a neutral observer of the world" or "let's abstract scientific laws from physical phenomena." These are simply extensions of the journalistic pursuits.

Likewise, materialism is not self-grounding. It doesn't mean "the things as they naturally are." Yes, materialism is often colloquially understood as the determination of thinking by material conditions. And that's not untrue. But the only way to ground materialism (which is not self-grounding) is to adhere to the concept of the generic common. I'll admit it's counter-intuitive, but materialism begins from adherence to a concept, even if it results in a determination by material conditions.
Badiou is illuminating on this point, as when he speaks of communism as nothing more than "the radical inclusion of the excluded." Indeed, defined in this way materialism becomes essentially synonymous with communism -- or what others sometimes call radical democracy (as opposed to the kinds of representational or parliamentary democracy that are dominant today).

How unsatisfying, then, for today's conversation. For these are simply the old debates staged anew, with those same tired criticisms of Marxism waiting on the sidelines to be trotted out once again like some ragged old warhorse: Marxism is just thinly veiled essentialism; Marxism is just thinly veiled idealism; or, worst of all, Marxism is just thinly veiled romanticism.

But isn't that the problem? To borrow a classic concept from Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, perhaps a bit of strategic essentialism is precisely what is needed at this particular point in time. Strategic idealism, even. Criticality is so thoroughly disempowered today, the velocity of co-optation so rapid, the inversions of political desire so complete, perhaps the only truly revolutionary act available now is to promulgate a kind of strategic essentialism. It's as if to say that no sort of direct, rational process will ever yield a result, such results arising rather from those irrational processes, those untranscendable horizons that fix the very coordinates of nature itself.

Is this not what Hegel meant by "objective thoughts," by concepts becoming objects? Hegel was fond of citing that old maxim from Anaxagoras that "nous governs the world" (πάντων νοῦς κρατεῖ), arguing that nature is "a system of unconscious thought...a petrified intelligence." When the stress falls on νοῦς, this is undoubtedly a form of idealism. But when the stress falls on κρατεῖ (to rule over, to govern), a more kinetic logic takes over. Mind governs the world; mind incites the world; mind is insurrectional. (Badiou's theory of the subject is more or less identical.)

I suspect that the apogee of idealism, or at least the point where it ineluctably transgresses its own logic, remains the condition of subjective transformation if not self annihilation, wherein names become so suspended they appear nameless, faces so defaced they become blank, the world so remote it withdraws, like Dante's first glimpse of the great abyss, "dark and deep and filled with mist... [and] though I gazed into its pit, I was unable to discern a thing."

Was it not Husserl, that master of suspension, who summoned phenomenology to transcend the seemingly "anonymous" nature of the life-world, or Michel Henry who plumbed the deeps of the ego only to find the "facelessness" of essence, to say nothing of Descartes and his hyperbolic doubt? Idealism, one will recall, is not so much the science of forms or abstractions, much less concepts or notions, but the science of subjectivity. Or to put it in reverse: subjectivity is always the ultimate stake in any idealism. And idealism's own special ironic condition is one in which the invigorated potency of a pure subjective stance is, as it were, so potent that the subject becomes transformed in the wake of its own stubborn fidelity. This, again, is the lesson of Badiou, a strange dialectical creature comprising equal parts radical idealist and radical materialist. (Shall we not simply agree to call him a radicalist?) And it is the most convincing rationale he provides for Plato's ongoing relevance today, in short, that Socrates and Rimbaud speak in one voice: il faut changer la vie!
And that, since Marx at least, has been the defining premise of materialism.


Shared via my feedly reader

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Empathy in Rats [feedly]

Empathy in Rats
// Animal Cognition

As the go-to animal for biological and behavioral research, rats have long been the darlings of science. But only in recent years has their capacity for empathy started to get more attention. That's not to say that research into rat empathy hasn't been done in the past. In 1962, scientists George E. Rice and Priscilla Gainer presented individual […]
The post Empathy in Rats appeared first on Animal Cognition.


Shared via my feedly reader

quote of the day

"The authentic tradition of immanence resides in the Platonic divine, and in the gods of Spinoza and Hegel, not in the 'philosophical atheism' of Heidegger."

Quentin Meillassoux - The Divine Inexistence

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

quote of the day

C.S. Peirce (1839-1914)
"To be idealists we must be materialists without flinching."

- C.S. Peirce (quoted from Hartshorne's Creativity in American Philosophy)

Monday, June 15, 2015

more Charles Hartshorne interviews, definitely worth listening to

Three more very good interviews with Charles Hartshorne, one session is a Q & A session which is quite informative.  You certainly might want to take the time to listen to these - each are about 50 minutes long, but it would be perfect if you are taking a long drive or doing some yard work (which is what I often do - listen to philosophy sometimes while mowing the lawn and so forth).

While the videos are "dated" the quality of ideas in play leaps out.  Try giving one a listen!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

quote of the day

"The necessarily existent is the purely existent in which there is not yet anything determinate"

- F. W.J Schelling, quoted by Charles Hartshorne

Off to go kayaking

Friday, June 12, 2015

quote of the day

“I possess a sense of divine transcendence from the Catholic tradition balanced by a pagan appreciation of the mystery of nature itself, the sensuous being-there of the world in its sometimes unbearable beauty.”

- William Desmond, Perplexity and Ultimacy

Thursday, June 11, 2015

quote of the day

Eric Voeglin (1901-1985)

"To take transcendence seriously is to take the world good as it is."

(pointer Speculum Criticum Traditionis)

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Charles Hartshorne: reflections on a long career and my philosophical giants

A very interesting talk by Hartshorne which is him essentially reflecting on his philosophical influences. Although delivered from a podium and at times he reads abit too much from his paper, this is just a fascinating talk in the sense that one sees Hartshorne's philosophy as a whole - given the "giants of philosophy" he cites as being influential for him and given his reflections on how he was impacted by those under whom he had studied.

Above the video embedded in this post below I've posted several renditions of influential philosophical "giants" of my own, which includes Hartshorne.

C.S. Peirce (1839-1914)
F.W.J. Schelling (1775-1854)

Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947)
Charles Hartshorne (1897-2000)
Gilles Deleuze (1925-1995)

Plato (427-347 B.C.E.)

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

quote of the day

Inspired by the content of my last post:

"In animals we can see emotional feeling, dominantly derived from bodily functions, yet tinged with purposes, hopes, and expression."

- Alfred North Whitehead, Modes of Thought

Whitehead on Feelings (draft of a talk by Steven Shaviro)

Alfred North Whitehead

Link HERE.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

What Would Plato Do? (audio)

"The great Plato embarks on a twenty-first-century book tour. He tangles with an obnoxious TV pundit, charms a live audience at the 'Y', and bowls over the entire staff at Google headquarters. What would he make of us? What would Plato conclude about how we live?"

Interesting radio interview entertaining the question "What would Plato do?" HERE.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

New research places us on the cusp of brain-to-brain communication. Could the next step spell the end of individual minds? (Aeon article)

Paul Weiss (1901-2002)
HERE.  Is fused consciousness in-itself necessarily desirable?  The argument would be that inherently human consciousness or bodily identity is already a many creating a "one" - a society of occasions, a nexus of cells which only together produce the appearance of a unified being. 

Still, in significant ways my thoughts are not your thoughts.  It's that old balancing act one finds in Fichte and Hegel between the I and not-I, between self and other.

Reminiscent of Weiss's Privacy and You, I, and the Others.  Who is Paul Weiss?

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Eduardo’s: Eduardo Viveiros de Castro’s Cannibal Metaphysics and Eduardo Kohn’s How Forest’s Think

"While still reading the introduction of Kohn’s book I got a pleasant surprise – that it will be the old pragmatist Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914) who will provide for Kohn the groundwork for understanding how forests, and animals, all living creatures for that matter, think. Kohn announces that he will draw on ‘the 'weird' Peirce, [that is on] those aspects of Peirce’s writing that we anthropologists find hard to digest – those parts that reach beyond the human to situate representation in the workings and logics of a broader nonhuman universe out of which we humans come.’"

From an interesting post "Forest, Signs, and the 'Weird' Peirce" covering Viveiros de Castro's and Eduardo Kohn's relationship to C.S. Peirce...HERE.  Contemporary French anthropology (de Castro, Descola, Latour) draws more and more each passing year on both Peirce and John Dewey, also William James.