Monday, September 12, 2016

Radical Empiricism and the Drama of Experience: The Impossibility of Absolute Singularity and Ontological Isolation

The very fact that things occur and thus create novel "experience" where none was before - linking experiences to one another, self-sufficiently in their own "concatenation" as James puts it - defeats the pretensions of nominalism outright.  True, reality may be of particulars and thoroughly plural, but particulars relate by their very nature (none are absolutely isolated) and they develop in their form, whether temporally and prehensively to their own singular futures (or prior pasts), or to others so as to be the "singular" particulars that they are.  This concatenated relational metaphysics is found in the ontological pluralism of James and is found in the pluriformalism of Aristotle as well.

Following this thought, the particular, a "one," only gets to be "a one" by a count, a process.  Otherwise, singulars would be frozen ones, particulars waiting for a count to establish their identity from eternity.  Nothing would begin to move or come into being.  And this contradicts facts given that singulars change in their form and evolve over time according to a non-determined future that involves the freedom and spontaneity of change.  Whether the forms themselves are of an eternal nature, as Whitehead suggested with his theory of eternal objects, may be true, though the theory still demands a temporal nature for the forms to lure active singulars into their full being over the course of a developmental trajectory.  This necessarily would involve the free responsive and creativity activity of the singular understood as an agent (indeed one that is capable of failing to achieve its nature as much as it is of realizing it).

Empiricism is best expressed when it is radical.  It is a perspective which extends how "deep" particulars are able to be perceived in their essential nature, and how "broadly" one is able to extend and relate the nature of a particular to other natures.  The depth and broadness of experience determines how and in which ways the forms of the particulars are able to stretch or bend before being forced to take on a new form over time.  Are the forms in experience, or not?  Perhaps the question should be better stated as, "In what ways do the forms enter into experience?"  Even for Plato, in the Timaeus, the Forms were said to enter through and into the world - the cosmic body - from time to time.  Whitehead stated that these Forms were changeless and eternal, though capable of relating to change; while Hartshorne suggested that there were no eternal objects at all, and that the forms are part of experience and grow and change over time.  Along Hartshorne's line of thought I remember Tom Alexander saying in a Dewey seminar once, "Once we forget that the Forms grow and change, and also die over time, we forget God."

The "drama" of experience is precisely this entrance of novelty into experience; that things happen with these particulars, and that in a subsumption of particulars within new forms of experience new identities of particulars are created where there was only a germ before.

This is the essence of flourishing, I think.  Flourishing requires the challenge of change and the gift of process.  Flourishing is dramatically undergone, rather than something that merely "happens to" an agent as a completely passive and stale phenomenon.  In fact, flourishing is often suffered, indeed dramatically, but also interactively.  We make things happen, and things happen to us.  Such is the career of any active agent in the world.  That is to say, the experience of any agent is always undergone and suffered, as well as overcome with growth in a dramatic interplay, or interchange, with other agents, as much as it is a personal experience or journey.

The above two videos feature my former mentor from Ph.D. graduate school days, Doug Anderson.  He's a marvel to watch and provides rich insight into some of the debates mentioned in this blog post.