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Friday, 13 May 2016

Husserl, the alter ego and the correlate

Been teaching Husserl's Cartesian Meditations with an eye on what matters to Levinas' criticism of the idea of an alter ego and another eye (prompted by the students very much into looking for variations of correlationism) on Meillassoux's conception of the correlate. Husserl posits a primordial sphere where there is nothing but the transcendental Ego's intentional acts, a sphere where anything else is accessed through my intentional acts and partly enable them to have the content they have (as intentional acts include that of having an evidence). This primordial sphere ensures that our access to noemata is apodictical and the world is bracketed in order for the objects of our thought to be safe. This sphere makes sure everything else appears to me as correlate of my intentionality. On the other hand, the other is to be described as a source of intentional acts, as the other cannot be anything but an alter ego. The other is a correlate of my intentional acts to whom I ascribe intentional acts (of a similar structure). The other appears as something that has an ontology drafted by my egology.

When it comes to the existence of objects beyond the intentional correlates, Husserl says many things but seems to conceive the idea that the independence of those objects is something that is itself accessible through my intentional acts (that give me evidence for their existence). The idea is powerful: the objects are out there because I experience them as being out there, because my intentional acts inform me of their presence beyond the sphere of my Ego - their independence follows from an egology. To be sure, if this works, it is an argument for realism: objects are there beyond noemata and noemata themselves reveal that. However, it is a full-blown correlationist way to conceive realism - independence is itself a correlate of my intentional acts. The problem is not the status of the objects beyond the ego - there could be res verae, but still they are within the correlate. (The similarities with Whitehead are worth remarking too, intentional acts are like prehensions - except correlationism is not so explicitly present because there is no egology, no primordial sphere of the ego and nothing is solely a correlate of my intentionality.)

Infinitism again

I'm thinking about my old infinite sequence of justification again:

Oliver Black (1996, 2003) has been arguing that the common tendency to dismiss any appeal to infinite sequences of justification is at least too steady. He points out that the existence of infinite sequence of justifications can be made plausible by the following argument (A) from 1,2 and 3 to 4 (Black 2003):
1. A belief is justified only if a justified belief is a reason for it.
2. There are justified beliefs.
3. The proper ancestral of the reason-relation is irreflexive.
4. There is an infinite sequence of justified beliefs each of which is a reason for its predecessor (he calls such sequence a J-sequence).
This argument, however, is often put aside because 4 is taken to be implausible. Black takes 4 to be dependent on two other issues:
Q1. Does there exist an infinite sequence of beliefs held by the same person?
Q2. If so, can such a sequence comprise only justified beliefs?
Of course, Black is supposing, here, that in order for a J-sequence to exist, it has to be such that all beliefs in the sequence are held by the same person. He then takes Q1 and Q2 to be relevant in a decision concerning whether or not we should accept that there are J-sequences. It is commonly considered that Q1 and Q2 should be answered negatively. Black then shows that we have reasons to answer yes to both Q1 and Q2. Here is an example of a sequence of beliefs that would satisfy what is required in Q1 and Q2: we have the (occuring or dispositional) beliefs that for any natural number n, n+1>n. This is a sequence of infinite beliefs that is clearly held by one person; each belief is justified by a standard appeal to number theory. So, we answer yes to Q2 and therefore to Q1. (Details in Black 2003).
That is of course not enough to establish whether there are J-sequences. In fact, our sequence of beliefs is not one where each belief justifies the following one no matter how we arrange the beliefs in a sequence. Black takes that the claim that 4 is implausible requires to be supported somehow other than insisting on a negative answer for Q1 and Q2. In fact, much has rested on the implausibility of 4; it is often part of an argument for some form of foundationalism and it is used to support the idea that justification cannot be merely a matter of reason-relations (therefore, negations of 1 and 3 above respectively). Without J-sequences it might seem that justification is either proceeding from a starting point or going around in circles. But Black offers reasons to suspect that the dismissal of J-sequences can be to hasty. This dismissal has to be grounded in something other than an appeal to the implausibility of sequences of justified beliefs. Black then points out that if an example of J-sequence is given, then 4 should no longer be held as implausible.
Now, here is an example of what I take to be a J-sequence:
S justifiedly beliefs that 'x is red' because S believes she is justified in believing that she knows what is red, and that she is justified in believing that she knows what it is to know what is red, and that she is justified in believing that she knows what it is to know that she knows what is red etc.
Each belief in the sequence is justified by the next one and yet every belief has to be present if S is to justifiedly belief that 'x is red'. The justiifcation of one belief requires the justification of all the beliefs in the sequence. It seems to me that this is a J-sequence. So, for example, Sellars (1956) argues that in order for one to know by observation that 'x is red' one needs to know that she is a reliable reporter of red things; this, however, is possible only if she knows she is a reliable reporter of a reliable reporter of red things etc. A J-sequence needs to be invoked to justify the observational report. If this is so, we make use of J-sequences all the time and most cases of justification seem to invoke an infinite regress. J-sequences seem to be not only possible but abundant.
My example of J-sequence, however, depends on the acceptance of an internalist view of knowledge that has that one needs to know that one knows in order to know. According to internalism, justified beliefs are such that the believer can provide justifications for what is believed. Epistemological internalism has become less popular in the last years; causal theories of knowledge, different forms of reliabilism, naturalist takes on knowledge and other sorts of externalism have criticized the need for one to be able to provide a justification in order to be justified. Externalism breaks the need for an infinite sequence of justifications by claimimg that one can be justified without possessing the justification. The justification doesn't need to be in the head (or, at least, doesn't need to be in the head of the believer). The manoeuvre to cut finite a J-sequence can be considered in comparison to what is often said about the famous infinite regress requirement for Modus Ponens attributed to Lewis Carroll:
1. If p then q
2. p
3. If 1 and 2 then q
4. If 1, 2 and 3 then q
We claim that a conclusion can be drawn from 1 and 2 only because we take the meaning of the words––the connectives––to be established somewhere else and not in the argument. The meaning of these words constitute what makes the rule of inference an effective constraint on what we think. This authority cannot be given solely by any number of rules as Wittgenstein's (1953: 185-201) remarks on rule-following make clear. Something external to the rules has to play a role. Similarly, something external to a J-sequence has to play a role if effective justification is to happen. Externalism takes justification to happen somewhere outside a J-sequence (and the head of the believer) for the sequence itself will always fail to provide any justification.
A J-sequence can be taken as an infinite deferral of justification, nothing is ever justified but justification is postponed for good. We can counter this by saying that if the sequence is to be understood as actual, Cantorian infinite then justification is no more than suitable infinite deferral. This would maybe count as an outline of a defensible (internalist) theory of justification: if we can place a belief in the end of a (suitable) J-sequence, then it is (sufficiently or tentatively) justified. I cannot give a list of sufficient and necessary conditions for a J-sequence to be suitable but a plausible necessary condition would be that it is expressible in a recursive manner. A suitable J-sequence is one that can be expressed in a finite number of recursive clauses.
Such sketched theory of justification is not compulsory, not even for internalists, because we can somehow find the first argument (A) above not cogent. One can be a foundationalist (deny 1), or a coherentist (deny 3) or even a skeptic (deny 2). The externalist, on the other hand, can insist that a justification is in the world (or in our practices) and our beliefs are not isolated from the world that justify them.1 The externalist can deny both 1 and 3 in A.
Further support for an infinite regress (internalist) account of justification can be provided if we consider a similar infinite regress account of what it takes to establish that a belief is true. Consider the following thesis.
(T) In order for us to establish that a belief b is true we have to establish that the belief 'b is true' is true and also that ' 'b is true' is true' is true and etc.
At first sight, competing accounts of what it takes to establish that a belief is true would be of three kinds: 1) an appeal to a starting point, something that has always been established as true, like a foundation for all other judgments of truth; 2) a refusal to take any belief as true and 3) a claim that at some point ' 'b is true' ... is true' can be established as true only by establishing that b is true. These three alternatives resemble the steps in argument A. If one is persuaded that none of these alternatives are encouraging, T seems reasonable. Now, one could think of a further alternative to T that would have an externalist spirit to it:
(ET) One does not need to establish the truth of 'b is true' in order to establish the truth of b.
This externalism about truth seems far less reasonable than externalism about justification. It seems like ET harms Tarski's material adequacy condition for truth: the locution 'is true' can always be added to a sentence if its translation is held. If we find reasons to hold that b is true, we have already found reasons to hold that 'b is true' is true.
If it is reasonable that we have to establish an infinite number of truths in order to determine a single truth, it is also plausible to extend the idea to justifications and accept J-sequences as a starting point for an internalist infinite regress epistemology. While it is not compulsory, it is a competing theory of justification: infinite regress justification cannot be dismissed easily by an internalist epistemology. Maybe, indeed, what is needed to make internalism plausible is precisely to bite the infinite regress of justification bullet. J-sequences, the starting point for an infinite regress epistemology, seem to be everywhere.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

The appeal of the Other and the ontology of a monad

Been in a superficial contact with Løgstrup's The Ethical Demand and relating his ethical claims with Levinas'. Thinking about the space opened by the appeal of the Other (or the demand of the Other) as the source of something like moral perception, the connection between action and reward and even ethical virtues. Løgstrup seems to try to understand some moral attitudes in terms of a demand that makes one open to the Other. The appeal of the Other, importantly, doesn't get its force either from inclinations or from obligations. It is neither a psychological passion nor a duty. It is something else, something that doesn't involve necessities at all and something that displays a vulnerability, the vulnerability of the appeal from a vulnerable Other. The appeal opens up a space of co-existence, where the Same is touched by the Other in such a way that it cannot be a all-assimilating unity. It also makes the Other permeate the Same, in a sort of scission inside being where the Same is a stage for the Other, the Other both alien and present, stranger and yet shaping the native character of the Same. The appeal is not made of necessity, but of vulnerabilities. (Maybe because as Jabès writes somewhere in the Book of Questions, necessities always give way to further necessities). The appeal deal in vulnerabilities: the vulnerability of the Other that appeals and the vulnerability of the Same disclosed by the force of the appeal. From the point of view of the Same, which is always the point of view of the appeal - it is always the perspective-laden viewpoint - the Other doesn't compel, doesn't impinge, doesn't force anything, but it insists. It is an insistence - the insistence of the foreigner. The insistence of the appeal is its only power and it involves being a neighbor, asking for hospitality, begging for refuge. Begging is a good approximation, perhaps, of the appeal - it is something that calls in without enlisting. Hospitality is the state of the Ego appealed by the Other - the Same that lodges something else while not making it into its house.

To be sure, my moves are maybe turning into general ontology what was meant to be irreducibly ethical - and about the personal relation to me, concerning the I-You relation, the personal ground. There is a dimension of the personal that is always lost in ontological claims. But still, let me carry on by saying provisionally that the ontological will have to turn personal.

If we take hospitality to be in the centre of the appeal and the response to the scission and co-existence within Being, we can say that it is at the very kernel of what is actual. I was wondering if I can then consider the ontic as composed by a multiplicity of actualities interconnected (like monads) and the ontological as this structure of hospitality. In fact, Leibniz's monads (or anyone else's) are fundamentally open to its relations to the others. A monad is what it is because it has the relation it has with the other monads - and this is also true of actual entities experiencing other actual entities in Whitehead. Now, Whitehead (in Modes of Thought) claims that actualities are like organisms endowed with creativity, purpose and a sense of self-satisfaction. Here he's putting forward a theory about what is inside an actual entity, how is it constituted. What is interesting is that we can think of these three features in terms of the appeal of the Other. Self-satisfaction, in contrast with self-concern, is about finding a place around one's life that is fitting and conducive to oneself and to what is around - it can be linked with hospitality. Creativity and purpose have to do with making things happen in the world in such a way that respond to an ongoing friction between Same and Other. In any case, if the internal structure of the actual entity can be understood in terms of the appeal of the Other, we can then have a intra-agent account of hospitality that would push both obligations and inclination to the ontic, inter-agent side of things. What would then be in the centre of agency is neither a spontaneity understood as self-determination nor a natural necessity but an appeal in all its vulnerability.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Lucretius and Meillassox vs Leibniz and Whitehead - two theories of the novel

Leibniz is adamant in his criticism of the epicurist notion of clinamen in his Theodicée. His main point is that novelty cannot be explained in terms of the indeterminate, of the casual, by anything random. Leibniz doesn't like the idea that contingency plays a role as such in a determinate world. Partly because he holds that everything is determinate by some monad, by some substantial form, by some agent. The intervention of contingency or indeterminacy on a something otherwise determinate seems to him an undue intervention of something abstract in the concrete course of things. There ought to be a reason in terms of something doing the swerve of the orbit of the atom - there ought to be a
concrete actuality somewhere doing the bending of the orbit.

Whitehead would endorse not only the criticism - that would follow from his ontological principle that states that there is no reason without actual entities - but also the sort of account of novelty Leibniz puts forward. To him, novelty has to be brought by someone. Ultimately, it depends on new eternal objects being actualized in the world or new ways eternal objects are actualized in the world. Without this creative advance - actual entities prehending something new - the world would be "a barren tautological absolute" (Modes of Thought, lecture 5), in his terms. Timothy Mooney (in his "Leibniz and Whitehead") points out that in order for these eternal objects to be brought into the realm of actual occasions, they have to be more than simply potentialities for otherwise actual entities would have at some point the capacity to actualize something that is not actual and this would make them more like substances that enjoy properties or, like Aristotle's, exist both in act and in potentiality (the capacity to prehend a new eternal object, say, is there in the actual entity somehow before the actualization). Mooney then points out that Whitehead's solution is to appeal to God as a actual entity which is not an actual occasion and who prehends all eternal objects. God makes the eternal objects actual. Therefore, there is no actualization carried out by any actual occasion (neither by God, in fact). Eternal objects are always made actual by God. This makes Whaitehead remarkably similar to Leibniz. In Leibniz as well, novelty is introduced when a world is chosen by God. God makes it actual. There are no room for worldly potentialities. The creative advance brought about by each monad (and not by any principle) comes to existence from the beginning in the very moment where God chooses one among many possible worlds.

Interestingly, this Leibniz-Whitehead account of novelty contrasts not only with Epicurist clinamina but also with Meillassoux's hyperchaos. Meillassoux has a principle of facticity bringing in novelty (and regularity) to the world. His principle is an abstract prince that commands as a transcendent element. Not only Meillassoux's conception of contingency contrasts with that of monadologists (and process philosophers) but also his account of novelty. One could say that he generalizes Lucrecius - he finds clinamina everywhere. His principle restates the idea that abstract entities can be invoked to explain concrete ones. From the point of view of Whitehead (or of Leibniz, or of Deleuze, for that matter) such a principle deserves to be explained in terms of what in the concrete world maintains it.

Friday, 8 April 2016

Speculation and the fertility of axioms

Whitehead says many times in Modes of Thought that his conception of philosophy is tied to the discussion about the scope and the adequacy of principles. I tried to explain this today resorting to ways we understand axiomatic procedures to expand conclusions (from axioms and inferences thereof). From a point of view that privileges certainty and avoidance of error, a set of axioms has to be appropriate in itself independently of the theorems it yields. To be sure, if axioms cannot be self-evident, at least reasons ought to be given in favor of each of the axioms picked. However, if we say to a mathematician engaged in axiomatization of her field that in case of doubt the axiom of choice shouldn't be assumed and ZF should be preferred to ZFC, she will most certainly complain that without the axiom of choice she cannot prove too many things - it is fertile and that fertility is shown in the field, that is, in the practice of demonstration. If we try and persuade any mathematician to go intuitionistic - maybe to play safer - the answer will be similar: intuitionism reduces to much the scope of what can be proved, and this is to its detriment. From the point of view that privileges certainty and avoidance of error, such responses could prompt outrage: "Why, if you just prefer to prove more, your efforts lead to no more than those of the players of a game like chess!". At which point the mathematician (in both cases) would be offended. And the speculative approach could explain why she is right to be offended. It is, to be sure, an answer somehow reminiscent of what Penelope Maddy once called naturalism in mathematics.

The speculative explanation would go as follows. ZFC is better (or classic mathematic is better) because it enables one to see broadly by proving more. It sort of surveys more ground. If we're not focused on certainty and avoidance of error, we're interested in axioms that are fertile, that can give us more insight about how things are articulated. Proofs are instruments to give us insight, more than they are advances into certainty. To be sure, it is doubtful they can be advances into certainty if the axioms they start with are themselves less than certain. But they can enjoy a surveying capacity. They can enable us to see how, say, different areas of mathematics relate together or how different materials get together to enable a proof given some assumptions. This is why proofs are important, not because of what they prove, but because of what they go through from the axioms in order to reach what they reach. Axioms are good if they are fertile. It is not enough, clearly, to be fertile, they have to enjoy other features, for instance they can be part of a set that coalesce, that get together in an insightful manner. They also have to have some prima facie plausibility - which is not to say that they are self-evident. They have to be, to use a perhaps vague term, worth pursuing. They have to be intriguing, intriguing enough. And it is better if they prove that by proving things that happen to be intriguing also. There is no choice of axioms that are independent of what we want to prove and how much we want to cover. A good choice of axioms is one that illuminates without flying in the face of what is already taken to be known.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

The vocabulary of agency in epistemology

Davidson's insistence in the complementary powers of the world and one's community; one cannot be under the power of the world without being simultaneously under the power of one's community - knowing it and knowing its norms. It is as if two simultaneous agencements are to take place, two simultaneous sovereign powers that cannot be effective without each other. The fine structure of correlation spelt out by Davidson shows how one cannot be simply under the command of the world - spontaneity of one's community gets on the way. The discussion concerning the Given is therefore about powers - how to be under the command of the world through our senses as opposed to be under the spontaneous command of our own senses that introduce, say, a conceptual modulation that interfere in the orders we get from the world. The vocabulary of spontaneity and command (of arché) is really inconspicuous but present in epistemology: it is always about looking for an authority and making sure first that it is cogent and second that it genuinely commands one's beliefs.

Then, if we consider the central issue of epistemic luck, some lights can be shed. Think of the Kantian distinction between acting in accordance with moral duty and acting from moral duty. In the latter but not in the former, one is under the command and power of moral duty. In cases of epistemic luck, one is not in the command and power of truth that could be present but only in the sense of us being in accordance with it (and not in the sense of us believing from it). Truth could be present but not in command of my beliefs. I fail to genuinely know when I don't genuinely obey truth. My beliefs, in this case, are not from truth, but only in accordance to it. There is no authority of truth exercising its power over my thought but just truth being present in my thoughts by (epistemic) luck. What is at stake when one claims knowledge differs from true opinion is about command, about the danger of only being in accordance with the command of the authority of truth, as opposed to thinking from it - which is feeling the power of its authority.