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Monday, 15 December 2014

Whitehead, the ontological distinction and an ever-growing world

If we accept an ontological distinction between the ontological and the ontic we can maybe see in Whitehead an ontological dimension of growing: the world is itself ever-growing. Cosmic epochs follow one from another, God is incomplete, novelty is introduced through any act of prehension, objective immortality registering what is achieved in the world are ontic counterparts of an ontological drive towards growing. To be is to grow, to be in an ever-growing process. It is an interesting conception of becoming: the movement of self-expansion is a feature of being qua being. What grows depends on the actual ontic population (in Whitehead, it is composed of actual entities). There are, therefore, different ways to expand and to promote expansions - mostly to do with making room for further elements in that population. Novelty arises from everywhere in a non-structured manner - prehending is creative. But growing is ontological constitutive: it is of the very nature of being exposed to whatever exists.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Whitehead and Leibniz on written events (and God being up for grabs)

I've been thinking of Whitehead's system as a monadology that turns Leibniz up side down. In the last pages of Process and Reality - on God and the world - Whitehead comes up with a conception of God as an incomplete actual entity whose derivative nature depends on what takes place in the world. This could be read as an interesting reversion in the direction of fit present in Leibniz. Leibniz has that events are somehow written in the predicates that constitute his substantial monads - according to Couturat's principle of reason, any event follows from the nature of the worldly monads. These monads where chosen by God when he chose the best of all possible world - God dealt with worlds, not with specific monads. In Whitehead, the nature of God is itself under constant creation by the world, ever enlarging itself. Events are not what follows from God's creation of the world but rather they are inscribed in God's (derivative) nature. Events don't follow what is written, they write. Whatever takes place produces the writing: the ever enlarging inscription of the nature of God. Instead of what has been written, the world is what writes up God.

Indeed, God's imperfection is what makes the world improve. Whitehead can also be read as a radical form of Jewish Tikkum Olam (the doctrine that the world was made imperfect so that we can gradually improve it through our deeds). In Whitehead God itself is open to the improvement that can be achieved by our (worldly) deeds. God, and not only the world, is therefore up for grabs. Does anyone know of a Jewish take on process theology?

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Revista das Questões is out

Eclair and myself have now for some time read and discussed Jabès and his tonality in philosophy. This led to this multilingual Journal of Questions, titled after the Livre des questions. The idea is to bring together contributions from my Anarchai group and from Eclair's Blanchotian Group for thinking the outside. The journal also wants to be peri-academical and reflect the interfaces between philosophy and translation while creating a community of those who feel questions ought to be cherished quite apart from any attempt to answer, solve or dissolve them. They transcend whatever we end up doing with them. The first issue was out yesterday.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Whitehead's externalism

Whitehead's philosophy of organism is presented in Process and Reality as rescuing some lost elements in Descartes and Locke. In particular, elements related to the conception of perception according to which the subjective capture of the perceived item leaves its mark in the perception process. As a consequence, there is a revamping of the distinction between extension and mentality - in terms of a theory of extension and a theory of prehension respectively, or a morphology of the concrete and a genetics of its concrescence relatively independent. To be sure, mentality becomes the object of something Nietzsche once heralded as a universal psychology while extension becomes the object of a study of the concrete formed by the multiple and often mutual prehensions. It is a Cartesian division and Whitehead (Part IV, chapter 1, section V) is clear about how hard it is to consider actualities without parsing them into the publicity and the privacy of things. But the ontological bifurcation is what is to be resisted: physical and mental operations are inextricably intertwined (Part IV, chapter V, section III). The big break with the Cartesian scheme of things is the absence of ontological bifurcation - eternal objects, actual entities and prehensions are both public and private, although they appear in two aspects (eternal objects as universals and as sensorial qualities, actual entities as superjects and as subjects, prehensions as containing objective datum or agency and as containing subjective forms). The dual aspect approach can remind Spinoza, but I take it to to be closer to a monadological approach where monads are inextricably associated to their territories and no territory can subsist without a monad (extension in Leibniz is also Cartesian - no empty space).

But the biggest revamping of Locke and Descartes - or at least of the received reading of them - is the externalism of the philosophy of organism. In a sense, the distinction between DISC and ACCESS, made by Pritchard implicitly in his Epistemological Disjunctivism and explicitly in Evidentialism, Internalism, Disjunctivism (Dougherty, T. (ed.) Evidentialism and Its Discontents, Oxford UP, 2011), can be applied to Whitehead's reading of Locke's indirect perception. The perceiver has reflective access to the region of space (see Part IV, chapter 5, section II) that is perceived although there is no discrimination of whether she captures a there is in the res vera. Still, she perceives the res vera. There is room for reflective access - what is absent both in reliabilist forms of externalism and in a purely causal account of perception (somehow present in Whitehead, for efficient causation is a mode of perception) - while there is no New Evil Genios scenario (see Lehrer, K. and S. Cohen. ‘Justification, Truth, and Coherence’, Synthese, 55: 191–207, 1983) for a (veridical) perceiver and her counterpart whose brain is in a vat are not at the same justificatory status.

I find interesting that indirect perception (or perception with subjective mediation) can be thoroughly externalist. Locke - and Descartes - can be read as externalists if we buy into this distinction between ACCESS and DISC (between reflective access and discriminabilty). The distinction seems to be enlightening and makes explicit a dimension that is hidden in Bergmann's characterization of access (in Justification without awareness). Whitehead's externalism has that what is perceived moves agency even though one can have a very different and indeed completely novel take of what she perceives. In that sense, Whitehead (and, if he is right, Locke, as much as disjunctivism) advocates that one can have perceptual contact without cognitive contact.



Sunday, 30 November 2014

Beyond predation

Descola's chapter 14 of his Par delà covers the groups in the Amazon where animists have social relations based chiefly on predation, mainly on reciprocity and generally on gift-giving. Different groups, sometimes close together, have different economies of relations with both the human and the non-humans (the Jivaro being predation based, the Tukano obsessed with balanced interchanges, the Campa taken by giving). The three animist groups found different ways to manage the interchange between what humans and the agents in their environment: to take and run away, as much as trading and giving away to establish bonds, is a social relation. The upshot, I take, is that the Moderns, by contrast, don't predate (neither do they trade or give away in their interactions with the no non-humans). They do predate their fellow humans - and trade with them, give and plea for gifts. They still the chestnut tree of the neighbor, but they do it conspicuously so that they can get away from anger or sanctions from other humans (who own the tree or protect them), but do not predate on the tree itself. The non-human is made available, is made into things for us - reified, commodified, resourcified. Things themselves are reified as resources for us. We don't even need to predate on them. The upshot is therefore to bring to the fore the strange and non-relational nature concocted by the Moderns.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Aversion and adversion

In Part III, Chapter III of Process and Reality (page 254 of the standard 1985 edition), Whitehead introduces two great notions: those of adversion and aversion. His words:
If in the conceptual feelings there is valuation upward, then the physical feelings are transmitted to the new concrescence with enhanced intensity in its subjective form. This is 'adversion'. But if the conceptual feelings there is valuation downwards, then the physical feelings are (in the later concrescence) either eliminated, or are transmitted to it with attenuated intensity. This is 'aversion'. Thus, 'adversion' and 'aversion' are types of 'decision'.

These are very general concepts: to enhance something so that the picture fits, to hide something so that the picture fits. Whitehead talks about physical feelings and concepts (shove off this green patch so that the image could look like the sky or enhance the whiteness of the clouds so that it is more clearly like the sky). His interest in chiefly on perception - one needs to avert something while adverting something in order to perceive something (conceptually) in what one perceives (physically). Perception, whenever concepts are involved, is always a decision act - there are consequences. But aversion and adversion are present whenever translation is at stake: translation is to loose something while gaining something by emphasizing some elements while neglecting others. In fact, modulation in general is like this - enhancing some signals while attenuating others. Aversion and adversion are the basis for what I call the matrix of differences and indifferences - setting aside the differences that make no difference while focusing on the differences that make differences. The stereoscopy of art lies in showing what is averted and adverted while at the same time making these operations explicit. (I draw the pipe, adverting the similarities between my drawing and a pipe and then I write down that it is not a pipe to avert whatever makes my drawing look like a pipe.)

Whitehead: to exist is to arrive at a crowd

Whitehead's interplay between perception and creation in prehension can be read as a cement that glues together the various elements of his system in Process and Reality. His Lockean account of indirect perception requires that (sensorial) ideas are involved in (physical and conceptual) perception and therefore that universals are present even though not in the sensationalist way (endorsed mainly by Hume). These universals are only potentially present when they are not prehended. They are actualized by prehension for, in fact, Whitehead's definition of actuality has to do with being able to affect other actualities. To come actual is like to arrive where the crowd is: nobody can arrive to where the crowd is and be alone - to exist in actuality is to co-exist. Universals are brought to actuality by actual entities, without prehensions they are merely potential. This is why God is needed to prehend eternal objects - without God these objects would lack what only an actual entity can provide and God is the actual entity that prehends all the eternal objects. God is an actual entity and as such, cannot exist vacuously and has to co-exist. Therefore, God needs other actual entities as much as the other actual entities need God.

To be sure, God is contemporary of all actual entity and in that sense is not temporal. Time is itself brought about by actual entities - through the timing of contemporary actual occasions. This makes God omnipresent without being causa sui or substantial in any other sense. It depends on anything else as much as it provides order and creativity to the rest of the world. Whitehead's theology makes God somehow immanent as Meillassoux does, but God's connection to the rest of the world is not contingent, and is not limited to a cosmic epoch. Creation without perception is as unintelligible as perception without creation and, as a consequence, there is no creator of the world. The system is thoroughly pluralist - even though actual entities are connected to each other (in a monadological way, I say), there can never be less than many of them.