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Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Ontoscopies: metaphysical reasoning through picture investigation

I've been reading Anne Sexton and Peter Handke. Sexton's Death Notebooks and Handke's Essay on tiredness. While writing something on pictures in my Buca L'Ombrello blog, I had some thoughts about how I understand philosophy. I self-quote some bits:

<< The intensity of the picture is enough for me. I don't mind how sad or upsetting a film or a book is - to have a convincing picture is the pinnacle of overcoming the uninspiring. In pictures also dwells Coetzee in his Elizabeth Costello episodes. Dialogues are indeed sometimes explicit scaffolding for pictures. Anne Sexton is summoned in the poem: "Interrogator: One day is enough to perfect a man. Anne: I watered and fed the plant." Peter Handke, in his Essay on Tiredness, is also summoned by an interrogator of sorts. Handke speaks of the heartlessness of his attempt to content himself with "investigating the pictures, or images, that my problem engenders in me, with making myself at home in each picture and translating it as heartlessly as possible into language with all its twists and turns and overtones." Then the interrogator comes in asking about Handke's remarks on the tiredness of working in common and comparing it with the tiredness of solitary work. Handke replies: "When I told you all that, it wasn't for the sake of contrast, but of the pure picture; if such a contrast nevertheless forces itself on the reader's attention, it must mean that I haven't succeeded in communicating a pure picture. In the following, I shall have to take greater care than ever to avoid playing one thing off, even tacitly, against another or magnifying one thing at the expense of something else [...]". The contrast is an after-effect. [...]>>

I then proceed to say that I think in pictures, in plots and not in oppositions: to affirm rather than to dwell in contrasts. To investigate a picture, as Handke puts it, seems a good methodological guideline for metaphysics. In the book I wrote this year, hopefully to appear soon, I present three ontologies under the name of ontoscopies. They are pictures of things driven by fragments, doubts or rhythms. They are pictures: perceptions of what there is. But, maybe because, as Whitehead would insist, perception is constitutively creative, they contrast with each other. What I try to do there is to explore the pictures - something emerge not from the picture, but to its investigation. Hence, for instance, intuition is gained by exploring the world as composed centrally of doubts (or of contagious rhythms). Such method is thoroughly pluralist - there are always more than one picture - while being decidedly realist - there is a reality to be found through the pictures.

To some extent, also, the method contrasts vividly with the pursue of criticism and argument. Determinate negation is the opposite of a picture. Pictures can be convincing to the point that there could be no denial of them that can be held without appealing to another picture. Pictures are denied by other pictures (and deconstruction is at its best when another picture frictions the target one). Negation in itself is often presented as if it can be persuasive simply out of the difficulties of the picture under criticism. I reckon, though, that presenting pictures have often more direct persuasive effects. It is maybe one of those failures in rationality like those that Kahneman and Tverski diagnosed and reported. Like some of the others, though, it is a heuristic failure - it somehow points towards several directions at once. Replace a world of rhythms by, say, a world of arbitrarily timed events. Both pictures suggest. Dealing with pictures is like speculating - a good persuasive picture commands support but also up to the point when an alternative picture replaces it.



Monday, 29 December 2014

Truth-makers and truth-consortia

I think there is a lot to unpack in Latour's observations about truth. I think his thoughts here are in the right directions. For example, in Irréductions 2.4.8. he goes:

Une phrase ne tient pas parce qu'elle est vraie;
c'est parce qu'elle tient qu'on la dit vraie.
Elle tient à quoi? Mais, justement, à beaucoup de choses.


Truth is what is maintained - it supervenes on its truth-makers, on what contributes to it. I wonder whether I can understand truth in terms of supporters, of what holds a relation of instauration, of sponsoring the true proposition (or belief, or statement, or sentence). My model is that of an agreement, but not only with the human agents but between a sufficient number of relevant actants. If it is so, the truth-bearer is somehow a truth-maker, a contributor.

Truth could then be taken to be a report on the agreement between sponsors. Truth lies in the agreement between sponsors – but it is always subject to new tests of resistance, as Latour puts it (Irréductions, 1.1.5). The agreement is always up for grabs: any sponsor, including those who can state truths (and falsities), can affect it. Stating that the snow is white is endorsing that this is the case. Endorsement, in this case, is almost entirely irrelevant, but it is not always so. Truth could be therefore better presented as an agreement between truth-bearers and all its other truth-makers; “the snow is white” is true provided that all flocks of snow behave in coherence with it, implicit lightning conditions satisfy it etc.

The import of endorsement has to do with the fact that truth, for Latour, is produced. Latour talks about this production often when considering the activities of the scientists: the results are independent of the humans but scientists produce them at great cost . He analyses correspondence – what he broadly refers as an adequatio rei et intellectus – as a difficult construction that requires action taken on both sides, in the intellectus side and in the res side to which the former intends to correspond. He provides a detailed example of how a map of Mount Aiguille is maintained. The map is intended to convey something true and in order to do so its maintainers have to make sure some things hold together: the landmarks signed in the maps have to be preserved in the mount (houses, tracks, roads), the changes in the mount through season or the passing of (some) years have to be discarded by the representation of the map. Clearly, as he points out citing Borges famous claim about a useless map of scale 1, a complete isomorphism between the truth-bearer (the map) and the truth-maker (the mount) would amount to no more than a duplication of the mount. The map has to select some features of the mount to rely on and has to make sure these features are stable enough. Truth-bearing, as much as truth-making, is about maintaining. (It is perhaps even more graphically clear if we consider GPS navigation devices guided by bar and QR codes.) In order for the map to be kept updated, the mount has to be maintained in a certain way that enables the map to depict it. Latour writes in AIME, chapter 3:

[W]e can talk about correspondence [...], but this “co-response” is no longer the one between the “human mind” and the “world.” No, we now have a tense, difficult, rhythmic correspondence, full of surprises and suspense, between the risk taken by existents in order to repeat themselves throughout the series of their transformations on the one hand and the risk taken by the constants in order to maintain themselves throughout another no less dizzying series of transformations on the other. Do the two series sometimes respond to each other? Yes. Do they always do so? No. If it is true that it takes two to tango, it is equally true that it is meaningless to speak of co-responding unless there are two movements in the first place, each of which will respond to the other—often multiplying their missteps.

He changes the focus from something that corresponds to something else to a co-responding movement on both sides where truth is maintained. Truth, as he points out later in the same book, goes hand in hand, and not in opposition, with good constructions. Something that is well-constructed could be, precisely because it is well-constructed, true. Truth is not an episode of resemblance of something else, it is rather an engagement with things that enable the extraction of good constructs. Those are resilient if they display a low cost of maintenance. Truths require efforts of the same kind of those needed for a construction of anything resilient: good materials, reliable connections, responsive interlocutors, an amount of indifference to change and a capacity to neglect details. Some constructions are not true – but this is because they have not engaged with sponsors enough to make it hold together. It is somehow like a failed negotiation. It is a matter of how many sponsors are hired in the maintenance process - and how good, how relevant, how well-sponsored they are.

This emphasis on production could also help bridging the old gap between knowing that and knowing how. To know something, arguably, is to be part of a truth-consortium: to be part of a network that sponsors a truth. If I hold a truth-bearer that is part of a consortium of sponsors that is enough to make the truth-bearer true, I know it. It is a state in which I am, but also, it is a production, an action, the result of a practice of coming to terms with the world (calibrate my thinking - my beliefs - to what I endorse as strong enough to be hold up).


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.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

The value of access

I compile my text as I presented last Monday at the Value of Understanding Colloquium in Bahia. The idea hinges on whether perception can be measured by values that are not swamped by truth. To be sure, I use the scheme of a Zagzebskian Disjunctivist Externalism as a model: if Zagzebski's intellectual virtues are not swamped, I submit neither do perceptual virtues. If it is so, there is a possible disjunctivist response to the primary value problem. I think (pace Pritchard) this is an externalist response. Here is the text:

Epistemic externalism tends to make knowledge less dependent on the wonderings of a (human) knowing subject and more as an something attained in collaboration with the environment of the knower. Knowledge is less of a matter of inner cogitations and more an issue of interaction with what is to be known and its surroundings. In order to portray knowledge like that, knowledge-bearers such as beliefs (or opinions, convictions) have to be conceived as less than self-conscious states. However, as truth is normally conceived as being an external contributor to knowledge, the main focus of epistemic externalism has been further clauses that would distinguish knowledge from mere true belief. This means to discuss doxastic justification – or warrant, or truth-conducive procedures – and do it in a way that is not committed to the thesis that the knower has to be able to discriminate genuine cases of justification from deceiving appearances. In other words, in these provinces, the externalist endeavors therefore to show how there could be justification-contributors of which the subject of knowledge is not even potentially aware. One’s experience can be the same as somebody else and she can be more epistemically justified for reasons that are beyond her discrimination capacities.

In askeptical periods – those when, according to Linda Zagzebski’s (2001) terminology, the treat of skepticism is seen as dissolved or somehow innocuous – to investigate knowledge is no mainly focused on proving its possibility but rather on relating it to other notions and placing it among other phenomena. If the skeptic takes for granted that knowledge (or justification) is invaluable and wonders how it can be attained, in askeptical periods we are more likely to wonder why after all knowledge is to be sought as a goal, no matter if it is attainable. Epistemic externalism understands knowledge as firmly placed in the world around the knower rather than taking the knower to be to a large measure acting (or judging) from afar. Externalism is also akin to the idea that knowledge is not merely human, or at least not in principle dependent on anything specifically human. If knowledge has a value, it has to be somehow a value that is not tied to specific human faculties nor associated to distinctively human purposes. The value of knowledge would have to be construed not only out of something only humans can appreciate.

The value problem for externalists

In fact, the value problem has become a major problem for externalists recently. The general problem – or rather the class of problems – is old and familiar. In Meno, Plato questions whether knowledge is itself more invaluable than mere true belief. After all, in most cases, if one’s beliefs are true – about how to cook a mole or how to go back to one’s hotel in a Southern Hemisphere town – it is for most purposes enough. It is clear that it is not enough to come up with a property P that is itself invaluable and distinguishes knowledge from true belief for P can add no value to the mix. One has rather to consider how P would interact with a true belief. Kvanvig (2003: 45) explains why:

[…] consider some simple analogies. If we have a piece of art that is beautiful, its aesthetic value is not enhanced by having as well the property of being likely to be beautiful. For being likely to be beautiful is a valuable property because of its relationship to being beautiful itself. Once beauty is assumed to be present, the property of being likely to be beautiful ceases to contribute […] Take anything that you care about: happiness, money, drugs, sports cars, and so on. Then consider two lists about such things, the first list telling you where to obtain such things and the second list telling you where you are likely to obtain such things. Now compose a third list, which is the intersection of the first two lists. It tells you of ways and places that both are likely to get you what you want and actually will get you what you want. But there would be no reason to prefer the third list to the first list, given what you care about.

A property P can therefore be good in itself but become irrelevant when conjoined with, say, truth. In this case, we say that P has been swamped by truth. A property whose main claim to fame is to be conducive to truth is hence very likely to be swamped – no one needs to know of something that is true that it is likely to be true. Property P has to be therefore something that has intrinsic or extrinsic value that is not rendered useless if truth is attained. If its value is intrinsic, it is hard to believe it will add anything valuable to true belief if the goal of the game of believing is to attain truth. As Kvanvig (2003: 54) points out, if the added property has the an intrinsic value that makes it good, it cannot compete with truth in its importance for knowledge for “[a]ny claim that there are properties of belief that have value intrinsically, independent of any relationship to the truth, should be met with incredulity.” If its value is extrinsic, it has to be dependent on truth. If it is merely instrumentally dependent, it would also be easily swamped. Therefore, P has to be extrinsically valuable, not merely instrumental to achieve truth and contributing to knowledge if it stands a chance to be both illuminate knowledge and not be swamped by truth.

The issues raised by the value problem hinge directly on the nature of doxastic justification (or of its functional equivalents). What is expected of property P is often believed to be at least partially met by justification. It is interesting to notice quickly that the class of value problems extends to what makes knowledge more invaluable than justified true belief – provided Gettier examples that both classes are not co-extensive. A non-standard response to Gettier examples is to claim that what is really valuable is mere justified true belief. In any case, the issue raised by these value problems is whether anything can in fact make a true belief better. This applied both to adding justification to a true belief and to adding something else to the mix to address Gettier’s examples. Whatever is added needs to satisfy the requisites for P above. Part of the problem of showing how true beliefs can be bettered is to show how justification, or anything similar, adds value to a true belief by being something like P.

This is where things get difficult for externalists. The most well-known form of externalism, which is also a prototypical form of externalism is (process) reliabilism. The necessary condition for knowledge there is to be a reliably acquired true belief. The value problem emerges immediately. As Zagzebski (2003: 13) says a
[…] reliable expresso maker is good because expresso is good. A reliable water-dripping faucet is not good because dripping water is no good. The good of the product makes the reliability of the source that produces it good, but the reliability of the source does not then give the product an additional boost in value. The liquid in this cup is not improved by the fact that it comes from a reliable expresso maker. If the expresso tastes good, it makes no difference if it comes from an unreliable machine. […] If the belief is true, it makes no difference if it comes form an unreliable belief-producing source.
Reliability seems to be conducive to truth but it is not sufficiently non-instrumental not to be swamped by truth. Why would a reliably produced truth be better than its unreliably produced counterpart? Again, as Kvanvig says, if the goal is truth, reliability makes no difference if truth is attained. On the other hand, if it is not, reliability doesn’t make explicit what would the additional goal of knowledge be. In other words, as Swinburne (1999) and Kvanvig (2003) himself agree, reliability has no means to avoid being swamped by truth.

Zagzebski is clear that the value problem for process reliabilism may not generalize to all forms of reliabilism. For instance, agent reliabilism could offer a way to make the reliability of the knower some sort of intellectual virtue that is not merely conducive to truth but invaluable in itself. Moreover, Zagzebski’s own conception of knowledge understands it in terms of intellectual virtue and she claims (in 1996: 299) that intellectual virtue has externalist and internalist elements for one can be intellectually virtuous without knowing it (without accessing her own intellectual virtues). Still, sheer reliabilism – or process reliabilism – seems to be in trouble with the swamping value problem. Why do people, asks Zagzebski in her discussion (1996: 304), think reliable beliefs are both valuable and attach value to knowledge? She thinks that Gettier cases made people believe that knowledge is nonaccidental true belief and reliability makes a belief less accidental. The trouble is, for her, that it provides the wrong type of nonaccidentality. The idea is that if anything external to the believer (like process reliabilism but not agent reliabilism postulates) is called to play the role of property P, it is going to fail not to be swamped by truth. This is because nothing external can seem to add any value to true beliefs that is not merely a capacity to lead towards the truth and if it is so it becomes irrelevant on the face of truth. It is only if there is something at least partially internal that we can hope to protect the additional value composing knowledge from swamping. Kvanvig (2003: 75) makes a similar point explicitly point explicitly for he claims that
[…] we end with a somewhat surprising conclusion: that only a subjective, internalist theory of justification has the capacity to account for the value of justification and avoid the swamping problem.
This sort of justification, even in the presence of true belief, adds value to the composite in question.
It seems like (process) reliabilism is seriously threatened by value problems and further that the treat seems to extend to various other varieties of externalism. Both Kvanvig and Zagzebski believe that anything external to the inner workings of a knower cannot contribute to knowledge by any other means than truth – for any other contribution would be either redundant on the face of truth or utterly irrelevant for the value of knowledge. Zagzebski (2003: 14-16) draws three morals from the value problems:
1. Truth plus a reliable source of truth cannot explain the value of knowledge.
2. Truth plus an independently valuable source cannot explain the value of knowledge.
3. Knowing is related to the knower not as product to machine, but as act to agent.
To be sure, she examines non-externalist accounts of knowledge that have to do with true beliefs where the subject gets credit for the acquired truth (something similar has been proposed by Sosa and Greco). She claims that an expresso machine doesn’t make the coffee better because it gets credit for each coffee it makes. Her point, to do with her third moral above, is that a knower has to have some virtue in order to get credit – the credit itself doesn’t make knowledge more valuable while something that deserves it would. Knowledge could be more valuable than true belief if it is some sort of admirable belief. The challenge to externalism is whether it can provide any sort of account of knowledge that would allow for the knower to become more virtuous or somehow admirable.
((The understanding turn in epistemology, I guess, is also in general a move that favors internalism – it tends to stress the transparency of understanding (as opposed to knowledge). The move towards understanding seems to be a move towards achievement as a value and not as mere success.))

Epistemological disjunctivism

Epistemological disjunctivism is, at the face of it, is a form of externalism. It is a view associated mostly to perceptual knowledge and, as such, it is an alternative to the sort of indirect perception (formulated by Locke and turned more internalist later) that postulates that there is a subjective intermediary between a perceiver and a perceived object, an intermediary that is the same in a case of veridical perception and in a case of hallucination. Disjunctivism is set against ideas around indirect perception that postulates a subjective maximum common factor – to use the term used by McDowell (1982) - is an internal object common to both cases and perceptual justification could make appeal to nothing beyond it. The maximum common content is as far as perceptual justification could go. Disjunctivism posits that there is no such content and perception could go all the way (directly) to the (external) perceived object. In fact, there is no perceived object but the one that is ultimately perceived in veridical cases – no intermediaries, no subjective ideas more directly viewed within the mind. If the object is reached, perceptual justification is appropriate for there is a direct contact between the perceiver and what is perceived. If, however, the object is not there, a completely different story has to be told. In the veridical case, justification arises from the perceiver going all the way towards the perceived object. In a hallucination, there is no justification for there is no object to be perceived. Clearly, the perceiver cannot tell in which case she is while in the exercise of perceiving – justification depends on circumstances unknown to the perceiver. In the terms of Lehrer & Cohen (1983), a new evil genius situation is denied for a (veridical) perceiver and her counterpart whose brain is in a vat are not at the same justificatory status. The veridical perceiver is in a better position but she cannot discriminate from her experience a better and a worse justificatory positions.
Pritchard (2011, 2012) claims that disjunctivism is a holy grail of epistemology for it combines appropriately what is desirable in both the internalist and the externalist camp. He argues that such a combined position is in fact a form of non-classical epistemic internalism (2011: 241). This is because, although the new evil genius case is rejected – for the perceiver cannot discriminate between justified and unjustified cases -, there is an internalist requirement of access that is fulfilled. The requirement is presented as follows (2011: 238):

ACCESS: If S and S* do not differ in the facts that they are able to know by reflection alone then they will not differ in the degree of epistemic justification that they have for their beliefs.

That is, if two perceivers know facts by reflection alone – that is, through perception – they are in the same epistemic state. Understanding access in terms of reflection alone, Pritchard allows for the two perceivers to differ in their own assessment of their epistemic status while being both equally justified, provided that they access facts through perception. Disjunctivism, but not reliabilism, can therefore fulfill the ACCESS requirement that would be enough, for Pritchard, to make it into a variety of (non-classical) internalism. Interestingly, while classical internalism can allow for access through reflection alone to no more than one’s own inner state (mental content, or some form of maximum common factor), disjunctivism allows the perceiver to access external objects through reflection alone because in the veridical case perception goes all the way to the external fact. Access is not confined to an inner circle, it can go all the way to what is outside – access through reflection alone can reach whatever is perceived.

Now, I don’t believe disjunctivism is a genuine form of internalism, classical or non-classical. In the absence of the capacity of the perceiver to discriminate whether or not a genuine justification is available, externalism appears compellingly close. If this is right, Pritchard’s attempt to make disjunctivism a sort of externalism-enhanced variety of internalism fails and we are still navigating in externalist waters. However, he has shown that there could be important differences between externalisms like reliabilism and externalisms like disjunctivism. The difference is established by making a distinction between ACCESS and the capacity to discriminate genuine justifications. Moreover, Pritchard’s claim that disjunctivism is a holy grail can still be somehow justified: disjunctivism could prove to have exactly the appropriate resources to deal with the value problems that have been hard for other forms of externalism. If this is so, it can reconcile the internalist demand for an extrinsically valuable and yet not merely instrumental property to distinguish knowledge and mere true belief with externalist demand for further participation of external elements in the process of attaining knowledge.

Access and perception as achievement

The reconciling trick can be done through the acceptance of ACCESS. Perceptual beliefs are acquired through reflection alone, yet it is an exercise of engaging conceptual abilities to bring in features of the world. As McDowell (1994) puts it, perception is a passive deployment of conceptual reflection devices – perception episodes are episodes of receptivity where the world is in view through the same capacities that are active in thinking. To perceive is therefore an achievement – something akin to an intellectually virtuous act – for one engages one’s reflective devices to capture what is out there. One can fail to capture anything at all, but if one doesn’t, there is a genuine access to the world through an exercise of reflection alone. Perception provides justification because it enables direct involvement with the object and it is valuable because it follows from capacities to detect these objects. Episodes of perceptual knowledge are virtuous because they follow from detecting capacities about which one deserves credit. Surely, perception is neither a route to certainty nor a sure path towards knowledge – as Pritchard´s (2012) enlightening analysis of seeing and knowing makes clear – but it is a valuable justification-contributor. Its value is extrinsic but it cannot be reduced to its instrumentality to tracking truth.

Moreover, perception is a virtue much in the sense Zabzebski (1996, 2003) describes. In fact, if we follow Pritchard’s characterization of disjunctivism as both maintaining the requisite of reflective access and rejecting the requisite of discrimination, disjunctivism, just like Zagzebski’s account of knowledge as intellectual virtue, has elements that enable the knower to be considered virtuous. She points out that her account to combine internalist and externalist elements, as intellectual virtue is something that is not necessarily discriminated by the subject. She reckons her position leaves the debate open as both positions may be adopted (1996: 330). In fact, it seems that one can be unknowingly virtuous as much as one could be unknowingly having an episode of veridical perception – so the new evil genius wouldn’t apply to either case for similar internal states can be in different justification conditions. Perceptual disjunctivism, if we are right about the import of its denial of new evil genius situations, is arguably a more robust form of externalism while maintaining ACCESS and making perception itself invaluable.

H, the analogy with Zagzebski’s position illustrates how promisingly general a disjuntivist path could be. If intellectual value is something the knower cannot discriminate and is crucial for her justificational state, then it seems like the very structure of a Zagzebskian externalism would be disjunctivist. To be sure, it won’t be a perceptual disjunctivism, but still it would be such that something like ACCESS is combined with the knower’s inability to appreciate her justificatory state. This is a general scheme for an externalism that can deal with the value of knowledge problems. Pritchard’s scheme for disjunctivism is, in this sense, a holy grail at least for externalism, for it seems that it can be extended to other varieties of externalism that would make room for a strong tie between reflective access and justification. Including a Zagzebskian variety of externalism.

I conclude with some brief remarks on extending epistemic disjunctivism beyond the purely human cases of perception. These remarks are no more than promissory notes. If perception is an achievement, it is admirable also for non-human episodes of perception that wouldn’t be normally considered intellectually virtuous cases or the output of conceptual capacities. An accurate detection of a salient feature of the environment by, say, a bat is admirable independently of the adequacy of the animal’s representation. Similarly, a hunting animal can perform invaluable perceptive acts even without success in capturing the prey. Domestic animals are often praised for empathy to their human neighbors because they perceive a change in mood through human gestures – even if their wrong about what’s going on with these humans. Pets are empathetic because they are perceptive – and they somehow get credit for this. Finally, there is a sense in which a machine – for instance the one that detects the motive for a baby to cry by being exposed to the sounds the baby does – performs admirable acts of perception that achieve to access salient features of the environment, what is invaluable even if the ultimate perception is not true.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

My presentation with Jessica on disjunctivism and the value of knowledge

Good news and bad news for Pritchard´s disjunctivism. I´m doing the good news: disjunctivism can deal with the value of knowledge problem.


Perceptual contact without cognitive contact

Not quite an answer to the question of my previous post, but a follow-up from the discussion in posts like The fertility of indirect perception and Stereoscopy. Thinking again about (indirect) perception and reference I remebered Wettstein's motto, "linguistic contact without cognitive contact". An equivalent for Whitehead's indirect perception would be something like "perceptual contact without cognitive contact". The objective datum is contacted (causally) but not cognitively. For Whitehead, causation is a mode of perception (together with presentational immediacy). So, there is a contact there although nothing can be cognized about it. (The objective datum is, in Harman's image that adds a Heideggerian touch to the Whiteheadian image, withdrawn.). But Whitehead goes further to say that the subjective form is part of the object being perceived: what is cognized makes the object what it is. There is nothing in what is perceived apart from what is cognized. The subjective form is like a cognized quality of something perceived, except the quality is not out there before perception. Perception is creative: how something is sensed by something else is part of what it is - or rather, becomes how it is. Cognition, then, has to be thought of as creative - there is no possible exercise of capture that is not an episode of co-creation.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

What do I think about perception?

Been working on a presentation about disjunctivism and the value of knowledge. There I maintain that Pritchard´s way of portraying disjunctivism (which is elegant but associated with the unconvincing thesis that disjunctivism is a form of non-classical internalism) can help making externalists less vulnerable to criticisms such as Zabzebski´s and Kvanvig´s concerning the value of knowledge. The criticism, first addressed to process reliabilism, is that given these accounts of knowledge, true belief is as vaulable as knowledge. I fear that this can be extended to other varieties of externalism and argue that epistemioc disjunctivism about perception (that I see as a variety of externalism, pace Pritchard) can respond to the criticism and even endorse some of Zagzebski´s ideas about intellectual virtues. I´ll post the text for my presentation here soon.

On the other hand, and at the same time, I´m lecturing on Whitehead´s use of Locke´s indirect perception ideas. As readers of this blog know, I´m quite enthused about the avenues Whitehead opens concerning perception. I think they are fruitful and enlightening. But then they rely on indirect perception while disjunctivism is one of the best varieties of a direct perception account. I sometimes feel like the Sunday Church preacher who teaches biology on weekdays.
What do I think about perception?

Stereoscopy (or perception and reference)

At least since Aquinas - and it is an Aristotelian idea - the object of perception is taken to be dual, usually because the intellect perceives as much as the senses - or maybe perceives something out of what the senses perceive. Id quo and id quod: what is seen in what I see (or rather, what I see in what is seen...). Locke's idea was to bring stereoscopy to the very nature of perception - the object of perception alone is stereoscopical. Whitehead's diagnosis was that no one lived up to this message and the object started with Locke himself to be disassembled into deliverances of the senses and the workings of the intellect. This was, in a sense, a reactionary move where Locke's message was put aside. The message was that perceptual representation is by nature two-fold - affordances and creation, sensual and real objects in Harman. Maybe it helps to think of the photograph model diagnosed in the direct reference theorists by Evans (in Varieties of Reference): no matter what the subjective form (or sensual object, or image in the Cartesian theater)looks like, it is an image of the objective datum (or the object out there, or the real object). To perceive is maybe like to refer (in a direct theory account): it matters what is perceived. However, Whitehead would add that it also matters the image (the description) we make of what is perceived. These image constitute what is perceived. It is as if the reference was no more than what the descriptions point at and yet the descriptions were somehow irrelevant in the very act of referring.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Anthropocentric, anthropogenic, anthropocide

Yesterday I lectured on chapter 11 of Descola's Par-delà. I've been toying with the idea - suggested by his square of dispositions in chapter 11 presented as anthropocentrism (naturalism), anthropogeny (animism), cosmogony (totemism) and cosmocentrism (analogism) - of a geometry of oppositions (of the sort inaugurated by Robert Blanché and developed further by people like Alessio Moretti)
around the different ways to relate to the non-human. In particular because I wonder how to place a (presently non-instantiated) disposition I call anthropocide (see this post). Such disposition is considered by Descola in his chapter on naturalism in part 3 (chapter 8) in terms, for instance, of J-P Changeaux and the Australian materialism - it is the idea that continuity in physicality is enough to account for human behavior and interiority can be fully dropped on behalf of a unified (naturalist) nature where nothing is genuinely social. Such disposition would contrast with animism (where anything that is other is social), totemism (where there are societies of humans and non-humans) and analogism (where the cosmos appears as a society). To be sure, as Descola stresses, it contrasts also with naturalism because there is no longer room for an anthropocentrism and nothing, not even the human collectives, are genuinely social. However, in a geometry of oppositions, this anthropocide disposition would be close to naturalism, maybe somehow subaltern to it for it needs naturalist idea of a non-social nature to take off. I'm still far from coming up with a figure of opposition, I wonder the important poles would be something like whether the other is social (true of animism, totemism and somehow analogism), whether humans and non-humans get mixed (true of totemism and analogism) and the centrality of humans (true of naturalism but not of its anthropocide alternative).

In any case, naturalism (and the anthropocide pole) brings in an idea of non-social nature. The anthropocide idea is to carry this further; and, apart from Descola's examples in chapter 8, this could be found clearly in the Churchlands - and in the explicit anthropocide tendencies cherished by Brassier in his Nihil Unbound. The appeal to Brassier is indeed interesting to make clear how a return to nature cannot be a sound political aim for a humanity moved by ecological worries. In other words, a political ecology discourse cannot be unenlightened by a deconstruction of nature (see my previous post on the syllabus for a future political ecology). It seems like it all hinges on whether the non-human (or the other in general) is a socius or not.

There is, however, another possible way to understand naturalism (and reject the anthropocide pole). Naturalism inaugurated a way of thinking of the other as something I cannot befriend, with which I cannot negotiate, and I cannot wage war. It is a complete other. A moving force for this, if we believe the modern discourses, was the drive to disenchant nature. Nature is no longer like us, it becomes an other fully different (and entirely in the great outdoors). Maybe nature has to be seen as just a way to conceive the other, and therefore it is an understanding that shouldn't be applied to us. That is, maybe disenchanting the other requires that we don't see nature in us for if we do, we are in a sense making it similar to us again. But if it is so, science mingles with the other and make it familiar. If disenchantment aimed at making sure the other is not like us, we're defeating this purpose by making nature more and more at our image. Further, we depend too much on nature to make our domesticated niches work. The problem with this image of external respect is that too much trade is always going on at the doorstep of the great outdoors.




Thursday, 6 November 2014

The fertility of Locke's indirect perception

Whitehead takes Locke (and Descartes) to have made a major metaphysical breakthrough by developing the notion that in perception we have ideas. That is, perception is not just capture, but modulation. For Locke, these ideas were mainly sensations - universals - and they were just given to our senses. The senses, in their turn, would deliver these ready-made ideas to us and provide the stuff empirical thought is made of. The metaphysical import of that is made clear by Berkeley immaterialist bending of Locke's idea. Berkeley argued against a material object in perception beyond perceived ideas. He claimed that to be is to be perceived (or to perceive). His immaterialism boiled down to an ontology of minds and ideas with no room to anything oblivious to human cogitations. But still, immaterialism provided an alternative to the substance-quality metaphysics according to which material objects would have intrinsic qualities independently of what is perceived. Berkeley and Locke (and Whitehead) draw on indirect perception: while direct perception is an epistemological theory about how to perceive items with a substance-quality metaphysical structure, indirect perception introduced an intermediate that, as Berkeley (and Whitehead) clearly saw, made the substance-quality item beyond it unnecessary. Direct perception is not a metaphysical thesis, it is no more than a theory of how whatever exists gets perceived. Indirect perception introduces the new objects: ideas. The challenge of philosophy since Descartes was to bring together these new objects with some form of realism. In fact, we can read Locke, Kant and some of the phenomenology inspired by Brentano and Husserl as attempts to fulfill this task. Whitehead, in any case, takes up this endeavor and he starts out by biting the bullet and claiming that the structure of perception is general and every actuality both perceive and is perceived.

To be sure, there is also a recent big despair in indirect perception as a guide to realism. This is why some people see phenomenology as hopelessly antirealist and attempt to build up alternative direct perception realisms. Curiously, a popular attempt to do that - to build a realist direct perception that is not itself also plagued with skeptical difficulties about hallucinations - is Gibson's ecological account where what is perceived has to do with the affordances of the object perceived. It is interesting that, here, it seems like ideas have been replaced by affordances - as if the problem with indirect perception was that ideas are authored by what perceives and not by what is perceived. Recently, the disjuntivist conception of direct perception has received some attention. (I think mainly of McDowell and recently of Pritchard's attempt to defend disjuntivism as a form of epistemic internalism.) Disjunctivism tries to break with the idea of a Cartesian theater of ideas - the maximum common factor - by explicitly addressing the differences between veridical perceptions and hallucinations. There is no intermediary object perceived in both cases. The maneuver can be understood as an attempt to move away from what can be discriminated in perception. (This is why disjunctivism seems to have to entail epistemic disjunctivism).

Whitehead doesn't want to move away from discrimination. In fact, for him, the criteria for discriminating is what brings creativity to perception - which is important for his explanation of novelty in the world. However, his internalism is universal - every actuality is engaged in a cognition process that has to do with their capacities to discriminate. All of them perceive ideas and are perceived by means of ideas. This is why perception is at its core social and perspectival. Also, it is not that something is given to us independently of our conceptual makeup like a Lockean empiricism maintains. Rather, that the deliverances of the senses are shaped by what we are - the concepts we hold and how our organism deals with them. Each actuality has its own nexus, its own way to conceive ideas and therefore introduce new ideas into the world. The generation of ideas is no longer happening from one active pole to a passive pole but rather is reciprocal. Because both sides are having ideas, indirect perception is the basis for a metaphysics of perceiving (and perceived) actualities.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

More on dekenningarization

Descola writes about analogism (p. 329):

"À l'instar de ce que [les chaines de correspondance] unissent, les relations sont donc très variées, quoique plusieurs d'entre elles puissent s'appliquer aux mêmes existants. [...] termes et relations sont interdépendant, mais à l'échelle plus vaste d'un monde chatoyant dont on recense sans trêve tous les reflets dans l'espoir vain et magnifique de le rendre parfaitement signifiant"

The analogist scheme is really about different terms (and relations) rendered similar by a process where each inhabitant of a thoroughly analogist cosmology enjoys "une grande liberté herméneutique" (329). To resist identity through disclosing analogies, this is the deconstruction movement I diagnosed in the previous post. It is grounded on a sort of an Anaxagorean world where things are different (hair cannot come from flesh, flesh cannot come from hair) and the hermeneutic freedom they enjoy enable them to perceive them together in different ways that never manage to enjoy the complete significance they seek with a vain (and magnificent) hope. This can be coupled with the idea that interpretation and construction processes are both perceptual events - nothing is anything if it is not perceived to be so. This is a Whiteheadean idea: instead of assuming a metaphysics of substances and inherent qualities, suppose a metaphysics of subjects and their perceptions.

All these ideas converge and ground the deconstruction stance. It works, though, in an Anaxagorean world. In an Anaximanderian world, by contrast, separation is achieved while identity is given. Deconstruction - or rather what I was thinking as dekenningarization in the previous post - is a move towards Anaxagoras.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

The analogical road to identities (and back)

Concepts are kenningar. Kenningar are old Nordic for alegory, or maybe well-established metaphor, or maybe analogy. Borges wrote about them in his History of Eternity. He talks about kenningar as dead metaphors. Like concepts, they have lost their guiding analogy and became petrified. Petrification, however, can be created and often a book or a talk is enough to petrify a metaphor. Often, however, kenningar take longer to show up; many devices have to be engaged in order to slowly petrify identities like, for instance, animals and anima, some humans and roos, human body and matter. I conjecture that animism, totemism and naturalism - three of Descola's four dispositions - emerged from the fourth, analogism. Analogism has that things are originally different and made similar by exercised of analogy - reinstated, petrified thought that brings together some different so that identities contrast with what is left different. So, analogy goes between people and other animals and plant, or between some people and a totem, or between anything physical - the matter kenningar - and when the analogy petrifies it leaves what is out to difference. These other three dispositions are based on petrified analogies. To be sure, one can think beyond the petrified analogies; but this is to go against the representational bias (literally, that is, bias making hard for a naturalist to think in animist terms, for example, could be perhaps measured by a Vapnik-Chervonenkis dimension).

Yesterday, in the Anarchai group on ontology and politics, we were discussing bits of Derrida's seminar The beast and the sovereign. He there examines the petrified analogy between the ungoverned and the beast - and that of the commander and the commencer (very interesting for my investigation of the political question as a question about why there is someone instead of no one). Deconstruction, there, could be seen as the endeavor to de-petrify the established concepts - that is, to denounce the operations that bring things together. As such, it exposes the living metaphors behind the established concepts - the operations that brought about dichotomies like the beast and the sovereign. In this sense, deconstruction is the opposite of kenningarization, what makes analogy petrify into identities orienting thought.

Friday, 24 October 2014

The optimist aggiornato

Watching an interviewwith Antoine Wilson about his beautiful Panorama City. He says that he tried to write about the Quijote, which led him to Paul Renfro, a character in the book, which has a whole outsider view of life and people in his medium-sized urban assemblage. He views thinking as something that is proscribed and engages heroically in finding time and environment to do some of it - and in a systematic way. Renfro, for instance, when asked about the basic questions that guide his thought, says he hasn't gone so far as to be able to really know what the basic questions are. But Wilson confesses that he lost interest in the thoughts of Renfro, so he became the occasional companion of the main character of Panorama City, Oppen Porter. Porter is a Sancho Panza but also comes out as a Candide of sorts - Wilson says he discovered he was doing a Candide and not a Quijote in the middle of the process of writing. In any case, the book navigates the space of the optimists and investigates what does it take to be an optimist these days.

Maybe Porter's high dyslexia drives him towards his optimism: he is obliged to find in people what others find in books and in social networks and in otherwise reading-dependent media. He lives an oral life. Replacing talking by reading is the topic of Emmanuel Egudu, character in Coetzee's Elizabeth Costello. Egudu argues that in Africa people interact so much that there is no time for novel reading. It is also what makes Joyce remark that an evening in a pub in Dublin would provide conversation worth of a novel he would then not write. Porter seeks oral life - he doesn't write, he records his deeds and thoughts in a tape for his unborn son Juan-George (thinking that he, Porter, will die before Juan-George is born). It is meant to be a written book registering an oral life by oral means. It is like literature spying on non-written life. Thought - praised and stimulated by Paul Renfro - is one of the many things that appear in Porter's life and thinkers tend to bundle together just like professionals, or cyclists, or owners... After forty days in Panorama City, Porter goes back to his natal Madera where he decides he can be a man of the world - and not a 9 to 5 worker. (When in Panorama City, a job in a snack chain shop made him feel discouraged without ever loosing his optimism.) To become a man of the world is, for him, to become a fully aware optimist. Men of the world is something that makes sense mostly in oral contexts, where people had to travel to be acquainted to places and peoples. Back in Madera, he can be a man of the world. The book itself is thoroughly sweet and uplifting but it leaves this bitter taste: is orality and optimism being put at the service of producing commodities for those who live among the written letters?

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Whitehead´s symbolic reference and qualia taken qua qualitons

Eros and myself published a paper in Acta Analytica few years back defending the idea that qualia should be taken as tropes. They would be like abstract particulars, objects of perception and yet not universals - universalisation would come with conceptual abilities that introduce resemblance of qualitons amid the so-far bare particulars of qualia. These bare particulars are not themselves perceived, but they are the stuff on which perception (which is taken by us as fully conceptual) works. We don´t go as far as saying that these abstract particulars have causal efficacy (for this would be a strangle claim for causation is normally thought as taking place among concreta). However, we were responding to the inclination to give an external reality associated to our qualitative perception - an external reality independent of the workings of our conceptual abilities. To be sure, we were probably quite realists about the outcomes of the perceptual process, but that realism depended on some sort of response-dependence argument that establishes (or assumes) that our concepts are suitable. But we added an element of non-conceptual external element in perception in the form of qualia understood as tropes, as abstract particulars.

It is interesting to compare the move that made us consider qualia as qualitons with Whitehead´s drive towards a Lockean (indirect) realism concerning perception. Whiehead posits actual entities as the subject of perceptual experience. Those actual entities are the subjects when they are the content of perceptual experience - but they are also the experiencing suprajects, the ones that have the percpetual content. Actual entities are not abstract particulars, they are the ultimate ingredient of anything concrete (of any concrescence, as Whitehead puts it). Those actual entities affect each other by perception in the mode of efficient causation (see Process and Reality II, chapters 6, 7 and 8). Notice that efficient causation is for Whitehead a mode of perception together with presentational immediacy. The latter, though, comes later in the process of complexification. But the comparison with our qualia qua qualitons comes when we consider that these actual entities are the very basis of his ontology and therefore he is crucially sensible to the inclination that perception has to capture some reality. This is where he admires Locke for he never fully gave up the idea that in perception we are in contact with something. We are in contact with something that is partly constituted by our perceiving - together with all other perceptions (prehensions) that makes it a subject (and with all acts of perception where it is the supraject). It is interesting to notice that both the postulation of qualia as abstract particulars and the postulation of actual entities constituted by acts of perception are responding to this fundamental Lockean intuition that there is reality to what is perceived. (Even when the perceiving actual entities are not in a position to say anything about the reality they perceive - that is, even when perception is no more than an exercise in efficient causation and symbolic reference and language are still far for the perceiving actual entities don´t have yet anything to say.)

Friday, 10 October 2014

Syllabus for a future ecology that will be able to present itself as a politics

I´ve been finding myself discussing Latour´s predicament for a political ecology, stated in his Politics of Nature and assumed in the Enquiry (AIME). If one looks at the erratic history of some Green Parties around, it becomes clear that the ecological demands are not suited for the political institutions as they stand. Teaching Descola´s book makes me think of how politics is normally practiced - and of the several forms it excludes the non-human. Yesterday we were discussing totemism, and one of the translations of the word "totem", which is native from North America, is friend. It is interesting to consider nature from the point of view of philia: which non-human elements agree with me, where are my friends, who are the ones I form a frindship community with. (I´ll maybe write more about totemic nature as a space for non-human friendship.) That made me wonder about a syllabus for a future political ecology. I thought it should start with three foci, or three deconstructive efforts. First, as Latour himself claims, science studies. Second, as Latour tried to do, an anthropology of the moderns that tells us what really matter for them. Third, an anthropology of nature because after the first two, we are ready to let some received images of nature go. What else whould be in the syllabus?

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Parmenides and the dispositions of being

In my Descola's course today we were discussing the way animists see metamorphoses and camouflage. I suggested that, if an interiority can be, according to an ethnography of the Orokaiva (by André Iteanu), the same expressed in many physicalities, there is less room for a false discourse (to say of what it is that it is not, of what is not that it is). Or at least, there is an animist way to deal with the issue. In fact, myths are taken as (simple or qualified) lies because we are the offspring of Plato's Strager's Parricide (in the Sophist). A person can be a pig and a human and oscillate between these poles. No (physical) predicate of a subject are necessarily to be taken as false. A myth says of what it is that it is. It is interesting to wonder how much the Parricide of Parmenides is an opening gesture for naturalism. (Would the parricide sound the same in different dispositions?)

Anthropocentrism as a special case of animism

Descola's book (Par-delà nature et culture) is a quite extraordinary, it often makes you feel Wagner's motto (that anthropology is becoming philosophy with people inside) in the skin. It feels that the various groups mentioned are like schools of thought - for instance under the umbrella of animism (as much as naturalists have developed several schools within their overarching umbrella). It also gives the impression that anthropology is a tool for a proper jump into abstraction - at least to suggest strategies to dissolve problems we often put to ourselves.

Animism admits of varieties and degrees. If we accept the founding (Durkheimian) idea that persons are always composed of physicality and interiority, physicality could be such that there is no interior associated to a portion of it. So, one can think that my finger doesn't have an interior, is only part of my person and therefore what is expressed by my interiority. This is why some animists take only (some) animals to be non-human persons while others would include more animals, plants etc. Individuation can take place in many different ways - but the individuation of persons depends on finding the double structure of physicality and interiority. If it is so, anthropocentrism is a special case of animism: only humans are persons with full interiority and their environment is no more than their physicality, no more than something to express themselves - like their niches. In a scale of few interiorities to many interiorities, anthropocentrism is at a low level: only humans have interiority and all the rest is to be seen as (their) physicality. At the highest level, we find something close to Leibniz's monadology: every portion of matter, no matter how small, is a garden or a lake and has entelechias (monads) in them, as is stated in section 67 of the monadology. Every portion of physicality has interiority in them. Then, of course, there are intermediate positions where some physicalities have interiority. (It is, however, a debate remarkably like the one Bartolomé de las Casas was involved: who (or what) has a soul? This is what places the debate in my concern in the project of Politics of Predication: what distinguishes a who from a what, a no one from a nothing.)

Monday, 29 September 2014

Is God an anarcheologist?


Amirouche Moktefi posts an interesting question in a list: is there any representation of Adam navelless?

An interesting element in (some) creationist credos is that God created the past together with the rest of the present world (so that human's faith, presumably, could be tested - or teased as it was). So fossils of older animals and remnants of plants and rocks were allocated in the planet about 5775 years ago so that an impression of ancestry could be provided - and the real believers would stick to the right path in spite of all recalcitrant evidence. The virtue praised here is being stubborn, loyal to a credo come what may. The means, however, are interesting: recreating the vestiges of the past. I wonder whether all tales of origins aren't always doing the same: building an original past that exorcises vestiges as meaningless (but somehow important to be present). It is as if the marks of past repetition are just not real (just marks of a rehearsal, a répétition). This is maybe because origins are imposed as a force that shakes everything else.

Adam's (and Eve's) navel is the best example. Botero makes both naveled. God probably wanted to tease our faith in the creation by making those first humans with navels provided. There is no ancestry, but there are marks of an ancestor. Humans are created with their ancestry, with their past. A creation is a construction and therefore it is real: after 1864 the germs have been around since ever, has a boutade by Latour in Pandora's Hope. In any case, this is the power of creation: a human has a navel. To be sure, some images, like Klimkovics's, opt to hide the navel area - yet making them sufficiently human-looking. It feels like Adam was supposed to be a prototype, a prototype of a person - and a person has ancestry. But then, ancestry has to be invented.


Friday, 19 September 2014

Superposing regimes concerning the human and ignorance

Hume took modal connections to be second creation. A modal superposition on an otherwise modally disenchanted world (where everything is actual). Ampère, apparently, had a reading of Kant according to which noumena was law-like and the anthropocentrism of the phenomena meant no (weak) correlationism: the absolute can be known in itself through the laws of physics. In such laws, there would be no human part, humans would themselves be non-anthropomorphic. These are examples where regimes concerning the humans (dispositions of being, to borrow Descola's terms) that are superposed: the presence of humans produce a second creation. We can envisage different superpositions of regimes, including an anthropomorphic first creation followed by an anthropocentric second one. (We can also discuss whether the second creation envisaged by Hume was anthropocentric or anthropomorphic - in fact, on my reading of Deleuze's D&R every spirit capable to contemplate repetition and be changed by it is a second creator.)

Now, there is room for understanding Hume as postulating that we are doomed to be ignorant about first creation. Also, this understanding can be extended to Kant's transcendental distinction and would have that we can only know from an anthropocentric (allegedly Copernican) point of view but we ignore how things in themselves are. Ignorance, however, is itself anthropocentric: things are such that cannot be known by humans. There is something about everything with respect to humans that can be known - they are all (equally) unknown. The anthropological sleep becomes a proposition about the world if we consider that knowledge (and ignorance) is two-sided. To claim that no human can know things in themselves is to claim that all humans are equal in their incapacity (or rather that everyone is human in their incapacity) and therefore that no thing in itself can be revealed to humans. This is so especially because we could imagine an intelligible intellect capable to have intellectual intuitions of things in themselves - according fro Kant in the KU. So, things are not known to us but they can be known by other intellects. Maybe we can say that positing such an alternative intellect is to appeal to some degree of anthropomorphism: things are such that they can be captured by us and there are other imaginable (and to some extent anthropomorphic) intellects that prove that they are capturable. In any case, Kant seems to have endorsed this two superposing regimes alternative: the anthropocentrism of ignorance superposed by the anthropocentrism of phenomena.

The idea of a global ignorance is prey to that of a correlation with us, and to the idea that we are all the same (the anthropological dogma denounced by Foucault). On the other hand, the idea of a local ignorance is prey to the thesis that all things are capturable even though they could be not captured by anyone. Anthropomorphism, and its associated metaphysics of subjectivity, projects ignorance (and knowledge) everywhere. To think in terms of ignorance is already to measure things in terms of capture, and therefore in terms either anthropocentric or anthropomorphic.






Friday, 12 September 2014

Giving Birth



This is a month of giving birth:
1. On the first day of the month (my birthday) I sent out my book BUG (Being Up for Grabs) to publisher. A birth-giving moment.
2. On the forth, we started the Journal, called Journal of Questions. It is a Jabèsian and Jarryian endeavor that intends to reflect in many languages about the gaps between thought and translation. It will be available soon.
3. On the 10th, day before yesterday, offspring Devrim A. B. was born. Her name means revolution in Turkish and is a roughly common name. She's very attentive and concentrated - especially on her own fingers that she learned to molest in her youth during her womb months. She was gestated together with BUG.
Hope the world enjoys.

My guess about essences

For years I've been toying with the idea that essences are somehow more related to positions and addresses (to places and connections) than to any ultimate core. It is perhaps a monadological take on essences: instances instead of substances. If essences are not substantial, they can be present even in Latour's MET (the mode of existence of metamorphosis, see this post from last March). A crisis, a tempest, or climate change are things that only make sense in connection to what they affect - essences are like Eleatic placeholders, they reveal what is linked. They are like the node in a graph. Essences then can be understood as something like an I.P. number that relates it to other landmarks; to know the essence of X is to know how to find X. To be sure, such a notion of essence doesn't prevent things to be substantial or to have a core or a substratum. It is not committed to a bundle theory of particulars even though it tends to favor such a view (as any monadology does, for monads tend to be mundane, and not transmundane).

Such notion of essence could be spelled out in Fregean terms: something like what Dummett thought about Sinne: to know the Sinn of something is to be able to determine its Bedeutung. However, even being monadological, I guess it would go better with Kripkean accounts of reference-fixing - or rather with Kaplanian ones for essences would be mainly de re, that is indexical. The origin of a table - that it is made of such and such material, to use Kripke's example in N&N - would not be part of its essence as much as that it is THIS (or rather dTHIS) table. What matters is the contingent a priori mechanism that fixes its reference. This is what establishes something's essence. We can say that we know a priori the instances because we know some contingent things a priori: we know what we are talking about. And essences, in Aristotle, are what determine what we are talking about.

It has to do also with the idea of what is contemporary in Whitehead's P&R metaphysics: an actual entity is actual only with respect to other entities in a given address in time. In this case as well, it is about indexicals. Essences are what things are, that is, they are where things are. To be sure, this idea is inspired by the translation of esse in languages like Portuguese as both ser and estar. The latter is about a transient state, typically a position of something that can be moved, that can become different by being placed somewhere else. It is the location dimension of being, that gets a special name. I guess essences, that tell us what is talked about, are also geographical. An essence is no much more than an url.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Anthropocide: the alternative to anthropocentrism and to anthropomorphism

I always thought Meillassoux and Brassier provided an alternative both to correlationism anthropocentrism and to the anthropomorphism that is frequent among metaphysicians of the subjectivity. (To be sure, I'm not sure anthropomorphism is necessarily present in those metaphysicians and often I think that Descola's animism - for example - is only badly described as anthropomorphism, but this is another story.) The alternative is to find a way for the absolute, and not the human capacities, to be the measure of everything. To go, so to speak, beyond the focus on us through what relates to us or through what resembles us.

Yesterday, while discussing the origins of the Modern idea of nature in my course on Descola, we talked about the enlightenment take on a disenchanted of nature. Descola glosses very little on elements for an archeology of nature in his chapter three: perspective in landscape, Aristotle and the (post-Montaigne) intellectual atmosphere before the 17th century scientific revolution play a role. There are, to be sure, other elements but somehow they lead to the disenchantment idea. Then I started thinking about what Brassier does in his Nihil Unbound, chapter 2 where he critiques attempts to reentrant nature (in Adorno and Horkheimer). Brassier is a clear defender of a disenchanted nature and I found myself praising the mosaic he assembles in the book: the Churchlands, Laurelle, Meillassoux and Freud. It is a cornucopia placed in the service of his extinction thesis - that can be understood as disenchanting the human. Anthopocide. That is, not only there are no spirits (subjectivities, agents, monads, entelechies, intentionality) in nature but also there is no cultural dimension that contrasts to it. Laruelle is an important element to invoke here - and this is where his position contrasts with Meillassoux's. Laruelle's notion of determination in the last instance makes thought no more than a point where there is a confluence of objects making themselves present. The Churchlands are relevant too: eliminate belief and desire and rather teach everyone to describe themselves in neurophysiological ways. The appeal to spirits (or believing and desiring agents, subjects, first-person perspectives) are just illusions to be dispelled. Naturalism: nothing but nature. Disenchantment has to be defended and taken one step further: there should be no realm contrasted with the spirit-less domain. Brassier's extinction thesis is a form of naturalism in Descola's sense. But it prevents a straightforward dilemma between anthropocentrism and anthropomorphism. Maybe the options are naturalism or anthropomorphism. Or, rather, naturalism or animism. But then we're quickly swimming in Descola's waters.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Etre est entente: propositions without predications

Whitehead’s criticism of the subject-predicate form of the proposition is also a critique of the event conceived as subjugation. There is always a superject. That is, events are not composed by one active and one passive element but rather by a plethora of active elements where one is picked up as a subject and all the others are present as the rest of the world that resists the subject. The copula is diplomatic and not a mandate: to be is not to command but rather to negotiate. The copula: être est entente. Perhaps to relate itself is to negotiate - there is a diplomacy between any two relata. A diplomacy occasionalism.

I've been thinking of the subject-superject in Portuguese where superject and subject contains the mot "jeito", the word for way. A proposition is a way: o sujeito ajeita, o superjeito desajeita. An event finds a way around a subject and its circumstance. "Grass is green" or "snow is white" express a meeting point between an expanding force - a centrifuge subject - and a resisting force. A proposition is the pressure of what makes reality on a virtuality - superject, the extensive continuum.



Thursday, 28 August 2014

Some further remarks on the origin of anthropocentrism

There is a sense in which anthropocentrism goes hand in hand with patriarchy – or the domain of a man over goods and people - and with corelationism (the Corpernican Revolution or rather the Ptolomaic Counter-revolution). Descola suggests the former link in his chapter on the domestic and the wild (in Par déla Nature et Culture), and at least in two occasions. First, when he talks about the Roman domus and its concentric force separating out everything that is not in it (the central and the peripheral, as in the soul as a core and the body as its provinces, its extensions). Second, towards the end of the chapter, when he compares the Roman ways to the Greek and German ones. The Germanic, for example, wouldn’t quite entertain a dualism between the center and the periphery: the forests were always a space for hunting and hunting and collecting was integrated into agriculture. Anthropocentrism and patriarchy seems to result from the specifics of the Neolithic revolution that encompassed the middle east and the Mediterranean. In the Americas (and in Australia and the polynesia) the neolithic transition was different: no cattle herding - no domesticated animals - and no sharp distinction between the agricultural land and the agrinatural land (the space of the forest). In fact, in the Americas, plants were introduced amid existing ones and were made to co-exist with them.

Anthropocentrism has similarities also with the operation Kant made of keeping the grammatical structure of the proposition while making it revolve around a subject that forces substantiality into the subject. Substantiality becomes less of an independent other (like in a monadology or in a garden with many gardeners, like among the Achuar Descola studies) and becomes issued out of a central subject. Kant's centrality of the subject completes the Modern trajectory towards an exorcism of full-blooded non-human subjects. The transcendental subject is the legitimate centrally governing force of the domus around which everything else is organized. The subject is the transcendental source of necessity: nothing is imposed from outside and all accord is reached from within - from within a subject.

It is of course hard to do more than just point at these rough similarities, but they are thought provoking. It is not enough to suggest a historical link between these practices and ideas, but there is hope for some light on the vagaries of the origin of these otherwise strange sharp distinction between nature and culture.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Vacuous actuality and the structure of a proposition

Whitehead's monadological rejection of vacuous actuality - the idea that something can exist actually without any subjective mediation - without any connection to anything else - has implications for his rejection of the thesis that subject-predicate form is a suitable structure for a proposition. The idea of vacuous actuality, he remarks, haunts realistic philosophy (P&R, 29 [43]). Its rejection is the basis of Ewing's formulation of idealism implying no epistemological idealism: the interconnectedness of all things means no dependence of the cognized object to the cognizing subject. Ewing suggests that Bradley and Joachim are not really correlationists - they could be metaphysicians of subjectivity. This is maybe why Whitehead claims that at the end of the day he is not too far away from Bradley (P&R, xiii): both reject vacuous actuality - and none are epistemological idealists.

The rejection of vacuous actuality is also the rejection of the Aristotelian primary substance - the inherent qualities to a subject that makes it capable to hold predicates. The haecceitas of a subject that subsists independently of any actual entity (of any sponsoring, of any com possibility). If there is no vacuous actuality, there is no unconnected noumenon to a subject, independent of any of its predications. Whitehead welcomes the holism of Leibniz (and of Bradley, but also the semantical counterpart put forward by Quine and his followers: no meaning independent of use, no distinction between language and theory). To fix something to be a subject for a predication - and enable a proposition to have the form of a subject coupled to a predicate - is to postulate that something is disconnected from the network of relations that provide the content of predications. To be sure, one can abstract something away of all changes, but this is a concerted effort undergone only by a subject. Whitehead claims that only in subjective forms the subject-predicate form expresses the content of a proposition.

Kant's note 24 to his Prolegomena: the structure of something fixed holding predication implies no substance, it is only an obligation imposed by the workings of predication. In my book (BUG, just finished), I claim that predication is possible because there are procedures of reference-fixing; that is, there are things that are contingently and yet knowable a priori. The operation of fixing something to receive the working out of a predication has to be done by a subject - it is only in the workings of a subjective form that a subject can be the guesthouse for passing predications. It is only then that anything can be deemed determinately individuated and sufficiently stable.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

The social basis of anthropocentrism and anthropomorphism

I've been giving the final touches to Being Up for Grabs and giving my first classes this term. A course on a Leibnizian reading of Whitehead and another on Descola. This first week, talking about Leibniz, animism and anthropomorphism, we discussed how much of a feudal (and aristocratic) way of thinking is present in Leibniz. It is about areas of jurisdiction and government. In fact, ontological thinking is very often about archés - and governing powers. (Or about their absence.) The monadology of fragments I propose in the book is about reinventing authority on the flight - while things get decomposed and recomposed. We can then ask what would then be the thinking on authority that guided the anthropocentric turn - being it either a Copernican revolution or a Ptolomaic counter-revolution. It emerges a bit like the Operation Oedipus in Deleuze and Guattari: turning the rest of the world as equally under human authority - no more autonomous horses but horses for humans, representing humans, telling us something about other humans in human terms. Anthropocentrism is not about making the rest of the world human-like, it is putting them under human's authority. It is cleaning up the baroque: cleaning up the complex structures of authority to make it revolve around a sole centre, as if paving the way for a global world: a world as a single feud.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

The muteness of intuitions

I was invited to speak in a Hegel-McDowell event next year. I was wondering about McDowell's account of what the senses deliver. I'm going to present a prehension-based account of the interplay between sensibility and conceptual capacities. This is the abstract I sent.

A. C. Ewing has debunked the connection between what he labels epistemological idealism and the internal nature of all relations. To be sure, his target is the argument that purports to infer antirealism from the ontological thesis that all relations are internal - and not a much weaker version that has been recently considered by Schaffer and others, namely that there must be at least one internal relation between any two or more concrete items. In any case, the thrust of his debunking is to open the landscape for a realism that posits internal relations as central and spanning to the ones between knowledge and its object. Now, the issue of what senses deliver can be considered from the point of view of the nature of relations. A realist and response-dependence account of how senses respond to their objects could be grounded on the intrinsically common conceptual character of both relata. McDowell suggested that sensible intuitions, rather than blind without concepts as Kant claimed, are mute when deprived of a conceptual voice. The ontological nature of this common character of senses and their objects - and the muteness that result from its absence - is the main topic of this work. Placing the deliverances of the sense in the broader context of the nature of relations enable us to see what could be gained by different accounts of how an internal relation holds. In particular, I will explore what would follow from conceiving relations as Whiteheadian prehensions and taking subjective forms as the kernel of a strong version of process realism.

The space between nobody and nothing (few remarks on the politics of predication)

Been thinking a bit - while finishing Being Up for Grabs - about the politics of predication. The gap between someone and something - and between nobody and nothing - is the black hole of politics (and of metaphysics). This black hole is the space where different politics and metaphysics can be cartographer and it is, in fact, the space between politics and metaphysics. This is the space inhabited by animals, plants, parts of people, all sort of auto-poietic devices, prehensions, correlations, intentional stances, proto-subjects etc. The cartography of this space is also a chronology: when does a what generate a who, when do a who bundle into whats - organisms have components that can be described mechanistically, people get together to form resources (or nationalities, or identities, or work force). The endeavor to explore this space starts with a descriptive metaphysics, and descriptions of the world are politically charged (see for instance Galeano's Los Nadies). In fact, most political and metaphysical projects of this time traffic this space: the exacerbation of naturalism, animism and perspectivism, post-humanism, rights of animals, ecology. Political language, and whatever grounds it, draws this line. Politics flows in a riverbed of metaphysics.

This division line is independent both of views concerning the substantiality of what there is and of approaches to the negative - whether there is an absolute nothingness or absence is always relative. In other words, no matter which other options in metaphysics are taken - for instance, no matter whether necessitism, haecceitism or concretism are held - the issue of what counts as an object and what counts as a subject is central. Flat ontology, for instance in the form of object-oriented ontology, holds that anything is a who and a what. For instance, objects are amphibious enough to be sometimes subject. But is this just a way to conceal the black hole?