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Showing posts from February, 2015

Whitehead and Quine's ontological criterion

Quine famously pontificated that "No entity without identity". He understood identity in terms of qualities - properties of an object, or rather predicates that could be applied to the term that is quantified and deserves ontological commitment. On that account, Whitehead's actual entities would not qualify for they have no independent quality-based identity. Their identity is no more than a product of they being subject of a perception. There is no identity that is independent of other entities, as I wrote in my recent post about Whitehead's realism . Quine, who had been supervised by Whitehead, was perhaps not aware of his speculative thoughts on actual entities. But to be sure, his slogan can be understood in a Whiteheadian mode: if nothing identifies an actual entity in its perceptions, there is no entity. No entity without (perceptual) identification.

Whitehead on acquaintance

Evans ( Varieties of Reference , Oxford: Clarendon, 78) defines the photograph model as follows: "the causal antecedents of the information involved in a mental state [...] are claimed to be sufficient to determine which object the state concerns". The causal antecedent contrasts with what is cognitively transparent in the mental state. The photograph model allows a mental state to be about something it cannot discriminate - for it can be about something it is not cognitively engaged with. The photograph model doesn't entail that we have some sort of faded cognitive contact with the content of our mental states. We don't have to know anything at all about what we think, believe or perceive. (Applied to knowledge, the model entails that we don't need to know anything at all about what we know.). If I contemplate a photograph of Neville Chamberlain where he looks like Winston Churchill, it doesn't matter any of my beliefs about the photograph showing a man that

Noys' critique of accelerationism and the perils of a reactionary left

Very inspiring book by Benjamin Noys, Malign Velocities (Winchester: Zero Press, 2013). The accelerationismustreit , which is vertiginous polymorphous, can be introduced by a quote of Jameson Noys makes on page 83: either capitalism is going too fast in its destruction of everything that matters and ought to be stopped by pulling the emergency brake or capitalism is pressing hard in the right direction and will be surpassed by the very velocities it brings about. The first alternative recommends strategies of making capitalist flow stop or loose speed (state taxation, resistance to the commodification of things, defense of the traditional institutions from the attacks of capital). It rings a reactionary tone: the left should resist the outrages being done by capital. The expression, "emergency brake", comes from Walter Benjamin's writings where he summons one to halt when a given direction where things are going is inappropriate. The second alternative, on the other han

"Someone": Whitehead's thou

I was wondering about the subject-superject structure where an actual entity in Whitehead prehends another. Prehension is the key to existence in a metaphysics of perception. The subject-superject structure is a I-thou structure: what is prehended first is an actual entity, and not its qualities or even its substratum. What is prehended is a thou. That is, another actual entity capable of prehending. This is why Whitehead buys into, in the opening pages of P&R, a Leibnizian conception of substance as mentality. Relation is therefore always negotiation – être est entente. This is Whitehead’s animism: finding another mentality in a very different body capable to perceive. An actual entity is, above all, a drop of existence because it has interiority – it is a prehender. This is the big Cartesian discovery – better used by Locke (even though not completely well) and by Leibniz (who extended mentality everywhere). In this sense, the big precursor of Whitehead is Tarde talking about bel

Reality and perception: the realist and the immaterialist options

Whitehead insists that actual entities are res verae, the ultimate real thing. That makes him a priority pluralist – and not, as arguably Latour, a priority nihilist. Of course, with Latour, there is not much sense in asking what, or how many, are the actual entities. But still, they are prior. Also, genetics precedes morphology – the prehension of an actual entity precedes its composition and its occupation of a place in space. What counts as an actual entity? A good answer is maybe: whatever is perceived as one by anything. An actual entity doesn’t need to be perceived by everything, but needs to be perceived by something – there is no vacuous actuality. The question then arises: what does the perceiving? Berkeley here would appeal to God. Bodies are perceived by minds, human and divine. Whitehead appeals to the world – there is a solidarity in existence. A mutual co-creation where to exist is to co-exist; bodies exist in multitudes. Never mind what does the perceiving, but someth

Shaltiel Abravanel and the failure of Zionism

Prompted by the reading of Amos Oz's Judas Iscariot, I have been wondering about the crossroad character he presents, Shaltiel Abravanel. In a sense, Abravanel, who thought Zionism was tolerable only if it integrates Jews into the landscape and its population gradually and in no state-oriented way, thought bringing up and cherishing a state was goyim naches (stuff for the non-Jew). He thought the Jews should go to Palestine and integrate in a stateless (perhaps a society against the state) community. In Oz's plot, centered some 8 odd years after Abravanel's death and on a young man who lost his ways while studying Judas and the Jews in Jerusalem, Abravanel is the Oriental element in the Zionist endeavor, the one that insists on looking east to heal the excessive European character of Modern Judaism. The young man is lost between the external environment and three characters of the house where he spends the winter: Abravanel, looking east, Wald, representative of the Europe

Technical objects as diplomats with the non-human

As a consequence of my immersion into connecting Clastres society against state and Descola's animist descriptions of the shaman as a negotiator with the non-human collectives, I wrote this text in Portuguese, on technique as diplomacy. It is the political wing of the ontological motto "être est entente": A técnica como diplomacia com não-humanos [...] para milhares de obras sobre as maravilhas do conhecimento objetivo – e os riscos mortais que se corre ao coloca-lo em questão – não há senão dez sobre as técnicas – e nem mesmo três por assinalar o perigo mortal que se corre ao não amá-las. [...] O que faríamos de [uma filosofia da tecnologia]? Todo o mundo sabe que a técnica não é nada senão um amontoado de meios cômodos e complicados. Não há nada para pensar sobre ela. [A etnóloga] continua se admirando que não exista instituição legítima que abrigue as técnicas tal como não há instituição legítima para aprendera transigir com os seres psicogênicos. Como os Modernos