Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Nature is itself historical regardless of whether or not humans exist

Lurking behind the distinction between the world of causes and the world of meaning is, I believe, a distinction between nature and artifice. On the one hand, the story goes, we have the domain of the natural which is eternal and unchanging. Nature is that which, given a particular “cause”, produces a certain effect. Culture and meaning, by contrast, are the domain of history, where the historical is that which is outside the domain of natural laws, but is rather an order of the unrepeatable and the event.
This distinction, I believe, is a carry-over from the old theological heritage that distinguishes the incorruptible order of nature or the divine decreed by the divine and the corruptible order of the world and the human. The constructed, produced, or built is treated as being nature’s other, while the order of the constructed, the produced, or built– all, in short, that is equated with the artificial –is treated as being radically outside of nature. [...]
If contemporary science has revealed anything, it has revealed that nature is contingent and the result of a construction. When I claim that nature is the result of a construction, I am not claiming that it is the result of a social construction– this would reduce nature to the side of the culture distinction in the nature/culture distinction –but rather that nature builds itself and builds itself in ways that could– and no doubt will –be otherwise. But if this is the case, then there are no longer any grounds for distinguishing between the eternal natural and the cultural historical. Nature is itself historical regardless of whether or not humans exist. And if it is the case that there is no difference in kind between human phenomena and natural phenomena, only a difference in degree, then there is no longer a reason to treat the “artificial” (note the scare quotes) as being less real than the natural. How is a contingently evolved species any less real than Einstein’s relativity? If we grant this, why should we treat human meaning as somehow more artificial (and therefore less real) than a species or the principles governing relativity in our portion of the pluriverse?
This leads me to the final distinction that must be both rethought and abolished: the distinction between the is and the ought. This distinction is ultimately derived from the distinction between nature and spirit, where nature is treated as the order of causes alone and all meaning is exiled from the domain of being by virtue of equating being with nature. When the modernist constitution claims that the “ought cannot be derived from the is”, I see a couple of things going on.
First, insofar as the modernist constitution equates the “artificial” (note the square quotes) with the unreal, it needs a ground for normativity that isn’t built, constructed, instituted, or generated. Somehow, the unconscious line of thought reasons, that which is built or which must develop is less real than what is “natural”. But here the natural is treated as that which is eternal and unchanging.
Consequently, second, normative thought seeks an analogue to natural laws (which only exist in a theological conception of nature anyway), such that the normative is conceived as something that is eternal and unchanging outside of anything that is “socially contingent”. Kant states this baldly when he tells us that we must conceive the categorical imperative as like the laws of nature. Here he reveals his theological conception of nature as an eternal and unchanging order and then transfers this to the domain of normativity.
In subsequent deontologists this premise will go underground, no longer being stated as baldly as Kant stated, but it will continue to be operative in all deontological arguments nonetheless. The constant touchstone of these lines of thought will be that anything that is built, constructed, instituted, or created is somehow less real and less binding than the so-called “natural”. This will be why deontological approaches necessarily have recourse to occult entities, evoking beings such as transcendental subjects (outside of any natural evolutionary phenomena and contrary to all neurology), or “a priori categories” (outside of any historical or natural developmental processes), or “principles of reason” (outside of any dynamic developmental processes).
Somehow the human and human norms are supposed to be outside of the dynamics that govern all other domains of being ranging from the laws of physics to the chemical elements to the formations of species. We’re told that this is “rigorous” and careful thinking, but what it instead looks like is superstition or the occult dressed up, as Hume would put it, in “abstruse language” all the better to deceive the gullible. From the standpoint of the ought-o-philiac this argument looks like an “anything goes” argument, yet this interpretation only arises when one’s thought continues to be pervaded by onto-theological assumptions that strongly distinguish between the divine order of the eternal and unchanging (which does not exist except perhaps retroactively) and the “artificial” order of the constructed. Just as Nina says, we need another effort that doesn’t require transcendental guarantees or bow to neo-liberal accusations of “anything goes”, to keep going and that doesn’t denigrate the built and carefully maintained in the face of some supposed eternity.
Re: John D. Caputo: A Postmodern, Prophetic, Liberal American in Paris by Michael E. Zimmerman
Tony Clifton on Mon 19 Oct 2009 12:15 PM PDT Science, Culture and Integral Yoga Profile Permanent Link
There has been a long problematic history with respect to the ordering of human beings and human society. That is why the idea of "progress" always needs to be interrogated when it is applied to the ordering of human society. And its also why I could except there has been an evolution of consciousness that has resulted in Western Liberal Democracy but to call this evolutionary movement "progressive" is a whole other can of worms.
In my reading Sri Aurobindo seems at best unsure of the idea of human progress and you are right his views are highly nuanced and one must consult the difference he assigns to the yoga of prakrti and the yoga of purusha to attempt to resolve the matter. There was a long discussion on this under the 100 Years of Sri Aurobindo on Evolution series My own interpretations on Sri Aurobindo's view regards progress and human wisdom seems analogous to the following statement by Ronald Wright on agricultural progress:
"The crops of about a dozen ancient people feed the 6 billion people of the world today. Despite more than two centuries of scientific crop breeding, the so-called green revolution of the 60’s and the genetic engineering of the 90’s, not one new staple has been added to our repertoire of crops since prehistoric times."
In the same way Sri Aurobindo suggest that while there has been possible increases of subtlety, complexity, manifold development of knowledge, that on the whole there has been no significant new mutations of human consciousness with respect to wisdom.
Re: India’s Independence and the Spiritual Destiny: Part Y
paulette on Tue 27 Oct 2009 03:04 AM IST Mirror of Tomorrow Profile Permanent Link
The various economic-political systems unfolding in succession correspond to specific stages of development of the individual and collective being. None of them can be discarded or condemned, historically, in their being the expression of the state of society prevailing at that time. But Sri Aurobindo called the trend of this age, capitalistic and consumerist, ‘barbarian’ – and its mentality, ‘philistine’. The time for it is over, as the global crisis shows, and whose very matrix is the collapsing economic and financial system put in place by the USA.
Sri Aurobindo points out that democracy, socialism, communism and anarchy stream from the realm of Idea. The human mind cannot access them in their sheer form. In whatever way humanity has been trying, or will try, to adapt to the prevailing mentality of the age any of the four is doomed to fail, for those ideals belong to the realm of pure Reason. As Sri Aurobindo reminds us, a still largely infrarational humanity cannot live and manifest those ideals. Past and present history are the most eloquent proof. [...]
Here we are: Marx’s ultimate vision is anarchy. But anarchy too is a vain chimera, like the three political systems that precede it , as long as humanity remains infrarational, largely barbarian. None of those ideals, translated into political and economic systems, will ever lead to the ideal society, which only CONSCIOUSNESS can bring about. The ultimate society that both Marx and Sri Aurobindo envisage is anarchy. But for Marx it is a mental formulation and as such is doomed to abort or fail – while for Sri Aurobindo the lever is consciousness. There is no other way. It is the evolution into Gnostic beings, the ultimate stage of society, a Gnostic humanity. Paulette

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