Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Reality and causal efficacy are two separate things

a couple of live debates within OOO from Object-Oriented Philosophy by doctorzamalek (Graham Harman)
Some reader mail just reminded me of this. I should make up a list of all the points about which there aredisagreements within OOO circles. We haven’t gotten around to clearly articulating all of our differences yet.
Since I’ve had the most such email debates with Levi Bryant as compared with the other OOO-related authors, here are the two issues about which Levi and I tend most to disagree:
1. Levi’s a fan of dynamic conceptions of entities, which may well reflect his Deleuzean origins. By contrast, I am a committed actualist (like Latour, or at least the early Latour). A thing is only what it is right now, and to explain how changes occur is a tricky thing, not one that should be implanted in the heart of objects from the start.
2. Levi tends to hold that anything that has an effect is real. By contrast, I hold both that many real things may have no current effects (Levi is somewhat open to this concept of “dormant objects”) and that many things have effects that are not real (here Levi would disagree, I think). For example, all of the objects of experience have some sort of trace emotional or intellectual effect upon us, but for me this not the same thing as reality. Reality and causal efficacy are two separate things for me.
I just thought of this because an Australian reader was asking me about point number two. Point number one has become a debate within analytic metaphysics as well.

(title unknown) by enowning
nonsite.org interviews Robert Pippin about Hegel. Here's the question on the subject's determinacy:
OH: Despite the fact that Hegel saw emerging in society something like, as you put it, “a general solution to the problem,” he also speaks to the incomplete, or unrealized, character of subjectivity in modern society. In contrast, most critical social theory since has rejected the category of subjectivity as an Enlightenment “illusion” that we should rid ourselves of. But if we understand subjectivity in modern society as a task, rather than a fact to be affirmed or rejected, the question becomes far more interesting. What do you think Hegel would have to say about such renunciations of “subjectivity”?

RP: This kind of critique of human subjectivity is essentially the result of those Paul Ricoeur called the “masters of suspicion”: Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud. These are the first to suggest that the domain of conscious intention, decision, and judgment is merely an appearance, while the true determinates of what we take ourselves to be consciously determining are actually inaccessible to consciousness. The domain of our conscious attentiveness is a kind of illusion, a pretension to run the show of our own lives, whereas it is actually some manifestation of the relation between the mode of production and the relations of production in a given society, or the will to power, or the unconscious. What poststructuralism did, which is essentially a post-Heideggerian phenomenon, is intensify the skepticism about the possibility of running any show, by destabilizing the attempt to identify these so-called true forces of determination—the unconscious, the will to power, economic relations of class, and so on. Such an intense skepticism that we could ever come to any determination about those latent forces leaves one in a of condition of complete indeterminacy—a “floating signifier.”

The central response from the Hegelian tradition we have been discussing is that the conclusion of utter indeterminacy points immediately to its own practical unintelligibility. In other words, suppose you are convinced that human subjectivity, in this somewhat crude sense of “running the show,” is an illusion. What would it be to properly acknowledge this fact, in one’s life, from the first-person point of view? Are you supposed to wait around indefinitely, to see what your indeterminate forces do? There’s some enormous overcorrection in the history of Western thought since roughly Marx and Nietzsche, in which all sorts of babies are being thrown out with all kinds of bath water. The dimension of a free life that Hegel is interested in has not, by virtue of these critiques, been superseded or gone away, unless we have some way of understanding what it would be to actually acknowledge such a departure in life. The postmodernist critique of subjectivity is “overdone” to the extent that it leaves us with no concrete way to understand what the actual position of subjectivity should look like to an agent.

The problem of freedom, as Hegel understands it, is not freedom from the interference of external impeding forces. Hegel is one of the first to offer a critique of the liberal democratic tradition for its emphasis on isolating the realm of entitlement to mere non-interference. You can be un-coerced, and do what you take to be appropriate, and still have a relationship to what you do that is not identification, that is not affirmative toward it. We are finite beings, of course. Much of what we do falls within a constructed realm of possibilities that we do not determine. But, for Hegel, what is crucial is the kind of recognitive relation between that realm of possibilities and what you actually do, and the conditions for you to be able to enjoy that kind of identification are social and public. They are largely determined by the kind of world you grew up in, or the kind of world you have to deal with when you are grown up. So the problem of freedom, for Hegel and those who follow him, is not freedom from external constraint, but the establishment of the social conditions under which the life you lead seems to be the one you have determined.

Recently in Washington DC, The XIV Dalai Lama mentioned during a program that a Sufi Master friend of his had indicated that he starts his teachings by propounding 3 questions. 1. What is the Self? 2. Is there a beginning? 3. Is there an ending?
These three questions are worth consideration as we take up the new chapter The Philosophy of Rebirth. There are some who believe that the self is a specific human personality or ego, born at a certain time, existing for a certain number of days, or years, and then dying. For such individuals, who see the self as a limited formation, with a specific beginning and a specific ending, it is impossible for them to assign any greater significance to human existence. There are those again who expand upon this and present us with a limited self and a beginning, but then indicate that after death there will be a resurrection and eternal life with our earthly family rejoined. In this instance, we see that there are some conceptual limitations involved as well. Others look upon our current personality and ego-formation as one in a long series of births, successively building upon the past in a more or less systematic way. And still others do not accept any ultimate reality to the ego-personality but accept that there is continuity in some form from life to life. There are as many different ways of looking at this issue as there are philosophies and religions.
In the present chapter we shall take up a review of the question of rebirth as it is important for our attempt to understand the significance of life that we see the true perspective on the issue without the egoistic or the temporal ignorance which we discussed in the immediately preceding chapter.
Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part 2, Chapter 20, The Philosophy of Rebirth

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