Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Value and perfection are the goals at which the finite aims

Apr 11, 2017, at 3:15 AM, Edwards, Jonathan 
Dear Robert,
I see no problem in spelling out an alternative to stuffism. It is dynamism, as Leibniz said. I may not be a professional philosopher but I have spent much of the last fifteen years in philosophy full time. I agree that present day philosophy is totally muddled. Dynamism is all we ever needed but it goes against powerful intuitions. Berkeley is entertaining and made some sensible suggestions about learning about space from vision and touch but I am not sure he really added much. Kant for me is someone who missed the point of Leibniz (as people said at the time).

My comments about humans having a monopoly on value and meaning were a bit tongue in cheek but I think there are much deeper layers to the problem than people think. The idea that somehow ‘we' are doing better than crows or lemurs, or toads or photons seems to me to make unwarranted assumptions in terms of value - and also the identities of these ‘we’. Perhaps the human subject is a rather banal confined structure that parasitises much richer modes of existence. Rather than sampling the world in the raw it samples signs created for it by neural networks that merely co-vary with the wider world in a way that assists the parasitism. Consider the lilies of the field…

But I have to admit to playing a Devil’s advocate in part. Like Leibniz I see our level of knowledge as some high point in the world. But also like Leibniz I am keen to unearth the most egregious of our misinterpretations of what our unconscious brain processes provide.

Best wishes

Jo E

April 12, 2017
Hi Jo,

I share your sympathy with Leibniz, to whom I would add Plato (where most of this was first articulated), Aristotle, and Hegel. A major reason (I think) why Leibniz isn’t appreciated is the role of perfection and thus of value in his thinking. The stuffists (who include Kant, in his philosophy of nature) have persuaded many of us that value is merely subjective and plays no objective role in reality. So “perfection” would likewise be subjective, not real. 

In what sense is our world, as Leibniz maintains, the “best of all possible worlds”? To say that it has to be the best (because God chooses the best) and we simply can’t know how it is the best—the situation in which Leibniz seems to leave us—is not very satisfying. Why can’t we know or understand this? 

Plato in the Timaeus blames matter (“necessity”) for the world’s imperfection. Intellect (nous) is only partially successful in “persuading” matter to cooperate with it. Though the metaphor of “persuasion” is suggestive, the contrast between intellect and matter feels like another unexplained dualism. “Stuff” is still playing an independent and thus unexplained role. 

But in Republic book v Plato gives an account of what simultaneously “is and is not” (478d), which is his deeper explanation of the world’s imperfection. You and I as bodies “are” only partially. To some extent we determine ourselves, are “one” (443e), and thus “are”; in other respects we are “many” and (as “one”) “are not.” We are intimately familiar with this intermediate condition, in that we know what it’s like to be self-determining through thought, and we know what it’s like to fail to be self-determining and to allow ourselves to be governed by mere appetite or mere ego (what Plato calls “thumos,” the “spirited part”). So we know from our experience what it’s like to “be and not be.” Plato is suggesting that nature as a whole tends to be in this intermediate condition of both being and not being. This condition is the world’s imperfection. 

Hegel then explains how Plato’s “being” and “not being” (Hegel’s “being” and “nothing”) are, as such, indistinguishable. They have distinguishable content only within processes of “becoming” (coming into being and ceasing to be). There (probably) is your “dynamism,” which Hegel elaborates as the relation between the finite and the infinite, nature and Spirit, the world and the divine. The divine is no longer, as in Leibniz, a separate agent that “chooses” what world to create. Hegel points out that a separate being is, as such, finite, and therefore presumably not divine. Rather, the divine is the true reality (being) that the world sometimes achieves. This achievement is the process (the dynamism, the becoming) that Plato described as “persuasion.” 

Value and perfection are (as in Plato) the goals at which the finite (the soul) aims, in its effort to determine itself through thought and thus to really “be.” This is how value is crucial for being or reality. We are all intimately familiar with this role of value in our personal efforts to “be.” 

But our natural sciences abstract from all of this. They examine nature from the “outside,” as a set of mechanisms. In mechanism as such, there is no Oneness, no effort towards oneness, and thus no role for value.

You might reply that proper neuroscience does not or would not examine dynamism merely from the “outside.” That it would give value its proper place in the real world, as Leibniz tries to do. I will be happy when I see neuroscientists explaining this role of value in the real world to their lay audience. Having attended the Tucson Consciousness conference several times, I haven’t yet seen them do this. Nor do I see much reference to value or to the oneness that it makes possible in the discussions of this Sadhu Sanga group. Most of the discussions here ignore these issues. And thus they appear to concede the basic truth of “stuffism.” 

Best, Bob W
Robert Wallace

[Together with a bunch of scholarly articles, I’m the author of
Hegel’s Philosophy of Reality, Freedom and God (Cambridge University Press, 2005), which you can purchase from the publisher, from, etc. This is my account of G.W.F. Hegel’s philosophical mysticism. To sample it, you can download a chapter or more from my “Writings” page. My “Manifesto for Philosophical Mysticism,” on this site, gives an overview of what I think it’s all about. The page on “Internet Resources for Philosophical Mysticism, and Some of Its Opponents” is an essay on God and transcendence and what I think I’ve learned from Plato and Hegel about these subjects (with many links to other people’s sites). Other introductory discussions are in my blog, and in the sermon on Emerson and the chapter from my second book, The God of Love, Science, and Inner Freedom, both in Writings

For details of my academic activities, you can download my c.v. from the Writings page, below.]

[Sadhu Sanga] back to Thomas Nagel, "Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False" (2012)

Announcing my new book - 'Hegel's India: A Reinterpretation, with Texts' #OxfordUniversityPress #Hegel #Zizek -

Saturday morning on desire. First Hegel's India review, Pratap Bhanu Mehta in Indian Express! @pbmehta @IndianExpress

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