17 September 2018

Degeneracy of mind

Despite all the advances in science and technology (or rather, precisely because of them), our present age is blighted by an ongoing, secular degeneracy of mind that has been progressing for generations. The algorithmization of the world is proceeding apace amidst a thoughtlessness about the nature of the ever-encroaching cyberworld. This thoughtlessness consists primarily and primally in our mind's cluelessness about the ontological cast of world in our present historical age that has culminated in the digital cast of world. Today's mainstream philosophy continues to let us down badly, for it, too, is clueless about what genuine ontology is. It has thoroughly unlearned what ontology was at its inception with Plato and Aristotle, who were the first to articulate the ontological difference, that is, the difference between beings taken in their naked ontic facticity and their mode of being.

Today's philosophers have risible conceptions of both Plato's and Aristotle's thinking because they interpret it by retrojecting the subjectivist ontology of the modern age, with its illusory, irreconcilable split between subject and object, back onto Greek thinking. They remain incarcerated in the ontological cast of the modern age, i.e. our all-enveloping, modern mind-set, clueless about any historical alternative, either past or future.

For instance, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy currently has no entry at all for ontology. Under the entry for "Metaphysics" it deals with ontology as the "science of being as such" without the least mention of the ontological difference. Questions of ontology boil down to whether a certain (kind of) being "exists". Thus we read e.g. the incoherent statement:

"Still, many questions of the new and old metaphysics are not questions of ontology. For example, many participants in the debate over causation are not particularly worried about whether causes and effects exist. Rather, they want to know “in virtue of what” something is a cause or effect."

As if the "what" in "in virtue of what" did not exist!

Under the entry for "Logic and Ontology", again, there is no mention of the ontological difference. Instead, we read:

"But we have at least two parts to the overall philosophical project of ontology, on our preliminary understanding of it: first, say what there is, what exists, what the stuff is reality is made out of, secondly, say what the most general features and relations of these things are."

As if the question of "what exists" could be answered by saying "what the stuff is reality is made out of". This is blatant begging of the question in a materialist direction, foreclosing any interrogation of what it means for anything to exist at all. The question of the very meaning of being itself (and that, under interrogation, this meaning is shown to be ultimately temporal in a genuinely three-dimensional, non-linear way) is not posed at all.

"The second set of problems is that it isn’t so clear what these questions really are. This leads to the philosophical debate about meta-ontology." And what does meta-ontology concern itself with? It "isn’t so clear how to settle questions about what there is, at least not for the kinds of things that have traditionally been of special interest to philosophers: numbers, properties, God, etc." Again, the focus is on whether beings of a certain given kind exist. And whether they exist is always a question of the logical truth of certain propositions, not the disclosive truth of phenomena themselves. Hence the entry's heading, "Logic and Ontology".

The ontological debates within mainstream philosophy are carried on academically as jousts held on pleasant university campi between virtually countless -isms that take up their many and various positions and fight it out on the tournament field employing their chosen tilting strategies. The rules of the contest are implicitly very well-known, and those who transgress the rules are quickly disqualified as not being proper professional academic philosophers.

There is not the least awareness that the categories of subjectivity and objectivity themselves are ontological in nature and, indeed, hermeneutically ontological in an historical way that admits of recasting. Rather, they are taken for granted as unshakeable basis for all philosophical debate and are thoughtlessly retrojected onto Greek thinking and projected onto all possible futures as immutable. No notice is taken of the very concept of 'subject' so crucial to modern ontology meant the precise opposite to the Greeks, for whom the subject (ὑποκείμενον) was precisely what is today called the object. This circumstance should give pause for thought, but it doesn't. Through what hermeneutic-ontological recasting did this historical inversion come about? Rather, dogmatism unfolds with the assertion of such nonsensical claims as calling Aristotle an "objectivist". For instance, I read very recently in a draft paper on an openly accessible academic web-site by a philosophical acquaintance, a retired professor, "Aristotle’s objectivism might be said to be naïve [...] in not being self-consciously and systematically held against any subjectivist contrary". Aristotle's position in the inane battle of the -isms is then labelled "naïve realism" as opposed to a kind of idealism. The very distinction between realism and idealism is itself only a pseudo-distinction generated by the subject-object split in subjectivist metaphysics.

The same analytic philosopher writes, "Words can contingently represent actual substances because they express perceptually based 'affections in the soul' which are likenesses to those things (Aristotle [De Interpretatione] 1984 vol. 1, p. 25). But how exactly is this more fundamental mental representation to be conceived? Aristotle seems to have little to say." No wonder Aristotle has "little to say" on this point, because for Aristotle, 'affections in the soul' are not representations of an external objectivity at all! 'Representatio' (in consciousness) is an ontological concept first introduced by Descartes, which is renamed 'Vorstellung' by Kant. That the Greek ψυχή is translated as "consciousness" in modern-age metaphysics does not instigate any philosophical questioning. This goes unnoticed in the violently thoughtless hermeneutics of reading Aristotle with a dogmatic modern-age mind-set that has closed itself off from the phenomena themselves.
 
Such philosophers are incapable of learning anything whatsoever from Aristotle, for they risibly regard themselves as a priori superior to him. Yet Aristotle is one major source from whom we can (re)learn today what the ontological difference is.

There reigns abysmal ignorance in today's mainstream philosophy regarding ancient Greek philosophy, and the potential inherent in a phenomenological re-reading of it. The ignorance is self-inflicted, for there have been for more than a century valiant and lucid phenomenological endeavours to escape the prison of the modern age's mind. They are ignored, brushed off and suppressed, for they unsettle the status quo by asking too many simple questions. Degeneracy of mind parades as the faithful ally of cutting-edge science and technology without the least inkling that this is a sycophant's role.

Further reading: The Digital Cast of Being and Social Ontology of Whoness.

16 September 2018

Searle's ‘Social Ontology and Political Power’

In his 2003 paper ‘Social Ontology and Political Power’, John R. Searle approaches the problem of the ontology of social power from within subjectivist metaphysics. “The important point to emphasize is that the essence of political power is deontic power. [...] It is a matter of rights, duties, obligations, authorizations, permissions and the like. Such powers have a special ontology.” (All further quotes in double inverted commas are from Searle’s paper.) This “special ontology” is said to reside in “status functions”, as distinct from ‘objective’ “physical functions” such as ‘Rain makes you wet’. Status functions, “imposed” by the “collective intentionality” of human beings “can be represented in the form, ‘X counts as Y in C’”. What enables this collectivity of intention is not a question for Searle, but simply taken as an ontic fact.

The “brute fact” of a physical phenomenon such as expressed in the statement “It is raining” or ‘George is sitting at his desk’ is superimposed with a status that allows, for example, the statement “George W. Bush is president” to fit the model ‘X counts as Y in C’: Bush counts as President in the context of the institutions of democratic elections. “Counts as” here is synonymous with ‘is valid as’ or ‘is recognized as’. Like all analytic philosophy, Searle seeks to locate truth in the logos, i.e. in logical propositions.

The status accorded to Bush through this putative projection of collective intentionality confers on him deontic powers such as the power to command the armed forces, which are obliged (deontically) to obey, or the power to veto legislation which Congress is obliged to acknowledge. Furthermore, Searle asserts, “Where political status functions are concerned it is [sic] almost invariably linguistic.”, an example being the linguistic thought, “He is president”. Hence, according to Searle, political power is constituted “almost invariably” by certain linguistic conventions that confer “rights, duties, obligations, authorizations, permissions and the like”.

Likewise, Searle regards the social power, money, as a thing (paper) accorded a “status function” by convention according to the formula, ‘This paper counts as means of payment (money) in the context of market exchange’. This counting-as-money is presumably accompanied by the linguistic thought, ‘This is money’. Searle’s problematic of social and political power is thus isomorphic with Neo-Kantianism’s (e.g. Heinrich Rickert) account of values, according to which ‘values’ are overlaid over ‘objective reality’, instead of being intrinsic to the being of the entity in question. 'Counting as' is a mere sticker stuck on by analytic philosophy. In Searle’s terminology, such ‘values’ are status functions projected onto “observer-independent”, objective, physical things and physical people by “collective intentionality” and are therefore “observer-dependent”.

The key distinction between “observer-independent” objectivity and “observer-dependent” subjectivity, however, is untenable. Why? Searle’s root concern (a misguided non-question) is with the question “How can there be political reality in a world consisting of physical particles?”. Hence the dichotomy between physical objectivity and social reality, which latter, it is claimed, is “observer-dependent” in the sense that it depends on a projection of “collective intentionality” onto physical things of the kind ‘X counts as Y in C’. But all beings in the world, including bare, physical beings, are ‘counted as’ in the sense that they are understood as, say, “physical particles”. Such understanding-as... is only possible in the modern scientific age within the Cartesian cast of being (which Searle obviously believes is the unquestionable, rock-bottom, scientific truth), and “physical particles” are such only for the scientific subject of the modern age, i.e. ‘physical reality’ is not “observer-independent” and “objective”, but is conceived and cast as such by an historical way of human thinking.

Even the innocuous, brute, factual statement adduced by Searle that “it is raining” depends upon the apophantic as according to which the observed phenomenon of precipitation is understood as rain. There can be no “observer-independent” objectivity because objectivity is such only for a human subject within an historical world that is cast within its own epochal understanding of the world. Moreover, human beings are always already in the world engaged in practices with each other, i.e. in interplay, taking care of their lives, and are never merely subjective consciousnesses separated from objective reality. Rather, they always already share the open 3D-temporal clearing. Moreover, in the context of these practices of interplay, and not merely linguistically through representations in consciousness, individual or collective, they estimate, value and evaluate things and people based first of all upon what they are good for and worth in the context of such daily, individual and shared, practices. The stepwise path in thinking via value (τιμή) as it emerges from the practices of everyday life through to specifically political power has been adopted in the present inquiry to bring the power play among human beings in all its facets socio-ontologically to light. For Searle, mired as he is in subjectivist metaphysics, for which unquestioned ‘collective intentionality’ serves as theological anchor, such a social ontology can make no sense.

Adapted excerpt from Social Ontology of Whoness: Rethinking core phenomena of political philosophy

15 May 2018

Modern science's theological hubris

 Modern science is very proud of itself, overweeningly so, for all it has effected and effects in the world. It has differentiated itself into countless areas of knowledge in both the natural and social sciences. The specialization into different kinds of knowing is so ramified, that not even those scientists working in the same science know about what their colleagues are doing in the very next compartment. To say nothing of whether, say, an economist knows anything about biology or vice versa. 

Regardless of the narrowing of the mind that accompanies scientific specialization, science is very proud for all the progress it continues to make, for its mission will never be finally accomplished. What is this mission? It is to establish foreknowing, effective mastery over all types of movement and change in the world, no matter of what kind including, of course, through medical science, the inevitable movement of mortal human life toward death. This scientific way of knowing has established itself as purportedly the sole mode of knowing access to the world that can be taken at all seriously. Everything else — such as literature, the arts, religion, the humanities — is merely cultural decoration which, of course, many scientists enjoy on the side. Science, however, is concerned with establishing the truth of the world through its empirically-based scientific method which, it claims, is the sole kind of truth with any serious credibility. Hence, any scientific claim has to be backed by reference to empirical studies or replicable experiments. For this scientific mind-set, all else is merely unsubstantiated, drivelling waffle. 

The scientific mind-set is smugly confident that it has the knowledge-game sewn up. It purports to have the only game in town that no other area of intellectual endeavour can hope to match. The humanities, for instance, are conceded their appropriate playground for reflecting on the human condition, but they represent no danger whatsoever to scientific knowing's hegemony, based as it is on the ostensibly hard, indisputable evidence of experimentally registered facts.

But this story of science's putatively unchallengeable hegemony as the only mode of truth is too good to be true. Its Achilles' heel is the state of empirical facts which the scientific mind takes to be naked facts, i.e. the 'unvarnished' data collected, according to proper experimental design, which are fed into a scientific theoretical model to either confirm or falsify it. In truth, these naked facts are vested with an interpretation prior to their being taken as facts. All so-called naked facts are in fact hermeneutically enrobed. The name for this a priori interpretation of all phenomena in the world is the hermeneutic As, for every phenomenon that shows itself to the human mind is understood in some way or other (including even misunderstood) as such-and-such. 

The most elementary phenomenological example of such showing-as is the category of something. If you look, say, at your left index finger, you see it as something, don't you? If you look at your right foot, you also see it as something, even as something else, don't you? Finger and foot are both understood 'self-evidently' as something, although, if you inspect your finger or foot, you can find no trace of the category of something in them. There is no empirical-factual basis for the category of something. Nor is the category of something to be discovered as some kind of evolutionarily arisen, genetically steered neuronal trace in the brain that generates somehow or other a subjective category of something in each and every single consciousness. For science the category of something is causally inexplicable. Nevertheless, something itself is indubitably a category interposed between your mind and the thing itself enabling you to understand anything as something.

This apparently trivial observation is, in truth, crucial, for the interpretive access to the world from the ground up does not stop with the category of something. The hermeneutic as interposes itself between the mind and beings showing themselves in the difference between beings themselves and how they are understood as such-and-such in their being. In phenomenology, this is known as the ontological difference between beings and their being, i.e. their 'beingness'. Among other things, phenomenological ontology studies the beingness of beings as they show themselves in a given age to an historical hermeneutic cast of mind.

At the culmination of ancient Greek thinking, Aristotle worked out his ontology of movement, which had been a problem for philosophy since its inception with Parmenides. What is movement/change? How is it to be conceived as a mode of being? Aristotle's answer is that movement is to be conceived as the putting-to-work of a power to effect an end. The Greek word for power here is δύναμις, which can be translated also as force, potential or potency. A power at work is its energy, ἐνέργεια, which effects finally (τέλος) a finished product.

Now the punch-line: this Aristotelean ontology of effective, productive movement was adopted by modern science, starting with Newton et al., whilst tacitly dropping its hermeneutic nature as an ontology of effective movement. With this sleight of hand, modern scientific slipped in its way of knowing in terms of cause and effect as the now apparently unquestionable nature of all movement and change in the world, whether it be natural or social. All today's scientific knowing (ἐπιστήμη) is dedicated to this ontology of effective movement, without knowing its own ontological orientation. From the start, the social sciences sought to emulate the natural sciences' success and hence adopted unwittingly also its ontology of efficient-causal movement. The only hitch is whether all movement and change in the world really does show itself to a careful gaze at the phenomena themselves as effected. Modern science postulates dogmatically that it is unquestionably so, and it points to the empirical evidence and the apparent unparalleled success of its theoretical models.  Even the quirkiness of so-called quantum indeterminacy will not stand in its way (which, incidentally, itself results from modern mathematical physics' misinterpretation of the nature of movement itself; cf. Digital Cast of Being).

But science's so-called evidence base is a case of blatantly begging the question (petitio principii), for the very principle is never put into question. In this case, the principle, i.e. the beginning, is the foundational ontology of effective movement. Since all modern science, of whatever ilk, denies the ontological difference, it is unable to see that its effective-causal access to the world is itself an effect of its own tunnel vision. Unbeknownst to itself, it is not only ontological in nature, but also thoroughly theological. It is, in truth, onto-theological. 

But hang on, this must be nonsense, for doesn't modern science reject all talk of God and gods? Nonetheless, the hidden god of all modern science is the absolute will to effective power over all kinds of movement and change, which science devotedly worships absolutely, not tolerating any other god beside it, i.e. another kind of knowing based on an alternative ontology of movement and change whose aim is not effective mastery. Those scientists who faithfully dedicate their lives to worshipping their unknown god are amply rewarded with secure, well-paid careers and honours bestowed.

I call the alternative mode of movement and change that calls for thinking today interplay. Unlike productive, effective movement, interplay is played out among two, three or many sources of power, instead of the classical ontology of effective movement that has to proceed from a single source of power, i.e. force. In classical ontology, if there are two or more forces, they interact, and their interaction remains precalculable by simple mathematical vector addition. This continues to hold when forces are conceived as force-fields. Not so with the ontology of interplay, in which the various sources of power are in unfathomable, unpredictable interplay with one another. That is, interplay is ontologically fundamentally different from interaction.
 
Hopelessly caught as it is in its own theological hubris coupled with deep ontological naivety, the modern scientific mind refuses absolutely to deny its hidden god and countenance an alternative, namely, an ontology of interplay as a kind of movement sui generis. Such an ontology demands learning to see that the interplay among sources of power is applicable first and foremost to us human beings sharing the world with each other. The interplay is, in the first place, one of the mutual estimation and esteeming of powers residing in the plurality of individual players. The individual players can no longer be understood as a kind of whats, e.g. hermeneutically cast as conscious subjects, but must be conceived as whos playing in the estimative interplay and demanding an explicitly unfolded phenomenology of whoness.

Already Aristotle's ethics were lacking their proper foundation in an ontology of sociating, estimative interplay. Instead, his ontology of effective movement was implicitly at work also in his ethics, which resulted in their being conceived hermeneutically as normatively bridling, a negative enterprise and one posterior to effective, productive knowing. A positive ethics, however, consists in taking the phenomenality of mutually estimating interplay into view and explicitly working out the appropriate ontology of sociating interplay.

Needless to say, all ethics since Aristotle have also remained captive implicitly to the will to effective power, with the result that all ethics hitherto have concerned themselves exclusively with normatively bridling effective and social power as some kind of afterthought. Hence ethics' impotence due to its always coming too late. Our present state of mind pays dearly for wilful blindness to the hermeneutic As lodged in the ontological difference, for it prevents seeing modern science as the consummation of the onto-theology of effective power.

Further reading: Social Ontology and, for the absolute will to effective power personified playfully as Willy P., Land of Matta

01 May 2018

Thinking sociation

Τhere is a difference between thinking about society and thinking society. It is questionable whether the Western tradition in thinking has ever thought the phenomenon of society in itself, its sociation (Vergesellschaftung) through a kind (είδος) of movement sui generis with its own peculiar ontology, namely, a social, sociating ontology. A preposterous claim that can be comfortably dismissed out of hand from a securely superior, more knowledgeable position such as that of empirically-based social science? Or a challenge that we must first learn to even countenance the ontological question concerning sociation and thus to think society as such as a mode of being, and a somewhat presumptuous claim that political philosophy and social science per se do not think the very element in which their thinking moves?

What does it mean to think society as such? Hasn’t the tradition of Western philosophy already thought society as a sociation of human beings living together in communities? Don’t other species of animals and even plants also form societies or sociations? What is the specific nature of human society? What is sociation as a mode of being? In Aristotle’s Politics we read that “man is by nature a social animal”, a ζῷον πολιτικόν. The social or political animal congregates around the pole of the πόλις, living together in communities. This famous Aristotelean definition of humankind’s essence, of what it means to be a human being as a social being, is closely linked with that other essential definition of man as τὸ ζῷον λόγον ἔχον, the animal that has the λόγος, or language, through which it reasons. Accordingly, humankind would be sociated first and foremost by virtue of having the power of speech as a means of communication.

The sociation of human community in the first place would be linguistic in nature or essence through the practice of humans’ talking with one another. Human community would thus be founded fundamentally on language employed to communicate in a context of common, shared living-practices, with language itself having arisen evolutionarily as enhancing survival chances of the human species. These basic definitions of human society seem to be hardly controversial statements and would presumably be accepted by both political philosophy and social science as rudimentary, essential, definitional characteristics of social human being. However, their apparent self-evidence is itself problematic for any socio-ontological questioning that takes neither human being nor sociating human being for granted, but rather patiently interrogates their meaning as modes of being. The run-of-the-mill way of thinking human being as the human species (είδος, look) subsumed under the genus (γένος, descent) of animals so well-established in scientific anthropology is one example of how superficially Greek thinking has been adopted and put to use, without the least inkling remaining of the ontological depths of thinking in which such terms είδος and γένος were first employed. There are good reasons to regard modern scientific thinking as the residual left-overs of Greek ontology unwittingly adopted which has long since covertly established its as-yet-unchallenged hegemony.

Further reading: Social Ontology.

21 April 2018

Ontological difference overgrown by weeds

Together with its staunch, subservient ally, analytic philosophy, the modern sciences, both natural and social, have grown and flourished as noxious weeds that spread into every crevice, covering and swallowing the ontological difference that has been the distinctive hallmark of all genuine philosophy since its Greek beginnings: the difference between beings and their mode of being.

The steady, centuries-long degeneration of mind has already led to today's situation, in which even philosophers — not to mention natural and social scientists of all stripes as well as artists — no longer have a clue what the ontological difference means. In this sense of oblivion to the OD, philosophy, too, has also long since degenerated into positivism. Hence, for instance, the never-ending dance in analytic philosophy between so-called realism and idealism, the hermeneutic AS remaining all the while invisible to analytic consciousness.

The historical dementia of the mens — the unminding of the mind, Geist, νοῦς — started already with its degeneration into consciousness, i.e. the co-knowing of itself of the self-certain ego, on which all knowledge was to be unshakably based. This Cartesian hermeneutic casting opened the modern age.

The ontological difference is the crucible whence not just the whatness of whats, but the whoness of whos is cast, and thus how a world shapes up and presents itself to the mind in open historical time.

Instead of hermeneutically recasting, demented modern consciousness is rushing headlong into outsourcing itself to algorithms in which it is becoming inexorably ever more inextricably — but altogether willingly — entangled.

And the worst of it is that 'we' are painlessly blind to what is happening, and therefore defenceless.

Further reading: The Digital Cast of Being. Digital Whoness, Social Ontology.

26 February 2018

Learning to see the difference


In philosophy you don't learn
anything new.
But you do learn to see
everything anew.
Namely, you learn
to see the difference,
the ontological one.

Deutsch:

In der Philosophie lernt man
nichts Neues.
Aber man lernt,
alles neu zu sehen.
Man lernt nämlich,
die Differenz
– die ontologische –
zu sehen,