03 March 2024

Freedom & necessity in an ambivalent medium of sociation

The very medium that sets us free from one another is the medium that enslaves us. It is two-edged. Individualized freedom is negated, constricted and even nullified by an eerie necessity that the explanations offered by economic theories can never fathom, remaining as they do on the surface, superficial.

How so? In earning our livelihoods we dissociated individuals sociate with one another via the medium of thingified value, a medium with many different 'faces' or 'forms' including, in particular, money, goods & services, wages & salaries, interest, dividends and rent. The latter are forms of income, and all of us need and strive to earn income to spend, as consumers, on what we (think we) need to live well or live at all. The sociating medium of thingified value, of itself, imposes on us the necessity of our immersing ourselves in it for the sake of earning a living. The medium and its various forms remain invisible, however, for today's superficial thinking, that is ignorant of the ontological difference. Nevertheless, it is only by virtue of this globally all-pervasive medium that there is such a thing as a global economy.

As bearers of forms of thingified value (aka private-property owners) we are dissociated from each other as free individuals. This is the socio-ontological core of individualism. We sociate with each other through various kinds of exchange, starting with buying & selling (goods & services, means of production & raw materials, stocks & bonds, etc.), and continuing with hiring (especially labour power), borrowing (loan capital), leasing (land). All these myriad exchanges are mediated by the appropriate forms of thingified value on the basis of formal contractual agreement among the individual, income-earning and consuming, players, who otherwise remain dissociated from each other and are free to shape their individualized lives according to the amount of income earned. The gainful game for earning income is competitive, often brutally so. The winners in the gainful game enjoy and treasure their individualized freedom. They are unknowingly the most willing agents of valorization and, more often than not, its most ruthless.

The medium of thingified value, namely, has a life of its own. It moves cyclically through its various value-forms, subject only to the simple principle of valorization, i.e. advanced money capital (a form of thingified value) must return finally, bloated with a surplus value. Otherwise, its loss-making movement is self-consuming and must eventually cease. This applies to individual capitalist enterprises, large and small, national economies, as well as to the global economy as a whole. The valorization principle of movement of thingified value, i.e. its continued, endless, senseless accumulation, imposes itself as a necessary law on all, with greater or lesser severity, greater or lesser consequences. 

The formal valorization movement requires also its appropriate material: living humanity and the Earth, with all it has to offer, both living and non-living, for continued valorization. The formal principle of valorization inexorably drives the material movement of the capitalist economy, requiring ever more energy that can only be supplied by intensifying exploitation of the Earth. As principle of movement, valorization itself is indifferent to both humans and the Earth, which are subsumed and exploited under their appropriate respective value-forms. 

The difficult transition to renewable, sustainable energy is being undertaken today without insight into the limitless valorization of thingifed value. Insofar it is a blind striving that leaves the status quo intact.

Further reading: On Human Temporality: Recasting Whoness Da Capo

 An Invisible Global Social Value.

04 February 2024

Parmenides' warning went unheeded

How did ideas as conceived originally by Plato as the 'looks' of beings as beings degenerate into becoming, with Descartes, representations inside consciousness and then further today into 'ideas' in the head? The last are then finally (apparently) reduced to neural configurations of the material brain by today's neuroscience that seems, once and for all, to have put the mind-body problem effectively to rest.

This degeneration of the mind runs parallel to another as a consequence of Parmenides' warning not having been heeded. Namely, he warned not to separate thinking from being:

τὸ γὰρ αὐτό νοεῖν ἐστίν τε καὶ εἶναι.  Diels/Krantz Fragment 3

 "For thinking and being belong together." *

This has been taken as a seminal formulation of so-called 'idealism' as a philosophical 'position' that fights to maintain its position against other positions such as (various varieties of) 'realism' and 'materialism', whereby the conception of the idea itself has been thoroughly misunderstood. Namely ideas are understood as being 'about' beings, i.e. ontic, rather than their being ontological interpretations of the being of beings, i.e. of their respective modes of being. Misinterpreted ontically, Fragment 3 seems to be saying some kind of magical formula: reality conforms to the way you think it is, with the consequence that, if you change your mind, reality will change in line with your thoughts.

But the idea is ontological, conceptualizing as it does a mode of being of beings through which the mind understands reality, i.e. the world. The idea in this sense is not individual, but shared in an historical time. The shared mind of a given time, its Zeit-Geist, is 'built' from the building-blocks of the ideas constituting in their interconnection the shared, inescapable understanding holding sway in an historical age.

By ignoring and misinterpreting both Parmenides' warning and Plato's ontological conception of the idea, the Western mind has gone 'pro-gressively' downhill i) to split thinking from being, with subjectivity on the inside and objectivity on the outside and ii)  to think thinking itself only ontically, with scarcely a trace that ideas in the philosophical sense are ontological.

The closure and suppression of the ontological difference can be blamed especially on Anglo-American philosophy in the guises of British empiricism, American pragmatism, analytic philosophy, etc. The closure is reflected inversely in the rise of positivism and the establishment of the reign of materially-, evidence-based scientific thinking. For this way of thinking, the evidence of the phenomena themselves is ignored in favour of constructing theoretical models that aim at somehow or other causally explaining, and thus predicting, various kinds of movements in the world.

All the more reason to go back to scratch to think again.

* For further alternative translations of Fragment 3, cf. my Parmenides article.

Further reading:  'Out of your mind? Parmenides' message'

On Human Temporality: Recasting Whoness Da Capo (De Gruyter 2024 in press)

28 January 2024

Temporal Recasting of Who We Are

Abstract for talk, Recasting ourselves with Michael Eldred, at The New Institute in Hamburg on 15 February 2024 in the Program Non-materialist Conceptions of Human Flourishing

Program Chair 2023/24: Andrej Zwitter, Program Co-ordinator: Victoria Sukhomlinova

Recasting who we are da capo employing the methodology of hermeneutic phenomenology — what is that supposed to mean? What is hermeneutic phenomenology, anyway? And how does its methodology differ from that of modern, evidence-based science? There is an inconspicuous doorway to hermeneutic phenomenology encapsulated in an Aristotelean formula for the ontological difference and, more particularly, in a single Greek word (ᾗ Latin: qua, Eng.: as), through which we pass into the philosophical realm proper of the investigation of beings insofar as they are beings, i.e. their modes of being, i.e. ontology. The philosophical tradition since the Greeks has given us various answers to the question: What is distinctively human being, i.e. the humanness of the human?, the first being: animality with the specific difference of having language, reason. This has been variously modified up to modern science's casting of the human being as a species of animal that has evolved to have an unusually large, high-performance, cogitating brain — with no trace left of the ontological difference. Science does not even ask: What is the animality of the animal? and denies any knowledge of its mode of being, the anima or soul (ψυχή) as the principle of life.

A temporal recasting of who we are cannot be satisfied with these 'what' answers. It proposes going back to scratch to start again from the elementary phenomenon of time itself, but not the usual conception of some kind of one-dimensional, linear time that flows along. Instead I start from the openness of three-dimensional time to see where this path of thinking leads. Who we are is a consequence, first and foremost, of belonging to this 3D-temporal openness. Only from within it do we understand the world by interpreting how it presents itself temporally, i.e, how it presences and absences for the mind. Beings in the world thus become essents presencing and absencing in 3D-time, and ontology must even transform itself into temporalogy. Different kinds of essents have different modes of essencing, but all essence for our mind in 3D-time.

The hermeneutic mind has its own, characteristic kind of temporal movement and hence its own temporalogy of movement. We share the world with one another, sociating only by moving within the shared temporal openness, mutually estimating and esteeming who we are. We are not substantial beings with a material substrate, but relational beings who become who we are only in the estimative interplay with each other played out in 3D-time. Interplay itself is a further kind of non-physical movement in 3D-time also demanding its own temporalogical investigation. It cannot be conceived by an ontology of movement rooted in one-dimensional time, the ontology of efficient causal movement — upon which the modern sciences exclusively rely. 

In today's globalized world, however, the sociating estimative interplay is played out immersed in the all-pervasive medium of thingified value as the competitive gainful game for income. All of us, whether it be directly or indirectly, are ineluctably players in this game mediated by thingified value-forms going through their required transformations. This is yet another kind of (circular) movement in time with its own temporalogy. Although we play the gainful game on the surface as dissociated, free individuals, it is undergirded by the senselessly circling movement of endlessly accumulating thingified value that imposes its own necessity. The invisible, underlying principle or law of global movement is precisely this endless, accumulative circling of thingified value, which also calls for its own temporalogical investigation. Crises, disruptions, dislocations, frictions, etc. in this endless valorization erupt incalculably both globally and locally, thus intermittently reducing our prized individual freedom to nought. 

Further reading: On Human Temporality: Recasting Whoness Da Capo (De Gruyter 2024 in press).

09 January 2024

Eldred-Nettling Time Scholarship at University of Sydney awarded

The Eldred-Nettling Time Scholarship in the Centre for Time at the University of Sydney has been awarded to a PhD candidate. The scholarship supports an approach to the phenomenon of time employing the method of hermeneutic phenomenology. 

The phenomenon of time has proved to be elusive — i.e. subject to misinterpretation — since the Greek beginnings of philosophy. This has fateful, but hitherto unrecognized, consequences for our world today. 

Further reading: Movement and Time in the Cyberworld

On Human Temporality (forthcoming De Gruyter)

29 December 2023

Has the Left left its senses?

Looks like the Left has taken leave of its senses and gone mad with moralism — a consequence of the demise of the Old Left, and then of the New Left. What's left are today's identity politics and cancel culture from an assumed high ground of moral superiority that prescribe how the world ought to be. 

These moralistic politics make a claim on the (supposedly innate, inalienable) human right to define one's own particular identity as a subject. Hence we have LGBTQIA+ politics — without reflecting that no particularization of the generality of humanity into an array of identities can ever capture the uniqueness of any individual, let alone a creative one. The + sign at the end of LGBTQIA+ is supposed to indicate that maybe more categories will be added later; that modern, progressive, moralistic Left subjects will lay claim to ever more labels with which to identify themselves. 

Is it not a sign of the dissociation of subjects in our modern global world, thoroughly mediated as it is by thingified value, that they try to associate, to band together under certain, partially unifying labels, thus forming communities providing a sense of belonging? The global principle of movement — the endless accumulation of thingified value — goes hand in hand with, and is dependent upon, the dissociation of subjects, their individualization, but the moralizing Left has lost sight of any deeper critique of capitalism.

What if the Left were to desist from its moralizing cancel culture, engaging instead with questioning who we humans are and can be? So far we have only whatifying answers, notably: a kind of animal endowed with add-on features, above all, reason; or subjects with  internal, brain-generated consciousness that AI is today striving to emulate. A thorough-going critique of capitalism worthy of the name reveals that humans have been reduced to the status of players in the competitive gainful game that is played out atop the underlying inexorable global valorizing of thingified value.

Thingified value, in turn, reveals itself as such only to a kind of thinking, i.e. genuinely philosophical thinking, that knows of and passes through the ontological difference to the realm of ideas that provide the ontological building blocks for the (scaffolding of the) world in which we live.*) The world itself is the way it reveals itself to our shared mind through the ideas we humans glean of its most elementary phenomena. The political Left has never understood the depth of the critique of capitalism required, which — contrary to Marx's famous Eleventh Thesis on Feuerbach — is not the practical-political critique of social relations (i.e. at core: class struggle). Rather, the challenge is pre-political, concerning the critique of the way of thinking (Denkungsart) that covers up the truth of capitalism, its uncanny principle of valorizing movement that is indifferent to humankind and the Earth, both of which it employs merely as its material for endless accumulation.

*) I leave aside here the task of a temporalogy; cf. On Human Temporality.

Further readingSocial Ontology of Whoness (De Gruyter 2019)

On Human Temporality (forthcoming De Gruyter 2024)

30 November 2023

Arguing positions — or interpreting phenomena?

In academic publishing and discourse, one standardly reads of an author "arguing" for a certain position, usually hinted at or formulated in the title of the book or article, when setting out his or her case.This argument is thus exposed to counter-argument in a back-and-forth between different positions that are more or less opposed. This is akin to how a case is argued between the adversaries in a court of law, at least in the Anglo-Saxon realm. It is also the way in which academic discourse in any field of inquiry, including philosophy,* is supposed to advance: rational argument with more or less logical cogency. Such argument aims at establishing conclusions as rigorously and tightly as possible, without internal contradictions and inconsistencies, given the nature of the field and its available evidence. The logical cogency depends upon the degree of indubitability, and hence incontrovertibility, of the argument's premises, which should possess truth-values of true (=1) as opposed to false (=0). 

In the sciences, the premises should be based on empirical evidence, the factual data gathered by experiment or survey. In other discourses, the premises may be generally accepted ideas, such as the 'idea' of democracy or personal freedom set down in a short definition. A conclusion reached from well-founded, maximally incontrovertible premises cannot be easily knocked over by an adversary and is therefore taken to be established as true. The conclusion as statement has a truth-value = 1. And truth is what any respectable author should be aiming at. 

Opponents of an argument presented in a book or article will say explicitly or implicitly that they do not agree with the author, that is, with his or her premises or chain of logical reasoning. They will point out the holes in the argument, its false premises, its inconsistencies, thus putting its conclusion into doubt. In the back-and-forth of controversy, these holes may or may not be filled or patched up, thus leading to a revised conclusion, perhaps based on different evidence or on a different path of argumentation. In this way, academic — including scientific — discourse is supposed to progress toward the truth that is accepted eventually as an opinio communis in general agreement, until one day it is overcome by better arguments based on more firmly established premises. The truth in this process of approximating the truth resides in the truth-values of the propositions serving as premises of the logically cogent argument. 

The process advances by counter-arguments being formulated by those who disagree in order finally to reach more or less provisional agreement among various opinionated positions. They argue differently from different premises. The controversy is therefore adversarial between or among positions, each formulating its respective position as incontrovertibly as it can to defeat the other's argument. One position may even be accepted as the victor in this adversarial contest.

There is something strange in this procedure, however. If, for example, my maths teacher presents me with the proof of a mathematical theorem, perhaps as simple as the Pythagorean theorem, I attempt to follow the argument presented by understanding it, by gaining for myself an insight into the steps of the proof. That is what is meant by following the argument of a proof. If I do not understand and cannot follow, it does not help for me to exclaim to my teacher, "I disagree". If I do, my teacher will simply smile and pity my lack of intellect. Maybe one day, something will click in my mind, and I will see clearly that the proof is well-founded because I have been able to follow its argument. Or I may even be able to find a hole in the mathematical proof and prove it! Or I may even, one day, find a more elegant proof of the theorem.

What is the case, however, when the discourse is about simple, elementary phenomena that everybody sees and understands one way or another? Phenomena comprise all that which shows itself. They are always already understood, or interpreted, as such-and-such in some way or other. The endeavour of hermeneutic phenomenology is to interpret, as closely as possible, the phenomena as such-and-such, where the 'as' is the hermeneutic As.**

Phenomena can be interpreted more or less adequately. The adequacy or inadequacy lies with our human understanding of the phenomenon or phenomena in question. How closely can it come to lovingly capturing the phenomenon in all its inconspicuous and shy subtlety? The truth of phenomena resides in their undistorted disclosure to our human mind, that is, in our more or less adequate interpretation of them, over which there is generally controversy. This controversy, however, in the first place, is not an argument between and among positions of proponents who agree or disagree with each other, but over the disclosure of the respective phenomenon itself. The touchstone is and remains the adequate or inadequate interpretation of the simple phenomenon itself, or the simple interconnected phenomena themselves. It does not suffice for two different adversarial positions to reach an agreement, for both positions may be phenomenally inadequate, considering as they do only matters of (scientific) fact, such as whether the universe is expanding or contracting. For phenomenological thinking, there must be a joint effort to gain insight into the phenomena themselves, and this is not a factual matter.

The disclosed truth of phenomena has to be wrested from their distorted, misconceived interpretations, their misinterpretations. The challenge is to disclose the phenomena by clearing away our own misconceptions that distort how they show themselves of themselves. This shared work of disclosure demands devotion to the phenomena themselves — hence critical self-questioning — rather than the effort to set up and defend an argumentative position against other positions. Therefore Plato characterizes philosophy as a dialogue of the soul with itself; questioning the phenomena themselves demands above all self-questioning. The aim is not to assert a position against another position — which is secondary —, but rather, together, to bring out a more 'close-fitting' interpretation of, and thus insight into, the phenomena in question. Does this make the striving for truth into an unprejudiced 'group effort', perhaps one stretching over centuries, in which there are long intervals of stagnation on certain crucial, foundational questions?

This sounds all very laudable and attractive. Philosophy has always been nominally the quest for truth, a lofty goal. But what if the truth is unwelcome, threatening, even ugly and unflattering? What if the suppression of truth contributes to the suppression of genuine human freedom by upholding a distorted conception of freedom as a cover for preserving the power of the status quo? What if the very conception of truth upheld and practised by the modern sciences (with their empiricist methodology) serves to obscure and suppress the deeper truth of today's world set-up, making it seem rosier than, in truth, it is? What if the kind of philosophy pursued in today's institutions of learning and research is only the kind compatible with the reigning, albeit skilfully camouflaged, will to power? What if this will to power has a vested interest in covering up and suppressing the disclosive truth of certain crucial elementary phenomena by interpreting them only in a way that is aligned with this will to power?

*) Cf. Heidegger's remark on this way of proceeding: 

"[...] merkwürdigerweise die Philosophie das Bestreben hat, nur dasjenige als Einsicht gelten zu lassen, was auf irgendeinem argumentativen Wege rational bewiesen ist, so daß man die Instanz einer unmittelbaren Anschauung in ihrer Unmittelbarkeit nicht mehr sieht." (GA27:70)

English translation (ME):

"[...] remarkably, philosophy has the ambition of only regarding as an insight that which is proven rationally via some argumentative path or other, so that one no longer sees the instance/case of an immediate intuition/looking-at in its immediacy." 

**) Thus, for instance, money shows itself and is understood (correctly) as a means of exchange, and exchange is understood as a kind of movement among two or more people. This leads to further questions about how movement itself is to be understood, what kinds of movement there are, and how each kind of movement is to be adequately interpreted.  Interrogating further, it can be seen that any movement is movement in time, but how is time itself to be adequately interpreted? Time itself is the most elementary of phenomena. How is time itself to be conceived in an adequate interpretation? This remains a challenge to today's thinking. Hermeneutic phenomenology's work is far from done.

Some further reading: On Human Temporality (forthcoming DeGruyter)

Martin Heidegger Einleitung in die Philosophie Band 27 Gesamtausgabe Freiburger Vorlesung WS 1928/29 hg. Otto Saame & Ina Saame-Speidel Klostermann, Frankfurt 1996.

English translation: Martin Heidegger Introduction to Philosophy William McNeil (transl.), Indiana University Press, Minnesota 2024.

Martin Heidegger Sein und Wahrheit Band 36/37 Gesamtausgabe Freiburger Vorlesungen SS 1933 u. WS 1933/34 Hg. Hartmut Tietjen, Klostermann, Frankfurt 2001.

English translation: Martin Heidegger Being and Truth Gregory Fried & Richard Polt (transl.), Indiana University Press, Minnesota 2010.

26 November 2023

A.I., the Beatles and Eternal Recurrence of the Same

The New York Times reprinted a version of an article dated 21 Nov. The Beatles Are Still Charting the Future of Pop. It Looks Bleak.