29 April 2024

CO2 and The Medium

The Medium invisible

We all know about the dangers of global warning, climate change, and of the enormous political and technological effort being undertaken to achieve net zero CO2 emissions by 2050.  Neither those couching the struggle in terms of survival of the human species on planet Earth, nor the deniers of climate change and opponents of measures taken to reduce emissions because they disturb their business models, address the elephant in the room.That is unsurprising, because the elephant is invisible and cannot be pointed to without some trouble. Not even modern science, of whatever kind, that is relied upon as the repository of what we can know at all, can help in making the elephant visible. Another kind of thinking, another cast of mind is required to render the elephant visible.

The elephant is The Medium itself, which is nothing physical. The air we breathe, the physical medium we all share, is invisible to the sense of sight, but not to that of smell, and natural science has long since made the air visible in its physical and chemical theories. It can see and measure CO2 in the atmosphere and causally explain its deleterious warming effects, that need to be counter-acted, come what may. Climate-change deniers, by contrast, are unknowingly slavish devotees of The Medium, to which both the deniers and those struggling for sustainability are oblivious.

The question concerning the medium we share in society, the very medium that mediates sociation, is hardly raised. Theories of inter-subjectivity take the 'inter' to be self-evident, as if it were simply the physical medium. In social theories, the means by which we are mediated with each other and share a world are taken to be language, or exchange, or contract, or trade, or the cash nexus, or means of communication, or digital social media, or trust, or our values, etc. The last can be taken here to be our Western liberal-democratic values, including human rights, that are often regarded as indispensable means mediating our social cohesion.

But means of mediation are not themselves a medium.


You could also say with regard to values that we humans value everything and everyone we encounter, evaluating, valuing, devaluing, esteeming, disesteeming, estimating, misestimating across a broad spectrum from loving dearly through neutral indifference to condemning, despising, reviling, hating. We don't just understand things, we also inevitably evaluate them. In particular, in our daily lives, we mutually esteem or misesteem each other constantly in ongoing interplay in every situation. In this sense, the whole world is valued in one way or another, and such valuing could be called a medium through which we humans are open to the world. Some aspects of the world we evaluate as good for us, and others as bad. Excessive CO2 emissions, for example, we evaluate as bad, as deleterious to our well-being. There is no way of escaping the medium of evaluating and valuing, despite modern science's vain striving to attain value-free objectivity vis-à-vis mere subjective judgement. Valuation could be identified as the missing 'inter' in so-called inter-subjectivity.

 The Medium's inexorable law of movement

As I have said, The Medium is invisible, not only to sense perception, but also to today's mind. It is one kind of medium of valuation, an historically specific and fateful one that has come over us. The Medium has many different looks, forms or faces that appear and disappear as The Medium itself moves through its required phases. Yes, The Medium moves according to its own global law of movement, and at its own, ever-accelerating pace, in a never-ending, fattening circle. Its law of movement may be called valorization. 

In taking hold historically, The Medium leaves its stamp and imposes its forms or faces upon everything and everyone everywhere, not just on the Earth. It taints even the Moon and Mars. It taints and maintains its grip on our mind without our ever noticing it. The Medium has seeped into every single pore of our sociating, more often than not with existentially poisonous effect. It intoxicates humanity on all levels. It impels all the forms of value to move along with it, according to its own inexorable valorizing movement that forever strives for expansion, for more and more. 

We humans, and especially economist humans, call this endless accumulative circular movement 'economic growth', and we worry when this growth slackens and even turns negative, for it seems to be the source of happiness. At the same time, the pace of our lives is dictated by the rate of turnover of The Medium itself, but we remain ignorant of it. There is unrelenting pressure to enhance accumulation by cost-cutting at the expense of all those employed, who live from wage income, and by speeding up the pace of work. We notice that our lives are hectic. The empirical social sciences, such as sociology and psychology, offer superficial explanations and perhaps feeble remedies. At best we have an inkling about The System or The Rat Race or The Competitive Gainful Game. It is experienced as oppressive, brutal and antithetical to our well-being. At the same time, The Medium dissociates, enabling individualized freedom of movement to shape lives through consumption in periods of prosperity, when The Medium is circulating and expanding smoothly. The Medium is thus existentially ambivalent. Our highly prized personal freedom of movement is trumped by the freedom of movement of the valorizing Medium

Nobody speaks of The Medium, even though it rules our lives through its subterranean movement. On the surface we lead our lives wearing the character masks of players in the gainful game into which, behind our backs, The Medium has cast us in set roles. We stubbornly delude ourselves that we remain, collectively, the underlying subjects of our own destiny. We struggle, through a veil of deep ignorance, and assisted by equally clueless economists, financial experts, central bankers, etc., to come to terms with the many anomalies (inflationary pressures, currency collapses, shortages, disruptions, downturns, slumps, crises, etc.) in the surface movement atop The Medium's endless valorization, employing the players for its own freedom of movement. The struggle on the surface assumes, in particular, the form of more or less deformed, more or less corrupt, democratic politics of state power, all the while fighting to maintain our cherished, individualized, personal freedoms, and voting mainly for the party that promises the best personal standard-of-living outcomes in the gainful game.

Further reading: An Invisible Global Social Value

Sustainability? Of what?

On Human Temporality: Recasting Whoness Da Capo,

21 April 2024

Logos and Pancake

What is logos? And what does it have to do with pancake? I shall deal with these two questions consecutively.

What is logos?

τὶ ἐστιν λόγος; What is logos? ‘What is …?’ is the favourite question of ancient Greek philosophy, a question skipped over by the modern sciences because they already assume they know what they are talking about when they proceed to construct their models to explain why this or that happened or happens. For Greek thinking, by contrast, asking ‘What is …?’ leads to an attempt to determine the whatness or essence of something, which Aristotle terms its τὸ τὶ ἦν εἶναι, or ‘the what-it-was-ness’ of an entity, also known as the εἶδος (eidos) or ‘look’ which an entity presents of itself to the mind (νοῦς), i.e. the ontological look of its mode of being as somewhat. The full ‘beingness’ or οὐσία of an entity presented to (or presencing for) the mind is given by the unity of its εἶδος with its ὕλη, or matter. εἶδος is often rendered in English as ‘form’. 

How does this help in saying what logos is? And why is it important to understand what it is? The logos plays a prominent role in determining who we are as humans. The famous definition of the human being given by Aristotle determines how we conceive or interpret ourselves as human beings even today, namely as a species of animal. The Aristotelean definition runs τὸ ζῷον λόγον ἔχον, i.e. as the animal that has the logos or, in Latin, the animal rationale. The logos becomes thereby ratio, reason. The human being is thus cast as the generic animal having the specific difference of reason or intelligence that defines it as a specific kind animal at the top of the animal kingdom. Modern evolutionary theory adopts this cast of human being, i.e. the way in which the human being presents itself to the mind, as a self-evident fact and proceeds to study the evolution of the human animal as well as many other kinds of animal over vast stretches of linear time. 

As the rational animal, the human being is said to be guided by reason, or rather, that it should be guided by reason if it is to live up to its proper ontological definition. An irrational human being is regarded as something less than human, whereas reason itself is praised as the quality of the human being that has brought forth astonishing achievements. But substituting reason for logos only replaces one question by another. The Greek verb corresponding to λόγος is λεγειν, which signifies, apart from ‘to say, to speak’, also ‘to gather, to select’, similar to how Latin ‘legere’ signifies ‘to read’ or ‘to lecture’, also ‘to gather, to select’. The definition of the human being as ‘the animal that has the logos’ is therefore often given as ‘the animal that has language’. Having language is postulated as the specific difference that is supposed to set us humans apart from other animals. This is then contested by modern sciences such as biology and psychology when they attempt to demonstrate that other animals, too, or even plants, have language, or al least a recognizable rudimentary language.  

Logos as language is also interpreted as syllogistic reasoning. In formal logic, also inherited from Aristotle, you learn how to argue by applying rules of inference to the premisses that 'close them together' in the.con-clusion (_syl-logismos_, συλλογισμός) . Hence modern analytic philosophy is conceived as logical argumentation, with the analytic philosopher arguing for his position against other positions. This adversarial style of argumentative philosophy is taken to be self-evident, with debates being fought out among opinionated subjects each advocating and defending an -ism position. One attacks the other's premisses and/or his application of the rules of inference. The premisses asserted have to be factually correct; truth itself is conceived as empirically established factual correctness. Alternatively, a position may be regarded as a set of 'beliefs' that have to be shown to be untenable because they lead to patently false conclusions. Adopting and holding an -ism position takes precedence over opening one's mind to the phenomena themselves in order to understand them, to conceive them as well as you possibly can by moving arduously through and dismantling your own distorting misconceptions.

But what of that other signification of λεγειν as ‘to gather, to select’. Is the human being a kind of animal that is able to gather and select? One immediately thinks of early homo sapiens conceived as hunters and gatherers. However, the gathering and selecting performed by the logos must have a deeper connection with the essence of human being itself, with its very whatness or εἶδος. In general, the εἶδος is the eidetic look of an entity that presents itself to the human mind that is thus able to understand the entity concerned in its whatness, i.e. its what-it-already-was, i.e. its τὸ τὶ ἦν εἶναι. For Aristotle’s thinking, the eidetic look presents itself to the mind above all in the determination of that kind of movement the Greeks call τέχνη ποιητική, i.e. the technique or art of making, for which Aristotle developed his ontology of efficient, productive movement, the only explicit ontology of movement handed down from Greek thinking, and the one implicitly underlying all the modern sciences today in their unrelenting striving to master all kinds of movement, even those for which an ontology of productive, efficient-causal movement is unsuited. The art of making is guided by the maker’s foreseeing the eidetic look of what is to be made. The maker has this fore-sight as a know-how pertaining to the specific art, as when a wine-maker gathers in the harvest of grapes and selects those suitable for a sort of wine he has in mind, whilst sorting out those not suitable. 

Aristotle investigates the ontology of efficient-causal, productive movement in Book VIII (Theta) of his Metaphysics. This goes to show that the investigation of physical movement (κίηησις, μεταβολή) is itself metaphysical in the sense of ontological, i.e. a mode of being. The key concept for the attempt here to clarify what the logos is, is that of δύναμις μετὰ λόγου, that is, a power guided by the logos. The δύναμις (power, force) at work is ἐνέργεια (energeia, literally: at-work-ness), a movement on the way to bringing forth in actuality the fore-seen εἶδος (eidos) as the finished τέλος.(telos, end) This is where the legein of the logos comes into its own. The legein of the logos in the mind has the task of selecting what belongs to the fore-seen eidos of what is to be pro-duced, i.e. brought forth, and what does not, The selection is one of inclusion and exclusion looking into the temporal dimension of the future. An example will help to make this clearer. 

Pancake recipe as εἶδος

Making a pancake is an instance of τέχνη ποιητική belonging to the art of cookery. It requires the cook to fore-see in the mind (νοῦς) the eidos of the pancake that is to be finally made, the telos, which is the purpose for the sake of which (οὖ ἔνεκα) the cook is undertaking the making, along with all the steps that have to be taken, and those to be avoided, in achieving this end. The cook, possessing the know-how of cookery, has to select the appropriate ingredients, the flour, egg, salt and water, along with the appropriate tools, such as a frying pan (not a saucepan) and the hot plate of a stove (not the oven). Only a pinch of salt (not a teaspoonful) is required, and only a cup of water, and 100 grams of flour (not more). The ingredients have to be thoroughly mixed with a whisk (not a rolling pin) after sifting the flour into a basin of an appropriate size. The frying pan has to be given a little oil (not too much) and heated to an appropriate temperature. The mixture has to be poured into the frying pan and fried for the appropriate time (to avoid burning), being turned from one side to the other at the right time (not too soon, not too late). All this making requires knowingly including what has to be done and excluding what has to be avoided to actualize the envisaged eidos of a finished pancake as telos, which is the fore-seen end of the making, at which the movement of cooking comes to an end and has its end (ἐντελέχεια, literally, in-end-have-ness) of a pancake ready to eat. 

Further reading: On the interpretation of δύναμις μετὰ λόγου as selective (auswählend, ein- und ausschließend) cf. Martin Heidegger Aristoteles, Metaphysik θ 1-3 Vorlesung SS1931, ed. Heinrich Hüni, Gesamtausgabe Klostermann, Frankfurt/M. 1981 § 14 GA33:150ff.

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)