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