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.

10 November 2023

Psychology, Sociology, Economics & Time

Psychology, sociology and economics are three of the most prominent social sciences in the modern age. Like all the other modern sciences, none of them is inclined to engage with deeper foundational questions regarding its respective discipline. This disinclination is part of the fall-out from the positivist shutdown of the ontological difference that has afflicted all modern science. This shutdown is due to the hubris of the modern mind that it has reached the end of history, where its mental foundations are inconcussable and thus beyond questioning. With regard to the three sciences mentioned, this has far-reaching — if not to say disconcerting — consequences, at least for those who allow themselves to be disconcerted.

To put it bluntly:
i) the science of psychology does not know what the psyche is;
ii) the science of sociology does not know what society is; and
iii) the science of economics does not know what the economy is.

Of course these claims seem preposterous. Everyone has an understanding of what society and the economy are because we are all confronted with their facticity on a daily basis. The psyche, as the third member of this set, is understood hermeneutically as, and thus reduced to, consciousness, and everyone knows what that means. All three social sciences can therefore make do with concise, one-line definitions of their respective objects of scientific investigation and proceed to construct their theoretical models of how these objects move empirically. The models themselves can be verified or falsified by testing their predictions and explanations against the empirical data-facts gathered in a suitable, statistically unbiased way within appropriate, quantifiable margins of error. The models are then said to be 'true' (rather than 'correct') for as long as they correctly model the movement of empirical fact in their respective areas of study, each of which covers myriads of related phenomena inviting inquiry. No difference is made between factual correctness and the truth of the phenomena concerned, that is, how the phenomena themselves are conceived hermeneutically AS such-and-such from the outset, to get any sort of handle on them prior to any theoretical modelling. Again, that no difference is seen between factual correctness and phenomenal truth is one of the casualties of the repression of the ontological difference.

Different kinds of movement 

It is apparent that the theoretical modelling in each of these three social sciences concerns empirical movement, without ever asking what kind (or eidos) of movement is involved in each case. Is movement simply movement, that is, all of one kind, or is the principle of movement pertaining to each of the three sciences different? If the principle of movement were uniform, then the principle of movement in the queen of sciences — namely, physics — could simply be adopted. Not only 'could be', but has been adopted, because the reigning understanding of movement in the modern age is that of effective, causal movement whose ontology has been surreptitiously adopted from Aristotle. 

Modern physics is the science inquiring into, by predictively modelling, the movement of physical entities, i.e. of movable, spatially extended objects. Moreover, this modelling has been rigorously mathematized. Impediments to such modelling have been overcome by ever-increasing refinements in the mathematics employed in the predictive modelling. Hence, since the 17th century, mathematics has developed statistical methods, including multifactorial analysis, to deal with complex situations which are conceived to be moved by multiple causes that cannot be singled out, but nevertheless modelled on the whole over a series of observations to quantify statistical regularity of the movement in question within the limits of a certain quantifiable margin of error. The inexactitude of linear causality is to be compensated by multiple observations and their statistical calculation in terms of means, medians and standard deviations.

In all this theoretical modelling, the phenomenon of time is conceived hermeneutically AS linear, and ultimately AS a simple linear, real variable t, against which the data gathered can be plotted and, preferably, theoretically captured by suitable equations. Hence, e.g. statistical methods of linear regression determine the best fit of a simple line through a mass of scattered data. All this seems very sensible and, in fact, beyond question for the modern social scientist. Efficient causality of movement is assumed, even when it becomes statistically fuzzy. It is overlooked that (the concept of) efficient causality itself goes hand in hand with (the concept of) one-dimensional linear time. (Aside: even in quantum physics, physicists struggle to come to terms mathematically with the indeterminacy of quantum movement generated by the non-commutability of movement-variables. It would seem that the non-commutability upsets the neat succession of moments in linear time.)

But can the movement of the psyche or society or the economy be conceived at all as being governed by causal movement of some kind, no matter how multifactorial, along the time-line? And is the conception of time AS one-dimensionally linear, i.e. as a succession of now-moments along a line stretching to infinity in both directions, without any more tenable alternative(s)? To put a fine point on it: are there phenomenally distinct kinds (eidae) of movement that have to be conceived differently according to a radically different, more open and encompassing conception of time itself?

I sketch now very incompletely the respective principles of movement of the elementary phenomena at the core of the three social sciences named above.

Three-dimensionally temporal movement of the mind in the psyche

First of all, does the psyche move at all? Is it an entity at all? Since it has long been conceived as non-physical, and even as the paradigm of the non-physical, it is no wonder that modern psychology has eschewed any attempt to provide a well-grounded concept of it. Modern psychology has just as little grasp on the phenomenon of consciousness that serves as the substitute for that of the psyche or the soul. The latter is totally out of favour in modern science, which is intent on the material, physical as that which enables quantifiable, preferably mathematizable access to phenomena of interest. Even the contents of consciousness resist a satisfying quantifiable theoretical grasp since they are deemed to be all too subjective vis-à-vis hard, objective, material fact. Hence it is not surprising that modern psychology is all too eager to resort to neuroscientific explanations of psychic phenomena in terms of neuronal movements in the physical, material brain. Finally (neuroscientists breathe a sigh of relief), a reliable, material basis for the psyche can be investigated employing empirical methods and methodology!

If, however, the psyche is non-material and pre-physical, and not even an entity, how can it be characterized? Phenomenally, in the most elementary manner, it is the receptive openness in which all awareness of anything at all can happen. Occurrences of all kinds come to mind and vanish from mind; there is a constant coming and going, a constant presencing and absencing of them from any of the three temporal dimensions comprising past, present and future. I collect such presencing and absencing together as 'essencing' and call all that which essences 'essents'. Thus essents presence and absence (verbally) in the three-dimensional temporal openness of the psyche. This temporal openness, the psyche itself, is thus unmoving, or rather, more precisely, prior to any movement of essents. What moves in the psyche is the coming-to-mind of essents of all kinds for the mind that is able to focus on this or that, more or less fleetingly; that is, the mind focuses on essents presencing in and absencing from its present focus from any of the three temporal dimensions, perhaps not even successively, but all-at-once. This mental movement may be called Vergegenwärtigung in German. The mind's focusing is possible as this unifying of essents essencing temporally from the three temporal dimensions. 

Hence we can say that the mind itself moves by hopping between all three temporal dimensions in a more or less coherent, more or less haphazard way. The mind's movement occurs within the non- or premoving openness of the psyche, and this mental movement through three-dimensional time is itself entirely free. Such freedom of mental movement, the freedom to think, is the most elementary concept of human freedom on which all human creativity depends. As for the psyche, it belongs to the three-dimensional temporal openness and, in this sense, is identical with it. The psyche reverberates with three-dimensional time in the full gamut of moods. Like time itself, it is not an entity, nor an essent, but enables all essencing of the mind that itself moves freely. This freedom of mental movement defies any predictive theoretical modelling, since the latter relies, and must rely, on one-dimensional, linear time.

It is therefore not all surprising that modern psychology assiduously avoids any critical engagement with the question: What is the psyche?

Mutually estimative interplay in 3D-time as the core movement of sociation

Secondly, what is the kind of movement characterizing the second modern social science in the above list? We may call the elementary kind of movement at the core of society 'sociation', which is to encompass the kind(s) movement of people 'having to do' or 'sociating' with one another in their social lives. Sociation as a kind of movement cannot be characterized as physical. Physical entities are kinds of 'whats' whose whatness traditionally has been investigated by ontology as the essence of entities. For modern physics, the essence, or whatness, of physical entities is their matter, consisting of elementary physical entities; or the essence of anything is called its DNA, a kind of material molecule. The sociation of people, by contrast, is that of 'whos', whose characteristic sociating movement is that over mutually estimating who each is in a kind of movement I have dubbed 'interplay'. Such sociating movement of mutual estimation includes esteeming ranging over the full gamut of all shades of mutual estimation and esteem from the most appreciative through to the most negative, most depreciative. Social rules of play for appropriate sociative interplay cannot be characterized as physical. Any physical aspects of mutually estimative interplay, such as bowing or shaking hands, smiling or scowling, are sublated (aufgehoben) by such sociation of whos as signs of (mis)estimation. 

Any inquiry into phenomena of sociating interplay cannot be predicated upon predictive modelling of this kind of movement for the simple reason that multiple starting-points of movement — namely multiple individuals — are involved. Rather, the manifold of phenomena associated with mutual estimation and esteem invite attention to understand them in all their nuance and subtlety. Moreover, when whos engage in mutually estimative interplay, they draw on all three temporal dimensions of who each is, was and may become, thus defying any attempt at causal linearization of the movement. Acts of estimation and esteem glide and hop through all three temporal dimensions, and that in a reciprocal way, but a conception of three-dimensional time remains completely unheard-of in sociology.

It may be concluded that sociation as a specific kind of movement remains outside the purview of modern sociology which thus lacks a social ontology of the specific core kind of movement pertaining to it. The closure of the ontological difference through the inauguration of sociology in the 19th century precludes the possibility of unearthing the phenomenality of whoness in contrast to that of whatness, which has been the traditional focus of attention since the Greeks.

Limitless accumulation of thingified value as the determining, cyclical movement of capitalist economy

Thirdly, with regard to the principle of movement of the economy, I will restrict myself to capitalist economy which is the kind of (today: globalized) economy in which we have been immersed for centuries. While modern economics will freely acknowledge that our kind of economy today is capitalist, i) it prefers to speak of a 'free market economy' and ii) it will not engage deeply with questions regarding the nature of capital itself. Instead, it contents itself with a brief, one-line definition of capital that inevitably includes a reference to money. The concept of money in modern economics, however, is restricted to that of its functions, rather than conceiving more deeply what it is, i.e. its whatness, its essence. There is even a tendency in economics to avoid mention of capital altogether by regarding economics (ahistorically) as the science of how to distribute productive resources efficiently over their possible deployments in order to maximize output. According to this definition, the movement of the economy calls for its optimization from the viewpoint of efficiency. It also presupposes that other historical forms of society had an economy as an independent sector definable in the same way, but this is highly questionable.

If the core economic phenomena of money and capital are seriously taken up, then the easily identifiable function of money as store of value leads inevitably to the deeper question: What is monetary value? There is already an intimation of the phenomenon of value in the characteristic movement of society called interplay, since it may also be characterized as mutually estimative valuing. Instead of mutually valuing and estimating who each is, in the elementary economic interplay called exchange, it is a matter of mutually estimating the value of goods and services offered on the market. Goods and services, however, are whats, hence a mutually valuing interplay of 'whats' rather than of their bearers, who may be called 'whos', through which their exchange-value comes about through the interplay itself. Exchange-value is the first form of sociating interplay mediated by thingified value to be investigated in a conceptually connected investigation of the essence of capitalism. Karl Marx was the first to attempt such an investigation with his critique of political economy.

The interplay of earning a living in today's globalized capitalist economy is not restricted to exchange-value, but encompasses further forms of value. The primary value-forms that show themselves through the full gamut of economic interplay are wages, money-capital, gross profit, loan-capital, interest, land, ground-rent. Capital itself can be conceived hermeneutically AS a circuit of thingified value going through a circuit of transformations of value-form in order to generate a surplus called gross profit. This augmentative movement may be called the accumulation (or valorization) of thingified value. Beneath the gainful game of players striving competitively to earn their various types of income lies the determining movement of our global capitalist economy: the accumulation of total global thingified value in a circular movement through its various, interconnected value-forms.

The principle of movement of today's global capitalist economy is thus a simple, circular one subject to the quantitative condition that advanced capital, on the whole, must accumulate. A circle itself is a line, and a movement around a circle can be counted off in linear time. The linear time taken for a capital to complete its circuit is called turnover time. Hence the immense complexity of the myriads of interlocking interplays among the players on the surface of society, that are played out in three-dimensional time, is reduced, or led back to, an accumulative circular movement of thingified value in one-dimensional time. This accumulative movement has no limit and also has no sense other that itself, namely, accumulation; it reigns supreme in our global capitalist economy and insofar is absolute.

The truth of capitalist economy from which the social science of economics shies away is that its principle of movement is the limitless, senseless accumulation of thingified value, albeit a movement prone to continual dislocations and intermittent crises. This deeper truth of capitalism contradicts and undermines the freedom of thingified interplay on the surface of liberal-democratic society with its individualized personal freedoms. Individualized freedom is the converse side of the sociation of dissociated, alienated players via the medium of thingified value. It is therefore no wonder that this truth of capitalism is forcefully repressed, and we make do with a delusory, one-sided conception of freedom.

Further reading: On Human Temporality.

03 November 2023

Thingified Value, AI & UBI

Some 'visionaries' (such as Elon Musk) today foresee that artificial intelligence (AI) will eventually make labour superfluous because AI-controlled machines of all kinds will produce all we humans need to consume to support our way(s) of life. The labour force will be largely obviated; only an elite of AI experts and auxiliary personnel will be required to keep production running smoothly. Work will become a matter of choice, a matter of interest and fulfilment for some individuals. Depending on your perspective, this envisaged future seems frightening or rosy.

Is this vision of our human future just another tech dream that doesn't take 'real world' conditions into account? After all, we live today in a globaliized capitalist economy, whether we want to or not. The left complains about capitalism and the power of giant corporations without 'really' knowing what capitalism is, that is, without any insight into the social ontology of capitalism (which takes some effort to gain).

If, as I have outlined in previous posts, the essence of capitalism is the accumulative movement of thingified value, i.e. its valorization, and this principle of movement is the hidden, underlying one for today's globalized world, then AI's impact on and its implications for this principle of movement have to be considered.

On the surface of bourgeois society (aka liberal-democratic society), undergirded as it is by the valorizing movement of total global thingified value, life is played out as the gainful game of various players who are the character masks of the key figures in this competitive game to earn the four kinds of income: i) wages (including all kinds of remuneration for any kind of labour performed), ii) interest (for lenders of money-capital), iv) ground-rent (for lessors of land) and iv) profit of enterprise (for enterprises, which may be shared out as dividends). The fifth role in this game is that of consumer. What is produced by production processes, including those controlled largely by AI, has to be sold and consumed, either in personal consumption or in further 'downstream' production processes (productive consumption). 

In particular, and especially, wage-earners spend their income on consumer goods of all kinds from groceries to houses. Their spending realizes the thingified value of the goods and services sold by capitalist enterprises as their sales revenues. Wage-earning consumers therefore have an essential role to play in the valorization of thingified value, without which the principle of movement of capitalist society would come to nought. Advanced money-capital must return with a surplus for the circuit to have succeeded. For an enterprise, there is no point whatsoever in producing goods and services for a consumer market if the consumers have no wages to spend, thus realizing sales revenues (the so-called 'top line', before the deduction of all the costs that leaves a remainder of net profit, the so-called 'bottom line').

What to do? Proponents of Universal Basic Income (UBI) propose that ordinary people be simply given the money to spend on consumer goods to fulfil their needs and, above all, to keep the economy ticking over. Since these ordinary people displaced by AI do not earn wages, the income must be given to them — but by whom? The obvious candidate is the State, that must exercise its superior power to tax its taxpayers to redistribute income to those without earned income. If wage income of wage-earners is greatly reduced by their becoming unemployed due to the deployment of AI, the income to redistribute must come from landowners, financial institutions and enterprises themselves (to name only the principal character masks).

Such redistribution by State fiat to put unearned income into the hands of consumers, however, makes the gainful game pointless, since it can no longer be played to produce a surplus. The three classes themselves must then advance, via taxation, unearned income to consumers to realize the thingified value of produced goods and services as sales revenue. Under such conditions, advanced thingified value can no longer valorize. Bourgeois society's mainspring, its economic principle of movement, is broken.

Some may think that to envision the self-abolition of capitalism through the deployment of AI, thus destroying its very principle of movement — the valorization of thingified value — is, to put it mildly, naïve. But then again, such insight into the nature of capitalism is, to put it mildly, rare. 

From the historical start long ago, apologists for capitalism of all stripes (entrepreneurs, politicians, economists) have known how to cover up the true nature of capitalism, extolling it instead as the realm of equality and freedom of individuals. This delusion shows little sign today of dissipating.

Further reading: On Human Temporality,

Karl Marx Grundrisse der Kritik der politischen Ökonomie Dietz, Berlin 1953 pp.151ff.


VIDEO: An Invisible Global Social Value,

Sustainability? Of what?.