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Tag: Kant

After Yesterday: Review and Commentary of Catherine Malabou’s Before Tomorrow: Epigenesis and Rationality

by rsbakker

Experiments like the Wason Selection Task dramatically demonstrate the fractionate, heuristically specialized nature of human cognition. Dress the same logical confound in social garb and it suddenly becomes effortless. We are legion, both with reference to our environments and to ourselves. The great bulk of human cognition neglects the general nature of things, targeting cues instead, information correlated to subsequent events. We metacognize none of this.

Insofar as Catherine Malabou concedes the facts of neurobiology she concedes these facts.

In Before Tomorrow: Epigenesis and Rationality, she attempts to rescue the transcendental via a conception of ‘transcendental epigenesis.’ The book orbits about section 27 (pp. 173-175 in my beaten Kemp-Smith translation) of the Transcendental Deduction in the second edition of The Critique of Pure Reason, where Kant considers the vexed question of the source of the agreement of the transcendental and the empirical, conceptuality and experience. Kant considers three possibilities: the agreement is empirically sourced, transcendentally sourced, or fundamentally (divinely) given. Since the first and the third contradict the necessity of the transcendental, he opts for the second, which he cryptically describes as “the epigenesis of pure reason” (174), a phrase which has perplexed Kant scholars ever since.

She examines a cluster of different theories on Kant’s meaning, each pressing Kant toward either empirical or theological contingency, and thus the very contradiction he attempts to avoid with his invocation of ‘epigenesis.’ Malabou undertakes a defense of Kantian transcendental epigenesis in the context of contemporary neurobiology, transforming Kant’s dilemma into a diagnosis of the dilemma she sees confronting Continental philosophy as a whole.

Via Foucault, she argues the historicity of transcendence as epigenesis understood as the invention of meaning (which she thinks is irreducible). “[N]o biologist,” she writes, “examines the relation between genetics and epigenetics in terms of meaning.” Via Heidegger (“who is no doubt the deepest of all of Kant’s readers”) she argues that the ecstatic temporality of transcendence reveals the derivative nature of empirical and theological appropriations, which both cover over primordial time (time before time). She ultimately parts with Heidegger on the issue of primordiality, but she takes away the phenomenological interpolation of past, present, and future, building toward the argument that epigenesis is never simply archaeological, but aimed as well—teleological.

Meillasoux seems to overthrow the primordial via reference to the ancestral, the time before the time before time, but he ultimately fails to deliver on the project of contingency. For all the initial praise Malabou expresses for his project, he ultimately provides her with a critical foil, an example of how not to reach beyond the Kantian tradition. (I especially enjoyed her Heideggerean critique of his time before the time before time as being, quite obviously (I think), the time after the time before time).

She ultimately alights on the Critique of Judgment, with a particular emphasis on section 81, which contains another notorious reference to epigenesis. The problem, once again, was that reading ‘the epigenesis of pure reason’ empirically—neurobiologically—obliterates the transcendental. Reading it formally, on the other hand, renders it static and inexplicable. What Malabou requires is some way of squaring the transcendental with the cognitive scientific revolution, lest Continental philosophy dwindle into a museum relic. She uses the mingling of causal and teleological efficacy Kant describes in the Third Critique as her ‘contact point’ between the transcendental and the empirical, since it is in the purposiveness of life that contingency and necessity are brought together.

Combining this with ecstatic temporality on the hand and neurobiological life on the other reveals an epigenesis that bridges the divide between life and thought in the course of explaining the adaptivity of reason without short-circuiting transcendence: “insofar as its movement is also the movement of the reason that thinks it, insofar as there is no rationality without epigenesis, without self-adjustment, without the modification of the old by the new, the natural and objective time of epigenesis may also be considered to be the subjective and pure time of the formation of horizon by and for thought.”

And so is the place of cognitive science made clear: “what neurobiology makes possible today through its increasingly refined description of brain mechanisms and its use of increasingly effective imaging techniques is the actual taking into account, by thought, of its own life.” The epigenetic ratchet now includes the cognitive sciences; philosophical meaning can now be generated on the basis of the biology of life. “What the neurobiological perspective lacks fundamentally,” she writes, “is the theoretical accounting for the new type of reflexivity that it enables and in which all of its philosophical interest lies.” Transcendental epigenesis, Malabou thinks, allows neurobiologically informed philosophy, one attuned to the “adventure of subjectivity,” to inform neurobiology.

She concludes, interestingly, with a defense of her analogical methodology, something I’ve criticized her for previously (and actually asked her about at a public lecture she gave in 2015). I agree that we’re all compelled to resort to cartoons when discussing these matters, true, but the problem is that we have no way of arbitrating whether our analogies render some dynamic tractable, or merely express some coincidental formal homology, short their abductive power, their ability to render domains scrutable. It is the power of a metaphor to clarify more than it merely matches that is the yardstick of theoretical analogical adequacy.

In some ways, I genuinely loved this book, especially for the way it reads like a metaphysical whodunnit, constantly tying varied interpretations to the same source material, continually interrogating different suspects, dismissing them with a handful of crucial clues in hand. This is the kind of book I once adored: an extended meditation on a decisive philosophical issue anchored by close readings of genuinely perplexing texts.

Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure Malabou’s approach completely misconstrues the nature of the problem the cognitive sciences pose to Continental philosophy. As a result, I fear she obscures the disaster about to befall, not simply her tradition, but arguably the whole of humanity.

When viewed from a merely neurobiological perspective, cognitive systems and environments form cognitive ecologies—their ‘epigenetic’ interdependence comes baked in. Insofar as Malabou agrees with this, she agrees that the real question has nothing to do with ‘correlation,’ the intentional agreement of concept and object, but rather with the question of how experience and cognition as they appear to philosophical reflection can be reconciled with the facts of our cognitive ecologies as scientifically reported. The problem, in other words, is the biology of metacognition. To put it into Kantian terms, the cognitive sciences amount to a metacritique of reason, a multibillion dollar colonization of Kant’s traditional domain. Like so much life, metacognition turns out to be a fractionate, radically heuristic affair, ancestrally geared to practical problem-solving. Not only does this imperil Kant’s account of cognition, it signals the disenchantment of the human soul. The fate of the transcendental is a secondary concern at best, one that illustrates rather than isolates the problem. The sciences have overthrown the traditional discourses of every single domain they have colonized. The burning question is why should the Continental philosophical discourse on the human soul prove an exception?

The only ‘argument’ that Malabou makes in this regard, the claim upon which all of her arguments hang, also comes from Kant:

“In the Critique of Pure Reason, when discussing the schema of the triangle, Kant asserts that there are realities that “can never exist anywhere except in thought.” If we share this view, as I do, then the validity of the transcendental is upheld. Yes, there are realities that exist nowhere but in thought.”

So long as we believe in ‘realities of thought,’ Continental philosophy is assured its domain. But are these ‘realities’ what they seem? Remember Hume: “It is remarkable concerning the operations of the mind that, though most intimately present to us, yet, whenever they become the object of reflection, they seem involved in obscurity; nor can the eye readily find those lines and boundaries, which discriminate and distinguish them” (Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, 7). The information available to traditional speculative reflection is less than ideal. Given this evidential insecurity, how will the tradition cope with the increasing amounts of cognitive scientific information flooding society?

The problem, in other words, is both epistemic and social. Epistemically, the reality of thought need not satisfy our traditional conceptions, which suggests, all things being equal, that it will very likely contradict them. And socially, no matter how one sets about ontologically out-fundamentalizing the sciences, the fact remains that ‘ontologically out-fundamentalizing’ is the very discursive game that is being marginalized—disenchanted.

Regarding the epistemic problem. For all the attention Malabou pays to section 81 of the Third Critique, she overlooks the way Kant begins by remarking on the limits of cognition. The fact is, he’s dumbfounded: “It is beyond our reason’s grasp how this reconciliation of two wholly different kinds of causality is possible: the causality of nature in its universal lawfulness, with [the causality of] an idea that confines nature to a particular form for which nature itself contains no basis whatsoever.” Our cognition of efficacy is divided between what can be sourced in nature and what cannot be sourced, between causes and purposes, and somehow, someway, they conspire to render living systems intelligible. The evidence of this basic fractionation lies plain in experience, but the nature of its origin and activity remain occluded: it belongs to “the being in itself of which we know merely the appearance.”

In one swoop, Kant metacognizes the complexity of cognition (two wholly different forms), the limits of metacognizing that complexity (inscrutable to reflection), and the efficacy of that complexity (enabling cognition of animate things). Thanks to the expansion of the cognitive scientific domain, all three of these insights now possess empirical analogues. As far as complexity is concerned, we know that humans possess a myriad of specialized cognitive systems. Kant’s ‘two kinds of causality’ correlates with two families of cognitive systems observed in infants, the one geared to the inanimate world, mechanical troubleshooting, the other to the animate world, biological troubleshooting. The cognitive pathologies belonging Williams Syndrome and Autism Spectrum Disorder demonstrate profound cleavages between physical and psychological cognition. The existence of metacognitive limits is also a matter of established empirical fact, operative in any number of phenomena explored by the ecological rationality and cognitive heuristics and biases research programs. In fact, the mere existence of cognitive science, which is invested in discovering those aspects of experience and cognition we are utterly insensitive to, demonstrates the profundity of human medial neglect, our utter blindness to the enabling machinery of cognition as such.

And recent research is also revealing the degree to which humans are hardwired to posit opportunistic efficacies. Given the enormity and complexity of endogenous and exogenous environments, organisms have no hope of sourcing the information constituting its cognitive ecologies. No surprise, neural networks (like the machine learning systems they inspired) are exquisitely adapted to the isolation of systematic correlations—patterns. Neglecting the nature of the systems involved, they focus on correlations between availabilities, isolating those observable precursors allowing the prediction of subsequent, reproductively significant observables such as behaviour. Confusing correlation with causation may be the bane of scientists, but for the rest of us, the reliance of ‘proxies’ often pays real cognitive dividends.

Humans are hardwired to both neglect their own cognitive complexity and to fetishize their environments, to impute efficacies serving local, practical cognitive determinations. Stranded in the most complicated system ever encountered, human metacognition cannot but comprise a congeries of source-insensitive systems geared to the adventitious solution of practical problems—like holding one’s tongue, or having second thoughts, or dwelling on the past, and so on. In everyday contexts, it never occurs to question the sources of these activities. Given neglect of the actual sources, we intuit spontaneity whenever we retask our metacognitive motley with reporting the source of these or any other cognitive activities.

We have very good empirical reasons to believe that the above is true. So, what do we do with transcendental speculation a la Kant? Do we ignore what cognitive science has learned about the fractionation, limits, and default propensities of human metacognition? Do we assume he was onto something distinct, a second, physically inexplicable order enabling cognition of the empirical in addition to the physically explicable (because empirical) order that we know (thanks to strokes, etc.) enables cognition of the empirical? Or do we assume that Kant was onto something dimly, which, given his ignorance of cognitive science, he construed dogmatically as distinct? Do we recognize the a priori as a fetishization of medial neglect, as way to make sense of the fractionate, heuristic nature of cognition absent any knowledge of that nature?

The problem with defending the first, transcendental thesis is that the evidence supporting the second empirical hypothesis will simply continue to accumulate. This is where the social problem rears its head, why the kind of domain overlap demonstrated above almost certainly signals the doom of Malabou’s discursive tradition. Continental philosophers need to understand how disenchantment works, how the mere juxtaposition of traditional and scientific claims socially delegitimizes the former. The more cognitive science learns about experience and cognition, the less relevant and less credible traditional philosophical discourses on the nature of experience and cognition will become.

The cognitive scientific metacritique of reason, you could say, reveals the transcendental as an artifact of our immaturity, of an age when we hearkened to the a priori as our speculative authority. Malabou not only believes in this speculative authority, she believes that science itself must answer to it. Rather than understanding the discursive tools of science epigenetically, refined and organized via scientific practice, she understands them presuppositionally, as beholden to this or that (perpetually underdetermined) traditional philosophical interpretation of conditions, hidden implicatures that must be unpacked to assure cognitive legitimacy—implicatures that clearly seem to stand outside ecology, thus requiring more philosophical interpretation to provide cognitive legitimacy. The great irony, of course, is that scientists eschew her brand of presuppositional ‘legitimacy’ to conserve their own legitimacy. Stomping around in semantic puddles is generally a counterproductive way to achieve operational clarity—a priori exercises in conceptual definition are notoriously futile. Science turns on finding answerable questions in questions answered. If gerrymandering definitions geared to local experimental contexts does the trick, then so be it. The philosophical groping and fumbling involved is valuable only so far as it serves this end. Is this problematic? Certainly. Is this a problem speculative ontological interpretation can solve? Not at all.

Something new is needed. Something radical, not in the sense of discursive novelty, but in a way that existentially threatens the tradition—and offends accordingly.

I agree entirely when Malabou writes:

“Clearly, it is of the utmost necessity today to rethink relations between the biological and the transcendental, even if it is to the detriment of the latter. But who’s doing so? And why do continental philosophers reject the neurobiological approach to the problem from the outset?”

This was the revelation I had in 1999, attempting to reconcile fundamental ontology and neuroscience for the final chapter of my dissertation. I felt the selfsame exhaustion, the nagging sense that it was all just a venal game, a discursive ingroup ruse. I turned my back on philosophy, began writing fiction, not realizing I was far from alone in my defection. When I returned, ‘correlation’ had replaced ‘presence’ as the new ‘ontologically problematic presupposition.’ At long last, I thought, Continental philosophy had recognized that intentionality—meaning—was the problem. But rather than turn to cognitive science to “search for the origin of thinking outside of consciousness and will,” the Speculative Realists I encountered (with the exception of thinkers like David Roden) embraced traditional vocabularies. Their break with traditional Kantian philosophy, I realized, did not amount to a break with traditional intentional philosophy. Far from calling attention to the problem, ‘correlation’ merely focused intellectual animus toward an effigy, an institutional emblem, stranding the 21st century Speculative Realists in the very interpretative mire they used to impugn 20th century Continental philosophy. Correlation was a hopeful, but ultimately misleading diagnosis. The problem isn’t that cognitive systems and environments are interdependent, the problem is that this interdependence is conceived intentionally. Think about it. Why do we find the intentional interdependence of cognition and experience so vexing when the ecological interdependence of cognitive systems and environments is simply given in biology? What is it about intentionality?

Be it dogmatically or critically conceived, what we call ‘intentionality’ is a metacognitive artifact of the way source-insensitive modes of cognition, like intentional cognition, systematically defer the question of sources. A transcendental source is a sourceless source—an ‘originary repetition’ admitting an epigenetic gloss—because intentional cognition, whether applied to thought or the world, is source-insensitive cognition. To apply intentional cognition to the question of the nature of intentional cognition, as the tradition does compulsively, is to trip into metacognitive crash space, a point where intuitions, like those Malabou so elegantly tracks in Before Tomorrow, can only confound the question they purport to solve.

Derrida understood, at least as far as his (or perhaps any) intentional vocabulary could take him. He understood that cognition as cognized is a ‘cut-out,’ an amnesiac intermediary, appearing sourceless, fully present, something outside ecology, and as such doomed to be overthrown by ecology. He, more-so than Kant, hesitates upon the metacognitive limit, full-well understanding the futility of transgressing it. But since he presumed the default application of intentional cognition to the problem of cognition necessary, he presumed the inevitability of tripping into crash space as well, believing that reflection could not but transgress its limits and succumb to the metaphysics of presence. Thus his ‘quasi-transcendentals,’ his own sideways concession to the Kantian quagmire. And thus deconstruction, the crashing of super-ecological claims by adducing what must be neglected—ecology—to maintain the illusion of presence.

And so, you could say the most surprising absence in Malabou’s text is her teacher, who whispers merely from various turns in her discourse.

“No one,” she writes, “has yet thought to ask what continental philosophy might become after this “break.” Not true. I’ve spent years now prospecting the desert of the real, the post-intentional landscape that, if I’m right, humanity is doomed to wander into and evaporate. I too was a Derridean once, so I know a path exists between her understanding and mine. I urge her to set aside the institutional defense mechanisms as I once did: charges of scientism or performative contradiction simply beg the question against the worst-case scenario. I invite her to come see what philosophy and the future look like after the death of transcendence, if only to understand the monstrosity of her discursive other. I challenge her to think post-human thoughts—to understand cognition materially, rather than what traditional authority has made of it. I implore her to see how the combination of science and capital is driving our native cognitive ecologies to extinction on an exponential curve.

And I encourage everyone to ask why, when it comes to the topic of meaning, we insist on believing in happy endings? We evolved to neglect our fundamental ecological nature, to strategically hallucinate spontaneities to better ignore the astronomical complexities beneath. Subreption has always been our mandatory baseline. As the cognitive ecologies underwriting those subreptive functions undergo ever more profound transformations, the more dysfunctional our ancestral baseline will become. With the dawning of AI and enhancement, the abstract problem of meaning has become a civilizational crisis.

Best we prepare for the worst and leave what was human to hope.

The Metacritique of Reason

by rsbakker

Kant

 

Whether the treatment of such knowledge as lies within the province of reason does or does not follow the secure path of a science, is easily to be determined from the outcome. For if, after elaborate preparations, frequently renewed, it is brought to a stop immediately it nears its goal; if often it is compelled to retrace its steps and strike into some new line of approach; or again, if the various participants are unable to agree in any common plan of procedure, then we may rest assured that it is very far from having entered upon the secure path of a science, and is indeed a merely random groping.  Immanuel Kant, The Critique of Pure Reason, 17.

The moral of the story, of course, is that this description of Dogmatism’s failure very quickly became an apt description of Critical Philosophy as well. As soon as others saw all the material inferential wiggle room in the interpretation of condition and conditioned, it was game over. Everything that damned Dogmatism in Kant’s eyes now characterizes his own philosophical inheritance.

Here’s a question you don’t come across everyday: Why did we need Kant? Why did philosophy have to discover the transcendental? Why did the constitutive activity of cognition elude every philosopher before the 18th Century? The fact we had to discover it means that it was somehow ‘always there,’ implicit in our experience and behaviour, but we just couldn’t see it. Not only could we not see it, we didn’t even realize it was missing, we had no inkling we needed to understand it to understand ourselves and how we make sense of the world. Another way to ask the question of the inscrutability of the ‘transcendental,’ then, is to ask why the passivity of cognition is our default assumption. Why do we assume that ‘what we see is all there is’ when we reflect on experience?

Why are we all ‘naive Dogmatists’ by default?

225px-Spinoza

It’s important to note that no one but no one disputes that it had to be discovered. This is important because it means that no one disputes that our philosophical forebears once uniformly neglected the transcendental, that it remained for them an unknown unknown. In other words, both the Intentionalist and the Eliminativist agree on the centrality of neglect in at least this one regard. The transcendental (whatever it amounts to) is not something that metacognition can readily intuit—so much so that humans engaged in thousands of years of ‘philosophical reflection’ without the least notion that it even existed. The primary difference is that the Intentionalist thinks they can overcome neglect via intuition and intellection, that theoretical metacognition (philosophical reflection), once alerted to the existence of the transcendental, suddenly somehow possesses the resources to accurately describe its structure and function. The Eliminativist, on the other hand, asks, ‘What resources?’ Lay them out! Convince me! And more corrosively still, ‘How do you know you’re not still blinkered by neglect?’ Show me the precautions!

The Eliminativist, in other words, pulls a Kant on Kant and demands what amounts to a metacritique of reason.

The fact is, short of this accounting of metacognitive resources and precautions, the Intentionalist has no way of knowing whether or not they’re simply a Stage-Two Dogmatist,’ whether their ‘clarity,’ like the specious clarity of the Dogmatist, isn’t simply the product of neglect—a kind of metacognitive illusion in effect. For the Eliminativist, the transcendental (whatever its guise) is a metacognitive artifact. For them, the obvious problems the Intentionalist faces—the supernaturalism of their posits, the underdetermination of their theories, the lack of decisive practical applications—are all symptomatic of inquiry gone wrong. Moreover, they find it difficult to understand why the Intentionalist would persist in the face of such problems given only a misplaced faith in their metacognitive intuitions—especially when the sciences of the brain are in the process of discovering the actual constitutive activity responsible! You want to know what’s really going on ‘implicitly,’ ask a cognitive neuroscientist. We’re just toying with our heuristics out of school otherwise.

We know that conscious cognition involves selective information uptake for broadcasting throughout the brain. We also know that no information regarding the astronomically complex activities constitutive of conscious cognition as such can be so selected and broadcast. So it should come as no surprise whatsoever that the constitutive activity responsible for experience and cognition eludes experience and cognition—that the ‘transcendental,’ so-called, had to be discovered. More importantly, it should come as no surprise that this constitutive activity, once discovered, would be systematically misinterpreted. Why? The philosopher ‘reflects’ on experience and cognition, attempts to ‘recollect’ them in subsequent moments of experience and cognition, in effect, and realizes (as Hume did regarding causality, say) that the information available cannot account for the sum of experience and cognition: the philosopher comes to believe (beginning most famously with Kant) that experience does not entirely beget experience, that the constitutive constraints on experience somehow lie orthogonal to experience. Since no information regarding the actual neural activity responsible is available, and since, moreover, no information regarding this lack is available, the philosopher presumes these orthogonal constraints must conform to their metacognitive intuitions. Since the resulting constraints are incompatible with causal cognition, they seem supernatural: transcendental, virtual, quasi-transcendental, aspectual, what have you. The ‘implicit’ becomes the repository of otherworldly constraining or constitutive activities.

Philosophy had to discover the transcendental because of metacognitive neglect—on this fact, both the Intentionalist and the Eliminativist agree. The Eliminativist simply takes the further step of holding neglect responsible for the ontologically problematic, theoretically underdetermined, and practically irrelevant character of Intentionalism. Far from what Kant supposed, Critical Philosophy—in all its incarnations, historical and contemporary–simply repeats, rather than solves, these sins of Dogmatism. The reason for this, the Eliminativist says, is that it overcomes one metacognitive illusion only to run afoul a cluster of others.

This is the sense in which Blind Brain Theory can be seen as completing as much as overthrowing the Kantian project. Though Kant took cognitive dogmatism, the assumption of cognitive simplicity and passivity, as his target, he nevertheless ran afoul metacognitive dogmatism, the assumption of metacognitive simplicity and passivity. He thought—as his intellectual heirs still think—that philosophical reflection possessed the capacity to apprehend the superordinate activity of cognition, that it could accurately theorize reason and understanding. We now possess ample empirical grounds to think this is simply not the case. There’s the mounting evidence comprising what Princeton psychologist Emily Pronin has termed the ‘Introspection Illusion,’ direct evidence of metacognitive incompetence, but the fact is, every nonconscious function experimentally isolated by cognitive science illuminates another constraining/constitutive cognitive activity utterly invisible to philosophical reflection, another ignorance that the Intentionalist believes has no bearing on their attempts to understand understanding.

One can visually schematize our metacognitive straits in the following way:

Metacognitive Capacity

This diagram simply presumes what natural science presumes, that you are a complex organism biomechanically synchronized with your environments. Light hits your retina, sound hits your eardrum, neural networks communicate and behaviours are produced. Imagine your problem-solving power set on a swivel and swung 360 degrees across the field of all possible problems, which is to say problems involving lateral, or nonfunctionally entangled environmental systems, as well as problems involving medial, or functionally entangled enabling systems, such as those comprising your brain. This diagram, then, visualizes the loss and gain in ‘cognitive dimensionality’—the quantity and modalities of information available for problem solving—as one swings from the third-person lateral to the first-person medial. Dimensionality peaks with external cognition because of the power and ancient evolutionary pedigree of the systems involved. The dimensionality plunges for metacognition, on the other hand, because of medial neglect, the way structural complicity, astronomical complexity, and evolutionary youth effectively renders the brain unwittingly blind to itself.

This is why the blue line tracking our assumptive or ‘perceived’ medial capacity in the figure peaks where our actual medial capacity bottoms out: with the loss in dimensionality comes the loss in the ability to assess reliability. Crudely put, the greater the cognitive dimensionality, the greater the problem-solving capacity, the greater the error-signalling capacity. And conversely, the less the cognitive dimensionality, the less the problem-solving capacity, the less the error-signalling capacity. The absence of error-signalling means that cognitive consumption of ineffective information will be routine, impossible to distinguish from the consumption of effective information. This raises the spectre of ‘psychological anosognosia’ as distinct from the clinical, the notion that the very cognitive plasticity that allowed humans to develop ACH thinking has led to patterns of consumption (such as those underwriting ‘philosophical reflection’) that systematically run afoul medial neglect. Even though low dimensionality speaks to cognitive specialization, and thus to the likely ineffectiveness of cognitive repurposing, the lack of error-signalling means the information will be routinely consumed no matter what. Given this, one should expect ACH thinking–reason–to be plagued with the very kinds of problems that plague theoretical discourse outside the sciences now, the perpetual coming up short, the continual attempt to retrace steps taken, the interminable lack of any decisive consensus…

Or what Kant calls ‘random groping.’

The most immediate, radical consequence of this 360 degree view is that the opposition between the first-person and third-person disappears. Since all the apparently supernatural characteristics rendering the first-person naturalistically inscrutable can now be understood as artifacts of neglect—illusions of problem-solving sufficiency—all the ‘hard problems’ posed by intentional phenomena simply evaporate. The metacritique of reason, far from pointing a way to any ‘science of the transcendental,’ shows how the transcendental is itself a dogmatic illusion, how cryptic things like the ‘apriori’ are obvious expressions of medial neglect, sources of constraint ‘from nowhere’ that baldly demonstrate our metacognitive incapacity to recognize our metacognitive incapacity. For all the prodigious problem-solving power of logic and mathematics, a quick glance at the philosophy of either is enough to assure you that no one knows what they are. Blind Brain Theory explains this remarkable contrast of insight and ignorance, how we could possess tools so powerful without any decisive understanding of the tools themselves.

The metacritique of reason, then, leads to what might be called ‘pronaturalism,’ a naturalism that can be called ‘progressive’ insofar as it continues to eschew the systematic misapplication of intentional cognition to domains that it cannot hope to solve—that continues the process of exorcising ghosts from the machinery of nature. The philosophical canon swallowed Kant so effortlessly that people often forget he was attempting to put an end to philosophy, to found a science worthy of the name, one which grounded both the mechanical and the ghostly. By rendering the ghostly the formal condition of any cognition of the mechanical, however, he situated his discourse squarely in the perpetually underdetermined domain of philosophy. His failure was inevitable.

The metacritique of reason makes the very same attempt, only this time anchored in the only real credible source of theoretical cognition we possess: the sciences. It allows us to peer through the edifying fog of our intentional traditions and to see ourselves, at long last, as wholly continuous with crazy shit like this…

Filamentary Map

 

Metaphilosophical Reflections II: The Entwinement of Skepticism and Philosophy

by reichorn

“… skepticism itself is in its inmost heart at one with every true philosophy.”

– Hegel, On the Relationship of Skepticism to Philosophy

“Whoever is believed in his presuppositions, he is our master and our God; he will plant his foundations so broad and easy that by them he will be able to raise us, if he wants, up to the clouds.”

–  Montaigne, Apology for Raymond Sebond

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This is the second in a series of guest-blogger posts by me, Roger Eichorn.  The first post can be found here.

I’m also a would-be fantasy author.  The first three chapters of my novel, The House of Yesteryear, can be found here.  I’ve also recently uploaded the first of what will be two ‘Bonus Scenes’ from later in the book.  You can find that here.  Now on to business…

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What is philosophy?

In asking this question, it is misguided—and probably hopeless—to insist upon a strict definition (i.e., a definition that specifies necessary and sufficient conditions for something to qualify as ‘philosophy’).  Chances are good that no such definition is possible.  Rather, it is likely that philosophy is what Wittgenstein called a ‘family resemblance’ concept, that is, a concept that picks out a number of importantly distinct things that are more or less loosely bound together by a resemblance-relation.  Wittgenstein’s most famous example is the concept game: it seems impossible to provide necessary and sufficient conditions for something to qualify as a game, yet it also seems that all the various things we refer to as ‘games’ bear some sort of resemblance to one another.

What I’m after, then, is not a strict definition, but a sort of physiognomy of philosophy.  What is/are the most salient or common feature(s) of the family resemblance?  The explanatory desideratum is to understand what makes philosophy distinct from other intellectual domains.  What distinguishes philosophy from, say, theology or the sciences?  In most cases, it does seem that, as with porn, we ‘know it when we see it.’  But I think that, in addressing the question “What is philosophy?”, we can do better than simply pointing to examples.  Indeed, I believe that there is a single feature of philosophy that both (a) stands out more prominently than any other and (b) provides the groundwork for a systematic explanation both of philosophy’s relation to other intellectual domains and of the apparent interminability of philosophical inquiries.  That feature is skepticism.

Philosophy and skepticism are, I want to argue, inextricably entwined.

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Now, what exactly I mean by ‘the entwinement of skepticism and philosophy’ will be the topic of this and the two posts that will follow.  Thus, my claim should not be prejudged.  In particular, it should not be dismissed out of hand.  Given what I’ve said so far, there are numerous ways of understanding the claim as meaning things I do not intend.

I began by asking “What is philosophy?”  Now, it seems, I’m forced to address first another nebulous question, namely, “What is skepticism?”  In fact, my answers to both questions will unfold together, over the course of this and subsequent posts.  The questions will be approached by way of a discussion of presuppositions, specifically the idea of freedom from presuppositions, or ‘presuppositionlessness.’

What do I mean by ‘presuppositions’?  It is important that we not over-intellectualize the concept, for doing so would obscure the sort of presupposition I’m most interested in.  I imagine that when many people think of presuppositions, they think first of something like (i) consciously developed and articulated hypotheses, such as those posited by scientists.  But there is also a deeper sense of presupposition, according to which presuppositions are (ii) the unreflective (or prereflective) commitments that frame or underlay our sayings and doings, our ‘situation’ as human-beings-in-the-world.  Presuppositions of this sort lie so far in the background—or, alternatively, saturate so completely—our cognitive lives as to be effectively invisible.  Such presuppositions can, at least in principle, be made visible; but such a process of explication involves thematizing commitments that were already there, rather than (as in the case of scientific hypotheses) developing new commitments.  A third sort of presupposition lies somewhere between the two: (iii) they are not hypotheses, but neither are they entirely unreflective.  In most cases, this third kind of presupposition will be taken, by those who hold them, as obviously true, perhaps as ‘self-evident.’  Thus, they will not be seen as presuppositions by those who hold them, but as something like fundamental, immovable, or indubitable beliefs/truths.

I shall refer in what follows to presupposition contexts.  A presupposition context is a ‘situation,’ with regard to our sayings and doings, that is framed and defined by either the second or the third sort of presupposition introduced in the previous paragraph.  Presupposition(ii) contexts define what I call ‘common life,’ i.e., the context into which we’re ‘thrown’ (as Heidegger would say), both as natural beings and as products of a particular culture.  Such contexts are the ‘background’ of our ‘everydayness’; their constitutive presuppositions determine to a large extent how the world shows up for us, in the sense of how things strike us, how they appear to us to be.  These presuppositions are expressed affectively as well as—indeed, perhaps more fundamentally than they are expressed—cognitively.

For instance, I happen to think that incest is wrong.  The proposition is one I find that I cannot fail to assent to.  Why do I believe that incest is wrong?  I could, of course, marshal any number of reasons to support the belief, but (a) the belief, in its cognitive guise, is capable of withstanding devastating counterarguments, and (b) even if I were brought around, intellectually, to rejecting the belief (which happens when I stop and really think about it), the belief qua affective-disposition remains.  In other words, even if I ‘officially’ reject the proposition that incest is wrong, I continue to find incest repulsive.  (Regarding this example: see the study referenced and discussed by Jesse Prinz in The Emotional Construction of Morals, p. 30.)  This repulsion is, on my view, an expression of the sort of deep underlying commitment that constitutes the context of common life.  Common life is, as Wittgenstein put it, an inherited background:  “I did not get my picture of the world by satisfying myself of its correctness; nor do I have it because I am satisfied of its correctness.  No: it is the inherited background against which I distinguish between true and false” (On Certainty, §94).  Presupposition(ii) contexts, then, are similar to what Wittgenstein refers to as ‘world-pictures’: “The propositions describing this world-picture [= in my terms, context-constitutive presuppositions] might be part of a kind of mythology.  And their role is like that of rules of a game; and the game can be learned purely practically, without learning any explicit rules” (On Certainty, §95).

Presupposition(iii) contexts are specialized domains of inquiry.  Their constitutive presuppositions are more or less reflective on a case-by-case basis.  Often, their constitutive presuppositions are going to match, and arise from, presuppositions framing the more general context of common life, with which specialized domains of inquiry are (at least) going to overlap.  So, for instance, historians presuppose that the past existed (i.e., that the world didn’t pop into existence five minutes ago), that the past is unchanging, that certain kinds of presently existing artifacts are capable of informing us about what happened in the past, etc.  It may be that a given historian has never actually formulated the belief that the past existed, in which case it looks more like an unreflective Type-2 presupposition.  The important point, however, is that the claim that the world has existed for x number of years is constitutive of the very practice of historical inquiry.  The historical-inquiry domain is specialized for precisely this reason: it has more or less definite boundaries, the crossing of which constitutes something like a foul.  If a nosy ‘subversive epistemologist’ (to borrow a helpful phrase from Michael Forster)—or perhaps a moon-eyed metaphysician—butts into an historical debate to ask, “But how do you know the world didn’t pop into existence five minutes ago?”, the historians have to hand a principled rationale for rejecting the question, for it lies outside the limits of the game they’re playing.  The historical-inquiry game can only proceed on the basis of such presuppositions.  Calling these context-constitutive presuppositions into question would entail the cessation of historical inquiry.  One would begin, instead, to philosophize.

As I suggested above, it can be misleading to refer to Type-2 and Types-3 presuppositions as presuppositions.  Type-2 presuppositions can seem to run ‘deeper’ than any mere presupposition.  As for Type-3 presuppositions, they are taken to be true (and so not merely presupposed) by those who hold them.  In the first case, ‘presupposition’ can seem too intellectual a notion; in the second case, it can seem inappropriate insofar as ‘presupposing’ seems to imply a degree of doubt or tentativeness.  All of that is true enough.  The rationale for nevertheless referring to ‘presuppositions’ in these cases is that that is how they appear from a philosophical standpoint.

As I’ll argue in more detail in my next post, the practice of philosophy is both historically and conceptually predicated on an initial skepticism regarding the inherent epistemic and practical authority of common life.  It strives to provide, now on a purely rational basis, the explanations and justifications that it itself took away from common life.  Crucial to stripping common life of epistemic and practical authority involves thematizing, and subsequently calling into question, its presuppositions.  (This does not mean that philosophers are necessarily hostile to everyday presuppositions.  On the contrary, I find that they are generally apologists.  But qua philosophers, they seek—usually without outright admitting as much—simply to transplant everyday presuppositions into richer, more solid, and, above all, more rational ground.  We can engage in combat in order to strengthen as well as to overthrow.)  Philosophy adopts the same sort of attitude toward the more reflective presuppositions of specialized contexts: what the historian takes to be self-evident or indubitable, the philosopher reduces to the status of a mere presupposition.

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It’s hardly surprising, then, that philosophy has traditionally striven to free itself from presuppositions.  We simply accept, without reasons, all sorts of things in common life as well as in other, less ‘radical’ domains of inquiry.  Moreover, as context-constitutive, such presuppositions form the ground of our presupposition-contextual epistemic–doxastic practices.  Given this picture, it can seem that, barring the establishment of presuppositionless knowledge, we’re doomed to irrationality—to playing mere games in the upper stories of the citadel of reason while failing, or even refusing, to investigate its foundations, to see whether the building is sound, whether it rests upon the ground of truth.

In the Republic, Plato argues that genuine knowledge must be presuppositionless: it must descend from the top of the Divided Line down.  If we try to make progress bottom-up, we’re “compelled to work from assumptions, proceeding to an end-point, rather than back to an origin or first principle” (510b).  He considers the example of geometry and arithmetic: “[T]here are some things they take for granted in their respective disciplines.  Odd and even, figures and the three types of angle.  That sort of thing.  Taking these as known, they make them into assumptions.  They see no need to justify them either to themselves or to anyone else.  They regard them as plain to anyone.  Starting from these, they then go through the rest of the argument, and finally reach, by agreed steps, that which they set out to investigate” (510c–d).  Plato associates this sort of inquiry with what he simply calls “thinking” (534a).  ‘Thinking’ deals with objects of knowledge, but cannot arrive at genuine knowledge itself, precisely because it cannot dispose of its presuppositions.  “As for the subjects which we said did grasp some part of what really is [i.e., geometry and arithmetic]… we can now see that as long as they leave the assumptions they use untouched, without being able to give any justification for them, they are only dreaming about what is.  They cannot possibly have any waking awareness of it.  After all, if the first principles of a subject are something you don’t know, and the endpoint and intermediate steps are interwoven out of what you don’t know, what possible mechanism can there ever be for turning a coherence between elements of this kind into knowledge?” (533b–c).  Knowledge, on the other hand, is acquired only when one achieves freedom from presuppositions: the soul “goes from an assumption to an origin or first principle which is free from assumptions” (510b).  Reason “uses assumptions not as first principles, but as true ‘bases’—points to take off from, entry-points—until it gets to what is free from assumptions, and arrives at the origin or first principle of everything.  This it seizes hold of, then turns round and follows the things which follow from this first principle, and so makes its way down to an end-point” (511b–c).  The method of achieving presuppositionlessness Plato calls ‘dialectic’:  “The dialectical method is the only one which in its determination to make itself secure proceeds by this route—doing away with its assumptions until it reaches the first principle itself” (537d).

The same commitment to presuppositionlessness can be found in Kant.  As in Plato, this commitment pushes Kant to reject experience as capable of providing rational satisfaction.  “[E]xperience never fully satisfies reason; it [i.e., reason] directs us ever further back in answering questions and leaves us unsatisfied as regards their full elucidation” (Prolegomena).  “[R]eason does not find its satisfaction in experience, it asks about the ‘why,’ and can find a ‘because’ for a while, but not always.  Therefore it ventures a step out of the field of experience and comes to ideas.”  Unfortunately, the move to ‘ideas’ doesn’t help; even here, “one cannot satisfy reason,” for the ‘whys?’ never let up (Metaphysik Mrongovius).  As he puts it in the first introduction to the Critique of Pure Reason, “Reason falls into this perplexity through no fault of its own.  It begins from principles whose use is unavoidable in the course of experience and at the same time sufficiently warranted by it.  With these principles it rises (as its nature also requires) ever higher, to more remote conditions.  But since it becomes aware in this way that its business must always remain incomplete because the questions never cease, reason sees itself necessitated to take refuge in principles that overstep all possible use in experience, and yet seem so unsuspicious that even ordinary common sense agrees with them.  But it thereby falls into obscurity and contradictions” (Avii–viii).  In other words, the common understanding makes use of principles that, although they are taken to be unproblematic in the course of everyday life, reason (i.e., philosophy) unmasks as objectively unjustified presuppositions (cf., Critique of Pure Reason, A473/B501).  Reason, which is not held in check by experience or by the contingencies of common life, strives after, and is satisfied by nothing less than, presuppositionlessness or, in Kant’s terms, the unconditioned.  “[R]eason in its logical use seeks the universal condition of its judgment…  [T]he proper principle of reason in general (in its logical use) is to find the unconditioned for conditioned cognitions of the understanding” (Critique of Pure Reason, A307/B364).  “[R]eason demands to know the unconditioned, and therewith the totality of all conditions, for otherwise it does not cease to question, just as if nothing had yet been answered” (“What Real Progress Has Metaphysics Made…?”).

Unlike Plato, however, Kant rejects the possibility at arriving at any sort of transcendent ground of truth.  Instead, he argues that we can only have knowledge within the sphere of experience.  Still, experience is structured in such a way, he argues, that we can have certain knowledge of what must be the case for experience to be possible at all.  (Kant calls this approach transcendental, which refers to conditions of possibility, not to ‘transcendence.’)  For Kant, the quest for presuppositionless knowledge ends not in transcendence, but in the uncovering of the determinate limits of knowledge.  As he puts it, reason will only be satisfied with “complete certainty”—which entails presuppositionlessness, since any lingering presuppositions could be doubted—“whether it be one of the cognition of the objects themselves or of the boundaries within which all of our cognitions of objects is enclosed” (Critique of Pure Reason, A761/B789).

There is a quite different tradition in Western philosophy, going back at least to Aristotle, that can be seen as furnishing a counterexample to my claim that philosophy strives for presuppositionlessness.  It is often thought that Aristotle was not concerned with skeptical problems, that he did not consider them worthy or requiring of response or refutation.  He is often taken to preempt skeptical philosophers by claiming that some of what they call ‘presuppositions’ are known to be true even though their truth cannot be demonstrated.  There’s clearly something right about the latter claim at least: as Aristotle says in the Posterior Analytics, “We contend that not all knowledge is demonstrative: knowledge of the immediate premises is indemonstrable” (72b).  The ‘immediate premises’ are what Aristotle calls ‘first principles.’  His argument, then, is that the truth of first principles cannot be demonstrated, yet nevertheless we can know them.

First off, I think it is clear that Aristotle’s philosophy is indeed entwined with skepticism, broadly construed (i.e., ‘subversive epistemologies’).  As we’ve just seen, he presents in the Posterior Analytics an anti-skeptical argument.  A similar anti-skeptical intent can be found elsewhere in the Aristotelian corpus, such as in the defense of logical laws in Metaphysics Book Gamma.  And while he has far more regard than Plato does for common, prephilosophical opinion (endoxa)—often using them as starting-points for the development of his own positions—he is ultimately skeptical of endoxa, for he displays both a willingness to reject it (when it happens to be wrong) and a desire to provide it with a more rational foundation (when it happens to be right).  If this is right, and if I’m right to conceptualize the entwinement of skepticism and philosophy as I’ve been doing so far, then we should find in Aristotle a commitment to the epistemic ideal of presuppositionlessness.  But just as it has seemed to many that Aristotle is unconcerned with skepticism, so it may seem that he lacks a commitment to the epistemic ideal of presuppositionlessness.  Addressing this issue in anything approaching a thorough way is impossible here.  All I’m going to do is focus on the anti-skeptical position we’ve looked at from the Posterior Analytics, according to which first principles are known immediately and indemonstrably.  Does this mean that Aristotle contents himself with presuppositional knowledge?

Aristotle’s argument in the Posterior Analytics anticipates—and may well have been the source of—the most powerful of all skeptical arguments, namely, the Agrippan Trilemma, according to which any attempt to justify a claim will end either in vicious circularity, infinite regress, or brute hypothesis.  Aristotle rejects outright the possibility of an infinite chain of justifications.  He also rejects circularity, for on his view, demonstrative knowledge relies on premises that are both prior to and better known than the conclusions derived from them.  In the case of circular justifications, though, the same propositions would have to be alternatively prior and subsequent to each other, alternatively better and worse known than each other.  Finally, he denies that immediately known first principles are mere hypotheses; if they were, then the most that could be concluded from them is that “if the primary things [the first principles] obtain, then so too do the things derived from them.”  His way of avoiding the Trilemma is to reject the assumption that all knowledge must be demonstrable: there is a type of indemonstrable knowledge, namely, knowledge of first principles.  But how do we know first principles?  On this, Aristotle’s remarks are cryptic, to say the least.  Such knowledge is not innate, but is said to “come to rest in the soul” as a result of “induction” from various instances of “perception” (100a–b).  Are these first principles merely presupposed, or are they known?  The skeptic—as well as many a dogmatist, such as Plato—will claim that they’re merely presupposed.  Aristotle, however, is going to deny this.  As we’ve seen, he holds that the first principles can be known, not merely hypothesized.  In fact, he holds that all demonstrative knowledge rests on prior knowledge: “All teaching and all learning of an intellectual kind proceed from pre-existent knowledge” (71a).  Aristotle, then, is not content with presuppositional knowledge.  We can disagree over the effectiveness of his strategy, but that his strategy evinces a commitment to presuppositionlessness should be clear.

Aristotle’s brand of anti-skeptical foundationalism can be found not only in later Aristotelians, but also, I would argue, in such philosophically distant groups as the so-called commonsense philosophers.  Like Aristotle, commonsense philosophy, from Thomas Reid to G.E. Moore to Jim Pryor, maintain that some things (indeed, a great many things) are simply and irrefutably known and so cannot be genuinely called into question.  These privileged bits of knowledge are indubitable, immovable, self-evident.

The problem—as Ambroise Beirce underlines in the entry on “Self-Evident” in The Devil’s Dictionary—is that, when scrutinized, self-evident seems to mean merely that which is “[e]vident to one’s self and to nobody else.”

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More recently, many philosophers have questioned the viability or necessity of attaining freedom from presuppositions.  It has been argued, for instance by Robert Stalnaker, that ‘pragmatic presuppositions’ are a necessary condition for discourse (see his Content and Context, p. 49).  In On Certainty, Wittgenstein seems to make a similar argument: “[T]he questions that we raise and our doubts depend on the fact that some propositions are exempt from doubt, are as it were like hinges on which those turn” (§341).  But, Wittgenstein adds, “[I]t isn’t that the situation is like this: We just can’t investigate everything, and for that reason we are forced to rest content with assumption.  If I want the door to turn, the hinges must stay put” (§343).  “It may be that all enquiry on our part is set so as to exempt certain propositions from doubt, if they are ever formulated.  They lie apart from the route travelled by enquiry” (§88).

I’ll return to some of these ideas in subsequent posts.  For now, I want merely to point out that, on the picture I’m presenting, all domains of inquiry are presupposition-contextual from a philosophical standpoint.  It may be that determinate intellectual or dialogic progress can only be made against a fixed background of unquestioned commitments.  If this is so, and if I’m right that philosophy is traditionally committed to the ideal of presuppositionlessness, then we would have the beginnings of an explanation of the apparent interminability of philosophical inquiries.  Philosophy, even when explicitly committed to presuppositionlessness, often proceeds presupposition-contextually, such as when it mistakes its presuppositions for self-evident first principles.  If progress cannot be made presuppositionlessly, then the only way for philosophy to make progress would be somehow to forestall the possibility of calling into question the presuppositions structuring a given philosophical discourse.  The problem with this is that philosophy does not appear to have any determinate boundaries, such as those that structure historical inquiries.  Philosophy, in short, lacks a principled means of calling “Foul!”  Philosophers are free, qua philosophers, to call into question any presupposition whatsoever.  It seems, in fact, that the task of securing a determinate set of presuppositions for philosophy—a presupposition-set that would allow philosophy to make determinate progress—is actually incoherent, for it seems that the only rational way to forestall the possibility of calling into question context-constitutive presuppositions is to ground or justify those presuppositions; yet doing so is tantamount to stripping those presuppositions of their status as presuppositions.

In the Apology for Raymond Sebond, Michel de Montaigne wrote that “[i]t is very easy, upon accepted foundations, to build what you please…  Whoever is believed in his presuppositions, he is our master and our God; he will plant his foundations so broad and easy that by them he will be able to raise us, if he wants, up to the clouds…  If you happen to crash this barrier in which lies the principal error, immediately [philosophical dogmatists] have this maxim in their mouth, that there is no arguing against people who deny first principles.”  In Montaigne’s view, “there cannot be first principals for men,” given the limits of our reason.  “To those who fight by presupposition, we must presuppose the opposite of the same axiom we are disputing about.  For every human presupposition and every enunciation has as much authority as another, unless reason shows the difference between them.  Thus they must all be put in the scales, and first of all the general ones, and those which tyrannize over us.”  For as Kant wrote, “[R]eason has no dictatorial authority; its verdict is always simply the agreement of free citizens, of whom each one must be permitted to express, without holding back, his objections and even his veto” (Critique of Pure Reason, A738–9/B766–7).

The Ptolemaic Restoration: Object Oriented Whatevery and Kant’s Copernican Revolution

by rsbakker

“And now, after all methods, so it is believed, have been tried and found wanting, the prevailing mood is that of weariness and complete indifferentism” –Immanuel Kant, The Critique of Pure Reason

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So, continuing my whirlwind interrogation of the new Continental materialisms, I want to turn to Object-Oriented Whatevery via the lens of Levi Bryant’s, “The Ontic Principle: Outline of an Object Oriented Ontology.” As always, I need to impress I’m a tourist and not a native of these philosophical climes, so I sincerely encourage anyone who comes across what seems to be an obvious misreading on my part to expose the offending claims in the comments. My goals, once again, are both critical and constructive: in the course of showing you why I think it’s obvious that Bryant cannot deliver the goods as advertised, I want to demonstrate the explanatory reach and power of BBT, not as any kind of theoretical panacea, but as a system of empirically tractable claims that, in the tradition of scientific theory more generally, are quite indifferent to what we want to be the case. Like I’ve said before, the conclusions suggested by BBT are so radical as to almost qualify as a reductio, were it not for the fact that a reductio is precisely the way it would appear were it true. And besides, as I hope some of you are at least beginning to see, there is something genuinely uncanny about its explanatory power.

Essentially I want to argue that BBT may actually deliver on what Bryant advertises–a way out of the philosophical impasses of the tradition, even a ‘flat ontology’ rationalized via difference!–though its consequences are nowhere near so kind. I’ve corresponded with Levi in the past, and he strikes me as a good egg. It’s his position I find baffling. With any luck he’ll do what Hagglund found incapable: acknowledge, expose, and contradict–inject some much-needed larva into Three Pound Brain!

Bryant begins, not by rehearsing the primary motive of critical philosophy–namely, how the failure of dogmatic philosophy to produce theoretical knowledge convinced philosophers to examine knowing–but rather the claim of critical philosophy, the notion “that prior to any claims about the nature of reality, prior to any speculation about objects or being, we must first secure a foundation for knowledge and our access to beings” (262). This allows him, quite without irony, to rehearse what he takes to be the primary motive of Object Oriented Ontology: the failure of critical philosophy to produce theoretical knowledge. “Faced with such a bewildering philosophical situation,” he writes, “what if we were to imagine ourselves as proceeding naively and pre-critically as first philosophers, pretending that the last three hundred years of philosophy had not taken place or that the proper point of entry into philosophical speculation was not the question of access?” In other words, given the failure of three centuries of critical philosophy to produce theoretical knowledge, perhaps the time has come to embrace, as best we can, the two millennia of dogmatic failure that preceded it.

Thus he motivates a turn away from the subject of knowledge to the object of knowledge, from the epistemological to the ontological–as we should, apparently, given that the object comes first. After all, as Heidegger made ‘clear,’ “questions of knowledge are already premised on a pre-ontological comprehension of being” (263). Unlike Heidegger, however, who saw in this pre-ontological comprehension an interpretative basis for theorizing a collapse of subject and object (which quickly came to resemble a conceptually retooled subject), Bryant sees a call to theorize, in tentative fashion, the ‘ultimate generalities’ that objectively organize the world. Premier among these tentative ultimate generalities, he asserts, is difference. This leads Bryant to pose what he calls the ‘Ontic Principle,’ the claim “that ‘to be’ is to make or produce a difference” (263).

Why should difference be our ‘fundamental principle’? Well, because all epistemology presupposes it. As he writes:

Paradoxically it therefore follows that epistemology cannot be first philosophy. Insofar as the question of knowledge presupposes a pre-epistemological comprehension of difference, the question of knowledge always comes second in relation to the metaphysical or ontological priority of difference. As such, there can be no question of securing the grounds of knowledge in advance or prior to an actual engagement with difference. 265

To which the reader might be tempted to ask, How do you know?

This is one of those junctures that makes me (if only momentarily) appreciate Derrida and his tireless attempts to show philosophers the inextricable co-implication of dokein and krinein. The easiest way to illustrate it here is to simply wonder aloud what is ‘presupposed’ by difference. If difference comes before epistemology because epistemology ‘presupposes’ difference as its ‘condition,’ and if the ultimate ‘first first,’ no matter how ‘tentative,’ is what we are after, then we should inquire into the presuppositions of our alleged presupposition. Since there can be no difference without the negation of some prior identity, for instance, perhaps we should choose identity–snub Heraclitus and do a few rails with Parmenides.

Can counterarguments be adduced against the ontological primacy of identity? Of course they can (and Bryant helps himself to a few), just as counterarguments can be adduced against those counterarguments, and so on and so on. In other words, if critical philosophy is motivated by the failure of dogmatic philosophy to produce theoretical knowledge, and if Bryant’s neo-dogmatic philosophy is motivated by the failure of critical philosophy to produce theoretical knowledge, then perhaps we should skip the ‘and centuries passed’ part, assume the failure of neo-dogmatism to produce theoretical knowledge and, crossing our fingers, simply leap straight into neo-critical philosophy.

Far from ‘escaping’ or ‘solving’ anything, this strategy–quite obviously in my opinion–perpetrates the very process it sets out to redress. Let’s call this state of oscillating institutional emphasis on the subject and the object of knowledge, ‘correlativity.’ And let’s call ‘correlativism’ the idea according to which philosophy can only ever prioritize either subject or object and never any term other than these two.

Why has correlativism so dominated philosophy since its Modern inception? I actually think I can give a naturalistic answer to this question. The dichotomy of subject and object, of course, possesses a myriad of conceptual attenuations, binaries such as thought and being, mind and body, spirit and matter, ideal and real, epistemology and ontology, to name but a few of the oppositions that have constrained the possibilities of coherent, speculative thought for centuries now. There are other binaries, certainly, categorical conceptual oppositions (such as that between difference and identity) that a number of philosophers (like Heidegger) have recruited in various attempts to think beyond subjectivity and objectivity, only to find themselves, inexorably it seems, re-inscribed within the logic of ‘correlativism.’ In this sense, I will be following a very well-trodden path, though one quite different than the one proposed by Bryant above–or so I like to think.

The primary problem I see with Bryant’s approach is that it takes the failure of critical philosophy to produce theoretical knowledge to obviate the need to answer the primary question that it sought to answer, which is, namely, the question of securing speculative truth despite the limitations of our nature. We are afflicted with numerous ‘cognitive scandals,’ basic questions it seems we should be able to answer but for whatever reason cannot. What is the good? Does the external world exist? What is beauty? Does the past exist? What is justice? Do other minds exist? What is consciousness? No matter how many answers we throw at these and other questions, the skeptic always seems to carry the day–and handily.

For whatever reason, we lack the capacity to decisively answer these questions. When it comes to the problems of critical philosophy, Bryant would have you focus on the ‘critical’ and to overlook the ‘philosophy.’ What precisely failed when it came to critical philosophy? Given the manner it seeks to redress the failure of dogmatic philosophy, the more obvious answer (by far one would think) is philosophy. And indeed, the more cognitive psychology learns about human reasoning, the more understandable the generational failure of philosophy to produce theoretical knowledge becomes. Human beings are theoretically incompetent, plain and simple. Doubtless we have the capacity to theorize, but it is a capacity that evolved long before our theories could exhibit any accuracy. Whatever fitness it rendered our ancestors had precious little to do with theoretical ‘discovery.’ Science would not represent the signature institutional achievement of our times were it otherwise.

In all likelihood, the critical impulse, the call for reason to critique reason, had no special part to play in critical philosophy’s failure to secure theoretical knowledge. So why then did it fail to improve the lot of philosophy? Well, who’s to say it hasn’t? Perhaps it improved the cognitive prospects of philosophy in a manner that philosophy has yet to discern. It’s worth recalling that for Kant, the project of critique was in an important sense continuous with the greater enterprise of Enlightenment. Noting the power of mathematics and natural science, he writes:

Their success should incline us, at least by way of experiment, to imitate their procedure, so far as the analogy which, as species of rational knowledge, they bear to metaphysics may commit. Hitherto it has been assumed that all our knowledge must conform to objects. But all attempts to extend our knowledge of objects by establishing something in regard to them a priori, by means of concepts, have ended in failure. We must therefore make trial of whether we may not have more success in the tasks of metaphysics, if we suppose that objects must conform to our knowledge. This would agree better with what is desired, namely, that it should be possible to have knowledge of objects a priori, determining something in regard to them prior to their being given. We should then be proceeding precisely on the lines of Copernicus’ primary hypothesis. Failing of satisfactory progress in explaining the movements of the heavenly bodies on the supposition that they all revolved around the spectator, he tried whether he might not have better success if made the spectator to revolve and the stars to remain at rest. A similar experiment can be tried in metaphysics, as regards the intuition of objects. (Critique of Pure Reason, 22)

If it is the case that the sciences more or less monopolize theoretical cognition, then the most reasonable way for reason to critique reason is via the sciences. The problem confronting Kant, however, was nothing less than the problem confronting all inquiries into cognition until very recently: the technical and theoretical intractability of the brain. So Kant was forced to rely on theoretical reason absent the methodologies of natural science. In other words, he was forced to conceive critique as more philosophy, and this presumably, is why his project ultimately failed.

The best Kant could do was draw some kind of moral from the sciences, a ‘procedural analogy’ as he puts it. Taking Copernicus as his example, he thus proposes ‘to put the spectator into motion.’ Kant scholars have debated the appropriateness of this analogy for centuries. As Russell notoriously points out, Kant does not so much put the subject into motion about the object as he puts the object into motion about the subject and so “would have been more accurate if he had spoken of a ‘Ptolemaic counter-revolution’ since he put Man back at the centre from which Copernicus had dethroned him” (Human Knowledge: Its Scope and Limits, 1). Where the Descartes’ subject anchored the possibility of knowledge, the Kantian subject anchors the possibility of experience. As the invariant frame of every possible experience, transcendental subjectivity would seem to be ‘motionless’ if anything. So if one takes the ‘spectator’ in Kant’s analogy to be the subject, it becomes hard to understand what he means.

In a famous note to the Second Preface a few pages subsequent, however, Kant suggests he’s after an ‘analogous change in point of view,’ one allowing us to see truths that are otherwise “contradictory of the senses” (25). After all, for thousands of years the prevailing assumption was that the subject had no constitutive role to play, that objects could thus be known without consideration of the knower. And in this sense, his analogy functions quite well. Consider, for instance, the elaborate theoretical machinery once required to make sense of the retrograde motion of Mars across the night sky, and how simply putting the spectator-earth into motion allows us to resolve this otherwise perplexing experience. Our problematic experience of Mars is literally an illusion pertaining to our ignorance of earth. Kant is claiming the ‘retrograde motions’ of metaphysics are likewise an illusion pertaining to our ignorance of cognition.

The parallel, as he sees it, lies in the attribution of activity to the ‘spectator.’ In early 1772, Kant wrote to Marcus Herz regarding the question of “how a representation that refers to an object without being in any way affected by it can be possible,” a letter that clearly signals the decisive break in his thought leading to the so-called ‘silent decade’ separating his dogmatic Inaugural Dissertation from the Critique. “If such intellectual representations depend on our inner activity,” he asks, “whence comes the agreement that they are supposed to have with objects–objects that are nevertheless not possibly produced thereby?” All critical philosophy, you could say, is struck from the hip of this question–one that could just as easily be posed to Bryant and his fellow Speculative Realists today…

So where Copernicus resolved the manifest problems of astronomy by attributing planetary motion to the earth, Kant thinks he has resolved the manifest problems of metaphysics by attributing representational activity to the subject. Expressed thus, the analogy is quite clear. So then why does it also seem to constitute an egregious disanalogy as Russell and others insist? Call this Kant’s Copernican paradox: the way his attribution of activity to the subject, though analogous to Copernicus’ attribution of motion to the earth, somehow commits him to a Ptolemaic conception of subjectivity. As preposterous as it sounds, I think the resolution to this paradox could entail nothing less than the end of philosophy as we know it…

Like everything else, these strange fucking days.

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First I want to point out a couple of strange features that no one, to my knowledge anyway, has called attention to before. The first regards the curious assumption of spectatorial immobility or inactivity. Why is it that both the astronomical and the metaphysical tradition initially assumed the immobility of the earth and the inactivity of the subject respectively? Why should, in other words, immobility or inactivity be the default, the intuition to be overcome?

The second regards Kant’s hubristic cognitive presumption, the fact that he quite literally believed he had solved all the problems of metaphysics. For all its notorious technicality, the Critique possesses a bombast that would make a laughingstock of any philosopher writing today, and yet, not only do we find Kant’s proclamations forgivable, we somehow find them–implicitly at least–understandable as well. Somehow we intuitively understand how Kant, given the unprecedented nature of his approach, could be duped into thinking his way was the only way. Why does ignorance of alternatives generate the illusion of univocality? Or conversely, why does the piling on of interpretations tend to undermine the plausibility of novel interpretations?

This latter, of course, turns on the invisibility of ignorance–or as the Blind Brain Theory terms it, sufficiency. Our brains are mechanistic systems, astronomically complex symphonies of stochastically interrelated activities. Sufficiency simply follows from our mechanistic nature: central nervous systems operate according to information activated. This is the basic reason why insufficiency is parasitic upon sufficiency (and ultimately why falsehood is parasitic upon truth). The cognition of insufficient information as insufficient always requires more information. And so Kant, lacking information regarding the insufficiency of his interpretations, information that only became available as the array of viable alternatives became ever more florid, assumed sufficiency, that is, the apodictic status of his ‘transcendental deductions.’

The former also turns on sufficiency, albeit in a different respect. Cognizing the mobility of the earth requires information to that effect. In the absence of such information, we quite simply lack the ability to differentiate the position of the earth one moment to the next. Thus the manifest experience of the heavens moving about a motionless earth. The same goes for the subject: cognizing the activity of the subject requires information regarding differences made. In the absence of that information quite simply no difference is made. Thus the dogmatic metaphysical stance, where the philosopher, possessing only information regarding the objects of knowledge, attributes all activity (differentiation) to those objects and assumes cognition is a passive register.

So what does any of this have to do with the Copernican paradox described above? As we noted, the analogy works insofar as it attributes what is manifest to the activity of the subject. The analogy fails, on the other hand, because of the way it seems to render the subject the motionless centre about which objects now revolve. The solution to this paradox, not surprisingly, turns on the question of where the information runs out. Kant himself refers, on occasion, to finding the ‘data sufficient to determine the transcendental,’ assuming (given sufficiency, once again) that the information he had available was all that he required. But, as the subsequent profusion of variant transcendental interpretations have made plain, the information at his disposal does not even come close to possessing apodictic sufficiency. Given the pervasive and not to mention persuasive nature of sufficiency, it is worth rehearsing how the accumulation of scientific information has transformed our traditional metacognitive understanding of memory. Our traditional metacognitive assumption was that memory was a kind of storehouse, like the aviary Plato immortalized in the Theaetetus. With Ebbinghaus in the 19th century memory at last became an object of scientific inquiry. The story then becomes one of accumulating distinctions between different kinds of memory, as well as a drastic reappraisal of its veridical and systematic role. The picture that has emerged is so complicated, in fact, so different from our initial metacognitive assumptions, that some researchers now advocate dispensing with the traditional notion of memory altogether.

Our metacognitive sense of memory, what makes Plato’s analogy so convincing, is quite simply an artifact of informatic neglect, our inability not only to cognize the complexities of our capacity to remember, but to cognize that inability to cognize. BBT maintains that metacognitive blindness or neglect is a wholesale affair. Thus the ‘introspection illusion.’ Thus the troubling nature of dissociations such as that found in ‘pain asymbolia.’ Thus the ‘peculiar fate’ of reason, how, as Kant notes at the beginning of his first Preface to the original Critique, “it is burdened by questions which, as prescribed by the very nature of reason itself, it is not able to ignore, but which, as transcending all its powers, it is also not able to answer” (7). Thus, in other words, the blindness of reason to itself.

And, most importantly here, thus the transcendental. The idea is this: the problems besetting dogmatic philosophy provided Kant the information required to attribute activity to various aspects of subjective cognition and nothing more. The reason Kant’s Copernican analogy takes the peculiar, Ptolemaic form it does has to do with the way metacognitive neglect combined with the illusion of sufficiency forces him to locate the activities he attributes beyond the circuit of nature–to characterize them as ‘transcendental.’ Thus, lacking the information required to differentially situate these activities, they seem to reside nowhere. The conceptual activity of the subject finds itself nested within the empirically occluded and therefore apparently ‘motionless’ frame of transcendental subjectivity. And this is how Kant, in the act of prosecuting his Copernican revolution, simultaneously achieves a Ptolemaic restoration. Where in dogmatic philosophy the known invariably moves the knowing, in critical philosophy the knowing becomes the unmoved mover of everything that can be possibly known.

The cognition of difference requires information. Absent that information, identity is the default, be it the ‘positional’ self-identity of a motionless earth or a transcendental subject. It’s worth noting that this diagnosis applies whether one opts for an ontological or formal interpretation of Kant. Interpret Kant’s concepts any way you will, if they are to be active in any meaningful sense they have to be natural, which is to say, situated. The Blind Brain Theory maintains that the information integrated into consciousness and made available for conscious deliberation does not magically cut our ‘inner world’ at the joints. It is a brute fact that astronomical information asymmetries characterize the actual operations of our brain and our metacognitive sense of ‘mind.’ BBT provides a way of interpreting the metacognitive conundrums of intentionality and consciousness as artifacts of this asymmetry, the result of various forms of ‘information blindness,’ anosognosias that in some cases generate profound illusions. Consciousness is remarkably low-dimensional, not in the information-conserving sense of compression, but in the ‘lossy’ sense of depletions, distortions, and occlusions. Given that the information available to consciousness is the only information available for conscious cognition, we should not be surprised that this empirical fact possesses profound consequences across the whole range of human cognition. The Copernican paradox is one of these consequences, a striking example of the way information privation generates what might be called the ‘out-of-play’ illusion, the sense that the earth is the motionless centre of the universe on the one hand, and the sense that transcendental activity stands outside the circuit of nature, on the other. When combined with sufficiency, or what might be called the ‘only-game-in-town’ illusion, it becomes easy to understand why both geocentrism and transcendental idealism commanded the heights of cognition as long as they did.

(It’s worth noting in passing that both of these illusions are amenable to empirical verification. Any number of experiments can be imagined. Once again, unlike the speculative positions critiqued here, the Blind Brain Theory is continuous with the natural sciences.)

So to return to our question above: Why did ‘critical philosophy’ fail to provide the kind of theoretical knowledge that dogmatic philosophy could not? Because, simply enough, Kant and his successors not only lacked the information they required to naturalize the activity of the subject, they lacked the information required to realize they suffered this lack in the first place! Identifying activity, which is to say, identifying the difference the subject makes, will go down in history as Kant’s signature achievement, his gift to human civilization. But his insight was premature: only now, given the theoretical and technical resources belonging to the sciences of the brain, are we in a position to situate this activity within the greater arena of the natural world.

And this is what makes Bryant’s critique of critical philosophy so retrograde–even atavistic. Here the sciences of brain of the brain are actually making good on the goal of critical philosophy, laying bare the mechanistic activities that underwrite experience and knowledge, and Bryant is calling for a wholesale repudiation, not simply of critical philosophy, but of this very goal. So for instance, we already have a pretty good empirical understanding of why dogmatic philosophy was doomed to failure: humans are theoretically incompetent absent the institutional, conceptual, and procedural prosthetics of the sciences. We also have a good empirical understanding of the heuristic nature, not simply of human cognition, but of all animal cognition. The same way memory research has progressively complicated our traditional monolithic, metacognitive sense of memory, the sciences of the brain are doing the same with regard to cognition more generally. The more we learn, the more clear it’s becoming that cognition is fractionate, a concatenation of specialized tools, heuristics that conserve computational resources via the systematic neglect of information.

On the Blind Brain Theory, the subject-object paradigm is another one of these heuristics, which is to say, a way to effectively comport our organism to its environments absent certain kinds of information. Recapitulating distal (environmental) information exhausts the resources of the mechanisms involved. Recapitulating proximal (neural) information thus requires supplementary mechanisms, which, given the sheer complexity of the neural mechanisms required to recapitulate distal information, either need to be far more powerful than those mechanisms, or to settle for far less fidelity. More brain, in other words, is required for the brain to track itself the way it tracks its environments. Given the exorbitant metabolic expense (not to mention the absence of direct evolutionary pressures) of such secondary tracking systems, it should come as no surprise that the brain suffers medial neglect, a wholesale inability to track its own functions. This is why the neurofunctional context of any information integrated into conscious cognition (the way it is actually utilized) escapes conscious cognition–why, in other words, experience is ‘transparent.’ This is why we perceive objects while remaining almost utterly blind to the machinery of perception. And this is why our sense of subjectivity is so granular, ineffable, and mysterious. The usurious expense of proximal cognition imposes drastic constraints on our metacognitive capacities, constraints that themselves utterly escape metacognition.

The subject-object paradigm is a heuristic solution according to BBT, a way for the brain to maximize cognitive effectiveness while minimizing metabolic costs. So long as the medial mechanisms involved in the recapitulation of environmental information do not impact the environment tracked, then medial neglect possesses no immediate liabilities and leverages tremendous gains in efficiency. Our brains can track various causal systems in its environment without having to account for any interference generated by the systems doing the tracking. But as soon as those tracking systems do impact their targets–as soon as observation finds itself functionally entangled with its targets–cognition quickly becomes difficult if not impossible. In such instances it must track effects that it cannot, given the occlusion of its own causal activities (medial neglect), situate within the causal nexus of any natural environment. As a heuristic, the subject-object paradigm is not a universal problem solver, though the only-game-in-town illusion (sufficiency) means metacognition is bound to intuit it as such. This explains, not only why we continue to find experience mysterious even as our environmental cognition presses to the asymptotic limits of particle physics and cosmology, but also why those perplexities take the shape they do.

Subject-object cognition, thanks to medial neglect, is utterly incapable of producing genuine theoretical metacognition. Given the subject-object paradigm, the brain remains a necessary blind-spot, something that it can only cognize otherwise. Thus the invisibility of activity, and the epochal nature of Kant’s critical insight. Thus the default nature of dogmatic philosophy, why millennia of errant groping were required before realizing that we were not, as far as cognition was concerned, out of play.

It’s hard to overstate the eerie elegance of this account–damn hard. Whatever the case, BBT is an exhaustive interpreter. Not only does it seem to resolve a number of notorious, hitherto unresolvable conundrums pertaining to consciousness using one basic insight, it claims to offer understanding, in impressionistic outline at least, of why philosophical inquiry has followed the trajectory it has.

In the present context, however, the thing to remember is simply this: To speak of subjects and/or objects as metaphysically fundamental is to immediately commit oneself to the universality of a certain kind of low-dimensional cartoon, which is to say, a heuristic that organizes information in a manner that enables or impedes cognition depending on the particular ecology it finds itself deployed in. The cartoonishness of this cartoon, the way it betrays as opposed to facilitates cognition, is something numerous critics in numerous contexts have called attention to (perhaps illuminating portions of BBT from less comprehensive perspectives). For proponents of so-called embodied cognition, for instance, the subject-object paradigm constitutively neglects what might be called the brain-environment, the greater mechanism that explains the profound continuity of our organism with its environments. For Heidegger, on the other hand, it’s a paradigmatic expression of the ‘metaphysics of presence,’ the wilderness through which the tribes of thought wander awaiting the promise of ‘being.’ For other thinkers in the phenomenological and post-structural traditions, it distorts and conceals essential relations, generating structurally inescapable impasses, social alienation, as well as facilitating myriad abuses of authority and capital.

And for ‘speculative realists’ such as Bryant, Harman, and Meillasoux, it confounds the possibility of genuine theoretical knowledge. Thus the curious canard of ‘correlation,’ and the even more curious conceit that simply naming the subject-object paradigm as a problem provides theoretical egress, rather than, as even the most rabid enthusiast must recognize as a storm-cloud on the horizon, simply more of the same. Gone are the early days of novelty, and with it the only-game-in-town illusion of genuine philosophical progress. Speculative realism is now mired in the same ‘bewildering philosophical situation’ it takes as its motive, making claims to theoretical knowledge on inferential grounds every bit as interpretative as those it seeks to supplant, pinning skyhook to skyhook, in the effort to conceal the fact that everything is left hanging

No different than before.

So many ironies and problems bedevil this approach I simply don’t know where to begin. I’ve already mentioned the unfortunate timing involved in denying activity to cognition just as the bona fide sciences of those activities are in bloom. If theoretical knowledge is what Bryant is after, as he claims, then he need only embrace these sciences, embrace naturalism and foreswear his metaphysical fundamentalism. It’s a good rule-of-thumb, I think most will be inclined to agree, to be incredulous of any systematic set of claims that argues against incredulity. But this is precisely what Bryant does in arguing that, even though all his claims are in fact conditioned by his cognitive capacities, personal history, social context, and so on, one should pretend all these potential confounds are out of play. There is no question more honest than, “How do you know?” yet he would have us relegate it on the basis of speculation that, coincidentally enough, has no way of answering this very question.

And it is for this reason, more than any other, that so much Speculative Realism strikes me as desperate philosophy, as the work of weary, thoroughly captive souls that nonetheless refuse to remain indifferent. “There must be some way out!” This has been the cry, naming a need that for many has become so urgent they are willing to suspend disbelief to attain the appearance or approximation of ‘escape.’ This wilful credulity, this opportunistic refusal to critique, is what raises the irony of Byrant’s approach to its most debilitating pitch. After all, questions are what make ignorance visible, what reveals the insufficiencies of our thought–the information missing. Questions, in other words, bring to light differences not made. Thus Bryant, by eschewing Kant’s critical question regarding the differences cognition makes, is in effect occluding the very differences he claims are fundamental. He is not, in fact, interested in ‘doing justice to the plural swarm of differences’ so much as he is interested in differences of the right sort–namely, those that conserve the identity of his Object Oriented Ontology.

The final irony is that BBT, like Bryant’s approach, is decisively concerned with differences–only understood as information, systematic differences making systematic differences. But unlike, Object Oriented Ontology, my approach takes information as an unexplained explainer that is warranted by the theoretical work it enables, and not as a metaphysical primitive that warrants all that follows. Theorizing the kinds of informatic constraints (the crucial differences not made) faced by human cognition, BBT provides a powerful diagnosis of the subject-object paradigm, one that not only explains myriad traditional philosophical difficulties, but also allows, on an empirical basis, a means to think beyond the perennial, oscillating tyranny of subject and object, thought and being, and here’s the important thing, when required. It begins with theoretical knowledge, the sciences of the brain, offering speculative claims that will find decisive, empirical arbitration in the due course of time. Object Oriented Ontology, however, is yet another metaphysical fundamentalism–and an anachronistic one at that. It wades into the swamp of metaphysical argumentation claiming to discover firm ground. Unable to conceive a way beyond the subject-object paradigm, it seizes upon the unfashionable partner, the object, buys it a new dress and dancing shoes, then takes it to the philosophical ball proclaiming discovery. And so, with difference upon its lips, it gets down to the business of perpetuating the same, magically offering rationales for what its practitioners cherish, and critiques of what they despise.

The situation is quite the reverse with BBT. In promising to overthrow noocentrism in a manner consistent with the overthrow of geocentrism and biocentrism centuries previous, it offers far more heartbreak than otherwise…

An escape from all that matters.

This is where the trail of clear inferences comes to an end. I’ve been mulling over ways to characterize a ‘big picture’ that might follow from this crazy attempt to explore post-intentional philosophy. Does it argue a kind of Wittgensteinian quietism, an admission that it lies beyond the ken of our motley tools, or does it suggest some species of informatic pluralism, where you acknowledge the shortcomings of the kinds of understanding you can come to in terms of a universe parsed into possibilities of informatic interaction? Arguing what it is not seems far easier. It is neither a materialism nor an idealism. It is not rationalist or contextualist or instrumentalist or interpretationist. It is, for whatever it’s worth, an extension of the explanatory paradigm of the life and other sciences into the traditional domain of the intentional. Since the intentional domain has no claim it recognizes as cognitive, no traditional philosophical characterization applies. It refuses projection across any one heuristic plane because it recognizes that all such planes are just that, heuristic. There is no subject or object on BBT, no ‘correlativity,’ no fundamental ‘inside/outside,’ only a series of heuristic lenses (to opt for a visual heuristic) allowing various kinds of grasp (to opt for a kinesthetic heuristic). Given that the prostheses of science do allow for counter-to-heuristic knowledge (as with particle physics, most famously) it accords precedence to scientific discovery and the operationalizations that make them possible. To the question of whether we are a global workspace or a brain or a brain-environment (where the latter is understood in any one of many senses (social, historical, biological, cosmological, and so on)) it seems to answer, Yes.

And there is I suppose a certain kind of peace to be found in such a picture.

I keep looking.

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