May 14, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Marquis de Sade by Charles-Amédée-Philippe van Loo (c. 1761).
“What else can I do but examine the abrupt ending of a discourse in which we all entered?”
—Jacques Lacan (after the death of Merleau-Ponty in 1961) (71).
“O charming sex, you will be free: as do men, you will enjoy all the pleasures of which Nature makes a duty, from no one will you be withheld.”
—D.A.F. de Sade / “Philosophy in the Bedroom” (323).
Human sexuality had to run through the 18th century gauntlet of the Marquis de Sade. Then, it became poignantly reified with Maurice Merleau-Ponty in his short chapter “The Body as a Sexed Being” from his Phenomenology of Perception of 1945. It is with the unlikely circumstance to pair Sade to Merleau-Ponty where we can see what is to be found when they are bound together. The unholy union should demonstrate that Merleau-Ponty’s elegant words can be used to contemplate problems with Sade the super-libertine, his life, his perpetual incarceration and his literary exploits. This should offer an excuse to think of a brief phenomenological approach to the repellent Sade.
As it was, phenomenology after Edmund Husserl just couldn’t stay harnessed in its full complexity as he originally conceived it. There were many transformations it took on, and it seemed destined to become modified in new and highly innovative ways, probably as a result of the difficulties reading Husserl. There were Heidegger’s modifications, Sartre’s existentialism, and Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological embodiment, along with other thinkers along the way. After reading Husserl’s philosophy, it makes sense that anyone would want to find a reason to divorce precious parts of its essence away from the frustration of his admirable philosophical entanglements. Merleau-Ponty’s variation of phenomenology loses all the insurmountable Germanic summits as it warms and flows into a rush of philosophical sensations, perceptions, and observations about the lived body. This is coupled with a literary style that explores and identifies supposed boundaries of the body and into a field of description, investigation, and elaboration of the body as existing consciousness. To read Merleau-Ponty is to think of essential comportments of the body as vital to the way we understand the world, aside from the presupposition of a pure mind that is somehow separate from the body. Saying it another way, stale Cartesian dualism is dethroned in favor of aiming to resituate the understanding of our world as sensuously occupied by this ever changing corporeal matter we call the flesh.
“The body is our general means of having a world” (Merleau-Ponty 147). Only when we start to take him seriously on this point will the meaning of what it is to be a whole body comes to fore of our experience. It is for this reason we have to include our sexual comportment as it is a fusion with the everyday physicality of existence. The Finnish philosopher Sara Heinämaa in her paper “The Soul-Body Union and Sexual Difference from Descartes to Merleau-Ponty and Beauvoir” tells us that it is only through Merleau-Ponty’s “[…] study of sexual and erotic relations can we come to understand how objects in general are given to us in experience” (142). She adds later that “[h]er erotic life realizes the style that is also manifested in her other relationships, practical, theoretical and aesthetic” (143). We already know, the instant we read it, what she means to describe here, and that’s the remarkable part of Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy: we are sexed beings who engage the communal world that cannot be unsexed. We (effortlessly or strenuously) work to define ourselves within the perplexing confines what it means to be a man or a woman. If sexuality goes beyond the vulnerable nudity of the bedroom then we have the opportunity to find its self-given power in the recesses of our day-to-day activities. In other words, sex is both profound and trivial as it inscribes itself onto everything from our romantic pursuits then into our intellectual involvements. A style of life is a way of life. We as sexual creatures are profoundly affected by the absence of sex when it’s withheld from us, and we are greatly affected by the presence of it materialized in the sexual act. Sex is an excellence of the corporeal exchange with another’s body.
This helps to explain why we can bring in the aberrant Sade. Sade represents a defiled version of Enlightenment ideals. An idealization of reason becomes a reason to use others to satisfy the pleasures of the flesh. We are reluctantly acquainted to Sade by his monstrous sexuality as it made itself known via the perilous extremes of his writing style. In a two-page essay from the 1964 book, Signs by Merleau-Ponty, he writes about literary eroticism, alluding to Sade “[c]onsider the fact that our great erotics always have [a] pen in hand: the religion of eroticism could well be a literary fact” (310). Yes, there is no doubt that Sade was a libertine par excellence, but most of all, he was an incredibly prolific writer. His fervent imagination often ran away with itself. This was no academic coming to us from a cloistered Parisian university, his debauched writing happened behind the bars of various prisons, including the Bastille during the French Revolution, and his noteworthy stay at the insane-asylum at Charenton. To be sure, if his sexual exploits went unpunished, if his debauchery remained hidden, or if his voracious sexual appetites were satisfied (try imagine that impossibility), it is questionable that his writings would’ve reached the voluminous depravity that they did. The literary critic/philosopher Maurice Blanchot (a friend of Merleau-Ponty’s) wrote of the effect Sade’s paradoxical incarcerations had on Sade’s fame “[n]ow the strange thing is that if the guardians of morality who, by containing Sade to solitary confinement have thereby made themselves the most faithful accomplices of his immorality” (38). Hiding Sade away from potential victims redirected his sexual enforcements onto the page and into the words of those endless perversions.
We try to make sense of Sade with respect to Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy, for instance in the explicit way he (Merleau-Ponty) writes about the sexual body inhabiting an environment “[t]here must be an immanent function in sexual life that guarantees its unfolding, the normal extension of sexuality must rest upon the internal powers of the organic subject […]” (158). This normal sexual extension becomes Sade’s radical profligacy. Sade took total advantage of his aristocratic birth to ab/use people in whatever way he saw fit. But what use is Sade’s horrible example? The avowed philosophical radical Georges Bataille, (also a friend of Merleau-Ponty’s), was keen to ask this very question in his dark essay “The Use Value of D.A.F. de Sade” to which he simply answers “[t]he life and works of D.A.F. de Sade would thus have no other use value than the common use value of excrement […]” (92).
In a later chapter from the Phenomenology of Perception, where Merleau-Ponty is doing the phenomenological work of freeing up the ‘cogito’ from the entrenched parochialism of Descartes, he mentions sexual perversion and its direct relation to desiring “[w]hat is desiring if not consciousness of an object as valuable (or valuable precisely insofar as it is not valuable, in the case of perverse desire) […]” (396). In one charged example from the Philosophy in the Bedroom, among the thousands, we find Sade’s characteristic sexual derangement to compare with Merleau-Ponty’s suggestion of how the ‘not valuable’ is valued in perversion “[i]s incest more dangerous? Hardly, it loosens family ties and the citizen has that much more love to lavish on his country […]” (324). We almost can’t believe certain lines like this. It must in that relished provocation where Sade got his salacious power. There are plenty of reasons to hate him, and this overshadows our ability to understand him.
We do find piquant echoes of Sade with Merleau-Ponty, of course, in reference to the objectification of body that is so hugely problematic in our sexual relations with other people and other bodies. “To say I have a body is thus a way of saying that I can be seen as an object and that I seek to be seen as a subject, that another person can be my master or my slave” (170). We don’t have to look for long to find similarities to this sexual objectification with Sade,
The act of enjoyment is a passion which, I confess, subordinates all others to it, but which simultaneously unites them. This desire to dominate at this moment is so powerful in Nature that one notices it even in animals (345).
As if he were reacting to Sade’s overly confident stratagems, Merleau-Ponty readily attests to the ambiguity of sexuality (171). We already know what’s meant when he binds sexuality to ambiguity, since our sexualized body is never fully comprehended at face value. All we have to do is recall the full range of problems and misunderstandings about sex, to know, or at least partially grasp the implications. Once we think we can grasp the permutations of sexual appetites we must acknowledge that parts of the field will remain oblique and irrational. We strain to think of the manifestations sexual perversion encompasses. To be sure, we find it tough to reconcile our distaste for someone like Sade. He becomes the best of the worst examples. His libertinage promised freedom, but granted him decades of institutional confinement.
Merleau-Ponty also offers the idea that sexuality is metaphysical “[t]he importance attached to the body and the paradoxes of love are linked […] to […] the metaphysical structure of my body, at once an object for others and a subject for me” (170). We can hardly ever promise to know the ‘paradox of love’ at it plays out in the drama of a sexual deployment and romantic fulfillment. The enormous and ungainly fantasy of sex will be exponentially thrown out of any conventional proportion under Sade’s domain. The metaphysical for Merleau-Ponty is “[…] the emergence beyond nature […]” (171). Sade writes “[i]s it not to wish to linger in a burning fever [of lust] which devours, consumes us, without affording us other than metaphysical joys […]” (285). The metaphysical, in Sade’s clutches, becomes something like madness. And for all intents and purposes he was mad.
We couldn’t walk away without mentioning freedom. Which, in a way, becomes that all important paradox in Sade’s life. He was a libertine, an atheist, a perverse anti-hero, but most of all he was a prisoner. In the last chapter of the Phenomenology of Perception entitled “Freedom”, Merleau-Ponty wants to demonstrate the way in which freedom is also embodied. “We are mixed up with the world and with others in an inextricable confusion” (Merleau-Ponty 481). We are mixed up with the world and so our freedom is likewise mixed up in the world. Our particular circumstance is a bounded condition for any freedom we might envision. The decisions we make have to take into account all that surrounds us, our friends our family and our community. In an effort to talk about freedom as inseparable from our lives, and to dispel the illusion the consciousness itself is free (unencumbered by situation, the body, people, etc.), Merleau-Ponty writes about a resistance to talk under torture, whereby the tortured remains silent. The choice to stay silent is not some pure freedom. It choice has to do with the man to cling to his cause and his group’s agenda. He can also have an arrogant wish maintain an idealized solitude whereby his problem becomes amplified and enclosed “[i]t is, of course, the individual alone in his prison who reanimates these phantoms each day, and they give him back the strength that he had given them […] (Merleau-Ponty 480). This is Sade’s recurrent dilemma. His demons dis/comfort him and us. “Harken only to these delicious Promptings, for no voice save that of the passions can conduct you to happiness” (180). This is Sade’s dubious promise from the opening lines of his Philosophy of the Bedroom. Sade’s unbridled freedom was a fantasy. It takes the morals of his day as a challenge to destroy them.
The intellectual and artistic (Surrealist) circles of Merleau-Ponty’s day were concerned with Sade for a reason. Sade represents a conflict of interest between a conservative morality and a libertine freedom, but there has to be more than that. We have to (again) stay with Merleau-Ponty “[i]f the sexual history of a man gives us the key to his life […] this is because his manner of being toward the world […] is projected in his sexuality” (161). Sade’s writing has everything to do with his past and his over-sexed ways. It is in his extreme sexualized creativity where we find fascination and repugnance, an ambivalence we have with own bodies. We can only touch parts of his sexualized hell, because most of it was locked away in his body.
Bataille, Georges. “The Use Value of D.A.F. de Sade.” Visions of Excess: Selected Writings, 1927-39. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minneapolis Press, 2003. Print.
Blanchot, Maurice. “Sade”. Trans. Richard Seaver and Austryn Wainhouse, 37-72. Print.
Heinämaa, Sara. “The Soul-Body Union and Sexual Difference from Descartes to Merleau-Ponty and Beauvoir.” Feminist Reflections on the History of Philosophy. Eds. L. Alanen and C. Witt. The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2004, 137-151. Print.
Lacan, Jacques. “Merleau-Ponty in Memoriam.” Merleau-Ponty: Critical assessments of Leading Philosophers. Ed. Ted Toadvine. New York, NY: Routledge, 2006, 74-81. Print.
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Phenomenology of Perception. Trans. Donald A. Landes. New York, NY: Routledge, 2012. Print.
—. “Eroticism.” Signs. Trans. Richard C. McCleary. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1964, 309-310. Print.
Sade, the Marquis de. “Philosophy in the Bedroom.” The Complete Justine, Philosophy in the Bedroom and Other Writings. Trans. Richard Seaver and Austryn Wainhouse. New York, NY: Grove Press Inc 1965, 177-367. Print.
May 13, 2013 § Leave a Comment
The confined space of philosophical inquiry is the work of doing philosophy. It is where we can witness philosophy’s involvement in our lives as it positions or eludes itself upon deliberate reading. In the 1950s W.V.O. Quine subdued key problems with logical empiricism. Sometime before that, Edmund Husserl founded and elaborated phenomenology around the turn of the last century. Both thinkers will be brought together here to find any unique confluence along with their differences, and then to think about how the a priori/ a posteriori, along with the analytic-synthetic, are reconciled by both thinkers.
Husserl, in the Logical Investigations set forth the momentum to solidify a philosophy of “pure phenomenology” (Husserl2 86). “This phenomenology […], has, as its exclusive concern, experiences intuitively sizable and analyzable in the pure generality of their essence […]” (Husserl2 86). This statement underscores Husserl’s phenomenological project as it is directly related to essences, or better said: the eidetic. “Phenomenology is an eidetic science because its descriptions are not empirical” (Moran, Cohen 93). Because Husserl thought of the eidetic in this fundamental way, he had to purify certain philosophical methods of knowing the world essentially. Husserl occupies that unique place somewhere at the origins of continental philosophy and analytic philosophy. This blend is made evident, not necessarily in his methods, but rather in a few of his major concerns, re: logic, language, mathematics, science and so on. There is considerable evidence that he corresponded with Gottlob Frege, the well known analytic philosopher/mathematician, on thorny arithmetical issues. To this relationship, Michael Dummett in his preface to The Shorter Logical Investigations suggests that there was an antagonistic break between the two thinkers and that this could possibly be where the split (between analytic philosophy and phenomenology) took place. One philosophy (phenomenology) fractures with the other philosophy (analytic philosophy) where the former was “[…] investigating intuitions of essences, [and the latter was] analyzing language […] (Husserl1 xxii).
The mention of Frege is not gratuitous since it offers us the excuse to make the turn ourselves, that is, to look at, and to possibly restore, a fundamental (a priori/ a posteriori and analytic/synthetic) link from phenomenology to the analytic tradition. In W.V.O. Quine’s celebrated 1951 paper Two Dogmas of Empiricism, he seeks to eradicate a major problem with the single-track empiricism had taken, as he clearly states in his opening paragraph “[m]odern empiricism has been conditioned in large part by two dogmas. One is the belief in some fundamental cleavage between truths which are analytic […] and truths which are synthetic […] (455). It is precisely in Quine’s labor to dispel this dogma where we are led to what might be an uncanny reconciliation between phenomenology and what Quine does to “analyticity” (457). The other dogma Quine speaks of is reductionism “[…] the belief that each meaningful statement is equivalent to some logical construct upon terms which refer to immediate experience” (455). Although different on the surface, the “two dogmas” do overlap as each addresses common assumptions. But what are Husserl’s implications for Quine’s project thereof? Quine made use of the analytic-synthetic distinction to dissolve it and Husserl brought the a priori down to earth. If these terms are said to be related to any additional claims about the a priori/ a posteriori, then we will now look at the terms themselves to show how there are obvious affinities. One set is semantical (analytic/synthetic) and the other set is epistemological (a priori/a posteriori).
Defined together, the a priori and the a posteriori, accompanied with the analytic and the synthetic, make complementary pairs. The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy (hereafter CDP) defines the a-priori as “prior to or independent of experience; contrasted with ‘a posteriori’ (empirical)” (35). Then the CDP defines the so-called analytic-synthetic distinction,
[…] the distinction made famous by Kant, according to which an affirmative subject-predicate statement (proposition, judgment) is called analytic if the predicate concept is contained in the subject concept, and synthetic otherwise” (26).
The a priori, then, is traditionally characterized as the operation of mind that works with such things as mathematics and formal logic. This means that the a posteriori are things that need experiential evidence to be verified. Likewise, the analytic can be seen as the semantic variant of the a priori whereby the concept is suspended within a word like ‘triangle’ as it contains its own definition within the way a word means ‘three sided figure with angles adding up to 180°’. This should explain what the synthetic is, as again, the semantic equivalent to the a posteriori where we have to verify a claim by reaching to an actual account of, say, ‘a six inch equilateral triangle’—it’s not verified by the self-contained analytic account. As for the difference between the four terms, in the CDP’s explication of the analytic-synthetic distinction we find that “Kant’s innovation over Leibniz and Hume lay in separating the logosemantic analytic-synthetic distinction from the epistemological a priori-a posteriori distinction […]” (27). This helps us to see that if the analytic-synthetic is ‘logosemantic’ we will have to recognize it as strongly connected to the logical components of semantics. Said differently, the analytic-synthetic has to do with the way words, facts and statements logically mean something. This might suggest a slight hierarchy of the a priori over the analytic, but we have no conclusive evidence on this. Of significance here will be to notice how the four terms are combined, since the combination becomes the question toward what’s at stake. In short, we might be mistaken to think of these arbitrary and clear-cut lines of demarcation that neatly partition one from the other—since, we already know our world to consist of these seemingly contrary terms in tandem.
In Quine’s paper he tells us that “Kant conceived of an analytic statement as one that attributes to its subject no more than is conceptually contained in the subject” (455). With this said, Quine tries to move from such a claim to offer a critique that questions how such a term is related to meaning. He throws off an idea that meaning has to do with naming (after Frege) and reference (after Russell) (455). As soon as he clarifies these distinctions, he soon finds the ‘dogma’ pushed in a corner. “Once the theory of meaning is sharply separated from the theory of reference, it is a short step to recognizing […] the synonymy of linguistic forms and the analyticity of statements […] as obscure intermediary entities […]” (Quine 456). He must be showing us that if we are to take logical empiricism’s dogma seriously, all we are left with is synonymy. Basically, we are left with other words that are merely synonymous to the original terms. This posits a defect in the idea since it doesn’t make sense that we can have this sterile analytic strictness logical empiricism tacitly asks for. All we are left with are the words said to be synonymous with each other and this renders meaning to simply changing the words around whereby equivalencies can be mismanaged, entangled and distorted.
Quine moves to definition. When we set out to define a bachelor, he “[…] is defined as an ‘unmarried man’” (Quine 457). This example too has to succumb to the problem with synonymy because a dictionary still has to rely on empirical facts that break away from logical empiricism’s supposed analytic stringency. Quine desperately (though with informed measure) turns to ‘interchangeability’ to see if he can solve the problem from there. This too is soon brushed aside with regard to the fact that this too begins to look a lot like synonymy. Then in a sharp last ditch effort, he tries on the notion of semantical rules, i.e. can we solve the original problem of defining analycity strictly on its own terms without recourse to extra-analytical terms (re: synthetic terms)? This just sends us into another digression with Quine as he admits the difficulty of bringing in meta-languages and the like. It is as if he’s asking, who has the energy for a fruitless appeal to a meta-language to solve a problem (that couldn’t be solved with the original language to begin with)? In a welcome flash of frustration Quine throws up his hands “[i]t is obvious that truth in general depends on both language and extralinguistic fact” (462). This is the moment we’ve been waiting for. This is the harmony we craved from the start. Quine had to put his philosophical weapons down only to conclude that the analytic can’t be as logical empiricism assumes it to be–compartmentalized from the synthetic. In spite of all the pain getting to this, this is good news.
While making a point on how philosophy confuses meaning with extension and how Aristotle’s notion of essence does not answer this problem, Quine shows that man cannot be reduced to basic meaning in and of itself, something like an idea that man is en-mattered and essentially rational. Then we find two of Quine’s extraordinary sentences: “Things had essences, for Aristotle, but only linguistic forms have meanings. Meaning is what essence becomes when it is divorced from the object of reference and wedded to the word” (456). This is important for our shift to Husserl because Quine, via Aristotle, refers to essences, which are central to phenomenology but not as much for Quine. But other than this ‘essentialist’ problem, there’s a deeper relevancy to be found, which is explained by Husserl’s concept of the ‘synthetic a priori’. This includes essences and brings in a law of “parts and wholes” (177). These parts and wholes constitute a priori laws that are “laws of essence” (177). The parts and wholes must be meant to represent a general way that we categorize the world by means of the a priori. In Husserl’s aggressively opaque writing he has to then extend the a priori to matter, to the “synthetic a priori, as opposed to laws which are analytically a priori […]” (178). Why is this important with respect to Quine? Again, because Quine makes the elaborate but incredible point that the analytic can’t be cut away from the synthetic. Husserl makes a similar move, yet in his radical phenomenological idiom. This turn of the a priori to the synthetic started with Kant. The Husserl Dictionary indicates “Thus for Kant ‘7 + 5 = 12’ is an a priori synthetic truth. Similarly, Kant argued that every event has a cause’” this also belongs to his way of thinking about an a priori synthetic truth (Moran, Cohen 41). From this we have found the master link upon which Husserl offered some of the above refinements that took the a priori away from the distillations that logical empiricism wanted to impose on it.
In Husserl’s late work The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Sciences (hereafter The Crisis), where his phenomenology became more crystallized, we find him calling upon other varieties of the a priori. There’s the a priori of the “life-world” (Husserl1 140). There’s an “objective a priori”, and a “universal a priori” (Husserl1 140). Most radical is his “universal pre-logical a priori” (Husserl1 140). This is Husserl pushing and extending away from the a priori as limited to only mathematics and logic and fully welcoming it to the life world. Husserl summarizes this move as such: “[…] all that counts is the distinction in principle between the objective-logical and the life world a priori […]” (141). Turning back to Quine, under his entry from the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (hereafter REP), we find him credited with “dethroning the a priori” (6). This has the above mentioned reasons, whereby he works to dissolve the analytic/synthetic polarity. This nexus, although slight, has to be in the way Husserl ‘materializes’ the a priori brought together here with Quine’s ‘dethroning’.
A crucial step would have to be to make the clarification with Quine’s resolve to language “[o]bservational sentences serve as both the starting point in human language learning as well as the empirical grounds for science” (REP 5). The approach is considered to be a feature of Quine’s holism, whereby,
[…] one relies […] on two components which are already part of the naturalist’s ontology: the physical happening at the nerve endings, the neural input or stimulus; and the linguistic entity, the observational sentence” (REP 5).
This reserves the observational sentence to a primary way to know the world before we are taught any scientific knowledge. In other words, the observer has direct contact to observation. This is awfully close to Husserl’s conception of a scientific way of knowing the world getting in the way of actual experience. In The Crisis, Husserl talks at length of such problems “[…] what is still lacking, is the actual self-evidence through which he who knows and accomplishes can give himself an account […]” in spite of the scientific accounts that are muddled by “[…] sedimentation or traditionalization […]” (52).
Given any of the above conclusions, we should not surmise that Quine was a phenomenologist, or that Husserl was an analytic logician. Although admittedly, Husserl took a profound interest in analytic and logical problems, there does seem to be a distinguishable affiliation. Incidentally, we did find a 1994 paper by David Woodruff Smith that is humorously titled “How to Husserl a Quine—and a Heidegger, Too.” In the paper Smith takes a totally different path from ours to compare the philosophers. Smith rightly concerns himself with ‘intentionality’ a cherished term for phenomenology. Intentionality roughly translates as consciousness always comported with something—consciousness is the lived world. This term (intentionality) was borrowed by Husserl from his mentor Franz Brentano. Smith deftly shows Quine writing on Brentano and admitting to a philosophical use of the intentional via his (Quine’s) “web of belief” (163). This web of belief is definitely a part of Quine’s holism, whereby observational sentences are not suspended in a vacuum. These sentences are reliant on other observational sentences and are inextricably related in elaborately known and obscure ways, thus holism.
Thanks to Quine, some of the problems of logical empiricism have been torn away from their original hubris or naiveté. Our prerogative resembles Husserl’s urging to “return to the things themselves” (Moran, Cohen 250). This philosophical maneuver enables us to return to the world itself, seen, touched, observed, spoken of etc. And we can then do this in all of Quine’s holistically observational circumstances.
Although Husserl and Quine worked in seemingly disparate fields of philosophical research, upon further exploration we have found a probable blending that uses the a priori/a posteriori and the analytic/synthetic to show us that, in general, our ways of speaking and experiencing the world cannot be compartmentalized into neat inseparable drawers. If Husserl materialized the a priori, then Quine dissolved the arbitrary partition logical positivism placed on the synthetic/analytic question.
The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995, 1999. Print.
Husserl, Edmund. The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology. Trans. David Carr. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1970. Print.
—. The Shorter Logical Investigations. Trans. J.N. Findlay. New York, NY: Routledge, 2001. Print.
Moran, Dermot and Joseph Cohen. The Husserl Dictionary. New York, NY: Continuum Books, 2012. Print.
Smith, David Woodruff. “How to Husserl a Quine and a Heidegger, Too.” Synthese 98, 1994, 153-174. Print
“W.V.O. Quine.” The Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Volume 8. Ed. Edward Craig. New York, NY: Routledge, 1998, 3-13. Print.
W.V.O. Quine. “Two Dogmas of Empiricism.” The Philosophy of Language. Eds. A.P. Martinich, David Sosa. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013. pp. 455-457. Print.
May 10, 2013 § Leave a Comment
1890 Wood Engraving of Aristotle Sculpture.
Sometimes we hold the view that time is enough to change the static nature of things. Yet, when we start to inquire into the nature of change, we’ll find that we don’t understand it as well as we thought of to begin with. A inquiry of this kind could easily be diluted into nonsense and opinion. We soon discover that our quest is bounded in the work we take to explore what has been actualized in the words and paragraphs of others. Is it enough to know what is possible, and then to, in turn, notice what’s undone, broken and unfulfilled? Once being is substantiated will it suffice to speak of the virtual as always transient, ephemeral or unreal?
It should go without saying that doing philosophy is an investigative act. When one chooses to delve into ideas, concepts and explanations, not only will we ask why things are the way they are, but we also have to pay heed to how possibility resides in the multiplicity of things before us. Of the ancients, Aristotle stands as our guide to begin a philosophical search into the source of these things qua being. In this short paper we will start by looking at Aristotle’s emphasis on potential and actuality as it relates to being in the world. An attempt will be made to demonstrate that there have been other thinkers who have contributed resonant echoes of Aristotelian potential, accompanied with any residual dissonance accumulated across time for us to question and investigate. This will lead to Giorgio Agamben’s unique reinterpretation of Aristotle’s original ideas, to then lead us back to an essential questioning about potentiality and actuality. From there, we will look to the early 20th century philosopher Henri Bergson’s concept of the possible and the real which will blend with Gilles Deleuze’s reading of Bergson. Lastly we’ll end by briefly looking Deleuze modification the Bergsonian concept of the virtual as a part of his (Deleuze’s) ontology of difference. The variety of ways that the potential and the actual can be considered will be reason enough to appreciate their scope and application only when we bring the ideas to mind, and thus, into our actions.
Once being is announced by Aristotle in “Book α” (little alpha, or II) of the Metaphysics, with elegant, far reaching phrases such as “[h]ence the principles of eternal things must always be most true […] so that as each thing is in respect to being, so is it in respect to truth” (993b, 25). Being has to then be arduously qualified and quantified. As Aristotle will indicate later in “Book Θ” (Theta, or IX) we can also ask of being’s “[…] potency and complete reality” (Aristotle 1045b, 35). Now would be a good time to quickly look at some of the important terms Aristotle uses, so as to emphasize the meaningful depth of the words as they were possibly used by him, and how we can see roots to other English words we use nowadays. Our English equivalent for the word “potency” is translated from the Greek δύναμις / dunamis (think: dynamic, potential, force, power, virtual, etc.) and “complete reality” is translated from ἐντελέχεια / entelechy (Liddell, Scott 181, 224). “Actuality” is associated, but not entirely equivalent to entelechy and is translated from the Greek word ἐνέργεια / energeia (think: energy, active, efficient, etc.) (Liddell, Scott 228).
“Book Θ” opens by introducing the terms potency and actuality, then Aristotle isolates potency “[…] these so-called potencies are potencies either of purely acting or being acted upon, or of acting or being acted on well […]” (1046a, 15). We can say that there are differences in potency when something is acting on something else and when it is acting in its own nature and on its own accord. Then we’ll notice that something can also be “acted on” which in a simple way Aristotle means that its movement can be caused by another active force, or force of will. “For the one [potency] is in the thing acted on; it is because it contains a certain originative source” and “but the other is in the agent […]” (1046a, 20, 25). An array of examples can be found everywhere in the world around us, as with the wood-worker sawing the wood to find the potentiality of his chair within the rigidity of the wood. Then, we can think of a tree from where the wood originated, that had to move on its own accord, in its own time, to grow before it was chopped down to cut into useful pieces to make things like chairs. Aristotle shows that if we are to consider potency, we must in turn account for “impotence” (1046a, 30). Surely, things which are capable of happening are also capable of not happening. Further specifications show Aristotle recognizing that “[…] clearly some potencies will be non-rational and some will be accompanied by a rational formula […]” (1046b). This is one of Aristotle’s qualifications that is has fallen into disuse. We rarely admit the full spectrum of the non-rational way things change, transform, breakdown, fail, etc. Aristotle gives other instances of potential, as when “we say that potentiality, for instance, [is] a statue of Hermes […] in a block of wood and [as] the half-line is in the whole […]” (1048a, 34). The statue has to be articulated through the wood by the sculptor who has honed his ability to impart formal restraint to an idea of a deity carved in wood.
Aristotle changes focus from potentiality to actuality, from δύναμις to ἐνέργεια, from the potential to the actionable where the movement of potential is found and where actuality becomes ἐντελέχεια “complete reality” (1050a, 20). Actuality is like waking is to sleeping, therefore “[…] let actuality be defined by one member of the antithesis and the potential by the other” (1048b, 5). When we are asleep our potential is dormant, but our potential is still actualized by life. Aristotle writes that “[…] it is clear that actuality is prior to potency” (1049b, 5). Importantly, potency has to be made possible by the thing itself if the potential is to become possible. Potential is made possible in matter and in substance. The possible happens in the energy of the actual “[…] man is prior to boy and human being to seed” (1050a, 5). The actuality of mankind is within the boy and the actuality of a human being is contained in the possibility of the sperm and egg unifying to be a man.
In Giorgio Agamben’s 1999 collection of essays titled Potentialites, he wrestles with this prescient concept of the potential as it was presented by Aristotle in the Metaphysics (and also in De Anima). In his essay “On Potentiality” Agamben succinctly recognizes that potential might be articulated by the question “What do I mean when I say ‘I can, I cannot’?” (177). Potential is a “faculty” as with the faculty of vision (Agamben 178). This faculty also comes about by nature of its incapacity to be fully actualized, since as we’ve noted above, recall that Aristotle deftly considered impotency to be a part of potency. Therefore “[w]hat is essential is that potentiality is not simply non-being, simple privation, but rather the existence of non-being, the presence of an absence; this is what we call ‘faculty’ of ‘power’ (Agamben 179). To this we’ll say, actuality has to pass through the possible that is constantly on the forefront of not happening. In other words, we make something happen unified against something not happening. It is as if the ‘I can’ becomes realized in spite of the ‘I cannot’. “[…] [P]otentiality, maintains itself in relation to its own privation […] its own non-Being (Agamben 182). The active denial of privation fuels the mode of becoming actualized and fulfilled. Potentials, for us, are made from our ability to embrace our failure of not actualizing, thus propelling us onward. We become assured when Agamben suggests that against our ignorance we strive for knowledge, and so, as against mortality we strive to live. The resolution of the dichotomy between the potential and the actual culminates in the volition of “freedom” (Agamben 83). To be free is […] to be capable of one’s own impotentiality, to be in relation to one’s own privation” (Agamben 183). In order for us to move toward our potential, we have to have a measure of our very incapacity to do it. To know what we’re capable of means to know what we can’t do. It is only when are limited can we be free to project possibilities into the “[…] abyss of impotentiality” (Agamben 182). Remembering that these are only some of the qualities of Agamben’s faculty of the possible in our lives should be enough to understand that things are incomplete, even Aristotle says this “[…] for every movement is incomplete […]” (1048b, 30). Then to become complete we have to manage with the humility of the undone. Perhaps it’s not as if this is play on how the dichotomous parts are manifested, rather it’s the way the two are not in opposition—henceforth a necessary conjunction—potential is locked to its ability to be impotent.
With regard to all this, we have suddenly arrived at Gilles Deleuze’s reading of Henri Bergson’s possible and the real, or better yet, the virtual and the actual. In his provocative 1966 book Bergsonism, Deleuze offers his idiosyncratic take on the philosophy of Bergson—including Bergson’s concept of the virtual as it is distinguished from the actual. Unfortunately, Delueze nor Bergson make the direct link to Aristotle, but it’s clear that δύναμις and ἐνέργεια are ever-present in their work into our contemporary world and into perpetuity. With Deleuze’s continued philosophical insistence on the ontology of difference he has to find ways to constitute difference as it is virtually enacted in the world. Deleuze traces Bergson’s possible whereby “—the possible is a false notion, the source of false problems” (98). This is because Bergson positioned the possible contrariwise to our typical way of thinking of it. We usually think of the possible as preceding the actual, whereby we make the mistake of thinking that if it were not for the possible the actual couldn’t be. Bergson turned this around, for example, in his collection of essays titled The Creative Mind, he writes “For the possible is only the real with the addition of an act of mind which throws its image back into the past, once it has been enacted” (118). When we notice something actualized, we perform a kind of retroactive possibility to the action. This takes us back to how Aristotle put it in the Metaphysics, where he repeatedly stated, in varying ways that “[…] it is clear that actuality is prior to potency” (1049b, 5). Perhaps Bergson (and by extension Deleuze) channeled Aristotle without a direct reference, but the mechanism is evident. “In fact, it is not the real that resembles the possible, it is the possible that resembles the real, because it has been abstracted from the real once made, arbitrarily extracted from the real like a sterile double” (Deleuze 98). In a step that exemplifies Deleuze’s above mentioned idiosyncratic interpretation of Bergson, Deleuze distinguishes the real and possible with the virtual and actual “[t]he reason for this is simple: while the real is in the image and likeness of the possible that it realizes, the actual, on the hand does not resemble the virtuality that it embodies” (97). This allows Deleuze to claim that it is the difference between the virtual and the actual whereby the virtual is actualized in difference. It is the virtual that differentiates the actual in a way that substantiates multiplicity—since Deleuze, by means of Bergson, was working away from conventional absolutions. It must be that the virtual is difference in actuality, turning against the same. Again, from the real to the possible and from the actual to the virtual must be, for Deleuze, how to understand difference which is pivotal to a Deleuzian world view.
Aristotle couldn’t have anticipated all these extraordinary reevaluations of δύναμις and ἐνέργεια, only hinted at here, nor can we do the same looking foreword into the philosophy of the future. Yet, when we conclude anything about the movement of change, we soon find that we don’t understand it as we did to begin with. Being and becoming have been with us for a long time. How can we know this, if we turn away in passive silence?
Agamben, Giorgio. Potentialities. Ed. and Trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999. Print.
Aristotle. The Basic Works of Aristotle. Ed. Richard McKeon. New York, NY: The Modern Library, 2001. Print.
Bergson, Henri. The Creative Mind. New York, NY: The Philosophical Library, 1946. Print.
Deleuze, Gilles. Bergsonism. Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam. Brooklyn, NY: Zone Books, 1990. Print.
Liddell, Henry George, Robert Scott. A Lexicon, abridged from Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon. London: Oxford University Press, 1963. Print.
April 21, 2013 § Leave a Comment
In J.L. Austin’s 1979 paper, “Performative Utterances,” we have an ordinary language philosophy where speaking is analyzed as performing an action. Hence, some utterances are named “performative utterances” (Austin 292). Austin says of these utterances “…if a person makes an utterance of this sort we should say that he is doing something rather than merely saying something” (292). He writes that we can think of a performative utterance as something that is “operative” (292). These are uttered phrases that contain operations such as “I promise […] I apologize […] I bet you […] I do […]” and so on (Austin 292). These are not necessarily true or false statements about the world. Austin gives a simple example (out of many) of saying “I congratulate you,” when what is really meant is that I’m not pleased with you—there is an obvious insincerity to this performative utterance (294). The obvious lack of sincerity is an “infelicity […] that is to say the utterance is unhappy—if certain rules, transparently simple rules, are broken” (Austin 293).
From this idea of a performative utterance, John R. Searle in his 1969 paper, “The Structure of Illocutionary Acts.” takes this idea of a performative utterances and extends them by systematically laying down a complicated set of rules to examine and provide the conditions for the speech act of promising (301). In reference to Austin, Searle writes that “[m]y notion of a defect in an illocutionary act is closely related to Austin’s notion of an ‘infelicity’” (301). The illocutionary act (which will later fall under Searle’s category of a speech act) is infelicitous and insincere even when they are promises, as Searle writes, “[b]ut insincere promises are promises nonetheless” (305). The difference is in the speaker’s intentions, so if you promise to do something and the expression includes the intention to do it, yet if the responsibility somehow goes unmet, the promise is rendered insincere and ‘unhappy’. Austin and Searle are not moralizing about how to eradicate such defective illocutions from our speech, but they are analyzing the structures of ordinary language as it is imperfectly practiced.
These everyday language problems have numerous manifestations and are further examined by H.P. Grice in his 1975 paper, “Logic and Conversation,” whereby “implicature” is introduced (312). This has to do with the idea that when something is said there is a lot more than basic meaning getting conveyed and implied. Grice writes that he needed a noun form of the word ‘implicates’ and so derived the word implicature to mean all that’s implied with a given statement (other than its explicit content). As Searle does (though in his own way) Grice lays down conditions for these implicatures which he calls “…quantity, quality, relation and manner” (314). These maxims are subcategories of the “cooperative principle” (314) in everyday conversations. So, clearly these qualify implications that can be made that are in accordance with cooperative ways of speaking in general. Roughly paraphrasing, Grice’s maxims deal with making your contribution to a conversation too long, having conversational relevance to the subject at hand, making your contribution true and not fallacious, and not beating-around-the-bush and other such niceties. The breakdown of this is what’s of interest here, there can be implictures that flout the maxims. For example Grice gives a peculiarly rude example of one such digression specifically from his maxim of “relation” (which essentially calls for relevance in conversation) “[a]t a genteel tea party A says ‘Mrs. X is an old bag.’ There is a moment of appalled silence, then B says ‘[t]he weather has been quite delightful this summer hasn’t it?’” (319). An infelicity is clearly implied by the fact that B sharply changed the subject, so as to imply A crossed a cooperative line and B let him know that by idly asking about the weather.
With Searle’s 1975 paper, “Indirect Speech Acts,” he continues with illocutionary acts as speech acts, but with some important differences that are directly related to Grice’s implicature. Searle describes an indirect speech act as “…cases […] in which the speaker utters a sentence, means what he says, but also means something more” (59). The easiest example of this is Searle’s anodyne query/request, “Can you pass the salt?” In this case the speaker is usually asking someone else to pass the salt, rather than asking about that person’s ability to pass the salt. Searle writes, “[…i]n indirect speech acts the speaker communicates to the hearer more than he actually says by way of relying on their mutually shared background information…” (60). In short, Searle is talking about polite indirectness. ‘Can you pass the salt?’ might be sarcastically subverted into an infelicity as a way to degrade convention. The hearer could blankly say ‘yes, I have the ability to pass the salt.’ and in a passive-aggressive way avoid passing the salt—thus an unhappiness is disclosed to the person in need of the salt.
Now we can see Austin’s infelicity and its relationship to Searle’s speech acts and how these worked with Grice’s implication (implicature) and then to Searle’s indirect speech acts that analyzed illocutions like: “…can you pass the salt?”
Austin, J.L. “Performative Utterances.” The Philosophy of Language. Eds. A.P. Martinich, David Sosa. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013. pp. 291-300 Print.
Grice, H.P. “Logic and Conversation.” Martinich and Sosa 312-322. Print.
Searle, John R. “Indirect Speech Acts.” (1975) pp.59-82 PDF. http://www.personal.uni-jena.de/~mu65qev/wikolin/images/1/18/Searle_Indirect_Speech_Acts59-82.pdf
—. “The Structure of Illocutionary Acts.” Martinich and Sosa 301-311. Print.
March 30, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Philosophical questioning has continuously brought us to the fundamental questions of truth and meaning. The analytic tradition was not immune to such struggles. The work of 20th century philosophers like Hartry Field, H.P. Grice and Donald Davidson often focused on language, logic and semantics sometimes by way of Alfred Tarski’s work on truth and semantics. To consider semantics is to think of how language is used and how semantic structures help convey meaning and truth to words and sentences. We’ll give a short look at few of their strategies here.
In the early 1970’s Hartry Field, in his paper “Tarski’s Theory of Truth” hoped to explain the semantics of natural language ultimately in physicalist terms. He did this through an elaborate critique of Alfred Tarski’s semantic notion of truth. Field then had to attempt to unravel Tarski’s conditions for truth by extending his rules to account for more subtleties. We find that midway though Field’s highly technical paper he quotes Tarski who admits that there are problems harmonizing semantics with scientific postulates (403). Field then has to find a way to carefully amend Tarksi’s truth and he finds a physicalist way of doing so by the scientific concept of a “valence” (406). “The valence of a chemical element is an integer that is associated with that element, which represents the sort of chemical combinations that the element enters into” (Field 406). Field meticulously shows that we can extend the use of the combining concept of valence to a linguistic model, suggesting that even if we try to reduce the concept of valance down to its constituent parts we are still left with approximations. “In other words, the main point of the [Field’s] paper survives when we replace the ideal of strict reduction [à la Tarski] by the ideal of approximate reduction [to get to truth]” (Field 413). Essentially Field was concerned with the problem of finding good semantics for words which thereby emphasized the importance of reducing truth to other semantical notions that were formalized logically as Tarski prescribed back in the 40’s. Field writes “I think they [Tarski’s semantical notions] are extremely important, and have applications not only to mathematics but also to linguistics and to more directly ‘philosophical problems about realism and objectivity” (398).
H.P. Grice wants to explain the semantics of natural languages in terms of mental states in his 1957 paper “Meaning.” Grice is slightly less technical than Field and his is not a physicalist analysis. Instead, his ideas are based in the use of ordinary language to convey meaning by means of the intention of the speaker. Grice lucidly writes “perhaps we may sum up what is necessary for A [a speaker] to mean something by x [an uttered sentence with an intended meaning] as follows. A must intend to induce a belief in an audience, and he must also intend his utterance to be recognized as so intended” (288). Oddly, this is the kind of concept that’s better understood when we think of how we are easily misunderstood by the way we intend (or mis-intend) words. Yes we have to admit, words have a meaning before usage, but it’s only when words are coupled with ordinary usage do we comprehend fully what is meant by a speaker’s intention. Two useful terms conceptualize Grice’s intended concept of meaning—type and token. Type meaning is akin to a formal dictionary definition of a word. Token meaning has to do with the way the word gets used in ordinary language. If we are paying attention to the way words are used it’s arguably more of a mental activity to think of a speaker’s usage to know what he means in any number of situations, rather than consulting a dictionary to decode meaning. Usually we think that to derive meaning is to assume that all we have to work with are a bunch of overly formal definitions and delineations of words. However, Grice doesn’t think that either words or sentences are fundamentally needed for successful communication because it’s usually the intention of the speaker’s utterance that conveys the meaning for the listener and for Grice (as mentioned above).
Donald Davidson in his 1967 paper “Truth and Meaning” wishes to arrive at a satisfactory account of the semantics of natural languages by applying abstract logical developments to them. Davidson demonstrates that the meaning of words is mostly dependant on the sentences in which the words are used. “We decided a while back not to assume that parts of sentences have meanings except in the ontologically neutral sense of making a systematic contribution to the meaning of the sentences in which they occur” (Davidson 418). Davidson’s philosophy includes a kind of holism where the parts make sense within the use value of the whole. Alfred Tarski is again summoned and quoted so that Davidson can grapple with the transferability of natural language to a formally logical language to understanding meaning better. “Much of what is called for is just to mechanize as far as possible what we now do by art when we put ordinary English into one or another canonical notation” (422). In other words, once the language is formalized into a meta-language then we can better handle how to contend with how to confer meaning—logically. Davidson is concerned with the problem of finding good semantics for sentences, given a semantics for words. This is characterized by his claim that “it is consistent with the attitude taken here to deem it usually a strategic error to undertake philosophical analysis of words or expressions which is not preceded by […] the attempt to get the logical grammar straight” (424).
Davidson, Donald. “Truth and Meaning.” The Philosophy of Language. Eds. A.P. Martinich, David Sosa. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013. pp. 416-427. Print.
Field, Hartry. “Tarski’s Theory of Truth.” Martinich and Sosa 398-415. Print.
Grice, H.P. “Meaning.” Martinich and Sosa 285-290. Print.
 Tarski, Alfred. “The Semantic Conception of Truth and the Foundations of Semantics.” 1944.
March 12, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Reading the philosophy of Edmund Husserl is no small task. This is the kind of reading that requires patience along with the foresight that one will have to read and reread paragraphs till any semblance of coherence begins to unfold and unfurl. It is tempting bring in the analogy of mining for precious metals, where to find the philosophy, one would have to dig deep through the strata to find a bright and brilliant fragment of value. To think of Husserl’s phenomenology like this is a mistake. Robert Sokolowski toward the end of his paper on Husserl’s categorical intuition speaks of a clarified approach to philosophy in a general “Philosophy only works by quoting, so to speak, the pre-philosophical, and by presenting, from a new and special angle, what was already present in the pre-philosophical” (140). It is as if we must regard the basic experience of categorical intuition as already there in our day-to-day moments to understand it not only philosophically, but also phenomenologically. To do philosophy with Husserl is just a matter of bringing in the methods and challenges of phenomenology to bear in consciousness, to then thematize the minute complexity that’s already present in the totality of the experiences, perceptions, cognitions, and intentions themselves that are already alive with conscious experiencing.
The goal for this post will not be to summarize Husserl’s phenomenological project. Instead, we’ll turn our attention to a single feature, categorical intuition. This choice is not random since it will lead to some fundamental questions concerning Husserl’s early work developing phenomenology in the Logical Investigations. We’ll also look to Martin Heidegger’s elaboration and extension of the term in his 1925 lecture series titled History of the Concept of Time, these were the preliminary lectures that put forth much of the groundwork for Being and Time. It is also important to pay gratitude to Robert Sokolowski’s paper “Husserl’s Concept of Categorial Intuition.” Sokolowski always has a masterful way of making Husserl’s phenomenology accessible and clear. Dermot Moran also deserves high praise for all his scholarship surrounding Husserl’s philosophy. He introduces the shorter edition of the Logical Investigations we’re using here. In addition, Moran worked with Joseph Cohen on The Husserl Dictionary which provided a well needed resource for all the recondite phenomenological words Husserl deploys, coupled with their difficult to pin down ideas.
Categorial intuition (kategoriale Anschauung) (Moran, Cohen 59) is dealt with extensively throughout chapter six in Husserl’s Logical Investigations. Let’s begin to unfold the term by trying to understand how we come to perceive things. Essentially when we perceive something we find it “fulfilled” as matter and we also understand these things as “…beyond their nominal terms” (Husserl 339). Fulfillment is a special term Husserl uses to indicate a kind of conscious immersion in the way the object is presented in its perceptual way, but this also involves the structure of how it’s identified and how it is intended. We’ll address fulfillment first, then go back to identification, so “…the fulfillment is the experience of the coincidence between the empty intention [not immediately present] and its fulfilling object” (Moran, Cohan 130). This fulfillment happens during the broader act of intending, which means roughly “…the ‘aboutness’ or ‘directedness of our conscious state (Moran, Cohan, 167). This then indicates that even when we have the intention of an object before us it is a fulfillment to be in recognition of the fact that the object is presently and fully regarded. The object is fulfilled during the intention of it. When absent the object is not present in this way—it is emptily intended “…in its intuitive absence it is [symbolized] …in a token way…” (Moran, Cohen 104).
The categorical is not the object itself but the way the object is present to our understanding of it. Sokolowski calls the categorical a “syntactical” (128). The word syntactical is a big hint that the categorical is a structural component that helps us understand our relationship to how we perceive the world in the round. Therefore, a syntactical structuring isn’t a component of linguistics exclusively, but to be regarded within experience in general, where the categorical is representative of the syntactical framework of experience. Husserl indicates that the categorical is connected to the syntactical term: “copula” (339). When Husserl writes of categorical intuition as it relates to a piece of white paper, he’s keen to make it clear that in a sentence like “white paper is paper which is white” the word “is” is categorical (341).
With all of this said, categorial intuition is much more than just the word “is”, it simultaneously has to do with how the presence of the is-ness of white is intuited within the perceptual experience and not built upon it. It has to do with the being of whiteness presented to us as we experience the paper. As Husserl puts it, it is how “…the apparent object announces itself as self-given” (341). There are points where Husserl calls the categorical “supersensuous” (349), probably to indicate that it involves the sensuous, while at the same time, the categorial also involves more than just sense. Sokolowski identifies the categorical in the way that the object is known to us as “presencing” (129). This is not a feature of the object in and of itself, but how it’s known to me in all its verisimilitude. This is a phenomenological way to explain and to present how an object is made objective not in successive steps, but simultaneously within the actual experience, where identification is brought together within the “presencing” of a particular object (Sokolowski 129). Sokolowski writes that this coming together of identity and presence where “the identity, the belonging of a feature to its object, the object’s being and such, is what corresponds intuitively to word ‘is’ when we say, ‘S is p’” (131).
We normally think of our world filled with stuff be we never stop to think of how we understand the in-between ‘is-ness’ of these things. The ‘is’ of these things has to do with the being of the things, yet even Husserl attests “among these [things] anything like ‘is’ is naturally not to be found” (345). A quick glance through the dictionary tells us that the meaning of the word “is” is the third person singular present of the word “be” (Oxford 715). This should give us the bigger hint that the idea of “is” has to do with being in a fundamental and experiential way. This “is” or its syntactical equivalents, do not just happen in subjective perception but in the fullest rush of all objective experience. So Husserl has to clarify that the intuition of the object as fulfilled and that our reflected judgment of a basic reflection is not something we do when we reflect on the “is” of something (347). Then he continues to define catergorial intuition partially by what it is not.
Not in reflection upon judgments, nor even the upon fulfillments of judgments, but in the fulfillments of judgments themselves lies in the true source of the concepts State of Affairs and Being (in the copulative sense) (347).
There’s a phenomenological job to decipher what Husserl’s pointing to as much as it is to notice that he’s saying that the categorical does not happen “upon” the judgments, or “upon” the fulfillment of judgments. States of affairs are about the tangible world as it’s presented to us in a particular way where the judgment is “…essentially involved with conceptualization and generalization” (Moran, Cohen 173). This is part of how we conceptualize being prephilosophically, we know something is here or it is not here without anyone needing to thematize the occurrence for us. Yet, it is only when we put name to this phenomena do we begin describe the philosophical import of these primary acts of cognition that appear to elude everyday expression and then some.
Looking onward, anyone who has read even a little bit of Heidegger will know of the utmost precedence he placed on ontology—re: Dasein and being. Sokolowski, Moran and Cohen together attest the curious fact that Heidegger was strongly impressed with Husserl’s discovery of categorical intuition as it is inextricably linked to being (Moran, Cohen 60), (Sokolowski 128). In Heidegger’s exhaustive preliminary section given in his description of the “fundamental discover[ies]” (27) by Husserl of the three concepts of intentionality, categorical intuition and the a-priori, Heidegger writes that the objectivity of “…categorical intuition is itself the objective manner in which reality itself can become more truly objective” then he broadens this to “there is no ontology alongside a phenomenology. Rather, scientific ontology is nothing but phenomenology” (72). There’s a reason Heidegger is calling the categorical intuition a discovery, because what was there to be discovered had been with us all along—being. We use it, but we don’t know how we’re using it. We’re living within it. We just don’t know how to conceptualize the way we’re living within it. Let us recall that Husserl does write of the categorical as related to being “…so the concept of Being can arise only when some being, actual or imaginary, is set before our eyes” (347).
It’s easy to brush off Husserl only as a stepping-stone to better appreciate the mature Heidegger, which is what Heidegger might’ve approved of. The objective here is not to do that. All we had to do was look at one of Husserl’s terms unfold and then to notice that we have before us a phenomenological vantage that positions us before the expanse of experience itself—before Heidegger. The descriptive potential of trying to understand what catergorial intuition means will serve to broaden our capacity for knowledge of the abstractions that are involved with basic perception and how we intuit, experience and know them even before we put words to them.
Yet, there is always an almost perverse and hermetic quality to Husserl’s work that’s daunting and intimidating to most. This gives us reason to try learning to inhabit our world phenomenologically along with him, because phenomenology gives us the methods by which to know what’s already there. It is on the inside of the frustrating work as we sweat over the terms and their relationships that only gradually open up to conceptualization. None of this would happen without the work of reading and rereading Husserl’s many paragraphs till any semblance of coherence begins to unfold and disclose what we see before us and so on…
Heidegger, Martin. History of the Concept of Time. Trans, Theodore Kisiel. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1979. Print.
Husserl, Edmund. The Shorter Logical Investigations. Trans. J.N. Findlay. New York, NY: Routledge, 2001. Print.
“Is.” The Oxford College Dictionary. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2007: 715. Print.
Moran, Dermot and Joseph Cohen. The Husserl Dictionary. New York, NY: Continuum, 2012. Print.
Sokolowski, Robert. “Husserl’s Concept of Categorial Intuition.” Philosophical Topics, 1982: 127-141. PDF file.
March 12, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Mark Matveyevich Antokolski, The Dying Socrates, 1875.
Socrates died 2,412 years ago by drinking hemlock. The account of the trial that lead to his death sentence is famously documented by Plato in the Apology and also by Xenophon in his Apology. In the introduction to Xenophon’s two works, Raymond Larson tells us that Plato’s account of the trial was probably first hand, whereas Xenophon’s account was through the secondary source of a mutual friend of Socrates, Plato and Xenophon, a man named Hermogenes (17). Although the two accounts differ in certain respects, when combined, they offer the only historical records of the trial. For this paper we’ll focus on the relevance of death and how mortality relates to the philosophy of Socrates.
The way we understand Socrates is by knowing that he died doing philosophy. He was officially charged with impiety (asebeia/ἀσέβεια) and for corrupting the youth of Athens. But, it was also because he was making himself known by calling into question the widely held beliefs of those who would be offended when shown their opinions were wrong. The emphasis here will not be to focus on the charges or the trial outright, instead we will look at the attitude Socrates takes toward death itself in the two Apologies and how his unique way of contending and discussing death philosophically expands our own concepts surrounding end-of-life matters. It is in the extraordinary way in which Socrates eloquently speaks of death (thanatos/θάνατος) that inspires readers with his courage, fortitude and wisdom. He was willing to die for his cause, rather then to live into old age with compromise.
As we all know Plato’s Apology is replete with references to death, probably because Socrates knew that he’d be given the death sentence. Not only does he seem to know that his death was immanent, but he extends the meaning of it to demonstrate that the fear of death is comparable to ignorance.
For the fear of death, men, is in fact nothing other than to seem wise, but to not be so. For it is to seem to know what one does not know: no one knows whether death does not even happen to be the greatest of all goods for the human being; but people fear it as though they knew well that it is the greatest of evils (29a-b).
C.D.C. Reeve in his book on the Apology rightly compares this statement to what he calls “the Digression” (180). This alignment is made with the celebrated ‘digressive’ statement made earlier in Plato’s Apology, where Socrates claims to not be wise and that to be wiser one has to know what one doesn’t know (21b-d). All this is essentially and slyly positioned by Socrates to demonstrate a vital component of Socratic wisdom: know what you don’t know, or at least be cognizant of the fact that there are things that one can be ignorant of. This extends to the ultimate awareness about what we do know, in the sense that sometimes what we think we know more than we do and this might actually be a way to conceal a fundamental ignorance. So how, according to Socrates, can we know that death is something to be feared since we don’t know what happens after death? As we can see, this illustrates a typical problem and habit we have with fearing most of what we cannot understand, in this mindset, things that we don’t understand are things to fear, at least if we are ignorant of the fact that we need not always fear the unknowable, as with the benign things that are unfamiliar or even death itself. Not only do we fear death, but we also fear ignorance itself. It is for this reason that we often wish to conceal ignorance and death at all costs. So, the underlying lesson in the dual example of death and not being wise is manifold. To be wise, is to embrace your own ignorance, at least to the extent that you’re aware of it enough to know when you’re hiding behind knowing something when you really don’t. And it also shows that the fear of death is not something to avoid, but is something to face with fresh eyes, since it’s ultimately inevitable. Socrates cleverly demonstrates that the unknowability of death can disclose these things.
Xenophon’s Apology, as mentioned, does differ from Plato’s, it’s considerably shorter and it also depicts Socrates as having a slightly more down-to-earth attitude toward the issue of his impending death. For Xenophon’s Socrates, death is a welcome avoidance of the infirmities one would possibly have to endure with as old age advances.
But now, if my life continues, I know I’ll have to pay the price of old age […] What pleasure will I get out of life if I see myself deteriorating and reproach myself for it? […] A person is bound to be missed if he passes away with a healthy body and a soul capable of amiability. […] I’ll offend the jury and choose death like a free man rather than slavishly beg for the worthless gain of continued life (6-9).
Here, in Xenophon’s account, as it was conveyed to him by Hermogenes, Socrates almost suggests that to beg for life would be cowardly. It should be evident why death would appear to be the better option, because he would be dying for his cause. As Socrates attested near the end of Xenophon’s account, “I never harmed anyone or made anyone bad […] I helped those I conversed with by freely teaching them every good I was able” (26). It is for these seemingly simple reasons that we are still remembering Socrates—he was a great teacher. In our contemporary era this example seems too quick, it is as if he’s too eager to die. Nowadays we do not hesitate to think in terms of clinging to life at all costs. No matter what, death is always to be avoided. Socrates presents us with an alternatively extreme view that sometimes death is better than life. We must advocate such a view with caution and without any haste, but we do know that the untimely death of a wise man can serve to emphasize his altruistic and noble cause to do philosophy. We still think of Socrates as wise and that he died for his cause.
To continue on this thantic theme, we should include a few more things that shouldn’t be left out. We’ll be sure to recall the oft-repeated quote given by Socrates toward the end of Plato’s Apology after the jury has found him guilty and he is asked to give a ‘counterproposal’ to a possible death sentence. As Socrates speaks, he mildly suggests a possible exile where he would continue his work and the young would listen to his teachings and his way of doing philosophy (37d). He continues with the conviction that even in exile he wouldn’t stop “…conversing and examining both myself and others—and that the unexamined life is not worth living for a human being…” (38a). Although he is not explicitly speaking of death in this quote, the implication is too strong to ignore. Again, to paraphrase, Socrates is positioning the claim that if one doesn’t actively examine, interrogate and inquire about life and how to live it, he is better off dead. This idea demonstrates his predicament as much as it shows his wisdom. If he is (and, as we know he will be) presented with the death sentence, he can no longer practice his work of doing philosophy, therefore, he can no longer examine life, since he might be asked to keep silent in exile. The lesson is not lost on us either, if we are to truly live an examined life we much inquire, question and examine life as much as we can. Curiosity is at the base of this suggestion. All we have to do is act with a similar conviction to know more about life.
As the trial unfolds in Plato’s Apology, he is in fact, given the death sentence to drink the poisonous hemlock and then he gives his pensive closing remarks. Now that he knows his fate, he has no regrets about the way he defended himself “I prefer to die having made my defense speech in this way than to live in that way” (38e). When he says that he didn’t want ‘to live in that way’ he must have meant that he is proud that he didn’t have to grovel nor beg for his life. This connects with Xenophon’s record to show that Socrates was not willing to compromise his values at any expense, thereby setting a laudable example for the people of Athens and for posterity.
There is another strangely appropriate quote in Plato’s retelling where Socrates is continuing to talk after the death penalty is read, this is where he is sorting through the notion that escape from death could have been a possibility for him had he made a stronger more eloquent plea and defense. “But I suspect it is not hard, men, to escape death, but it is much harder to escape villainy. For it runs faster than death” (39a-b). This is easily directed at his accusers and the percentage of the jury who condemned him to die. The villainy of deciding that someone should die for showing people the truth is not as far-fetched as it sounds on the surface. We already know that sometimes people don’t like to be told the truth of things, namely if the truth is made to expose their ignorance, since we don’t like to be shown to not know something. Villainy is typically characterized as evil, crafty and deceitful, among other things. If we think just for a second about these qualities in comparison to what Socrates is saying, we see his point. People are quick to judge others, it’s easy to find flaw with someone else and it is easy to misinterpret things if we’re not thinking carefully. But villainy calls for darker motives, it’s faster than death because it can’t stay anywhere for too long. A villain doesn’t want to be figured out so he will move with speed, yet the speed belies his deeper problem of plain old ignorance. This kind of ignorance resides in all of us and usually we’re too afraid to see it—to know it. Socrates teaches us these things and then some. His way demonstrates that we must not be afraid to say we don’t know everything, something and nothing.
To be sure, this leaves us with four more pressing questions that have already been implied. How do I contend with my own ignorance? How do I contend with my own death? Then, how does this help me contend with the ignorance of others? And what wisdom is to be had when we witness and contemplate the death of others?
Larson, Raymond. The Apology and Crito of Plato and the Apology and Syposium of Xenophon. Lawrence, KS: Coronado Press, 1980. Print.
Plato and Aristophanes. Four Texts on Socrates. Trans. Thomas G. West and Grace Starry West. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998. Print.
Reeve, C.D.C. Socrates in the Apology. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Co., 1989. Print.
 The plant from which the hemlock Socrates is made to drink is formally known as Conium. It is a large flowering weed which resembles parsley and grows in many parts of the world, including here in Colorado.
February 24, 2013 § 2 Comments
Our objectives for this post are brief. We’ll start by laying down A.J. Ayer’s goal to ‘eliminate’ metaphysics and what he meant by the term. Then we’ll look at one of Carl Hempel’s arguments that takes into account the “isolated sentences” that proved to be damaging to the stridency of logical positivism’s requirements. This was a philosophic attempt to give verifiable room to a wide array of scientific theories. Then, we’ll turn to W.V.O. Quine who transitioned from Hempel’s position into his own attack on two widely held dogmas of empiricism. Quine will offer substantial criticisms about empirical orthodoxy that thereby allow for more leniencies in the way we regard positivism and empiricism itself. Lastly, we’ll examine a notion of truth, suggested by Quine, that Ayer may have disqualified as metaphysical and so on.
Ayer makes no bones about his positivist project from the onset. One needs only to consider the title of the first chapter of Language, Truth and Logic, “The Elimination of Metaphysics” to know where he’s coming from. But we must be sure to recognize that Ayer’s conditions are about language, henceforth he wishes to account for any metaphysical statement to be nonsense. As Ayer puts it “…it must follow that the labors of those who have striven to describe such a [metaphysical] reality have all been devoted to the production of nonsense” (34). What he is excluding as metaphysical basically has to do with any sentence that is not logically sound and cannot be verified by empirical evidence. Essentially Ayer wishes to conditionally discard any sentence that “…transcends the limits of all possible sense experience…” as metaphysical. On the surface this sounds easy enough to get to work on, eliminating unscientific speculative statements and nonsensical sentences in the name of doing better science, but as we’ll see, this motive is replete with irregularity from the beginning.
In the 1950s Hempel got to work analyzing empiricism’s criteria of cognitive significance from multiple angles. In his paper “Empiricist Criteria of Cognitive Significance: Problems and Changes” he demonstrated problematic issues with the specific restrictions and some of the unanticipated laxity of empiricism’s fundamental tenets. For instance, when speaking of a scientific theory a scientist would have to include what Hempel calls “primitive sentences and statements” such as “’angle’,’ triangle’, ‘length’ (674). These primitive statements are usually not defined outright when a scientist develops a theory—that is, when his theory is “axiomatized”(674). These primitive statements are positioned in a given theory that must be proven by empirical evidence, such things as measurement and the like. By the nature of applying such abstractions on to the real empirical world, we end up with considerable wiggle room by which to calculate errors in a given theory, thereby the possibility of including imprecision in the minutest detail. Suddenly there’s too much that’s undefined and has to get cut out because it’s simply not absolutely observable. Something like Newton’s law of gravitation would have to be dismissed as too liberal in its allowance of theoretical sentences (Hempel 675). Then Hempel continues to show that “…theory and concept formation go hand and hand; neither can be carried on in isolation from the other” (696). Basically the theory has to contain statements that are not entirely observable. It is because this that before long, in our scientific theories, we start permitting “isolated sentences” (Hempel 676). These peculiar sentences are linked to the primitive sentences and can be deemed too metaphysical under certain empirical standards. So when Hempel applies a logical structure to this, he reveals that if we disallow any primitive statements that are also isolated and ‘partially interpreted’ we’ll have to get too strict with our science. It is because of these isolated sentences Hempel suggests that scientific work including such things within its general laws will “…have to rise above the level of direct observation” (678). These examples are ways in which Hempel regards the metaphysical problems inherent with so called isolated sentences.
We now move toward Quine to continue recognizing empiricism’s problems in his brilliant paper “Two Dogmas of Empiricism.” Although the two dogmas conceptually converge, we’ll look at only one of the dogmas, namely “…the dogma of reductionism: the [empirical] belief that each meaningful statement is equivalent to some logical construct upon terms which refer to immediate experience” (Quine 455). This dogma makes too many assumptions under close analysis. Quine has to demonstrate that science has to work with an imprecise world “…statements about the external world face the tribunal not individually but as a corporate body” (464). In short, scientific statements are made up of words, statements and ideas that are not entirely—piece by piece—verifiable. Quine puts it beautifully toward the end of the essay, when he simply states that such disciplines as physics, mathematics and logic are man-made, and “…impinge on experience only on the edges” (465). There’s too much that has to be accounted for between the language of science and the hard facts of the empirical world that would be enough to suggest the two are exact observable equivalents. The real world is not that neat. Quine believes that empirical reductionism is itself “nonsense” (465). It is the “…root of much nonsense, to speak of a linguistic component and a factual component in the truth of any individual statement” (Quine 465). Remarkably, we are reminded of Ayer’s admonition about the metaphysical as nonsense—but with Quine the nonsense is much more forgiving, since it offers empirical truth more leniencies.
Plainly said, we can’t be too rigid with the way we think, and the way we do science, and by extension the way we practice philosophy, but in this case it takes the rigors of a complicated analysis to provide us with the exactitude by which to weigh the circumstances of understanding language, philosophy and science combined, as Ayer, Hempel and Quine have proven.
Ayer, A.J. Language, Truth and Logic. New York: Dover Publications, 1952. Print
Hempel, Carl. “Empiricist Criteria of Cognitive Significance: Problems and Changes.” The Philosophy of Language. Eds. A.P. Martinich, David Sosa. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013. pp.669-681. Print.
Quine, W.V.O. “Two Dogmas of Empiricism.” Martinich and Sosa. pp. 455-468. Print.