notes on hegel’s philosophy of right / §§ 10-30

August 29, 2013 § Leave a comment

student lecture notes hegel phil of right


For Hegel, the will is immediate and in-itself or it is a concept that is for-itself, meaning that the will is a potential and it can also be actualized, this actualization does look different than the simple will in-itself. The will in-itself is finite. A shallow view of the will (re: understanding) only can grasp the will as being in-itself, a mere potentiality. Understanding sees the will as limited (abstract) and not connected it to the ideas of truth and freedom.


The will in-itself is free and the self-determining parts as the drives, desires and inclinations, constitute its content (the particulars). In this way, the will does not have its complete rational form and is finite. The finitude of our individual desires is not equivalent to the infinite of the rational that extends itself beyond the instance of each person.


The content (drive) is immediate in the will as universal and it is individualized in each person (re: resolutions and decisions). How the contents of the will are determined against indeterminacy individualizes us.


The finitude of consciousness is the difference between us as human, i.e. our decisions are part of who we are as specific individuals. Only when the will becomes rational does it rise to the universal blend of content and form, whereas the form (the rational) provides the structure to the content (drive).


The infinite will is self-reflective, although it has control over its content it is still tied to them. The ‘I’ is made for this determination from content (drive) to form (reason).


This section seems to be Hegel’s attack on common conceptions of freedom as merely arbitrary (?). This arbitrary view is abstract (partial) and is determinate on externality. “Being able to do as one pleases” is too elementary. Common reflection only allows the will to be manifested by the outside world. The will is rational and therefore not entirely arbitrary.


The will is bound in the actual choices it makes.


Hegel wants to include the arbitrary as a contradiction (opposed to) conflicting drives, whereas one wins out over the other.


For Hegel, man is inherently evil and so he needs to “liberate” himself toward God and away from his originally base nature.


For man’s drives to be purified, they must be freed from their base nature. The drives can become rational in content to be made into a science, morality, ownership, sociability and love.


When reflection (intelligence) is applied to the content (drives), via happiness, it can bring about a formal (rational) universality—hence education.


Once we are able to make the content (drive) of the will rational (re: infinite form), the will is free not only in-itself (potential), but also for-itself (actualized), thus becoming something closer to an ideation or conceptualization of truth. Freedom is willed by its own content.


The object of will in-itself is freedom and this becomes universal and infinite as it is actualized, presumably within the constraints of our own specific actuality, in our specific place in the world.


Will, under Hegel’s rationalism, is completely free in reference to itself. Perhaps because we can only be free when we have acknowledged that we can think and conceptualize for ourselves?


Hegel’s ‘speculative’ rationalism calls for the very limitations of will to be included within the structure of will’s becoming. To become universal, real-world limitations have to be superseded by the will. This kind of universality is not abstract (partial) it has to be realized within the individual—therefore it is concrete (real).


The subjective will is threefold: it is pure form, and pure certainty (purely rational?); it contains the arbitrary contingent content of our drives; and it is one-sided.


The objective will is threefold: it can conceptualize itself as objective will; it lacks the infinite because it’s looking outside for its determinations; its existence is external only. But, for Hegel, the objective and subjective are not separable.


For Hegel, it is rational to suggest that freedom should see itself as an object.


The will overcomes the contradiction between the objective and subjective and this is essential to its idea, or ultimate conceptualization, of it.


The right, by definition, is a manifestation of the will as free in the purely rational ways described above.§30The “right is utterly sacred” according to Hegel, as it becomes fully developed and actualized freedom.

Aurelio Madrid

…& then there was ptolemaic egypt

August 12, 2013 § Leave a comment

ptolemy i soter
pentadrachm (coin) portraying ptolemy i soter
ptolemaic period
285–247 B.C.
issued by ptolemy ii philadelphos
diam. 2.4 cm; 17.82 g


…when Alexander the Great took Egypt, he founded Alexandria, a new gateway from Egypt to the Mediterranean. Following this, Alexander traveled with Ptolemy I Soter to the Oracle of Amun at Siwa, who officially deified Alexander as Zeus-Amun. Shortly afterwards, Alexander died in Babylon. Without a succession plan, the Diodochi were left to decide how the vast Macedonian empire would be divided, leaving Ptolemy I Soter with the satrapy of Egypt. Ptolemy stole Alexander’s embalmed body to inter it in Memphis, thereby establishing a firm connection to Alexander’s legacy. It was during Ptolemy’s reign where the 1st portraits of Alexander were minted onto coins. Also during Ptolemy’s reign the Library of Alexandria was established, to compete with Athens for intellectual prestige. During the Ptolmaic dynasty, the male heirs took the name Ptolemy, whereas the females were Cleopatras, Arsinoes or Berenices. The Ptolemaic dynasty was known for its syncretic assimilation of the Egyptian religion, which won them good favor with Egyptian people for the 275 years of their rule. The Ptolemy’s were also known to have picked up other traditions of the Egyptian pharaohs, including frequent incest…for instance, Ptolemy I’s son, Ptolemy II Philadelphus, married his full sister Arsinoe II. The dynasty was said to decline after Ptolemy IV and the Rosetta Stone was inscribed during Ptolemy V’s reign. Most of this later period was embroiled in dynastic intrigue, leading to the last pharaoh, Cleopatra VII. Although she was officially married to her brother, she courted Julius Caesar, and after Caesar was assassinated, she fell in love with Mark Antony who was on the opposing side of Octavian’s army, during the Roman civil war that erupted after Caesar’s death. Octavian won the Battle of Actium, defeating Mark Antony, who then committed suicide. Thus, Egypt fell under the newly established Roman empire, marking the end of Ptolemaic Egypt.


networks of ancient greek coinage

July 31, 2013 § Leave a comment

aeginetan coin / reverse

Aeginetan stater (reverse) ca. 5th century B.C.E.


Coins in ancient Greece are excellent records of the activity that surrounded them. In order to position an understanding that re-contextualizes information about numismatics[1] the coins themselves will be the primary locus of this study—they are the primary actors. Actor-network theory (hereafter ANT) is offered as a methodology in which to research ancient Greek currency within varying contexts. Although human activity is an important part of the way we think of things, it will be decentralized here, but it will not be discounted or discarded. By way of ANT, coins will be examined in their unique relational contexts and how they have acted in these contexts as abstract ideas and physical objects under the categories of groups, actions, facts and objects. A broad historical perspective is given within these categories, to situate the birth of coinage and concluding with the Hellenistic era. A good deal of attention will be given to the birth of coins and the subtle problems that ensued as a result of their dynamic presence. Aeginetan coin design also presented an example of how mathematics and numismatics were unexpectedly linked in antiquity. The legacy of Alexander the Great stands as a high point in the ideology and reality of the quasi-mythic ruler’s influence. This issue will be considered, along with how his image was manipulated throughout the Hellenistic world after his death. This study will conclude with a question of how the agency of ancient Greek coins and their heterogeneous patterns have threaded through the networks that created them—via ANT.


The primary goal of this research will be to examine how coins were a part of the larger network of ancient Greek poleis and environs. Coins can be justifiably count as non-human agents that have profoundly affected society, ancient and otherwise. Our objective here will also be ontological[2], from a relational standpoint, this will include the dynamic material-semiotics made popular by ANT, specifically by Law and Latour.[3] This brief and wide ranging research will try to resituate ancient numismatic networks that included coins as actors. We can plainly see that the ever-changing network of ancient coins still affects us in our contemporary age. Today, a collector can purchase a good quality ancient Greek coin for a relatively small amount of money, in comparison, the price of an ancient sculpture or vase would be likely be out of reach. In the introduction to his book The Legend of Alexander the Great on Greek and Roman Coins, Dahmen states that coins can be thought of as official documents.[4] It is for this reason that coins represent and can serve to fill in the gaps of untold history, whereas other physical artifacts may not have survived as well. Dahman underscores this point with “coins are the only type of material culture carrying iconography and written messages the corpus of which is almost completely conserved in today’s museums and collections.”[5]

Actor-network theory:

If anything, ANT is ontological, meaning that it focuses on the specific relational and organizational ways things interact. ANT had its beginnings in the innovative social theory of the 1980s and it was initially conceived of by Law, Latour, and Callon. In his informative paper on ANT “The social and beyond: introducing Actor-network theory”, the maritime archaeologist Dolwick wonderfully elaborates the structure of ANT. He tells that it can generally be thought of as a methodology in which to do research about actors (or actants), these actants can be persons, groups, ideas objects, plants, animals, etc.[6] The actor is either deliberately acting with agency or having actions and ancillary agencies surrounding it “It may not necessarily be the source of action, but something that modifies a state of affairs by making a perceptible difference.”[7] Then, there is the network, this can simultaneously be an actant, but as Dolwick describes it “[…] is an interactive assembly of actors, group, or ‘string of actions’ involving a number of potential mediators.”[8] As Dolwick demonstrates, we can organize our research into four basic categories: groups, actions, facts and objects.[9] Ancient Greek coins can easily be thought of as operating within in a network of groups, actions, facts and objects—henceforth our organizational format. These categorizations will be explained along the way.


This category is probably the widest ranging and we could spend plenty of time here. As Dolwick describes it, the category of groups doesn’t have as much to do with looking at the actual grouping, rather the emphasis is looking at what is brings the groups together.[10] “This concerns where and how the actors were assembled together.”[11] This makes us want to ask: how were coins intermeshed with the society that minted them? In his introductory book on collecting ancient Greek coins, Sayles states that “coins do not have faulty memories or confuse one personage with another. They relate to us the same information that they related to someone living at the time of their issue.”[12] He also reminds us that coins were invented in the kingdom of Lydia around 700 B.C.E.[13] These early coins were minted from a gold and silver alloy known as electrum, in fractional denominations of a stater and whole staters.[14] Schaps, in his impressive book The Invention of Coinage and the Monetization of Ancient Greece, has some question as to what the actual use was for these first coins. He divides the debate into two areas: the scholars that attribute the invention of a means of payment, or to those that speculate that the minting of the coins was “[…] a response to the problematic nature of electrum itself.”[15]


Fig. 1. Lydian 1/6 stater (obverse). ca. 650-600 B.C.E. electrum. The British Museum, London.

Schaps argues that the coins could have been invented for a kind of official state payment to soldiers or even mercenaries, but Schaps see these uses as unlikely.[16] As for the second possible use, Schaps suggests that the coins could have been way to guarantee the value of the electrum, since the gold to silver ratio of the alloy could vary depending on where the metal was mined.[17] Howgego, in his book Ancient History from Coins, puts the question to rest “We know nothing about the function of the earliest coins.”[18] If we were to readily accept Schaps second idea, that these coins were produced to guarantee the value of electrum, then the special alloy itself is determining how it is used, valued and distributed. The precious qualities of the electrum uniquely position it to be minted for whatever purpose the coins were actually made for. The quality of the metal determines its placement within its specific group. This connection includes the real need for such rare metals to be placed within their network of ancient Greek coinage. Electrum was not a secondary player within its group. Instead, it played a significant role in determining the beginning of coinage, because of its rarity and malleable qualities.


Dolwick describes this category as having to do with the concept of agency, he asks “What work was required to induce two or more potentially disagreeable actors into coexisting (perhaps even acting together)?”[19] Coins transformed the way people negotiated with their world and they repositioned antiquated ways of exchange. Tordoff, in his remarkable paper “Coins, money, and exchange in Aristophanes’ Wealth”, writes about such transformations. Before the rise of capitalist markets, pre-capitalist reciprocal social exchanges were not clear cut.[20] For example, “[i]n the context of close relationships, reciprocal exchanges may only be completed over a long period of time.”[21] This means that the value exchanges between family or close friends were negotiated in a different, long term way than those of our current capitalist model. Then Tordoff counters this with “By contrast, in the context of the market, where social distance is great, the exchange on the spot of items of equal value will be the norm.”[22] The difference here has to do with a long established pre-monetary way of exchanging things vs. a monetary way of making an exchange, whereby “[…] within the community of the village, bonds of kinship and morality make this sort of activity fundamentally unacceptable.” Tordoff suggests that since the practices of exchange were morally questionable, money would be “cooked.”[23] Presumably, if a fisherman wanted to use the money he earned by fishing, he would give it to his wife, who would use it for the household in a less explicit way than a simple quid pro quo transaction.[24] We could think of this as a kind of domesticated soft money, whereby the edges of direct exchange became blurry, less matter-of-fact and more socially acceptable. This shows us that money just wasn’t as we view it today. Actually, coins were distrusted. It should go without saying, but it is worth repeating, the advent of coinage changed the traditional ways in which things were exchanged. Tordoff writes that coins were looked at with suspicion and hostility because money was “[…] a new medium of exchange that threatened the old established practices of reciprocal gift giving […]”[25] The resistance to this new form of exchange basically sped up the exchange process and it also deflated long traditions of aristocratic gift giving. People used coins in an exchange that quickly became more democratic and equalizing.[26] In these examples it becomes clear that the human actors, in their new found connection to the coin actors, had to measurably adjust and accommodate their ways of dealing with the world. These small valuations of metal have changed people’s relationship to exchange and commerce by streamlining the process. Coins and people are causally linked. Their actions were once new and suspicious. Nowadays we no longer question their place because their agency has been fixed and placed within our capitalist network.

Haselgrove and Krmnicek in their thorough and fascinating essay “The archaeology of money” write that “as artifacts, coins and other kinds of currency are an integral part of the archaeological record.”[27] But they show that the study of numismatics can easily become divorced from its context through the course of history. Coins become isolated agents that seem to act in the predictable ways we understand them, yet we cannot let this view obscure the past. Our perception of monetary patterns in the ancient world does not always apply to the way it actually was. The authors remind us that coins are a unique record of the past, coins can be thought of as a kind of fossil record that becomes an illustration of the ancient past.[28] Haselgrove and Krmnicek also mention the invention of coinage that corresponded to the use of the alloy of electrum, some of their attention is on the archaeological find of one of the largest hordes of electrum coins, that was found somewhere beneath the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus in modern day Turkey.[29] This shows that our relationship to the past can easily change depending on how good (or bad) the archaeology is. There could be more hordes of coins to be found elsewhere and whenever a significant find comes to the surface, it could, and usually does, change our sense of the past, even if it’s just a little. Our understanding of the network of the ancient world can change with every new find, thus, the newly excavated coins and their particular agency could easily reposition the existing historical record, depending on how exceptional, rare or valuable the find actually turns out to be. The factors that include value, both past and present, can be thought of as an agency the coins deploy and this value ‘causes’ any of the activity surrounding around them. In other words, because of the intrinsic material, historical, and cultural value of the coins, archaeologists must respect their finds by classifying, identifying, and preserving the artifacts. This is the agency and the network of the ancient coins, whereby the artifacts (the coins) are, more or less, dictating how they will be treated and respected by the archaeologists and others.


This category is somewhat difficult to place and to help us understand it, Dolwick asks “So, in the actor’s accounts, which facts were being disputed and made matters of concern?”[30] This category is not only about the facts themselves, but it is also about how those facts were getting repositioned and questioned within their ever changing networks. Ancient Aeginetan coin design presents an intricate example of this, whereby mathematics and numismatics become unexpectedly linked and questioned. The dispute Dolwick speaks of is basically a question of incommensurability. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines incommensurable as such “the term ‘incommensurable’ means ‘no common measure’, having its origins in ancient Greek mathematics, where it meant no common measure between magnitudes.”[31] In his paper “Pre-Euclidian geometry and Aeginetan coin design: some further remarks.” Ambrosi presents the idea that ancient Greek coins from the island of Aegina depict specific geometric designs that predate Euclid’s description of ‘doubling the square’.[32] The early geometric designs on the coins from 500 B.C.E. seem to conceal incommensurability, while later Aeginetan 400 B.C.E. coins reveal irrational numbers (re: √2) which also relate to complex philosophical and cosmological issues of Pythagoras, Euclid, Aristotle, Plato and Heraclitus.[33] Aeginetan coins with these geometric designs were widely used throughout ancient Greece. Although, little is known about why the geometric designs were imprinted on the Aeginetan coins, Ambrosi claims that when we do the math, the early designs conceal important mathematical problems. This is because the ancient Greeks had not yet come to terms with incommensurability, which could have its origins in early Pythagorean secrecy.[34] Ambrosi indicates that later editions of the coins show the geometry clearly, and this coincides with the acceptance in Greek intellectual circles with of the concept of incommensurability (see Fig. 2). Ambrosi concludes by noting that the mathematical design on these coins would have been understood by the ancient (intellectual) Greeks. Much can be discussed about the mathematics of the coins, but we still cannot be sure about the actual motivations behind the designs.[35]


Fig. 2. The Aeginetan coins (boldly outlined, marked with A.) show the geometric design on the reverse of the coins as un-obscured, most of the other coins show the geometric design as obscured (including some of the later examples, this might indicate that these examples are older, even though some of them are grouped in the 480-431 B.C.E. timeframe).


The way this last category is described by Dolwick seems to fit the idea of coinage perfectly “[…] far from being the mere hapless bearers of symbolic projection, objects (things) have the potential to exist within their own little webs of materialized relations [...]”[36] This is the part of ANT where the so called ‘non-human’ actors are important. With coins this point is made obvious via how the elaborate political networks of the ancient world used coinage. The legacy of Alexander the Great stands as a high point in the ideology of the quasi-mythic ruler’s portrait on a wide variety of coins throughout the Hellenistic world, including Ptolemaic Egypt. François de Callataÿ in his essay “The fabulous wealth of the Hellenistic kings: coinage and Weltmachpolitik,” writes that Ptolemy I Soter “[…] was the first to place Alexander’s image on coins.”[37] This peculiar fact places all the coinage with Alexander’s image as post mortem. De Callataÿ reminds us that “[a]lthough Alexander adopted […] an ancient coin type without the intention of being identified with Heracles, his portrait was evident on it in antiquity.”[38] This means that any of the portrait images on all the coins minted in Alexander’s lifetime, are only suggestive of him as a god, but they are not actually portraits of him. In his book Dahman (mentioned earlier) brings up the issue of Ptolemy I Soter’s usage of Alexander’s image on coins, in a slightly different way “the purpose here is not really to portray as an individual, but rather to exploit his legend and ideological potential […]”[39] Ptolemy I Soter was keying into the legend of the great leader and the coins became a physical manifestation of that desire. The coins are the non-human place where the idealization becomes a reality. A man’s face on a small piece of metal becomes the medium and tangible artifact of his legacy—the coins are intrinsically a part of his oversized identity and idealization.


Fig. 3. Tetradrachm of Ptolemy I Soter, (obverse) ca. 323-305 B.C.E. silver. Showing a fine portrait of Alexander the Great with an elephant skin helmet. The Fitzwilliam Museum.


The blending of abstract and physical circumstances in which we can ask about the action, distribution and placement of coins in ancient Greece offers a rich, albeit incomplete, area of study. To call this a conclusion suggests that we have accomplished all that we have set out to do. This is far from the truth. Our work is not done. However, we can conclude that coins did not operate in their specific networks in predictable ways. From the earliest invention of coins in modern day Turkey, to the Hellenistic kingdom of Ptolemy I Soter, coins have shown themselves to be actively transforming the actions around them. As much as we want to place humans at the center of everything, ANT shows us that objects, such as coins, can decentralize our sense of value and our understanding of the very networks they have created.

Aurelio Madrid


Ambrosi, G.M. 2012. “Pre-Euclidian geometry and Aegintan coin design: some further remarks.” Archive for History and Exact Sciences 66:557-583.

Dahmen, K. 2007. The Legend of Alexander the Great on Greek and Roman Coins. New York: Routledge.

De Callataÿ, François. 2012. “The fabulous wealth of the Hellenistic kings: coinage and Weltmachpolitik.” Words and Coins from Ancient Greece to Byzantium, 91-101. Ghent: MER Paper Kusthalle.

Dolwick, J.S. 2009. “’The social’ and beyond: introducing Actor-Network Theory.” Journal of Maritime Archaeology 4: 21-49.

Haselgrove, C. S. Krmnicek. 2012. “The archaeology of money.” Annual Review of Anthropology 41: 235-50.

Howgego, Christopher, 1995. Ancient History from Coins. New York: Routledge.

Law, John, John Hassard, eds. 1999. Actor Network Theory and After. Oxford: Blackwell.

Oberheim, Eric and Hoyningen-Huene, Paul. 2013. “The Incommensurability of Scientific Theories.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. .

“Ontology.” 2006. The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, 670. New York, NY: Oxford.

Sayles, Wayne G. 1997. Ancient Coin Collecting II: Numismatic Art of the Greek World. Iola: Krause Publications.

Schaps, David M. 2004. The Invention of Coinage and the Monetization of Ancient Greece. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Tondoff, R.C. 2012. “Coins, money and exchange in Aristophanes’ Wealth.” Transactions of the American Philological Association 142 (2): 257-293.

[1] Haselgraove and Krmnicek define numismatics as: “the academic study of coins, medals and related monetary objects.” 2012, 236.

[2] Ontology usually has to do with being, and with special consideration given to the origins of being, but when we consult The Oxford Companion to Philosophy it indicates that “Different systems of ontology propose alternative categorical schemes” The Oxford Companion to Philosophy 2006, 670.

[3] John Law helps to summarize this material-semiotic approach “There is semiotic relationality (it’s a network whose elements define and shape one another), heterogeneity (there are different kinds of actors, human and otherwise), and materiality (stuff is there aplenty, not just “the social”). There is an insistence on process and its precariousness (all elements need to play their part moment by moment or it all comes unstuck). There is attention to power as an effect (it is a function of network configuration and in particular the creation of immutable mobiles), to space and to scale (how it is that networks extend themselves and translate distant actors).” Law 1999, 1-14.

[4] Dahmen 2007, 3.

[5] supra n. 4, 3.

[6] Dolwick 2009, 40.

[7] supra n. 5, 36-42.

[8] supra n. 5, 36-42.

[9] supra n. 5, 36-42.

[10] supra n. 6, 40.

[11] supra n. 6, 40.

[12] Sayles 1997, 2.

[13] supra n. 12, 3.

[14] supra n. 12, 4.

[15] Schaps 2004, 97.

[16] supra n. 15, 100.

[17] supra n. 15, 100-101.

[18] Howgego 1995, 3.

[19] Dolwick 2009, 41.

[20] Tordoff 2012, 271.

[21] supra n. 20, 271.

[22] supra n. 20, 271.

[23] supra n. 20, 272.

[24] supra n. 20, 272.

[25] supra n. 20, 273.

[26] supra n. 20, 273.

[27] Haselgrove and Krmnicek 2012, 236.

[28] supra n. 27, 236.

[29] supra n. 27, 240.

[30] Dolwick 2009, 41.

[31] Oberheim and Hoyningen-Huene 2013.

[32] Ambrosi 2012, 561-562.

[33] supra n. 32, 557-583.

[34] supra n. 32, 557-583.

[35] supra n. 32, 557-583.

[36] Dolwick 2009, 41.

[37] De Callataÿ 2012, 94.

[38] supra n. 37, 93.

[39] Dahman 2007, 48.

…explaining things

June 13, 2013 § Leave a comment


Philosophers of science sometimes have to do the hard work of explaining how scientists explain things. The 20th century German-American philosophers of science Carl G. Hempel and Paul Oppenheim applied themselves, in 1948, to such an effort in their jointly written paper “Studies in the Logic of Explanation.” In this detailed and logically labyrinthine text, Hempel and Oppenheim collaborated, as they did often, to strenuously define what is commonly called the “deductive-nomological model” of scientific explanation. It is not clear when the actual moniker “deductive-nomological” (hereafter the D-N model) came about, since a close examination of the 1948 paper seems to make no mention of the model with these precise words. Nevertheless, a quick glance through an extensive bibliography of Hempel’s published work shows that Hempel was making professional use of the term “deductive-nomological” in the early 1960s (Hempel 399). Hempel also calls the D-N model the “covering-law model” in various essays on the topic (69). In this paper we will set out to examine and define the model as it relates to scientific explanation and prediction. Then we’ll turn to another philosopher of science who was also greatly interested in the topic of scientific explanation Wesley C. Salmon. Salmon’s 1985 paper “Scientific Explanation: How We Got from There to Here” was instrumental in pointing out several problems with the “D-N model”. Salmon’s criticism dislodged Hempel and Oppenheim’s model enough to cause its descent from its once authoritative place as the generally accepted method by which to scientifically explain things. In all fairness, Hempel did anticipate problems with the model and in subsequent years (after 1948 and especially in the 1960s) and he tried to ameliorate some of them. As mentioned, we’ll be briefly looking at Salmon’s critique and to bits of Hempel’s own reevaluation to see what can be concluded from there and if we should reject the D-N model outright.

First, let’s endeavor to define the D-N model using Hempel and Oppenheim’s terms. In a straightforward way, Hempel and Oppenheim open their paper “Studies in the Logic of Explanation” with a general statement about scientific explanation itself “[t]o explain the phenomena in the world of our experience, to answer the question ‘why?’ rather than only the question of ‘what?’ is one of the foremost objectives of empirical science” (206). Right away this sets the tone for the extent their philosophical project. In other words, they will want to show how the ‘why?’ questions of scientific inquiry can be empirically and logically legitimized in a basic formulaic way. Hempel and Oppenheim going about this by looking at bare-bones pattern of scientific explanation starting with the Latin terms “explanandum” and the “explanans” (Hempel, Oppenheim 207). To clarify this pair of terms will mean that the explanans is more or less the set/s of premises that ‘explain’ the deduction of the ‘explanation’ which they accordingly dub the explanandum. This is just another way of saying that the explanans explain the explanandum. A footnote next to the two terms indicates that these words are derived from the Latin “explanare” (Hempel, Oppenheim 222). To be sure, these are the logical components of a scientific explanation.

The explanans (the explanation) has two important subcategories “[…] one of these contain certain sentences C1, C2, …, Ck which state certain antecedent conditions; the other is a set of sentences L1, L2, …, Lr which represent general laws” (Hempel, Oppenheim 207). Put another way, we have to have a finite number of laws (natural or otherwise) and a finite number of conditions that are to be used to legitimately give a scientific explanation for a given phenomena. And so, the explanandum (the explained) must “be a logical consequence of the explanans” (208). The following logical schema illustrates the essential logical structure as Hempel and Oppenheim formally presented it in their paper.


Logical schema of the deductive-nomological model (Hempel, Oppenheim 209).

If it’s not already apparent, the deductive part of the explanation requires that the explanans as a whole set must be true and must be able to be verified with empirical “experiment or observation” (Hempel, Oppenheim 208). As for the nomological (re: lawful, having to do with laws, etc.) part of the D-N model, we’ll have to include the minimum of one general law in our set of explanans. Hempel and Oppenheim give a short example of how this explaining works, for instance, why a rowboat’s (normally straight) oar will appear to be bent in water. The explanation for the bent oar follows from two general laws (L1, L2, …, Lr), “—mainly the law of refraction and the law that water is an optically denser medium than air…” (207). The other ‘antecedent conditions’ (C1, C2, …, Ck) are obvious practical things, such as the oar being put in the water, the oar is normally straight and not actually distorted to begin with, the water is clear enough to see the illusion of the distorted oar, etc. Importantly, scientific predictions can also be contained within the D-N model with an easy reversal of the explanans and explanandum, whereby the explanans is given prior to the explanandum—i.e. an explanation is offered to predict upcoming phenomena. This order can get easily confused when we are trying to situate explanation with respect to prediction, but it should remembered that the explanation comes after the phenomena to be explained.

Wesley Salmon in his (above mentioned) paper writes that Hempel and Oppenheim were already anticipating potential problems with the D-N model, such that not all scientific explanations will fall under the D-N model, “…some are probabilistic or statistical” (243). This means that the general laws (L1, L2, …, Lr) used in the D-N model will then be replaced by a finite set of statistical laws (minimum of one), thereby changing the model to an “inductive-statistical (I-S)”[1] model (Salmon 242). Salmon writes that Hempel readily recognized that statistical probability was by definition somewhat ambiguous and therefore problematic “[t]he source of the problem of ambiguity is a simple and fundamental difference between universal laws and statistical laws” (244). As we already know, there are often (nay always) exceptions to the rules, probabilistic arguments usually account for what will ‘probably’ happen with a certain percentage of not happening. Salmon cites the famous black swan example that refuted the previously accepted inductive argument that all swans were white (244). There is always going to be a fractional percentage of a statistical explanation that is not successful because statistical law simply cannot account for an absolute (100%) deductive assurance, therefore it had to be dubbed inductive. Hempel tried to resolve this problem with his “requirement of maximal specificity (RMS)” (Salmon 245). This required that all appropriately relevant details be included in the explanation. But, determining what is appropriate can be a dilemma, and this is why Hempel came up with (and later rejected) his so-called “principle of essential epistemic relativity of I-S explanation” (246). In other words, the maximum amount of specificity works fine with the D-N model, but doesn’t work well with the I-S model because the knowledge base (episteme) needed is still only inductive, so we are restricted by the relative knowledge base of any given explanation which can easily slide into over-generalized explanations.

Salmon plainly states that “[t]he hegemony of logical empiricism regarding scientific explanation did not endure for long” (249). Among the already stated problems with the D-N model anticipated by Hempel and Oppenheim, there were other problems that caused it to lose traction as a way to explain things scientifically. In his paper, Salmon concludes that he wishes to bring causality back into scientific explanation. As he admits, causes will serve to explain things. A cause can explain certain effects. Another consideration Salmon addresses is time or better said “temporal asymmetries” (257). This is similar to his causal condition, where we can explain things by earlier events but not the other way around. Sylvan Bromberger’s flagpole example is given by Salmon to illustrate problems with Hempel and Oppenheim’s D-N model. On a sunny day at a certain time a flagpole, given any number of conditions, casts a shadow of a certain length that can be deduced from the conditions, re: the height of the flagpole, the time of day, etc. We can then use the similar conditions to determine the height of the flagpole “…[y]et hardly anyone would allow that the length of the shadow explains the height of the flagpole” (Salmon 249). The point here has to do with the way Hempel and Oppenheim’s D-N model seems to be devoid of causal ways of explaining things, because even if we can try to show that the shadow explains the height of the flagpole it just doesn’t causally work out that way since, as Salmon explains, causality is asymmetrical, the effects don’t always explain the causes.

In closing, it would make sense to avoid entirely rejecting Hempel and Oppenheim’s D-N model. And the reason is simple. Given the above arguments that show distinct problems with the model, we can still accept it, not as the sine qua non of scientific explanation, but as one, out of a choice of many, by which to explain something. We often fall into the binary illusion that we need to choose things on a ‘one or the other’ basis without a full consideration of the options. After all, there is more than one way to explain things.

Aurelio Madrid

Works Cited

Hempel, Carl G. The Philosophy of Carl G. Hempel. Ed. James H. Fetzer. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2001. Print.

Hempel, Carl G., Paul Oppenheim. “Studies in the Logic of Explanation.” Introductory Readings in the Philosophy of Science. Eds. E.D. Klemke, Robert Hollinger, David Wÿss Rudge and A. David Kline. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1998. pp. 206-224. Print.

Salmon, Wesley. “Scientific Explanation: How We Got from There to Here.” Eds. E.D. Klemke, Robert Hollinger, David Wÿss Rudge and A. David Kline. 241-263.

[1] Incidentally, as far as we can see, the I-S model is not mentioned by Hempel till the 1960s, and is not covered in the 1948 paper.

sexual metaphysics

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’ as 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.

Aurelio Madrid

Works Cited

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.

if husserl then quine

May 13, 2013 § Leave a comment

husserl quine

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.

Aurelio Madrid

Works Cited

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.

what is possible?

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?

Aurelio Madrid

Works Cited

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.


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