Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Responding to Immanence: Part II

To continue my response to the following post Larval Subjects wrote,

To complicate matters more, we can have ontological forms of immanence and epistemological forms of immanence, and various combinations of the two. An account is epistemically immanent if it rejects any form of appeal in establishing a conclusion that cannot be arrived at through reason or some form of experience. That is, epistemological immanence rejects any appeals to privileged esoteric experiences, revelation, etc. Ontological immanence would be the principle that there are no causes outside of natural causes.


I am again troubled with the language used here, especially regarding epistemological immanence. In order to qualify for this category one must “reject” appeals that cannot be arrived at through reason and “some form of experience”. This is further qualified as referring to “privileged esoteric experiences.” Is there an assumption that contemporary philosophy, as engaged by LS, is non-esoteric? Should the moves and arguments made be self-evident? Are those for whom this is not the case defective or simply ignorant? To my understanding reason and experience actually disqualifies such a position.
I am more appreciative of the statement on ontological immanence. Is nature purely a matter of machinery, an (infinitely?) complex interplay of cause and effect? Or does something else “break in” (transcend) this order outside of this system. I would need to have a greater clarity of what is being understood as “natural causes”. If these are of an absolute “material” nature then I would reject ontological immanence as a framework for understanding reality. If however, ontological immanence is simply a reference to all that is always at work (in some manner) in reality then I do not necessarily reject it from a theological perspective.

This is where I would begin to speak of the poetic/sacred as it relates to ontology and immanence. “Reason and experience” would lead us to suspect that there are aspects of reality that are more expansive than materialist readings would account for. This is more than the aesthetic equivalent of nuclear energy. These openings and encounters are not formulaic but are no less real. In matters of aesthetics I will appeal not to the critic but the artist and cite Annie Dillard who introduces the aesthetic into the ontological and takes seriously the movement of entropy described in the Second Law of Thermodynamics. She says that things fall apart at alarming rate and that we humans scurry around trying to put them back together. Dillard takes this in a direction (self-described as “insane”) that she understands it may never have meant to go and suggests that “imaginative acts actually weigh in the balance of physical processes.” Dillard continues,
Imaginative acts – even purely mental combinations, like the thought that a certain cloud resembles a top hat – carry real weight in the universe. . . . A completed novel in a trunk in the attic is an order added to the sum of the universe’s order. It remakes its share of undoing. It counteracts the decaying systems, the breakdown of stars and cultures and molecules, the fraying of forms. It works.

This also reminds me of an actual conversation I once heard. The question was asked, “How big is the universe?” The response came in the form of another question, “Are you including memory and imagination?”

9 comments:

Sinthome said...

The premise I'm working with is that philosophy essentially emerges surrounding problems involving intersubjectivity and how the polis should be organized. Here I'm following Jean-Pierre Vernant's historical and anthropological analysis in Early Greek Thought. The claims isn't at all that those who do not adhere to this standard are ignorant or defective. Rather, the reason epistemological immanence becomes an issue as it's a question of pursuing the sorts of reasons or grounds that could be shared by another person. That is, what are those sources of knowledge that are public in character. Reason is something that all humans, perhaps, possess. Similarly, all humans are capable of repeating certain experiences. If this thesis is granted, then reason and experience have the greatest likelihood of generating consensus and resolving dispute within polis. By contrast, arguments from authority (from a sacred text, for instance) or private mystical experience do not have these qualities. Imagine an Aztec coming to you and suggesting that we enact a law to enforce human sacrifice because this is what the gods demand. Wouldn't you raise questions of how the Aztec knows this and why you should obey this?

One of my concerns about religious discourses is that often they strike me as very self-centered and selfish. Based on personal convictions the person then attempts to enact laws that effect everyone. If a persons actions and beliefs are going to effect others-- as in all cases of legislation --certainly it is moral to provide arguments that those effected can follow and verify for themselves.

Sinthome said...

This passage from Plato's Euthyphro sums up the problem that I'm grappling with in reference to "epistemological immanence". Of course, my preference is for ontological immanence, but that's another issue.

IndieFaith said...

Thanks for adding your clarification (for any other readers sinthome=larval subjects). I wish I had a more nuanced way of saying this but I simply cannot agree that your project has latched on to anything more "accessible" than a non-materialist position. Accessibility is a great concern for me and I have not been convinced of greater resources towards that end than in the "authoritative" texts of the Jewish and Christian traditions.
I again can't help but notice the language you use around this issue. You use the word "authority" to refer to religious discourses (and yes there are many that look manipulate that). However, that again leaves the reader to assume that your resources do not need to be authorized but again are self-evident.

Larval Subjects said...

By authority I'm referring to a discourse that says something is the case because someone says so. That authority could be a king, president, dictator, parents, or a sacred text. In all these cases, your agreement or endorsement is based on your regard for the authority, rather than for the claim itself.

I am not taking my claims as self-evident, as you suggest. Suppose I say to you that for the equation 2x + 4 = 12, x = 4. I am not asking you to agree with this claim because you have a high regard for me or because I say so. If you conclude that this claim is true, then this is because you can repeat the process of reasoning for yourself to find the conclusion, i.e., you can go through the steps and get the same result.

Take another example. Both Descartes and the Bible say that God exists. However, the Biblical claim that God exists is a claim of authority, whereas Descartes' claim is a claim of reasoning. Why? In the first case I can only take the Bible's word for it. It is revealed to me. By contrast, in Descartes' case it is not because Descartes makes the claim that we endorse what he says, but rather because we can repeat his reasoning to arrive at the same conclusion. You need no revelation here to arrive at the conclusion. Of course, Descartes' reasoning could be faulty, in which case we should reject the conclusion.

Take yet another claim. The Bible tells me "Thou shalt not covet they neighbor's wife." Why? As far as I know, it never says, but merely commands. Consequently, my endorsement of this claim is based only on my regard for the Bible and my belief that it is a sacred text. Now, suppose a philosopher says, "You shouldn't covet your neighbor's wife." You can ask "why?" The philosopher can then respond, "well if you do this your neighbor will get angry and this will generate conflict. Since you wish to avoid conflict, it is advisable not to do this." Here the philosopher has appealed to a reason that you can arrive at for yourself. In no way does he treat it as self-evident.

This is the major difference between religion and philosophy. When Jesus says "my word is truth", this is because Jesus is God. In effect, Jesus is saying "listen to what I say because of who I am." This couldn't be further from philosophy. Socrates says "forget about me, Socrates, the man and attend to what I say... Does it pass rational scrutiny or doesn't it" (he says this in the Apology). That is, if (and it's a big if for any philosopher) Socrates has managed to say something true, it is not because of who Socrates is, but because of the supporting reasons given.

I am unclear as to what you're getting at when you criticize accessibility. "Accessibility" is not a synonym for "easy". Arithmetic is not necessarily easy, but in principle any human can find the sum of two numbers once they know the basic rules of arithmetic. This process of reasoning is "accessible" to all human beings. Just as all human beings can observe that an egg, when boiled, turns hard simply by repeating the experience for themselves.

When I say the Bible, Koran, Torah, Hesiod, Homer, Upanshads, etc., are not accessible, I am not saying they are difficult. What I am saying is that we have no way of grounding these stories. I have no way of knowing whether Moses climbed a mountain and heard God's booming voice, nor can I know whether Jonah lived in a whale or whether Jesus rose from the dead. There is no public criteria by which I can distinguish whether these stories are fiction or truth. Consequently, if I am living in a multicultural society where different groups of people tell different stories, I am left without any means of persuading those who were brought up with another set of stories. This is why grounding a state or society on religion is such a dangerous thing. If I live in a community of people that do not share my stories (as we do and as the Greeks did), then we'll never be able to reach any consensus as to how that community should be organized because we won't share and believe each others stories. Our only choices are to convert (which usually doesn't work well) or kill. Assuming that war and conflict are desirable things to avoid, then it becomes obvious that we should look for other kinds of reasons to ground our polis.

I would very much hold that x = 4 for 2x + 4 = 12 does not need to be authorized. It need only be repeated so that you might see for yourself. I think part of the problem here is that those that come from religious backgrounds are trained to focus on claims (assertions of the truth of some belief or opinion) and to simply evaluate whether or not these claims are true or false, rather than focusing on the relationship between claims and arguments supporting those claims. For the philosopher it is not the claims themselves that are important, but rather the reasons given in support and the nature of these reasons (do they come from narratives we can't verify, are they truths of reason, are they cause and effect statements, are they based on some sort of observation, intuition, etc?). I suspect that were you to reflect you wouldn't disagree with me. When the believer speaks of faith and revelation, aren't they referring to claims that one endorses and support without demonstration or the possibility of demonstration? Isn't this the whole point of Paul's encounter with the Greek philosophers in the market place? Isn't the whole point precisely that we cannot show these things to an other? Of course, from my perspective, this way of believing and behaving is a horrible injustic to the neighbor or stranger.

Larval Subjects said...

Here's the link to Plato's Euthyphro I was referring to earlier:

http://larvalsubjects.wordpress.com/2007/08/10/quote-of-the-day-2/

IndieFaith said...

The Biblical claim that God exists is a claim of authority.

The Bible does not claim that God exists. God is obeyed, disobeyed, praised, cursed and wrestled with through a vast range of historical, literary, poetic and existential texts. These texts were gathered and received as authoritative but the authority was always to be spirit (relationship) and not law.
Unlike many strands of evangelicalism most Christian denominations believe in engaging scripture, tradition (history) and reason in the development of thought and practice. I know of few people who see the Bible as a book dropped down directly from heaven which was accepted blindly
out of reverence.

Take yet another claim. The Bible tells me "Thou shalt not covet they neighbor's wife." Why? As far as I know, it never says, but merely commands.

The Bible forms a narrative whole and the "reasoning" for such a "command" is embedded in the stories that unfold (David and Bethsheba). To be honest the idea that the "Bible just commands" is quite foreign to me. Take your next statement,
When Jesus says "my word is truth", this is because Jesus is God. In effect, Jesus is saying "listen to what I say because of who I am."

Are you referring to Jesus statement, "I am the way, the truth and the life"? This was Jesus response to a group of disciples committed to following him. To those who did not believe he offered riddles, never coerced with force and said something you might appreciate, "Wisdom is proved right by her children (Luke) / actions (Matthew).

I can't help but think that you are heavily influenced by a certain experience of religious discourse. That there are bad public expressions of religion goes without saying. Religion, however, does not hold a monopoly on bad public expressions.
I agree that to focus on claims is a misguided task. The Christian narrative as I understand it points to importance of relationships (both intellectually and personally). What the Christian narrative offers (and feel free to point to other narratives that do this as well) is a destabilizing of central authority. This is where my notion of the sacred flows from.

Yes, there is a repeatability in boiling eggs and mathematical equations but it does not follow that these are the tools of public discourse or inter-personal relationships. Is there not an element on un-repeatability in each human being?

Larval Subjects said...

The Bible does not claim that God exists. God is obeyed, disobeyed, praised, cursed and wrestled with through a vast range of historical, literary, poetic and existential texts. These texts were gathered and received as authoritative but the authority was always to be spirit (relationship) and not law.
Unlike many strands of evangelicalism most Christian denominations believe in engaging scripture, tradition (history) and reason in the development of thought and practice. I know of few people who see the Bible as a book dropped down directly from heaven which was accepted blindly
out of reverence.


The point is that it is still simply a collection of stories. I'm all for hermeneutics and careful interpretation such as what you seem to be proposing. However, what is it that distinguishes the Bible from Crichton's Jurassic Park or Shakespeare's Hamlet? Why should it be treated as any different from the works of Homer? That's what I'm trying to get at. The practice of textual interpretation and analysis is, in my view, highly valuable. However, I see no reason for granting the Bible, Koran, Torah, Upanshads, I Ching, etc any special privilege over, say, Dostoyevsky, Kafka, and Shakespeare. Indeed, I'd go one step further and say that Shakespeare is, in many respects, far superior to, say, the Bible.

The Bible forms a narrative whole and the "reasoning" for such a "command" is embedded in the stories that unfold (David and Bethsheba). To be honest the idea that the "Bible just commands" is quite foreign to me.

I'm glad to hear this, though certainly you'd acknowledge that your way of approaching the text as a piece of literature is only one way, and not a very common one in the United States.

Are you referring to Jesus statement, "I am the way, the truth and the life"? This was Jesus response to a group of disciples committed to following him. To those who did not believe he offered riddles, never coerced with force and said something you might appreciate, "Wisdom is proved right by her children (Luke) / actions (Matthew).

I wasn't referring to anything Jesus said in particular. My point was that for the believer Jesus's words take on weight due to who he is, not the content of what he says. That is, the value of his words issues from his alleged divinity. Proof of this can be found in the fact that you can find claims nearly identical to Jesus' claims in Plato, Epicurus, Aristotle, Lucretius, etc. There's nothing particularly special about his moral teachings, so if Jesus' words are treated as something exceptional then this results from something other than the content of those words.

I can't help but think that you are heavily influenced by a certain experience of religious discourse. That there are bad public expressions of religion goes without saying.

Yes, I think religion is primarily a public phenomenon or one way in which groups organize and legislate themselves.

Yes, there is a repeatability in boiling eggs and mathematical equations but it does not follow that these are the tools of public discourse or inter-personal relationships. Is there not an element on un-repeatability in each human being?

I give these particular examples to draw your attention to a particular way of thinking. I am certainly committed to the thesis that public discourse and inter-personal relations (presumably you're referring to questions of ethics and governance) can be unfolded through reason and observation. Such discussions have been going on in this form for over 2000 years and are arguably the origin of the various state institutions we have today.

IndieFaith said...

Sorry, this will be brief before I have to run.
My only point drawing attention to equations and eggs is that they are assumed to function in a static therefore repeatable manner. I am not convinced this is the case in human relationships and therefore needs to be accounted for in any political theory. I am of course all for careful and reflective observations of human social behaviour. However, I would tend towards Dostoevsky's view of social relations in both Crime and Punishment as well as Demons. Will dig up quotes later . . .

IndieFaith said...

Here is the quote I was looking for from Crime and Punishment.

Environment is the root of all evil! A favourite phrase. And the direct consequence of it is that if society is organized on normal lines, all crimes will vanish at once, for there will be nothing to protest against, and all men will become righteous in the twinkling of an eye. Human nature isn’t taken
into account at all. Human nature is banished. Human nature isn’t supposed to exist. They deny that mankind, following the lines of historical development to the very end in a living way, will at last be transformed into a normal society. On the contrary, they maintain that a social system, emerging out of someone’s brain, will at once organize mankind and transform it in an instant into a sinless and righteous society. . . . They don’t want a living soul! A living soul makes demands, a living soul scoffs at mechanics, a living soul is suspicious, a living soul is retrograde! The sort of soul they want may smell of carrion, and it may even be possible to make it of rubber, but at least it is not alive, at least it has no will, at least it is servile and can be guaranteed not to rebel! . . . Human nature wants life. It has not completed the living process. It is too soon to be relegated to the graveyard. You can’t jump over human nature by logic alone! Logic can only foresee three possibilities, but there is a whole million of them!”