Sunday, January 6, 2013

Living with Abundance in a Pluralist Cosmos: Some Metaphysical Sketches

You can download a PDF of the main exposition of my pluralist metaphysics from my SSRN page HERE. The PDF, of course, includes the introduction which I published here a few days ago: From Literary Criticism to Pluralist Metaphysics, an Introduction. You can also download PDF's of secondary documents. I've listed the currently available ones after the eight propositions in the main document.

Eight Propositions in a Pluralist Metaphysics

This main exposition sketchs a pluralist metaphysical system variously inspired by the ideas of Bruno Latour, Paul Feyerabend, Graham Harman, J. J. Gibson and William James.

1. Objects: Individual entities of many different scales are the ultimate stuff of the cosmos.

2. Abundance: These entities enter into relations with other entities but are never exhausted by any of their relations or even by the sum of all possible relations.

3. Realms of Being: In the large objects exist in patterns of relatively stable interactions among multiple objects. These are relations of indirect or vicarious causality. Analytically, we need to separate the roles from the entities that assume them. This is the core of what will become a distinction between culture and society.

4. Unity of Being: Humans desire the ability to access and reflect on memories of events in one’s life. The extent that that is achieved is called Unity of Being.

5. Life Way: A Latourian collective, with human and non-human members, is considered to participate in all the Realms in which any member of the collective plays a role. The ‘envelope’ of those Realms is called a Life Way.

6. Latourian Negotiation: Collectives having different Life Ways have been interacting through a process of negotiation in which differences among Life Ways are resolved and commonalities created or not depending on the desire to extend the boundaries of the larger more inclusive collective. The outcome cannot be predicted or foreseen.

7. Realms of Abundance: Realms of Being are organized into Realms of Abundance, of which three have appeared to far: Matter, Life, and Culture.

8. The Fourth Arena: The current global Latourian negotiation brings us to the edge of a fourth Arena of Abundance. If it goes well, that’s where our successors will dwell.

Pluralism Papers

Abstract: At the most abstract philosophical level the cosmos is best conceptualized as containing various Realms of Being interacting with one another. Each Realm contains a broad class of objects sharing the same general body of processes and laws. In such a conception the human world consists of many different Realms of Being, with more emerging as human cultures become more sophisticated and internally differentiated. Common Sense knowledge forms one Realm while Literary experience is another. Being immersed in a literary work is not at all the same as going about one's daily life. Formal Literary Criticism is yet another Realm, distinct from both Common Sense and Literary Experience. Literary Criticism is in the process of differentiating into two different Realms, that of Ethical Criticism, concerned with matters of value, and that of Naturalist Criticism, concerned with the objective study of psychological, social, and historical processes. Note: Most, but not all, of the pieces in this document are in the main pluralist exposition. There is a introduction specific to this set of documents and a four-part 'program' for literary studies.

Abstract: By substituting Paul Feyerabend’s rhetoric of abundance for Graham Harman’s rhetoric of withdrawal one can establish the basis for pluralist ontology organized around Realms of Being. This paper traces the steps by which I made that substitution. The crucial step involved J.J. Gibson’s account of how one can determine whether or not one is perceiving real objects: Real objects yield more information upon further scrutiny; imaginary objects do not.

Abstract: Notes on Bruno Latour, Reassembling: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory, with some consideration of compositionism. These ideas are developed with ideas and concepts from cognitive science, literary studies, music, and extensive examples from the world of contemporary graffiti.

Ontological cognition is about the cognitive apparatus we use to organize the world into different kinds of things according to their powers and capacities: animal, vegetable, mineral; living, non-living; human, non-human; etc. As such it differs from the philosophical discipline of ontology, which is about the world itself, not our thoughts about the world. As ontological cognition snakes through many disciplines these reflections run from Wittgenstein through literature and the Great Chain of Being to computation and knowledge representation (KR).

Abstract: Graham Harman has proposed a counter-factual literary criticism based on his object-oriented ontology. I argue: 1) that this proposed practical criticism collapses into the existing process of literary culture and is therefore empty, 2) that it implies a Platonic conception of the literary text, 3) that it follows from a rejection of Lévi-Strauss’s empirical work on myth that dates back to the mid-1970s and 4) that that rejection defended an intentionalist conception of the text, rather than a mechanistic one. As a counter-proposal I examine Pandosto and The Winter’s Tale using a method inspired by Lévi-Strauss, arguing that the differences between the plots of these two texts can be attributed to different cultural constructions of the family.

Abstract: The contemporary conception of mere matter that we have from quantum mechanics is so very different from that available to Descartes and so many others that the distinction between living and non-living that they in part founded on the distinction must be re-thought. The purpose of such a rethinking is not to assert that difference between a rock and an acorn, for example, is not so great as it once was. In this new dispensation they are still very different kinds of things, but the whole conceptual world in which that difference is inscribed and traced is itself a new and by no means complete one.

I plan to issue three more sets of supporting documents, one on the explicit construction of spirits (directed at Jane Bennett), a miscellaneous set of posts, and one collecting some of my criticisms of Levi Bryant.

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