Friday, September 28, 2012

Bryant Watch: Relations, Oy!

Bryant’s taken up the topic of relations:
The real issue is not whether or not whether or not it is possible to move beyond correlationism or whether being can only ever be thought in relation to thought and whether thought can only ever be thought in relation to being, but rather whether or not relations are internal or external.
Followed by over eighteen-hundred words of philosophical weaving and unweaving, plus some pictures. Look at the pictures.

His commenters are variously skeptical. thodgman:
Why must relations be either internal or external – in either case, *where* do they exist? This seems to imply they are material, but I’m not sure what matter they would be made of, or why this would not mean relations are not also objects. At the same time speaking of relations in this way feels very abstract to me. How would we have a concept of relations without having observed a variety of associations of objects, and having built through induction a variety of types of relations?
Yes, very abstract. And, yes, we have no choice but to observe “a variety of associations of objects.” Is that the job of philosophy, or of many specialized disciplines? Is Bryant unwittingly committed to a Theory of Everything? Perhaps a division of intellectual labor is called for.

I find this whole question very difficult to grapple with because, it seems to me, we are lumping together far too many things.

[some examples]

Long story short: these questions would make a lot more sense to me if we didn’t take words like ‘relation’ and ‘independent’ as if they name undifferentiated phenomena or as if their meaning is obvious.
Yes, a mess.

I think this whole discussion, relations vs. objects, internal vs. external relations, holism or not, is too vague and general. It’s not close enough to the causal mechanisms to be meaningful. Bryant’s wandering around in a conceptual limbo between metaphysics on the one hand and condensed matter physics, Mesoamerican archeology, mycology, petrology, 19th century German musicology, agronomy, radiology, Byzantine iconography, invertebrate neurophysiology, Tokugawa poetics,...and all the specialized disciplines on the other hand. There’s nothing in his theory that’ll help him sort things out—though Harman’s concept of vicarious or indirect causation might help.

Karl Bergman:
This discussion, in my eyes, have all the trappings of a pseudo problem. The concept of a relation implies relata, and the concept of an object implies relations. Why would either of them have to be “prior”? Even independence is a kind of relation, grammatically speaking. Let us not be fooled by everyday thinking into equating “relation” with some kind of direct causal interaction.
Yes. Language allows us to assert all kinds of relations between objects. But only some of those relations are causal. Bryant doesn't seem to be doing any systematic sorting out.

The causal ones are the ones to focus on. And that’s tricky. What, for example, are the causal relations between an acorn and its environment that will allow it to take root a sprout? How many kinds of objects are involved? 100s, 1000s, 10000s? And the causal relations? And yet somehow biologists have managed to learn something about that kind of question. But, given the mess he’s made of entropy on the one hand, and phase space and attractors on the other, I don’t think Bryant has anything useful to say on causal relations beyond the simplest mechanical examples.

What I think is that he’s trapped in his own tangled conceptual system and, as a philosopher, has lost touch with the world. He’s just juggling words and concepts. He may talk up a storm about the need to move beyond the meaning of things to their materiality, but he has no grasp on materiality.

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