by Adam Robbert
Its the clever term Michael proposes in his latest volley in our ongoing discussion about withdrawal and object-oriented philosophy. If any of you are still interested in this now weeks-long debate head over HERE to read Michael’s new post. I’m reposting my response to him below:
Another great post — I become a little more convinced each time. I have some initial reactions regarding the difference between contingent withdrawal at the level of causation and absolute withdrawal at the level of episteme. I think this is a genuinely new option on the table (at least in this dialogue) and I’ll have to think about it more, but here are some quick thoughts that might help us move forward. I should also like to reiterate that I find this process quite helpful and enlightening as well, its really forcing me to re-consider some of my philosophical commitments; though surprisingly some of these are not all directly related to my thoughts on OOO and Withdrawal, but to older philosophical commitments as well. This I count as a success.
First, I am quite persuaded by Whitehead but wouldn’t count myself (or Whitehead) as a panpsychist. I think minds are the property of some beings and not others. Surely mind is a property of all living things and perhaps some fringe entities such as viruses, but there is no need to extend mentality as a uniform property to everything in the cosmos. It is true that Whitehead speaks of the dipolar “mental” and “physical” elements of actual occasions but, when we really look at it, Whitehead is very clear to point out that in simpler causal interactions there is nothing very mind-like going on about, for example, hydrogen atoms. In this sense I prefer the term ‘panexperientialism’ or ‘pansensism’ since these avoid some of the problems associated with the “absolutization of Dasein as the fundamental structure of the Being of all beings” that you note above. In short, when I read Whitehead I find that he is cosmologizing the human, rather than anthropomorphizing the cosmos. All entities enact a worldspace, but this is not the same as full-blown panpsychism.
Second, I’m really struck by the case you are making between different types of withdrawal at epistemic and causal levels — this is a really helpful and strong contribution. However, I also treat the problem of knowledge a little bit differently than how you have outlined it above. You already understand me clearly on this point, but I’ll try and explain myself again in another way. In my view, knowledge is not a kind of visualizing from afar (a “detached” mode of perception) but is closer to the sensation of touching than seeing. In this sense, different modes of perception are all different kinds of touching such that: seeing is the touch of photons to the retina; smelling the touching of particles to the olfactory system; hearing the touching and transduction of mechanical vibrations; and tasting the touching of chemicals on the tongue. Touching is an integral sense that makes common all the others.
If I make any radical moves in my own philosophy it’s an extension of this account of perception into the realm of epistemology. In my conception, thinking and knowledge are construed as the interplay or touching of signs, symbols, and meanings in the ecology of mind and knowledge. In this capacity, I have found great value in thinking through the ontological structure of knowledge, rather than just the epistemological capacities of knowledge. Thus while I think there is great merit in what you are doing–which I would consider a strong and necessary appeal to empiricism–I also think there is value in considering the ontological basis of the episteme, thereby uncovering the commonalities (and differences) between casual relations and epistemic relations. In so doing I have actually found a startling number of similarities between the act of knowledge about the world and the causal relations between objects in the world. Thus I think many of the principles that hold true for causal relations (prehension, withdrawal, contingency, recursivity, etc.) are also properties of knowledge and the relation between the knower and the world she tries to know.
More on this to come…