Philosophies of Significance

October 9, 2013 § 46 Comments

tumblr_mpu617LJ6g1sa1bljo1_500[Photo: Casey Cripe]

Alva Noë recently posted a short commentary on the entanglement of science and values. I think readers will be interested in it. At first blush Noë’s point is fairly straight forward: Science and values are always entangled because the very characteristics science depends on — reason, consistency, coherence, plausibility, and replicability — are themselves values. Without some kind of agreement that these are the values that best serve the creation of scientific facts there would be no foundation upon which the sciences could maintain consistency. Science depends on a set of extra-scientific decisions, and we need to pursue and cultivate these decisions in order for the possibility of science to emerge in the first place. Simple enough.However, while the appeal to the intrinsically value-laden nature of scientific practice is often used to demote science as the sole arbiter of truth (i.e., ‘see, science is just another value’), Noë’s approach is much more helpful. Instead of trying to lower the status of science by appeal to its value-laden dimensions, Noë’s stake is to raise the status of values themselves. Noë wants us to take seriously that values have real causal efficacy; in other words, Noë asks us to acknowledge what we might call the “objectively” real status of values. This leads to some interesting questions. Noë writes:

But if values are real, what are they? And what about the fact that, when it comes to values, it doesn’t seem possible to settle disputes. We live in a pluralistic world, after all. Once you take values seriously, you’ve got to figure out how they fit into the world, how they fit into our world, and this isn’t easy. In fact, I suspect, it is one of the fundamental problems of our time.

By asking the question “what are values?” — not “what are they like?” or “what do they do?” — Noë is asking us to consider the ontology of values. Not only that, but he is suggesting that understanding what values are and how they fit into the world is crucial to our day and age. Here Noë is joined by a number of philosophers who share his problem, but approach it from a different angle. We find this in Isabelle Stengers description of cosmopolitics where the cosmos is itself an articulated series of entangled and contested “universes of value” (a term she borrows from Felix Guattari). We also see this in Bruno Latour’s emphatic shift from “matters of fact” to “matters of concern,” and Donna Haraway’s work on companion species. We can trace all three of these initiatives back to Alfred North Whitehead’s critique of the bifurcation of nature.

What Stengers, Latour, Haraway, and Whitehead have in common is a basic understanding that in order to account for the reality of values, we need an alternative metaphysics not based in the subjective-objective dichotomy, nor one that collapses the Real into either category. Latour’s newest work in An Inquiry into Modes of Existence (“AIME”) is itself an investigation into the ontology of values, as is Haraway’s more recent take on multispecies cosmopolitics. With Noë, cosmopolitics and AIME both seek to elevate the status of values rather than use them to attack the nature of the sciences. However, for the latter group the ontological status of values is much broader than what Noë hints at — though does not foreclose — in his commentary.

Where does this broader account of values take us?

Following the speculative method of cosmopolitics, I would wager that values are not just crucial to the development of science, but are in fact fundamental to the evolutionary process of every living species (and, in turn, to the very constitution of Earth). In other words, my position is that values drive ecology all the way down. By this I do not mean that evolution aims towards a particular, unified value (though there is a sense in which some kind of teleodynamism must be accounted for). Rather, what I am suggesting is that all creatures behave according to a unique and diverse set of structures of valuation that enact certain kinds of terrains allowing them to act. (With Tim Morton we might even say that this is an aesthetic process). From this view, ecology just is an evolving exchange of values — a concatenated set of ecologies of mind. The emergence of the Anthropocene is a frightening testament to how human values currently dominate and drive the evolutionary process. It’s a complete breakdown of the subject-object dichotomy.

The stake for me here is that we need to cultivate philosophies of significance in the context of a metaphysics that does not reduce the nature of valuation to mere mirage. Epiphenomenalism and eliminativism are out. Reality is back in. 

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§ 46 Responses to Philosophies of Significance

  • dmfant says:

    “values” aren’t real (valuing is a human doing/action) but human-being is (as Heidegger pointed out and Stengers echoes) always already a matter of acting out of our interests/influences.
    As homo-rhetoricus manipulating is what we do without exception and so the need to cultivate our response-abilities to make room for, to co-operate with, others is key.

    • Adam Robbert says:

      I think we have a fairly straightforward division on our conception of what counts as “real” — as we’ve seen, for example, in previous discussions over the status of concepts and ideas. For me, valuing isn’t just a human doing/action, but just as much something that “does” us. I want to make the reality of values count as part of the biopolitics of the human situation, and just saying they aren’t real won’t cut it for me. We need new lines of demarcation here.

      • dmfant says:

        yes we have been down this road before on other matters but I don’t see in Noe’s work on say how we come to value (and re-evaluate) a work of art via our social interactions as a call to an ontology of values.

      • Adam Robbert says:

        You’re probably right about that. Given what I know about Noë’s work I would be surprised if we ever get anything like a full-blown cosmology that includes an account of values (as in Whitehead). But even if Noë is one of those guys who doesn’t like words like “ontology” I can’t see the questions he raises above as anything but ontological. When someone asks what something is you’re asking about its being. This is definitionally ontological language even if you want to call it something else.

      • dmfant says:

        well I think he is more interested in the varieties of ways that we can gain access to aspects of things than anything as speculative/universal as ontology, speaking of which how do we access values as you frame them?

      • Adam Robbert says:

        Yes, we agree about what Noë’s project is. My wager is that it will end in aporia unless we understand something about the being of values—and he at least hints above that something like this is necessary. As for your question, I see it in the reverse: It’s not so much that values are what we access, but that values are part of what we use to access things with. (Though I’m open to the idea that values can be used to access other values. Similar to Haraway’s using of ‘thoughts to think other thoughts’).

      • dmfant says:

        so how do values get incorporated into the other things (neurons,microscopes, books, ect) that we use to access things if we don’t have access to them?

      • Adam Robbert says:

        You might say that’s the very question I’m trying (often in vain) to figure out…

      • dmfant says:

        ok, well I’ll certainly stay tuned and see where this all takes you, and what else might be needed besides the extended-minding of habits to describe our all-too-human activities, cheers

      • Michael- says:

        I know we have been over this, but I think if you assert that values are real entities the burden of proof is on you. What is a value composed of, and what/how are its capacities to affect and be affected coordinated such that its autonomy/individuality has causal efficacy? Mashing together all the conditions in which ideation happens (as a human activity) does not prove object-hood but rather suggests enaction.

      • Adam Robbert says:

        The burden of proof is on me? It’s almost as though you’ve divined the whole purpose of this blog … ;)

      • Adam Robbert says:

        Some of my favorite definitions of “thing” from the OED:

        (1) A Cause, reason, or account
        (2) A matter with which one is concerned (in action, speech, or thought)
        (3) That which is stated or expressed in speech, writing, etc.; a saying, an utterance, an expression, a statement.
        (4) That which is thought; a thought, an idea; a notion; a belief, an opinion.
        (5) Anything, something.
        (6) An entity of any kind.
        (7) That which is or may be in any way an object of perception, knowledge, or thought; an entity, a being.
        (8) An attribute, quality, or property of an actual being or entity
        (9) A meeting, assembly, gathering

        It seems the divide is between numbers 4, 5, and 7. Or, more precisely, you accept 3 but reject 4, while I accept both?

  • Andre says:

    Hi there! It’s been a while :) I would be reluctant to say that only humans value. Knowing how different life-forms value may be somewhat beyond our grasp, but it doesn’t mean that certain kinds of valuing are not always at work (at least) wherever life-forms are concerned. If animals can experience different emotions in relation to different situations does this not imply that they value different things in different ways? The notion that values are at work in the world, that they do not emanate strictly from within beings in a rational or purely subjective manner (the idea of the unitary biological being itself is deeply problematic), but rather lead beings – often incomprehensibly – toward or away from the establishment of different kinds of relationships/attachments with others and that they need not be conscious, conceptual or propositional in nature, seems important too. What do you think?

    PS. I like the new layout you have here Adam!

    • Adam Robbert says:

      Hi Andre, thanks for the reply. We’re on the same page here: All creatures value, and humans emerge within already existing structures of value wrought by their predecessors (at least that’s what I was trying to get at in the last full paragraph). What I do want clarify, though, is that values aren’t so much “at work” in the world as though they exist on their own; rather, values are always indexed and created by one or more actual entities.

    • Adam Robbert says:

      Also, you might be interested this post where I talk about nonhuman experience more explicitly:

      • andreling says:

        Thanks Adam! I had read this earlier one! I have also been reading a lot of Margulis recently too, and had tweeted a link to a publication titled ‘we have never been individuals’ herewhich draws significantly on her work.

        I also agree with your response to my earlier comment. I do wonder though about the way that values come into being (and the words we use to describe it: indexing, creation … or perhaps emergence or reciprocal capture, etc?); the difference between valuing (in general) and values (as abstractions that humans claim or seek to live/adhere to); and where desire (following a Deleuzo-Guattarian conception) fits in with all this. Ultimately, values and valuing become part of the great interplay between entities and, as such, could also be thought of as ‘at work in the world’ to the extent that entities are also subjected to them – both through prevailing social structures (others’ values affect me) – and through the manner in which they arise through intimacy, at times insistently, demanding recognition as though of their own accord. I think Arran gets at this in his comment below and, as he says – and very much for the same reasons – I feel this is a very worthwhile direction of philosophical speculation/inquiry.

  • arranjames says:

    The idea that values are real is found in Hans Jonas’s biophilosophy. Part of my corporealism (probably implicitly at this point as I don’t think I’ve written about it) takes up Jonas’s idea of metabolism. Far from being an biochemical habit of biological automata, Jonas thinks of metabolism as the active mechanism of a body’s preservation of its diachronic identity. To continue being what it is a body must constantly achieve itself via its materio-energetic exchange with the environment: bodies must consume and excrete matter beyond its own threshold. The body is constantly valuing its own existence (it is better to exist than to be dead) and is also sorting other arrangements of matter according to its ideal of self-preservation and, if possible, expansion. Metabolism is also the first fundamental version of freedom- as such, the achievement of material identity is always an affirmation of this freedom (Jonas seems at times to suggest that this is the basis for human valuations of political freedom).

    And, in a way similar to Lingis, bodies also extend to us a sensual imperative about how they ought to be treated. Jonas’s example is of a new born child: when we come across a new born we observe its fragile breathing. This breathing is part of its metabolic exchange but it is also a demand made on the environment that it is obliged to support the infant: when it breathes it presupposes that air is breathable, that the air ought to be breathable. Similarly, when we come across it its small body- without language- expresses to us a demand about how we ought to respond to it: to protect it. We respond to the infant’s incompleteness, its stunningly obvious vulnerability, by feeling the demand to care for it… and this because such a demand is ontologically structured by its incompleteness and vulnerability. Obviously, completion and invulnerability are never completed and so such physico-ethical imperatives are never finished with.

    For Jonas such value seems confined to the human qua consciousness…but I’m not convinced by this. After all, all bodies to be bodies are metabolic. And I think this can be pushed beyond living bodies alone- isn’t the self-valorisation of capital a kind of metabolism in which workers and labour-power are consumed and the exhausted or unproductive surplus-population is excreted?

    If such a speculation bears out then the problem of the reality of values is that we’ll not just have a plurality of values but a plurality of demands made on us. The body of the Earth in the Anthropocene demands that we care for it as much as the body of the infant (even if with a different affective intensity); but the body, or bodies, of capitalism will also issue such demands. This is problematic insofar as it means we have to think about how certain ecologies structure our values existentially and how they make ethical demands on us. In the case of capitalism, its not just that we can’t imagine a world without capitalism but that we’ve come to see capitalism as necessary to our metabolism, to our corporeal integrity. Challenging capitalism thus feels (to many) like suicide. On the other hand, capitalism itself places a demand to be nurtured on us and we’re placed in a double-bind.

    All said, I completely back the call for philosophies of significance. I don’t see how to think of the post-nihilist turn as anything but the attempt at such a philosophy. After all, the idea is that once transcendental values- eternal objects like God or Nation- disappear, what is left is the very real abundance of values that are generated by the activity of bodies.

    • Adam Robbert says:

      I like the links you’re drawing between values, bodies, and imperatives, Arran. It reminds of Stengers when she writes about the complex entanglements between values and practices: Practices presuppose sets of values, but practices also stabilize or disrupt values at the same time. The values sustained by practices don’t just open up new possibilities, but generate new forms of constraint as well. This is not unlike how Lingis writes about the imperatives or demands placed upon us by other beings. Certainly, the Earth places demands on human civilization that we just don’t know how to respond to. I want to think about how a philosophy of significance would attend to the role values have played in the constitution of the Earth.

      • arranjames says:

        On values and practices- this is almost exactly Todd May’s argument in Reconsidering Difference, his re-reading of post-structuralism (via Foucault, Derrida and Deleuze) as implying a pragmatic concept of mutually implying values without ground. I really like Todd May’s work (despite his “post-anarchist” nomination) and his essay on Foucault’s neo-pragmatism is a good read.

        Thinking about the role of values in the constitution of the Earth- this is difficult because we’re suddenly having to think about the values of inorganic matter. The morphogenetic principle would be my first port of call on that- why does the body of the Earth take the shape it does? What imperative is it following?

    • dmfant says:

      not sure how expanding the variety of bodies that might act in ways which we name as valuing makes values into some-thing real apart from those actions?

      • Jim Pacheco says:

        To Aaron James: and how would this morphogenetic principle translate into something more than a self-accommodating term, but by entertaining the project also to be found in the very work where the most satisfying answer so far to your question is given: the Timaeus. ?

      • arranjames says:

        I think the problem here is about the ontological status of action. If values aren’t separable from the bodies that produce them through action then really you’re asking about the relative autonomy of creator and creation. If the value-maker stops making value then the value disappears, so it has no ontological autonomy. I’d concede that- and I think this is close to a lot of critiques of immaterial labour- but I don’t see why a lack of ontological autonomy would also that values can’t be considered real.

        Dance is illustrative: a dance is something that exists but that can’t exist independently of the body/bodies that perform(s) it. The dance isn’t ever finally autonomous from the actions of the bodies that are its material context- its ecology. But for all that would be say that a particular dance isn’t real? Once the bodies cease dancing the dance is gone- but that doesn’t mean it never was. Another example might also be colour- would we say that because colour is a phenomena that emerges from the actions and properties of an ecology distributed across bodies that colour isn’t real? It isn’t mind-independent but if mind-independence is a criteria for being real then language isn’t real (no language could exist without a community of speakers/readers). Perhaps value is choreographic?

        So I’m not sure if the question needs to be one of value-as-real where real is equivalent to ‘standing apart from actions’. From a Stoic perspective, to shift gears, values would be considered as subsistent affects on/across bodies, and there would obviously be ways to think of these in Deleuzian language of virtuality. I don’t think we need go to Deleuze though, simply because the Stoic incorporeals already provide an ontological account of things that are Something without being things that Exist. That is, they are real without themselves being bodies.

      • Adam Robbert says:

        To what Arran has nicely laid out above, I would add two things: (1) Values are not just something bodies produce, but something bodies aspire towards. That is, bodies are conditioned in part relative to their desire to achieve or maintain certain values. (2) The question of society has yet to be addressed. I think we can all agree that societies direct material resources towards the production of certain kinds of infrastructure that encourage certain values and limit others. Such production of course has real ecological consequence. Both (1) and (2) ought be considered when we examine the being of values.

      • dmfant says:

        I would certainly say that apart from what dancers (and others that may be involved) do dance isn’t real, doesn’t exist. I may aspire (another kind of action) to act more or less like someone (even if that it myself at other times) to enact various kinds of effects in/on my environs to greater or lesser degrees but there are
        no actual quasi-transcendentals/abstractions that I am reaching for, aspiring to.
        I can understand what effects on bodies are but not effects across bodies, can you unpack that a bit?
        To quote Jaron Lanier in the video I posted back at our blog ‘information’ is physical or it doesn’t exist.
        Also when you say something is choreographic I take it you don’t mean acted/drawn out but not sure than what this points to?

  • […] zero talking about concepts and practical knwoledge after chipping in some thoughts over at Knowledge Ecology’s post on Philosophies of Significance. This inspired me to write a longer response which I finally decided was long enough to deserve me […]

  • arranjames says:

    Didn’t realise this would appear under Jim’s comment (the above was in response to dmf) so apologies for an unnecessary second reply.

    Jim- As my reply to dmf implies I get a lot of my ground work for ontology in the Stoic physics. The Stoics are out to get away from The Timaeus in some ways, whilst keeping true to Plato in other ways. Still, for them the morphogenetic principle- as I read it- is immanent to matter. Logos is always in the material; there is no materiality that is without a shape or a form etc. They provide a way of thinking morphogenesis that departs from Plato.

    As to the trap of self-accomodation, I’m not sure whether bodies are self-accomodating given that morphogenesis is always a morphodynamism in reality. No body really retains the same shape- certainly not once we consider that organisms exist beyond their own boundaries (through affective transmission, metabolic exchange and so on).

  • Jim Pacheco says:

    Would it be presumptuous of me to assume, from the conversations above, that “we” might agree and so move forward from the aporia setting in, to look upon values on earth as motions, revolvings, to which healthy life aspires to include in alliances as broad and sincere as possible, or as stated in the Timaeus, to “stabilize” throughout heaven and earth? In this way, move from the logical analysis of values and instead practice elaborating ideas such as recognition, connexion, and adjudging of performances all the while keeping in mind the estimable pronouncements made in the Timaues about the “motion of intelligence”? I must admit i am outmatched as to the learnedness on display in all the above comments, but i feel our heads and hearts are oriented in a similar direction, but i also feel that time is scarce. As disparate a pair as Gogol and C.S. Pierce come to my mind when i read in the Knowledge-Ecology page all the energy stirring. Gogol who said something to the effect that “what is most sad is when we find no good in the good”, and Pierce whom i must also paraphrase, saying ” we must not doubt in our philosophy what we do not doubt in our hearts.”

    • dmfant says:

      what would be the basis for assuming that “to which healthy life aspires to include in alliances as broad and sincere as possible”? And how do we come to define/value what is a “healthy” life or not, what is (and how does it happen) an “alliance” let alone know if it is “broad” or “sincere”?
      Sounds more like a moral prescription of some sort rather than a description, so yes we are far from agreeing on such matters I fear but agree that time is short, so what can be done to change impacts of global devastation in the here and now that doesn’t call for such over-arching agreements about the state of existence?

      • Jim Pacheco says:

        Thanks for your replies. That one should need to ask the question of dmfant’s final comment above is as much cause for alarm as radiation flowing into the North Pacific Ocean.

  • arranjames says:

    If values can be thought of as the ossification of evaluations then we’re on the terrain of talking about value on the basis of potency and capacity. Health can be thought of as what a body needs in order to express its potency and enact its capacities; but this will obviously differ from body to body (individual bodies as well as individual ecologies).

    To risk regression, the question might be how we (are to) evaluate our evaluations? I think we can only answer this on the basis of considering values to exist in their own ecology.

    • Jim Pacheco says:

      Might I suggest this as a possible forwarding on the topic of health, alliance, and ecological participation ( the oneness of it all) and start with what Wittgestein points out in 5.5423
      (TL-P) “To perceive a complex means to perceive that’s its constituents are related to one another in such and such a way.” Significance is born here isn’t it?

    • dmfant says:

      well my potency for say getting high on heroin might interfere with some of my other potencies, so how do we decide which to feed? Depends on what kinds of results we want to continue, no?

      • arranjames says:

        But that’s why I moved to meta-evaluation. Mind you, there is another way to look at the question of heroin. What is actually be satisfied? Is an addiction something that belongs to my body or does it belong to a particular circuitry of my body? Is my potency being met or some not-me constituent ecology of me?

        Health is a very important one for me. When you read the WHO, for example, it’s pretty clear that what is going on is entirely prescriptive, and that an evaluation has been made about what constitutes health for all bodies in a very normative way. The heroin question is immediately political because it disrupt that normative universalism.

    • andreling says:

      I like this synthesis – and also the idea of moving into the domain/terrain of meta-evaluation. My professional work is in the field of monitoring and evaluation (‘M&E’) of international development interventions. This basically means – for me these days – all kinds of projects being implemented in different parts of the world ‘to reach the poor’ and, thereby, help bring about ‘development’ (of this course, the purpose of my job is to find whether, why and how this is hapepns – or fails to). So my work is about measuring (deciding what to what to look for, what to pay attention to and how) and evlauating (deciding how to judge the significance of what we can conclude from what has been ‘experienced’) these kinds of initiatives. Obviously this raises lots of questions related to values and methods/techniques and the way these are bound up (in greater or lesser ways) in the attempts to achieve various ‘outcomes’ or ‘impacts’. In any case, it inspires me to do some further reflections on my work along these lines.

      • dmfant says:

        what makes a move “meta”, how do we transcend the particulars at hand for us in any given moment? Some of the fear&trembling that Derrida updated from Kierkegaard seems to be missing in all of this, we cannot take a god like over-view, and so will always be risking missing some-things/ones, always foregrounding some-things and leaving somethings/ones in the background, and so our preferences/judgements will always include an aspect of being a human-animal leap of faith.
        We must therefore own the gaps and the over-reaching, accept the responsibility for what we did in our own interests and for what comes of it that we cannot have predicted. If we are going to make the move into what is alien/outliers to, our calculations than we cannot pretend to have some new master moral calculus, we are groping our ways around making it up as we go…

      • andreling says:

        Not that I disagree with this, but I don’t think the choice is between a God-like position or completely fumbling around in the dark. There are a lot of really crap development projects out there that have their priorities wrong, are repeating the same mistakes over and over again and refuse to engage with the evidence that doesn’t conform to the dominant take on what counts as evidence. While we may be groping around in the dark I still think that there is a big difference between thundering ahead blindly because there is money to be spent and big conventions and conferences and people with next to nothing thoughtfully putting their lives on the line to hold onto their forests, their land and their seeds.

        There are faulty formulae being deployed across the world today by a system that can only fathom one way of valuing. I can choose whether I want to grope around in the dark on its side or in opposition to it. Being in opposition to it, to me, means a radical opening up to other ways of knowing, valuing and being in the world. It means adopting practices and techniques that help to surface difference and that take the time to let differences be worked through. There is not much space for this these days, that is true.

        We can grope with all our energies and efforts focused to exploring the unknown – and particularly the unknown realities of others – or we can assume that our job is to solve people’s problems and just thunder on always failing to pay attention to the details that matter. I see this all the time in my work. I see projects that increase inequality, that fragment communities, that push people into poverty, that create new kinds of dependencies (such as a village where women said “we’ll change our breast-feeding practices only if you give us something in return like you did in the other project where we were given free cooking sets for immunising our children,” … and I could stream off hundreds of these examples). Now, I could shrug and say “well it’s all just groping in the dark” or I could say “now hang on a minute, how is this very notion of problem solving being formulated to begin with – and is it being done in a way that actually engages with the realities of those who are concerned in more than a superficial or unilateral way?”

        The problem is that, in most cases, the way things are being done places those in what Stengers’ calls ‘the modern technical laboratory’ doing superficial or unilateral work to address ‘needs’ that they have invented for the people they say they want to serve. I feel very much a part of this process so I feel like I get its workings and logics.

        Now, I don’t think anyone here is suggesting anyone should – or indeed can – assume a God-like position. I also don’t think everything can just be reduced to a general ‘groping in the dark’. That sounds like an easy way out for someone who isn’t interested in groping with the curiosity, humility and sensitivity required to produce knowledge to work with the unknown in a way that it is not simply a unilateral act of power that ultimately violates others. Otherwise aren’t we just chucking out all of our Foucault, all of our feminist critiques of knowledge, all our analyses of the workings of power in shaping social reality? That strikes me as an odd thing to do.

        Aside from that I fully agree that we must embrace the dark and grope about in it – but perhaps groping is a bit too crude of a term. Perhaps – and this is what Gestes Speculatifs was all about – we need to think of more subtle, delicate techniques that enable us to encounter and engage with unknowns rather than the rather brute ones that have characterised dominant approaches to contemporary knowledge production (i.e. in the service of domination and profit). We desperately need to find ways of doing this – there I think we fully agree.

        Stengers’ definition of ‘good science’, if I understand it correctly, points to the need for scientists to make themselves open to the unexpected, to subtle signals, to outliers. Thus, for example, the complete dismissal of the phenomenon that is now called Mesmerism by the royal scientists at the time – and Mesmer’s labelling as a charlatan – was made possible through a ‘scientific’ test. The test was carefully formulated to disprove Mesmer’s theory and it succeeded. What it left unexplained, however, were the actual effects that were produced, which would have required a very different mode of perception/verification. That the scientists were called upon by the King to disprove the threatening thesis that all humans were connected by a ‘fluid’ that made the phenomenon of Mesmerism possible (and a threat to the sanctity of the King’s privilege), is an important factor here that shouldn’t be overlooked.

      • dmfant says:

        I think if you look again you will see that I have not presented a model of groping about in the dark, there are of course differences in how/what we manipulate/act-on that make a difference, and one might prefer a more democratic approach to a more technocratic approach, but neither way can include All points of view/possibilities/interests, and our preferences/pre-judices will be just that ours and not something more True/Representative.
        There is no super/meta-physics, no divination process, that makes us other than the, transcends, our being the critters that we are. For every point-of-view that we might adopt there are than some (well many really) things that are out of focus and of course many more things/possibilities that are truly beyond the reach of our extended-mind-ings.
        There are real limits to what we can grasp and that may well be tragic but so it goes and our ethics might do well to make allowances for such limits instead of trying to Lord over them, to work on fashioning prototypes instead of archetypes.

      • andreling says:

        Perhaps we’re really saying the same thing? I don’t find that I disagree with what you are saying (although I think we are always in a position to augment our perception through all manner of techniques, practices and technologies – recognising that this never gives us THE answer or complete knowledge). An ethics that takes account of these limits – which in my view (hastily thrown together) is to say one that actively explores them, operates at the fringes of what is known, invites critiques, entertains alternatives that do not fit into current ideas, incorporates diverse techniques of inquiry, collective sense-making and collaborative action, is highly cautious about imposing its worldview/interests unilaterally – is certainly the order of the day. The irony of course is that we already know that so much of how our society functions is counterproductive – e.g. we are acidifying oceans, melting glaciers, depleting ground-water, etc… For these problems it is not so much that there is some unknown that we are not aware of (though there surely are plenty of those) but that the significance of these things is not adequately factored into the way that decisions are made by powerful actors in key institutions. One of my questions is around how we balance work on transforming institutions versus building up alternatives and political movements that exist in some kind of opposition to them and say: we will not wait for you to change but will work together collaboratively under your radar to compose the changes we want to see. Whatever positive innovations emerge from this process may be valued and appreciated at some point by the powers that be. In the meanwhile, there is plenty of work to be done inventing and creating alternatives. This is where my heart is even though professionally I spend much of my time and earn my income working in/with these big(ish) institutions.

      • dmfant says:

        well if you are willing to own up to the idea that when you say that certain acts are “counter-productive” you are speaking up for your own self-interests (which of course includes whatever points of view you might be taken with, champion) and not something broader/greater (like Gaia, or Humanity, or such god-like figures of speech) than yes on that we can certainly agree. The more pragmatic issues you are raising of possible modes of re-organization are vital but not sure that they can be addressed in general if our goal is to make actual differences in how they work, so there again I would make a plea for case-studies/experiments.
        It hasn’t happened really yet but my hope was that our S_Z site might become a sort of virtual workshop for all of us pitching in to try and rework particular knots/projects that we are facing in our daily lives, and if anyone is more capable than I apparently have been to date at making this happen than please let me know!

      • andreling says:

        I think I still have trouble with the idea of ‘my own self-interests’ simply because I’m not really sure how to conceptualise those interests. I’m not sure that interests are ever really individual (which is perhaps what you’re suggesting when you refer to the points of view I might champion) but for now let’s just say that my general interest is to put an end to whatever seems to be making life on this planet more and more of a hell for many and that this is an interest that many others share (a growing number I like to convince myself when I’m feeling despair) and that I am ready to take personal risks in order for that to become more of a possibility.
        Besides that I don’t remember refering to Gaia or Humanity here… I quite like the idea of Gaia as a theory (after Lovelock and as further developed by Margulis and Stengers) that tries to grapple with the complex responsive processual becoming of all the myriad things on earth. Following Stengers, I don’t see Gaia as having an interest of its own. Gaia is something that we are a part of and that yet exceeds us. It is, however, described as ‘completely disinterested’. The fact that ‘it’ responds to what we do in ways that we can barely predict let alone fathom, yet which various earth sciences are gradually revealing to us, is a sign that we must be wary of Gaia and that we must acknowledge that we are part of it and that we must find ways of trying not to push Gaia’s limits (fuzzy as they may be) too far. But yes, no interests to be found there.
        Regarding what you would like to make of S_Z I think it is a profoundly valuable and worthwhile project. Even though, as you seem to feel, it is not doing what you had hoped for, I find what I read and watch there to be tremendously stimulating. However, I share your interest and desire to see the high quality of material and contributions, and all our discussions, begin to find greater resonance in our practice and reflections/dialogues thereupon. Perhaps this is something that we should set some time aside for, to talk about it (e.g. over skype?) in an effort to work out how to make this happen. Perhaps there need to be some explicit identications of the knots (I have so many, I sometimes feel like I am one) we are grappling with and some commitments to following up on them over time.

      • dmfant says:

        sorry hard to keep track of all this, thought there was some mention of the Earth and such making demands of us, the more specific we can be the better I think so I will try and be more careful.
        I appreciate the generous offer to pitch in and make something new happen @ S_Z and will be in touch soonish life’s a bit complicated at the moment with work and moving so my internetting and activism is a bit hit and run tho I did manage to march against Monsanto the other day which is a bit of spitting in the wind here in Nebraska but what the hell, cheers, dirk

  • […] entity — a planetary medium — and its geoevolutionary processes are driven in large part by aesthetic values. We can arrive at this impression through the work of Alfred North Whitehead. In one of my favorite […]

  • Gary Goldberg says:

    I really like Arran’s comment about the valuation that is inherent in the Philosophy of Life as developed by Jonas. Valuation is a necessary and critical function that supports the continuation of the individual organism. Valuation is required because each moment is a decision point directly affected by valuation of the possibilities presented in the moment for choice. The idea relates to James and Whitehead and particularly Whitehead’s lure. It is also developed by Jason Brown in his approach to human cognition in the context of process philosophy. That is, in the microgenesis of perception and action. Where microgenesis is the millisecond-scale process through which the momentary mind-brain state arises and perishes, embedded itself within the ontogenetic years-scale process of the development and senescence of the individual organism, embedded itself in the aeons-scale process of phylogenesis.

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