April 3, 2015 § 3 Comments
Below I’m posting my first of two abstracts for papers I’m giving at the 10th International Whitehead Conference. I’m re-working some familiar themes here, but, as they say, repetition is the best teacher. Will you, dear readers, also be in attendance at Claremont this July? Drop me a line via email or in the comments and let’s coordinate.
Track: Re-Imagining Late Modernity’s Reductive Monism
Title: Concept and Capacity: The Ecology of Knowledge
Author: Adam Robbert
Abstract: In Process and Reality Alfred North Whitehead writes, “a new idea introduces a new alternative; and we are no less indebted to a thinker when we adopt the alternative which he discarded. Philosophy never reverts to its old position after the shock of a new philosopher.” In this paper I ask, what is an idea? How does it introduce a new alternative? How does this new alternative relate to human knowledge and experience? I argue that the best way to understand human experience, now or in history, is by demonstrating the ecological basis of all human thought, action, and perception. To understand how knowledge and ideas participate in human action, I draw on literature from the philosophy mind, particularly enactivism, to propose that knowledge is a skill of perception waiting to be acquired. It is an attunement to new aesthetic contrasts made possible by the coordination of multiple species, practices, and technologies. Similarly, I define conceptualization as a speculative capacity, a performance of the body that leaps the subject beyond immediacy into the spaces of possibility afforded by the present. Stated differently, knowledge represents the acquisition of a conceptual faculty, an ability to mediate difference and contrast in the environment in a meaningful way. I conclude by suggesting that the organism is that place in the universe where material nature is transformed into conceptual nature, where matter becomes concept in the mode of embodied awareness.
September 23, 2014 § Leave a comment
[Image: Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian]
In response to my previous post on philosophical ecology, Claire Fanger writes, “This is helpful, illuminating and thought provoking as always; and yet I feel as though it struggles with the dichotomies it seeks to move past. I want to suggest that all the dichotomies you explore here have in common that they seem to posit an infinitude of being and a finitude of knowledge seeking to grasp it.”
I think Claire is right, and I should have been more clear about the context for the previous post. The points on appearance and reality, ontology and epistemology, and the empirical and the transcendental were excerpted from a longer essay wherein I deal with precisely the issue Claire raises.
Below I excerpt the section of my paper that deals with questions related to the ontological status of transcendentals and with how to conceive of related questions (e.g., “ground”) from an evolutionary and ecological perspective. It’s becoming clear to me that what I’m after is some version of a geophilosophy that affords a description of something we might call evolutionary transcendentals or an ecological a priori. Here is the relevant excerpt:
Whitehead’s cosmology acknowledges that the conditions of possibility of human experience have their own conditions of existence set by the ecological conditions of reality. In Whitehead’s approach, the ground, to use a traditional philosophical term, is not a primordial layer that sits as a backdrop upon which events occur; rather, for Whitehead the ground is a shifting and co-implicative terrain of diverse and evolving beings, a collision of multiple trajectories, lured in different ways by different concerns and possibilities. In Whitehead’s view, space and time are not containers but are instead emergent features spun off from the adventures of entities themselves. Stated in other terms, the conditions of possibility for human experience and knowledge are not Kantian a priori categories of the mind alone, nor even a fixed layer of some special substance, instead the condition of possibility for human experience, or any other being’s experience, is a multispecies collective of other beings, both living and non-living. (pp. 6–7)
I have also uploaded the full paper, which goes into all these questions in more detail, here. (I mentioned before this is a modified version of the IBHA paper I gave in August.)
September 20, 2014 § 20 Comments
In my last two talks, I began to lay the groundwork for a philosophical ecology. Such a philosophy engages traditional philosophical categories—e.g, appearance and reality, ontology and epistemology, and the empirical and the transcendental—in a new light informed by an evolutionary and ecological framework. Below I summarize the ways in which each of these categories are transformed by the ecological insights of Alva Noë, Jacob von Uexküll, and Alfred North Whitehead. There’s much more work to be done in this area, but this at least gives us a sketch for how ecology will continue to transform philosophy in the coming years. « Read the rest of this entry »
September 15, 2014 § 3 Comments
Just a quick update on some speaking events. This Friday, September 19, I’ll be speaking on a panel in San Francisco at the California Institute of Integral Studies. This talk will largely be a repeat of the panel presentation on Cosmopolitics we gave at the IBHA conference this past August—though this time with more Cosmopolitics and less Big History. If you live in the Bay Area feel free to stop by. The event is free and runs from 6:30 – 8:30 p.m.
Further down the road, I’ll be participating in a number of ways at the 10th International Whitehead Conference to be held at Pomona College in June of 2015. In terms of speaking, I’ll be presenting on two panels: “Late-Modernity and its Reductive Monism” and “The Universe Story and Inclusive History as the Context of Meaning.” Outlines for both tracks are available here.
For the first talk I plan on exploring Vicki Bell’s ecologies of concern in the context of my own research on concepts (see here and here). The second talk will again focus on Cosmopolitics. I haven’t sketched out the details yet, and there’s still a ways to go before the event, so I am anticipating that my thinking will evolve between now and then. I do have a sense though that the first talk will center specifically on human beings, focusing on epistemology, critical philosophy, and politics, and that the second talk will focus more on cosmology and speculative philosophy. No doubt many of my notes for both talks will appear in some form on Knowledge Ecology.
Lastly, in addition to the panel presentations, I’ll also be doing some footwork helping to assemble the track on Whitehead and eco-politics.
August 8, 2014 § 14 Comments
[Image: Edward Burtynsky]
Earlier today I delivered a talk on ethology, ecology, and aesthetics as part of a panel on Cosmopolitics at the International Big History Conference held in San Rafael, CA. I am posting my talk below, which you can also find in .pdf form here.
Histories of Lived Experience: Intertwining Ethology, Ecology, And Aesthetics
Adam Robbert, San Francisco, CA
Paper presented at the International Big History Conference, Dominican University, San Rafael, CA, August 8.
What is the significance of meaning in Big History? There is a great diversity of opinion on this issue. For example, Eric Chaisson, one of the original board members of the IBHA, holds that Big History must let go of concepts such as intentionality, subjectivity, and, presumably, meaning, in order to understand evolution objectively. Conversely, the focus of my talk is that an understanding of meaning is necessary for an understanding of evolution at its most fundamental level. A central claim of my talk is that we have to understand that which is meaningful to organisms if ever we hope to comprehend the history of evolution on Earth. My talk thus offers a non-anthropocentric and aesthetic account of meaning in the context of geological history. Ecology from this view is an ongoing entanglement of meanings, concerns, and decisions, and it marks the space where the division between matter and meaning breaks down. « Read the rest of this entry »