jueves, 5 de agosto de 2010

Harman on Individuation: Some Further Questions on Objects and Relations

Harman on Individuation:

- Some Further Questions on Objects and Relations -

Following up on the question of individuation in OOP, here I write a schematized reply to Harman’s own reply to my original inquiry, since Prof. Harman is unfortunately too busy at this point. I'll just lay them out for whoever might be able to give an answer.

The question of individuation is anchored in how objective essences can be specified beyond the anthropocentric intentional domain; specifically as one advances a theory of objective quiddity and intentional relations beyond the anthropomorphic circumscription to eidetic constitution in human consciousness. The issue seems to surround the distinction between sensual/intentional and real objects; how we are supposed to gain epistemic warrant to speak of 'real' subsistent objects independent of all relations, and at the same time gain a resolutely non-anthropocentric theory of intentional relations for sensual objects. The proponents of scientific realism (the ‘science oriented’ guild of SR) are concerned with a similar question I asked before, concerning individuation: if objects as we encounter them are configured within intentional consciousness, and yet we want to posit intentionality is not limited to meaning-giving human-conscious acts, then these would presumably have to be described as being something different than the objects sensed by us, scientific or otherwise (for these remain circumscribed to our intentional sphere). To quote something Harman wrote to Pete:

"All I mean is this: experience exists. Simple. Why is such a banal statement so important to me? Because my sense of reality is of a realm so withdrawn from all access and all contact, that if real objects were the whole story then there would be no experience at all. And yet there is experience. We do not hover in a void of darkness, encountering nothing, as all entities slip away into vacuous concealment. There is in fact an intentional realm. Within this realm we find rocks and mountains, and we also find Popeye and HAL."

Everything turns on whether this intentional domain warrants occasion by real essences, and how it would do so outside anthropomorphic conditions where description corresponds to real essences. If I understand correctly, then all experience of objects and relations provides sensual objects/qualities, but these don't exhaust the real object or qualities targeted under them by ostentation (which is why imagined objects are void of reality). Ostentation through perception is thus tacitly an anchor on the Real populated by objects, even if in our-sense endowing relations to them we inevitably are destined to distort them. The point is that ostentation allows us to gain traction on real beings which purely sensual objects don't obtain. 

The obvious question here leads back to Shaviro's indictment that this kind of metaphysics delivers us back to a form of Kantian agnosticism about the Real: if all we know are sensual objects, then what epistemic warrant solicits the assumption of real
objects at all, or even intentional encounters between objects which are cognitively accessible and yet not supervenient on our very peculiar human intentional constitution? Since 'real qualities [or objects] never appear'; how do we know they are there as such, independent of their sensual eidetic presentations in human consciousness? And if real qualities can never be conflated with sensual ones; what provides warrant for us to say there are such things as tables and tigers, rather than table-part independent objects and tiger-parts? Harman responded to my earlier question on individuation, which roughly tracks the same issue, as follows:

"I would have to be God to know what the real object is that lies beneath Incan religious beliefs. You seem to think that the up-to-date science of the year 2010 should be allowed to serve as the privileged judge of that question. I don’t see why. Our science of today will perhaps look as antiquated in a thousand years as Incan beliefs do today.
Your worry seems to be: if no direct access with objects is possible, then anything goes. I can claim that my worship of fairies is just as good as quantum theory. But why does this follow? Who says that there can’t be standards of better and worse even in a world where direct access to the things is impossible?

ut this dodges the real issue. We can certainly think of standards to differentiate for 'better or worse' in conformity with current scientific principles, pragmatic interests, and a variety of other things. But the question is how any of these standards is adequate to discern real objects/qualities from purely sensual ones. It is certainly not sufficient to say we can come up with standards for 'better or worse', since in all fairness it's far from clear what relation could any such standards within the human intentional domain solicit us to derive about real objects. Since we cannot be sure, at this point, of their existence, we seem to fare no better through the appeal to our 'standards' to judge.

Next, the 'anything-goes' worry seems a bit closer to what Ray Brassier has expressed in terms of the equivalence between saying "the claim that
nothing is metaphorical is ultimately indistinguishable from the claim that everything is metaphorical."
But the question here would be for OOO: what specific standards allow us to stipulate that the restricted eidetic unity of our intentional domain (which gives us on occasion, say, tigers) solicits there are such things as tiger-essences, independently of such restricted access? Similarly, what solicits that the restricted intentional objectivation which gives us relations between tigers and pray-rabbits can occur independent of such human constrictions, without recourse to a descriptive register which would surreptitiously configure them in unexplained coincidence to the intentional human sensual domain? How can we ever transpose our descriptions onto the Real, and on what basis, once we have renounced all forms of reductionism in favor of a 'democracy of objects'? At this stage, the argument I am presenting is starting to sound a lot like reinforcing a 'strong correlationist' position, whereby the in-itself seems radically inaccessible, and I cautiously suppose that Harman might simply deny such epistemic constriction exists. Harman writes:
"In the sensual realm it is we ourselves who decide that the stickman is one sensual object. It is simply a matter of descriptive phenomenology to decide whether I’m encountering one stick figure or many isolated parts (I doubt that an “infinity” is possible for perception; that’s an exaggeration). In the realm of real objects, the stickman is one if the stickman is a unified reality that has properties not found in its pieces taken in isolation. But I don’t believe in real stickmen, of course."

But this conditional clause which states that 'any object X is X if it is a unified reality that has properties not found in isolation' is obviously circular: X is a Real unified object just it is a Real unified object. Having said that, Harman still doesn't tell us on what basis we know individuated entities exist as such, beyond a mysteriously specified baptism by ostentation. It also doesn't tell us
how exactly real entities are unified as individuated realities with properties (rather than, say, the infamous flux of becoming prior to individuation), since Harman cannot hypostasize any one descriptive domain given his irreductionist position. How then does real objective unity obtain so we don't merely make of them annonymous objects, thinkable only as a (potentially infinite) plurality of noumenal phantoms veiled from our (sensual) phenomenological sphere?
A similar concern arises when I consider the case of a non-relational state of an object, such as the 'sleeping person' Harman frequently proposes. Notwithstanding the status of dreams and whatever is presented in them; we can wonder in what sense there is a withdrawal from relations. Isn't my body, for one, engaged in several relations with its environment (pillows, air molecules, and so on...) in spite of my non-awareness during sleeping? We certainly want to say these things are happening whether I’m aware of them or not, or else we revert right back into idealism. So when particles collide against my body, and in lack of an eidetic presentation of myself or the particles as unified objects in my conscious intentional domain, what allows me to locate myself as a real unity, withdrawn from the intentional relation between subatomic particles (since real objects must withdraw, the relation must constitute an intentional object)? In other words, how can I stipulate that I subsist as a real object when I am not reflectively presenting myself to myself in thought, i.e. as an intentional object. What allows me to say I am free from relation, and not just a bundle of Daniel-parts, like Quine's famous rabbit? And if I can stipulate all it takes for there to be a 'real object' is a concept individuating on the basis of an perceptually anchored act of ostentation, there's seemingly no limit to how many real entities I can hypothetically posit this way. I can divide or patch by body in indefinately many ways, corresponding to an indistinguishable act of ostentation. A subatomic scientist might deny there are such middle sized objects as bodies, just like a pantheist or Spinozist might deny there are any real differences between the floor on which I stand and my body standing over it. Which of these 'unities' are real? All of them? Some of them? Harman's suggestion that we could host standards for individuation remains opaque, since any such standard would have to be borrowed from one or many descriptive registers available to us. But to hypostasize human sense-endowing intentional acts into real objects surely vitiates the irreductionist position, and delivers us right back to Husserl.

Harman's metaphysical substances, in order to advance his 'irreductionist' position, must entail that the eidetic unity of the middle sized objects such as sleeping bodies target real essences, in the same way science's thought of microphysical particles do - through acts of ostentation. Granted, this can happen in a variety of ways: either of perceptual middle sized objects, or through laboratory conditions of 'microscope' observation and assigned indexes, or perhaps formal abstract conditions identified with imperceivables in complex relation to perceptually accessible objects, as Sellars develops. But then of course the realm of essences seems inhabitted with a multiplicity of objects which virulently follow from any description which I happen to have rendered operative by ostentation's 'baptism', and there's seemingly no limit to the amount of real entities I can produce in such a manner, using standard Quine-like examples. Yet this presupposes our concepts and terms are somehow sufficient to constitute reality, i.e. essence follows from eidetic conception through ostentation. In short, it's not simply that Harman cannot say there's a single real referent underlying all the cases of intentional ostentation; but that there's no resources to distinguish on what basis these real objects consist independently of descriptive criteria which immediatly fold us back to the intentional domain of humans.

Ostentation's baptism, direct or indirect, is pressumably set to provide some sort of restraint limiting the multiplication of possible entities through pure conception. This is why ostentation is set to remain an anchor between the real and the sensual for Harman. And he would claim this holds true even for scientific discourse and practice, insofar as formal descrpitions targetting a field of imperceivable entities merely specify real objects as expressed in formally intuitable descriptions/formulas, in turn tethered to perceptually accessible objects. Thus even imperceptible entities may remain tested against intuitable realities. For as Sellars advances, and Brassier admitts, the natural sciences pressupose complex connections between perception and the unintuitable domain described formally. And this is precisely why scientific realism must go hand in hand, for the naturalist, with perceptual realism; where the relation between object and intuition (or essence and eidos)is still anchored in ostentation.

This is a mere stipulation of how Harman would try to advance the argument against the desappearance of non-intuitable scientific phenomena, by insisting on ostentation's capacity of discernment. Even if science is counter-intuitive in its challenge to the manifest image, it is still, the OOPhilosopher will claim, thus tethered on the intuition which constitutes formal symbols and perceptual realities, while they will claim against the naturalist that the strata of formally specified entities is not to be priviliged metaphysically from other essences. This is the twofold axis of phenomenology and irreductionism. Harman considers that scientific realism leads to an unavoidable reductionism operating over its specific choice of scientism: reducing everything to the operational formality of the natural sciences, even as it links to perceptual reality in order to describe it (and not something different, as an irreductionist, democratic ontology of objects should).

At this juncture, however, the scientific realist may ask: so if the phenomena described by the formal apparatus of the natural sciences is negatively defined as resolutely non-manifest, and yet real in virtue of acts of ostentation and sensible reality: couldn't the same hold for all formal systems relating intuitable realities to non-intuitable ones? Doesn't the possibility of indirect ostentation through all formal symbols open up a potentially infinite domain of possible realities? Here the problem is no longer just the endless proliferation of middled-sized entities through direct ostentation, but also the proliferation of non-intuitable realities corresponding indexes in a formal system which relates in complex ways to perceptual conditions, and so grounded on such indirect ostentation. But this clearly is not limited to contemporary scientific formal discursivity, but to negative theologies, and all sorts of metaphysical postulates about transcendent realities. While ostentation was supposed to restrict the limit for the proliferation of entities, it all of a sudden seems to allow for an even more violent proliferation, extending as far as the formal domain, unless we want to deny any such postulates of reality tout court; which would quickly devolve into anti-scientism just as easily as it would sever theories with transcendent metaphysical postulates. The 'negative' domain opened by the scientfic realist must force Harman to accept the reality of non-intuitable realities behind any formal description related to an act of ostentation, which aims to target non-intuitable domain of entities: and this seems to once again make description sufficient to produce a virulent multiplication of essences, ad infinitum. Description is thus not just virulent when eidetic intuition is supposed to grasp middle sized objects directly through perceptual ostentation, but also when it formally assigns non-intuitive realities in relation to perceptually anchored acts of ostentation. Essences are thus multiplied both downstream (potentially infinite non-intuitable realities formally described or otherwise) and upstream (middled sized objects identified in perceptual direct ostentation). Beyond intuition, and because of its irreductionist democracy, ideation becomes sufficient to limn reality in any way we want it; but thus ends up finally anthropomorphizing the world, or what turns to be the same, idealising it.
This leads me to the last point of clarification on something I said earlier:
"Next: “
But since you have renounced naturalism, then surely you must say that the imagined or conceived stickman is not really physical anymore than it is really eidetic. For to deny its physical reality in order to assert its purely eidetic existence (as imagined stickman) would seem to run with the imposition of a matter independent ideality.
I’ve only “renounced naturalism” in the sense that I don’t think physical explanations and entities should be privileged over other kinds. You seem to think I am taking a kind of Platonic position and saying that eidos is more real than physical. That’s not true at all."

My concern was simply the following one: when I imagine X, the physicalist neurobiologist tells me X is reducible to a specific neurological state. Harman claims the stickman is purely sensual. This is underwritten by the irreductionist thesis: which implies that what the physicalist describes as a multitude of entities does not exhaust the entity to which I grant eidetic unity. But of course when I am imagining X, something happens in my brain, irrespective of my imagining being different. Consider the case of the imagined stickman read from a neural-activity sensor at a doctor's dispatch. The stickman isn't real, but the brain-state presumably is. But why? Since OOO has renounced reductionism, and accepted science is reviseable, how can it claim that it follows from the doctor's reading, which is surely given as  intentional objects, is more real than the unified stickman in my thought? If the answer is that my thinking is not anchored on perceptual ostentation, then we are still don't know why the doctor's attribution of unity to the neurons corresponds to a real object, and not just to an imagined one. For there could be real stickmen shaped objects behind my intentional apprehension in my thought. Since the reviseability of science puts no limit to how reality might appear under the lights, we cannot shut off the possibility all intentional objects target real doubles behind thought, since no discursive register is better equipped to tell the real from not, and ostentation here makes no difference since it doesn't specify how the real object is individuation, but only entails there must be a real object. It seems that if realities potentially lurk behind my conscious apprehension, I would have to accept all sorts of possible descriptions of what is going on are also tethered to all intentional objects-relations, and we seem to obtain an infinity of possible real objects. The real seems so elastic in this view that to say 'everything goes' is hardly an understatement. Harman implies this must be accepted, as a consequence of science being reviseable, and our current concepts being potentially updated.

Intentional objects are also not relative to human cognition, since they constitute non-human relationality between objects. The next question is how we know which intentional objects obtain, not just real ones. The relations between neurons for example, don't exhaust the real being behind them. But what can we determine of intentional relations between nonhuman objects if they are always apprehended as an intentional relation for us?  Can one say that the intentional object in which neurons relate/meet happen independently of how these objects appear to me in my own intentional relating? How can we determine this? If, on the other hand, one wishes to say that as long as I’m not conceiving the relation as, say, that between brain-states these do not occur just as the stickman doesn't, then it seems that  relations obtain only as consciously apprehended by us, which starts sounding an awful lot like a Husserl inspired idealism.

To sum up, on the one hand we get every description potentially targeting a real essence; in the latter nothing ever targets even a non-human intentional object. Having lost all power for thought to gain traction on reality or being, Harman's position delivers us right back to Brassier's indictment: that nothing is metaphorical is indistinguishable from that claim that everything is metaphorical.

That the proliferation of entities also easily follows from these considerations can be seen without much trouble: Harman could claim neural states do embody real entities, since the neural-sets qua objects baptized by ostentation which make up my intentional object in relation to my thought do have real referents in the world[1]. However, this possibility would either force Harman to claim that any description which targets objects/relations defined by ostentation (even is supposed extended to the formal) are on equal footing, and are all thus real, or else claim there are criteria for discerning between non-intuitable real objects and non-intuitable merely sensual objects. But Harman has not yet produced such a distinction, or a basis on which it could be developed.

We are thus led back once again to individuation: if my description of the sun as a heat emitting astral body, as a collection of subatomic states, or as a light-weaving God, succeeds at being real by virtue of ostentation identifying withdrawing realities, then there do not seem to be one set of real/objects and relations underlying my potentially infinite sensual configurations, but an infinity of real objects and relations corresponding to each and every possible intentional configuration in human minds. For how else are we supposed to say the sun really is a thing which has not just eidetic unity but objective essence, and that therefore transcends its non-unified subatomic configuration, or any other descriptive division of the object into a multitude? Harman must preserve this sort of independent objective reality, if he doesn't want to destroy middle sized objects like physicalist reductionists do, or relativize subatomic realities in idealist form. Just as the reality of the subatomic is 'ostended' through the specification of the formal, the intuition of middle sized objects is granted only in eidetic specification in thought and propositional/nominal description or attributions. Without the constitution of consciousness attached to the phenomenological domain, either any category will do (which idealizes the world through descriptive virulence) or none will do (reinscribing a field of anonnymous objects to which we have no epistemic access, and yet remain thinkable). For which epistemic criteria would allow us to safely allot the unity of the sun to the domain of the real without thereby specifying the continuity between the intentional human-relative phenomenon as consciously presented in its eidetic unity, and the real object that it corresponds to?

In pains of avoiding reductionism, Harman seems forced into accepting the former option: that the eidetic unity of sensual objects follows from ostentation directly from real objects. But this comes at the cost of rendering impossible the discernment between descriptive registers founded in ostentation vis their adequacy to the real objects, and those which are merely ideal. Trying to place all objects on the same footing, the acceptance of entities through ostentation ends up soliciting a virulent idealism where real objects occassion their sensual doubles, while ostentation identifies essence with any descriptive register, irrespective of its ontological commitments. Without further criteria for dictinction, description seems sufficiently exhaustive, precisely because it is insufficient to exhaust the object: there is always more than what we intuit, and yet what we intuit reveals potentially infinite realities on the basis of description. Just like the reality of the glass cannot be reduced to a multiplicity of glass-parts, so the latter guarantee under the irreductionist light that the eidetic unity nominally attributed to an object via ostentation can always be made to correspond to an essence, object or part. Non-anthropomorphic essence would have to be thinkable apart from its specific eidetic constitution, to avoid all descriptions from sufficiently constituting reality. But what would such a reality be, then, if Harman's irreductionism forbids us to privilige one descriptive register over another? How are we to distinguish between what some registers tells us is real, from what others do? Either real objects/relations remain anonymous and become thereby noumenal phantoms, or their reality seems to directly follow from the particular intentional configurations for humans, delivering us right back to Husserl.

This obscure coincidence between sense and reality is what Ray Brassier has described as ‘a miraculous congruence between metaphysical individuals and the meanings of our singular terms’
[2]. Outside of the strictly anthropomorphic domain for description, metaphysical essence remains opaque. In any case, we obtain both an endless proliferation of possible intentional entities and relations, as well as an endless proliferation of withdrawing real objects/qualities[3].

[1] Of course, in order to follow this route, given real objects in themselves withdraw, one must also stipulate the corresponding series of non-anthropomorphic intentional objects for the relations, say, between neural sets, to remain a function of the objects and not of mere human mediation. So it seems Harman really can’t escape from positing the sensual object(s) apprehended as neural sets correspond to another sensual object which is not strictly that presented to my consciousness, i.e. real objects (neurons) by themselves cannot form relations (neural sets) by virtue of their non-relationality.
[2] Personal correspondence.
[3] See footnote above.

1 comentario:

Joseph C Goodson dijo...

Daniel, you write:

"But this dodges the real issue. We can certainly think of standards to differentiate for 'better or worse' in conformity with current scientific principles, pragmatic interests, and a variety of other things. But the question is how any of these standards is adequate to discern real objects/qualities from purely sensual ones. It is certainly not sufficient to say we can come up with standards for 'better or worse', since in all fairness it's far from clear what relation could any such standards within the human intentional domain solicit us to derive about real objects. Since we cannot be sure, at this point, of their existence, we seem to fare no better through the appeal to our 'standards' to judge."

My first thought is to ask why allusion to real objects isn't satisfactory? Why can't we just say that we tentatively deduce (or, rather, induce) what must be real on the basis of our encounter with the sensual realm? Why can't it be a transcendental task in the way Bhaskar means it -- what must the real tiger be like for me to have this experience of it? It makes a lot more sense to me to say that, behind the sensual tiger is something real, with real parts and a real unity such that it is independent of both myself and any of the contexts it happens to find itself in than to say that behind the tiger is an indeterminate substratum with no particular qualities or structure of its own or to say that behind the experienced tiger is a pure, inconsistent multiplicity with no inherent unity. We can also deduce this from the fact that this sensual entity can be decontextualized and recontextualized in a variety of ways while still maintaining its eidos for us. From this, why can't we say that there is probably an, if want, real un-tiger unity? Once we say that, we also know that it must have real qualities, and we can deduce these on the basis, again, of the split between the sensual object and its own real qualities. Why is this so controversial?

My second point is: what do you have to offer in its place? Your questions and criticisms for object-oriented philosophy are excellent, but what are your own ontology? How do you account for the difference between the object and knowledge or relation to the object? Do you accept that there are individual entities at all? What alternative model are you suggesting?