Saturday, August 12, 2023

 Blog 584 After philosophy

 If late French Continental Philosophy indicates that traditional philosophy has pursued illusions of fixity, what should philosophers now do? They can study, more or less like scientists, processes of change, development, transformation, as I have been trying to do concerning knowledge, language, ethics, existence and society, in a book I recently published, with the title ‘Dynamic coherence of Continental Philosophy’.

 As soon as one names a feature of a process, isn’t that again something that is fixed? If one names anything, does not that imply fixity? If one gives a name to some stages of a process, are those fixed? One can give names to things that change. There is no pretence that the process is constant or exclusive of other forms of process. To think that something is fixed because it carries a name is part of what I call the ‘object bias’.

 Development occurs within boundaries of viability and potential, but those do change Take the development of animals. This happens on the basis of DNA, and a species passes that on to its progeny, but it is not fixed. As features arise by accident, in sexual reproduction, in chromosome cross-over and gene mutation, weakly at first, they get more robust as they contribute to survival or procreation.

 Evolution in the longer term is unpredictable. The selection environment changes, partly along with the elements that are selected. Lions form part of the selection environment of their prey, and they are selected themselves.

 Assimilation depends on what the environment offers to assimilate, and on the absorptive capacity of that which does the assimilation, and that capacity develops. Accommodation depends also on what the environment offers to accommodate to, and one’s ability to do so, which also develops

 Parole, in language, moves along with personal experience. There is no monotone block of ethical principles, but virtues are balanced according to the context, in phronesis, and one generally gets better at it. One’s identity changes, more or less, with experience. Societies develop surprisingly, sometimes. No one foresaw the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989.

Saturday, August 5, 2023

583. Irony of philosophy

Continental Philosophy (CP) seems to be saying that nothing is fixed. I have finished a book on that, with the title ‘Coherence of Continental Philosophy’.

The turbulence, out there and in here, implies that for over 2000 years philosophy has been chasing illusions of ultimate, fixed meanings, ideas, theories, logics, mathematics, identities, laws of nature, and truths. If that is true, what a waste of talent and effort!

 How could this happen? If nothing is fixed, we are engulfed by uncertainty, and that scares many people. It makes them feel unsafe, and they flee into mysticism, then religion and then science.

 We should see it as liberation, and some do. How boring it would be if there were an end to change and discovery. Taoism, of Lao-Tse and Zuanghzi,  celebrated the unpredictability of the world, and pleaded for resilience to uncertainty, and adaptability. Its iconic metaphor was water, which takes the shape of the container it is in, and flows around the rocks in a stream, not through them. To enable adaptation, Taoism pleads for a minimum of rules (‘wu-wei’).

 Kierkegaard opened a problem of time. The present lies between past and future, and cannot be grasped. When you think you have it, it has already evaporated in the past. You could grasp it only if time stood still. Perhaps that happens in death, and perhaps you experience it then as eternity. While alive, one can look at movement, and try to adapt to it.

 An example of the flight from uncertainty lies in economics. There, one flees into risk. In risk, one does not know what is going to happen, but one knows what can happen, attach probabilities to it, and calculate an optimal outcome. With uncertainty that is impossible, because one does not know all that can happen, and since economists want to calculate, they ignore it, and as a result does not adequately deal with innovation.

 Economists dream of equilibria, but evolutionary economists warn that those are seldom reached, and they study the process of evolution, where equilibria are mostly not achieved. .

Saturday, July 29, 2023

 Blog 582 French fingerprint

 The development of CP radicalises in the later thread of French philosophies preluded by Nietzsche, of: Lyotard, Foucault, Derrida, and Rorty, though the latter is not French, and Sartre, with the nihilistic extreme of Baudrillard. But where do we fit Hume, who preluded much of the French scepticism?

 A ’fingerprint’, summary of characteristics, of the French thread is as follows:

1.    1.   Rejection of ‘totalising’, ‘logocentric’, universalist theories with a stable, fixed foundation. Theories are just ‘language games’. No ‘grand narratives’, just ‘little’ ones

2.     2. No ‘presence’, fixed identity, of anything: people, words, meanings are subject to flux and change.

3.     3.  Respect and defence of irreducible difference between people, words, and meanings.

4.      4. No static, conceptual or social structure, which is seen as inevitably authoritarian and suppressive.

5.     5. Interdisciplinarity.

6.      5. Pragmatism. 

 I agree with most of these points, but concerning number 1, I maintain science and theory, but grant that those are limited, temporary, partial, and depend on background knowledge that cannot fully become explicit, and depends on perspective and context. I disagree  with number 4. Structures are inevitable, with more or less authority, which is not necessarily suppressive. In its radicalism, this line of CP threatens to lose its pragmatism. No theory means no policy analysis, no ethics blocks social coherence.

 Habermas militated against point 2, claiming that in communicative interaction people seek equality, bridging difference. But I object that  there can be similarity without identity, with communication building on what is similar and profiting from what is different, with what I call ‘cognitive distance’, and ‘crossing’ it. Without difference, communication would lose its dynamics, innovativeness.

Saturday, July 22, 2023

 Blog 581 dynamics

 The French philosophers I discussed in preceding items in this blog, have been said to belong to ‘poststructuralism’ or ‘postmodernism’. They militated against basic notions and views of old philosophy: against what they called universal ‘logocentric’ theory, against structure, against identity, against the suppression or exclusion of ‘difference’. Their ideas were original, but generated much confusion and many puzzles It is not so clear what they were in favour of, and how they could contribute to inform policies or conduct. Indeed the very idea of solving puzzles was anathema to them. That goes against the pragmatism that is also supposed to be part of continental philosophy.

 I propose that much unclarity is dissolved, when we see things such as theory and identity not as objects, marbles we used to play with, but as processes of development. Theory is indeed partial, from a given perspective and based on often tacit background assumptions, and subject to correction and development. They may be just ‘language games’ of a selected community, as Rorty professed, but within their confines, they exercise criticism. There is incommensurability of basic assumptions and methods between games, but internally there is debate.

 Ideas, morals, theories, interpretations are not any more fixed than all other entities. Even a rock is a process, of atoms with whirling electrons that are not stable objects, but waves. Waves of potential position, probability, that yield an actual position when the waves collide. Likewise, identity of people is a wave of potential that becomes actual in interaction between people. 

 To develop this, I am writing a book entitled ‘Dynamic Coherence of Continental Philosophy’, where I develop dynamic theories of knowledge, language, identity, ethics and society, which, I claim, lift much obscurity,  while answering to criticism expressed by the French philosophers.

Friday, July 14, 2023

 580 Identity

The French philosophers whom I discussed in the preceding items in this blog also militated against what the called ‘presence’, which I take to mean a well-delineated, stable nature of any entity: person, narrative, fact, meaning, interpretation. They maintain that every entity is different from any other, partly hidden and in ongoing transformation, flux. Hume had already said that. This is related to the ‘difference’ discussed in a previous item in this blog.

However, one can have an identity that develops, within the boundaries of its potential, along a path of life. A moving car is still a car. A car can stall or crash or receive another colour paint. A human being also has no fixed identity, and develops within its constraints of inherited talent, upbringing and education, along its path of life.

If identity has been seen as an object, this is due to the ‘object bias’, discussed earlier. We used to play with marbles, but now have lost them

Saturday, July 8, 2023

 Blog 579 Structure

On the rebound from earlier philosophies that tried to erect systems, such as those of Hegel and Marx, the continental philosophers discussed in the previous item in this blog, militate against any structure, of organisation, politics, scientific theory, language, because, they claim, it is inevitably authoritarian and repressive, Hence this stream of philosophy is called ‘post-structuralist’. I think they are misconstruing their case.

All systems have elements to which the system as a whole adds things that the elements do not have, but for this the elements have to surrender some of their freedom of action, And indeed, this requires some form of authority, but that is not necessarily authoritarian and repressive. Power can be positive, in yielding options and new choices.

Each system has some form of homeostasis, keeping variables within bounds of viability.of the system. A human being, for example, has bodily limits of blood pressure, temperature, salinity, oxygen, and psychological limits of anger, fear, hatred, jealousy, maintained by streams of blood, hormones, and electrical currents through neurons.

Thus I agree that social systems carry more or fewer limitations of freedom, to enable the benefit of the whole. The challenge is to impose minimal constraints, leaving as much freedom  as possible, avoiding authoritarian systems. That is the task of democracy, which is full of conflict, precisely in balancing coordination and freedom. The full, unlimited freedom that the continental philosophers in this stream seek, is an illusion. To deny any form of system is not helpful, and threatens to make philosophy irrelevant.



Saturday, July 1, 2023

 Blog 578 Difference

 In Continental Philosophy there is a contemporary stream of mainly French philosophers: Lyotard, Foucault, Derrida, Baudrillard, Rorty (American), and Habermas (German), who exercise a radical criticism of old philosophy.

 A big issue for them is ‘difference’, between people, perspectives, meanings, interpretations, and these philosophers militate against all structures of science, language, politics, that level individuals off, and are inevitably authoritarian and suppressive. The NAZI regime and the failure of communism reverberate, but the system of capitalism is also debilitating and suppressive. While they also reject the structure offered by Marxism, they maintain its endeavour to lift up the downtrodden.

 This stream of philosophy is suspicious of old Enlightenment ideals of reason. Habermas, however, maintains an ideal of rational discourse. He militates against the obsession with difference in poststructuralism, and argues for similarity and commonality in discourse. He upheld his view of ‘communicative interaction’. That was already to be found in Hegel. Social interaction is relatively neglected in later poststructuralism. Genuine communication should connect with the ‘lifeworld’ of the people , making ‘sense’ to them, in ‘communicative interaction’ that should be free of authoritarian imposition (‘Herrschaftsfrei’; Habermas, 1982). Especially In government communication, this is virtually impossible.  

 But my objection to Habermas is that there can be similarity without identity, with communication building on what is similar and profiting from what is different, with what in earlier items of this blog I called ‘cognitive distance’, and ‘crossing’ it. Without difference, communication would lose its dynamics, its innovativeness.