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1. Whitehead, Speculation and Contemporary Metaphysics

Updated: Aug 22, 2019

Section heads: Hilan Bensusan and JP Caron



Process and concern: the issue of transparency

Hilan Bensusan

One can find a distinguishing trait of speculative realism in its rejection of a feature of Whitehead's philosophy of organism – the claim, condensed in a formulation of the rejection of vacuous actuality, that whatever exists is available to some perception. According to this claim, actual entities, drops of experience, are transparent even when they're not transparent to all prehensions – let alone to our perception process. Actual entities, the building block of Whitehead's cosmology, are attached to experience, to some actual entity capable of experiencing them. Existence is therefore attached to perception in a way that it cannot fail to be transparent.

Both Quentin Meillassoux's speculative materialism and object-oriented ontology break with this assumption of transparency. Meillassoux's main misgiving with process philosophies is that while they learn the lesson that the correlation between subject and world is the starting point of any thought, they also make it into something absolute. Meillassoux understands that absolute correlations – in the form, for example, of understanding perception as the ultimate reality – fly in the face of Kant's lesson that correlations are contingent. His principle of facticity is designed to correct that by showing that things are quite capable of being different that what they appear – the principle proposes that reality is structurally deceptive and therefore less than transparent.

Through a different vein, Graham Harman's objects are conceived in comparison with Whitehead's actual entities but the former are endowed with a non-transparent feature: apart from the sensual object, the sensual qualities and the real qualities an object in its quadruple structure has a further withdrawn component: the real object. The real object is fundamentally what escapes from any perception – it provides the object with a secret life that is never exhausted by any interaction with other objects. Tristan Garcia's object-oriented ontology contrasts with Harman's because it posits no real objects and, instead, maintains that there are two distinct ways of conceiving anything, as an object in its relations with everything else and as a thing that is composed by its borders with the rest of the world, its universe. Garcia's formal way, where things are protagonists, make sure that there is something – the thing – that is not transparent to the multiple relations between objects. An object has a secret life as a thing; a secret life that is no much more than its capacity to stand independently of any other object.

The issue of transparency has consequences to the manner we conceive concern. Whitehead talks sometimes about concern – in Adventures of Ideas he traces the notion to the Quaker vocabulary. As Steven Shaviro once pointed out, there is nevertheless a contrast between satisfaction – in Modes of Thought Whitehead understands an organism as always endowed with an aim, a sense of self-enjoyment and a capacity for creativity – and the preoccupation with others. In fact, concern points towards the others in their own terms. I have argued elsewhere that Whitehead's philosophy of organism is a species in the genre of monadology – a genre inaugurated by Leibniz but not exhausted by his system (it is enough to look at alternative monadological systems such as Gabriel Tarde's, Bruno Latour's or Edmond Husserl's in his famous fifth Cartesian Meditations). Monadological systems are intrinsically transparent as monads are nothing but their predicates – qualities, relations, states and events – and nothing exists if no effect on any monad is provoked. However, in monadologies there is no room for others unless they are understood in terms of the perceiving monad. Concern, in contrast, requires the possibility of a monad – an unit of action – to be interrupted in its own quest for satisfaction, in its aim and in its attainment of self-enjoyment.

Concern contrasts with transparency. It is involves not only a capacity to perceive what is exposed but also to act on behalf of what is not fully understood or perceived. Concern requires the capacity to genuinely interrupt process – reorient it towards something that is not made fully present, fully transparent, fully perceived. Speculative realism, in its tendency to break up with transparency, paves the way for a conception of process that involves secrecy, vigilance and facticity. Such a conception of process can be further enhanced by a space for concern that doesn't collapse into a perception of concern and that makes it possible for action to be directed towards what is not fully transparent. In order for concern to be genuine, it is perhaps necessary that the other capable of interrupting a process is endowed with unaccessible dimensions beyond those that are common to any object.


Two Organisms Are Better Than One

Neil McGuiness

In this paper, I address a dispute in contemporary metaphysics between agential realist Karen Barad and object-oriented ontologists (OOO) Graham Harman and Levi Bryant as to whether reality is composed primarily of relations or independent entities. I propose a Whiteheadian solution that, I will argue, reconciles the two positions and doubles as a heuristic concept for reality or nature.

According to Barad's relational and materialist ontology, inspired by Bohr's philosophy-physics, there is no such thing as intrinsic determinacy. Individuals emerge as a result of a foundational and creative activity of mutual co-constitution engaged in by relational agencies. Things, as such, are ontologically dependent on relations. According to OOO, the opposite is the case: relations are ontologically dependent upon individuals and the creative activity they together engage in.

These thinkers make excellent cases for their ontologies and I maintain that the way forward is to see them as partial pictures that together form a complete picture. To help form this picture, I reference mycorrhiza - the symbiotic partnership of a plant and fungus, and, further, claim, with inspiration from Deleuze&Guattari and the mycologist Paul Stamets, that reality propagates like a Common Mycorrhizal Network (CMN). So, rather than look to the organism for a concept of nature, à la Whitehead, I look to coupled organisms. These couples have two pathways that I present as complementary, one “Barad's pathway”, where the relationship (between plant and fungus) determines the pathway of its constituent entities and the other “OOO's pathway”, where the entities (plant and fungus) independently reconfigure the pathway of their relationship.

Responding to the conference brief, I present these pathways as propagating as a function of a creative activity or process of constitutive determination. I argue that Barad, Bryant and Harman follow a trend of rendering the concept of constitutive determination incoherent and uncreative by tying it to a ground and I explain how this dual-organism structure liberates the concept by allowing us to think it as groundless and,as such, truly creative. Lastly, I present the pathways as being of concern: just as Barad’s pathway urges responsibility because the agenda is shared, Bryant urges caution in OOO’s pathway because things act differently in different contexts.

Process thought and normativity: causes and reasons in the thought of Johanna Seibt

J.-P. Caron

The present paper proposes to tackle the issue of the distinction between the causal “real” order (in Wilfrid Sellars« parlance) and the normative space of reasons. This distinction and the different ways that it was drawn has formed the basis of multiple accounts of the relationship of mind to world, for instance such as in Wittgenstein, Sellars, Brandom, McDowell, Brassier, Negarestani and others. Johanna Seibt – a former student of Sellars and a Whitehead scholar- adds to this account a processual view of the real order that stems both from the last phase of Sellars« thought (as it appears in his Carus Lectures) and Whitehead, arguing both from the stringency of the process account itself as a description of reality and from a supposed adequacy between a normative account of language that stems from linguistic pragmatism and inferentialism, and a process view of reality (“normativity is a matter of dynamic architecture” SEIBT, 2016, p. 182). I intend to do this both by examining Seibt«s own papers, particularly her “How to naturalize sensory consciousness and intentionality in a process monism with a normativity gradient: a reading of Sellars” and her book Properties as processes; and through the deployment of a toy model (following Reza Negarestani«s methodology in his Intelligence and Spirit) of a hypothetical musical work in which such causal/historical constraints can be seen to interact with the normative/rational constraints of the agents that participate in the whole process that is the work, the idea being of proposing a model in which the relationship between material causes and norms can be tracked more concretely.

A Harmanian defense of vacuous actualities

AndrŽé Roberto Tonussi Arnaut

Whitehead prop›õe seu princ’ípio de que não hᇠraz›ões sem ocasiõ›es atuais a partir da ideia de que Ž o abstrato e nã‹o o concreto é que deve ser explicado; e essa ideia provŽém de sua tentativa de evitar o que ele chama de exagero (overstatement) filos—ófico, a saber, proceder pela mera instanciç㍋o de ideias gerais e pretender começar a filosofia desde princ’ípios gerais. Dessa maneira, atualidades vazias s‹ão vistas como abstra›ções t’ípicas do overstatement, uma vez que s‹ão tomadas de antem‹ão ˆ concretude das ocasi›oes atuais. Graham Harman, no entanto, apresenta-nos uma abordagem diferente das atualidades vazias. Adotando, por um lado, o irreducionismo de Bruno Latour, e, por outro, a ideia heideggeriana de retirada, Harman Ž um pensador dos hí’bridos, da concretude do por outros contra o abstrato do por si mesmo, porŽm preservando um em si mesmo, mais pr—óximo da retirada heideggeriana do que da coisa em si kantiana. Eis ent‹ão sua no‹ção de objetos: sempre por outros, uma vez que sempre tem partes, porŽém irredut’íveis a esses outros, irredut’íveis ˆàs suas raz›ões, retirando-se a elas em um em si que nada mais Ž do que a irreduç㍋o mesma a qualquer n’ível que se pretenda privilegiar. Assim, enquanto em Kant h‡á uma fenda entre raz›es e coisa em si, o que em Meillassoux torna-se o princ’ípio de que nã‹o hᇠraz‹ão alguma para nada ou a contingência absoluta de todas as coisas, em Harman as raz›ões, vistas sob a luz da irredu‹ção, tornam-se weird, no sentido de n‹o serem uma opacidade úœltima a que se deveria remeter as coisas, mas sim como que translœúcidas, porŽém nã‹o revelando nada do outro lado a n‹ão ser a retirada para alŽém de qualquer rela‹ção. Em outras palavras, poder’íamos dizer que, para Harman, as raz›ões explicam; porŽém, explicar n‹o Ž tudo, as coisas n‹ão se reduzem a explicaçõ›es. Essa distorç㍋o ou radia‹ção da irredu‹ção sobre as razõ›es, que entra em dualidade com as rela›es, Ž como Harman pretende defender a ideia de atualidades vazias, livrando-as de serem identificadas a um mero e descart‡ável nada. E, uma vez que o em si mesmo Ž mantido para evitar que o por outros recaia no por si mesmo das raz›ões opacas, as ocasi›es atuais tornam-se desde esse ponto de vista elas mesmas abstraçõ›es sem lastro na concretude.

Whitehead and the CCRU

Damares Pinheiro

Technological innovations such as the computer and the internet insert the human being in an environment of artificiality, instantaneity and anonymity, also sophisticate and segment consumption in a data market making a new techno-digital culture of philosophical interest. The CCRU (Cybernetic Culture Research Unit) is a pioneer in the study of this cyberculture. Founded in 1995 at the University of Warwick/UK by Sadie Plant, which investigates feminism and the role of women and hackers, coining the term cyberfeminism for the first time, and Nick Land, lecturer in Continental Philosophy at the Philosophy Department, that through its main concepts, theory-fiction and hyperstition (fictions intensified by collective and self-actualization), theorize cyberculture as political-cybernetic practices within the philosophical fields of Time, Intelligence, and Experience, based in Norbert Wiener's cybernetics and A. N. Whitehead's 'speculative reason', which Luciana Parisi citate as “the concrete arrangement of relations” (Automated Architecture and Speculative Reason, 2014). In particular the later play a decisive role providing the novelty logic instead the metacomputacional reason, which is to say differentiate the studies of internet used by the social studies in social sciences and the completely innovative CCRU’ notions of cyberculture. This positive cybernetics perspective allied to the Libidinal Philosophy and Nonhuman rethinks the modes of production and the end of Capital finding in capitalist acceleration an ontology of flows, already glimpsed in Marx, diagnosing that the fluxes cannot be stopped or broke, but accelerate the very flow of capital until it disintegrates, a political theory coined Accelerationism. Therefore, we intend to present the importance of Whitehead's “speculative reason” for the constitution of CCRU's philosophy and for Accelerationism, which became a political movement with the 'Accelerationist Manifesto' launched in 2013 by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams in the London School of Economics, and attracted criticism about the impacts of accelerating capital on the new geological age, the Anthropocene, also the legacy of cyberphilosophical and cyberfeminist writings that have influenced a range of new contemporary thinkers such as Robin Mackay, Luciana Parisi, Mark Fisher, Ray Bressier, Iain Hamilton Grant, Reza Negarestani, Matthew Fuller, Nick Srnicek, and others in the London School of Economics, and attracted criticism about the impacts of accelerating capital on the new geological age, the Anthropocene, also the legacy of cyberphilosophical and cyberfeminist writings that have influenced a range of new contemporary thinkers such as Robin Mackay, Luciana Parisi, Mark Fisher, Ray Bressier, Iain Hamilton Grant, Reza Negarestani, Matthew Fuller, Nick Srnicek, and others.

Speculation and Systems Theory: Whitehead's theory of communication and a Luhmannian reception

Otavio Maciel

The purpose of this brief talk is to present Whitehead’s theory of communication as a speculative metaphysical framework for what was stabilized as systems theory’s standard unit of analysis. Niklas Luhmann proposed to solve sociology’s theoretical deficit by aiming not at a final description of society, its institutions, its cultural elements or by grounding it on unstable elements, such as history, economy, the human spirit or some sort of religion. His solution was not top-to-bottom, but trying to conceive of a unit of analysis for social theory that would be present in all of these attempts: communication. Abandoning Saussurean anthropocentric approaches of the emitter-receiver duality, Luhmann employs the trichotomy of message-information- écriture; the creation of a mode of existence that both atomizes and systematizes any social topic (interactions, organizations, social systems). We are going to present this talk in three fronts: 1) summary of Luhmann’s theory of communication as unit of analysis for social theory; 2) the metaphysical roots and implications of Peirce’s trichotomy and on Locke’s theory of language autonomy; 3) the fascinating co-laboration between systems-building approaches such as Whitehead’s Process and Reality and Luhmann’s opus, and the task of Whitehead’s speculative philosophy and assemblage to deal with creativity, negative prehensions, avoidance of anthropocentrism and the proper exercise of speculations two-sided goals at coherence and adaptability. The concept of communication, from being a Luhmannian unit of analysis for social theory, might also become a unit of analysis for metaphilosophy.


Creativity, Fragility and Concern: Glimpses of Ethics in Whitehead's Late Philosophy

Ulysse Gadieou, 12 IWC Young Scholars Award winner In his article “Self-enjoyment and concern: on Whitehead and Levinas,” Steven Shaviro has shown how Whitehead’s notion of concern, which he explicitly borrowed from the Quakers, allowed him to introduce an ethical element of regard for the other’s sake in his description of one actual entity’s satisfaction. Concern is introduced as an element of hetero-affection, inseparable from the auto-affective self-enjoyment of one entity. (Shaviro 249) According to Shaviro, “concern is not the result of some sublime epiphany,” (Shaviro 255), it does not imply the transcendent call of the Other, which would break the course of a self-centred everyday experience, such as is asserted by Levinas. On the opposite, “attention to others is itself a kind of enjoyment, and it is included within, rather than opposed to, an overall self-enjoyment.” (Shaviro 256-257)

So Shaviro’s claim that self-enjoyment and concern “form a patterned aesthetic contrast and not an irreducible ethical opposition” (Shaviro 256) allows him to consider that Whitehead’s description of experience, although being primarily aesthetical, is not for all that deprived of an ethical tone, as regard for the other’s sake is proved to be inherent to Whitehead’s account of experience. But Shaviro, while insisting on this element of hetero-affection that is concern, does not so much focus, in his article, on the ethical meaning of this affection. In fact, Whitehead himself did not expand on this aspect of concern. When this term was introduced in the description of the object-subject relation in Adventures of Ideas, it was only meant to underline the emotional tone of this relation: “no prehension, even of bare sensa, can be divested of its affective tone, that is to say, of its character of a ‘concern’ in the Quaker sense.” (AI 232) There is no connotation here of care for the other’s sake, but only the denotation of a mere affective tone, which does not need to be more than some shapeless emotion, a vague sympathy implying no positive solicitude.

And yet, the ethical character of concern seems to have been in Whitehead’s mind. In this respect, Shaviro makes an important remark: “Adventures of Ideas, Modes of Thought, and “Immortality” express Whitehead’s metaphysics with a different rhetoric, and in a different manner. And, that makes all the difference.” (Shaviro 251) Shaviro’s point is that in his late works, Whitehead endeavours to frame his philosophy in a different manner. The minute conceptual architecture of Process and Reality is unstiffened in those works, Whitehead’s phraseology becomes less technical, so that its terms bear a less definite meaning. Such vagueness allows for a wider scope of interpretation: by being less exact, one word allows the reader to consider complex contrasts at once, while a more analytical description would imply the dissection of this contrast, and the loss of its vital unity. This seems to be the case for the term concern “in the Quaker sense,” (MT 167) a term which makes its first appearance in Whitehead’s later works. And Shaviro’s endeavour in his article has been to express one aspect of the contrast, that is, the inseparability of auto-affection and hetero-affection.


Process Without Plato: Emergence, Novelty and the Redundancy of Eternal Objects

Glen Veitch, 12 IWC Young Scholars Award winner


This paper seeks to establish that process metaphysics both demands and allows

for authentic novelty. It will be argued that authentic novelty must be strongly

emergent. By ‘strongly emergent’ it is meant that novel states are irreducible to

their constituent parts and thus cannot be exhaustively comprehended from an

analysis of them. Any truly novel state must be in some sense ontologically

new, presenting phenomena or qualities that are irreducible to their parts and

past states.

While process thought is greatly indebted to Whitehead's philosophy of

organism, it will be argued that his account of novelty — the ingression of

eternal objects into actuality as mediated by God — falls short of a realistic

framework that is capable of producing authentic novelty. Whitehead's concept

of a realm of eternal objects (pure potentia) resembles a form of Platonism that

under Ockham's razor becomes redundant concerning the production of novelty,

for it is possible that the realm of actuality alone is capable of producing

authentic novelty best understood as an emergent property.

On the Representation in Whitehead’s Philosophy of Perception

Ichiro Hirata, Kansai gaidai college, Japan

The representation in perception has become a problem on the argument from delusion, and recently, the denial of the representation in direct perception.

In Whitehead, the double modes of perception, the mode of causal efficacy which is direct perception and the mode of presentational immediacy which is the perception by the representation is discussed.

The direct perception in Whitehead’s theory of perception must be emphasized. If the perception is taken only the event within brain, it is overlooked. So the Whitehead’s philosophy of perception would be equal to the scientific physiology, neuroscience, especially some position in cognitive science. Of course, as speculative philosophy which includes all experiences, Whitehead’s philosophy can be applied to these sciences. But it must also be applied phenomenological experiences. It must include 4E approach, that is, embodied, embedded, enactive, and extended. Whitehead’s philosophy must include both neuroscience and phenomenological research. So the causal efficacy of the actual entity acts not only within the brain but also directly perceives external things. It is in support of texts as shown by F.B.Wallack.

And the direct perception by the mode of causal efficacy is linked with naïve realism and the eternal object which is called sensum is not the representation produced by mind. It is the real element in the nature. This eternal object is taken over to the mode of presentational immediacy and presented to the mind. It is not produced by the mind, but represents the external thing in mind. Its presentational character, clearness, and the character of the projection by mind clearly plays the role of the representation.

On the other, on the problem of delusion, the approach of Whitehead is disjunctive. In the perception of delusion, there is no causal efficacy of the external thing. The eternal object of delusion is produced by body and brain.

In the life of organism, the causal efficacy is decisive and the presentational immediacy is only the surface of the experience. In lower organism, there is no the mode of presentational immediacy. And he criticizes the sense data theory. That theory only focuses sense data and the mode of presentational immediacy.

And what is the significance of the mode of presentational immediacy? On one point, it makes the error possible. For Whitehead, the error is the origin of progress. And the time lag argument is important.

So, for Whitehead, the representation has important significance.

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