Archive for Sellars

What is Perceptual Content?

Posted in Discussion, Exegesis, Theory with tags , , , on March 30, 2013 by deontologistics

Last year I gave a paper at the workshop leading up to the Sellars Centenary Conference organised by UCD in Dublin (by the wonderful Jim O’Shea, with financial help from the generous John McDowell). I was very unhappy with the paper at the time, as it seemed to me that the idea I’d attempted to articulate in the abstract didn’t pan out in the finished piece, probably due to the fact that I didn’t leave myself enough time to write it, and was, as ever, typing away right up until the last minute. In retrospect, though I still see the inadequacies of the piece, these are largely matters of a dearth of specific examples and a failure to tackle certain more tricky details, both forced upon me by the length of the presentation. So, as a first step to getting me to revise the paper into something more adequate (and hence, publishable) I’m going to put it up here for those of you interested in Sellars and/or the philosophy of perception.

The title of the paper is ‘Is there a TV in my head?: Content, Functional Mapping, and the Myth of the Given’. This is my first real foray into the philosophy of perception, and my goal was twofold: a) to articulate a worry I have with much work on perception, namely, that the notion of perceptual content is all too often implicitly defined in such a way that it vitiates the possibility of productive debate regarding whether or not it is conceptual, representational, or anything else for that matter, by outlining an alternative methodology that begins by outlining the explanatory role that the notion must play, and the resources available to it as a form of content per se, and b) to use this alternative methodology to clarify Sellars’ account of what Jim O’Shea calls the myth of the categorial given. I don’t think the paper entirely delivers, but it’s certainly on the right lines, and I aim to return to those lines when I have the time. It may also be of interest to those who’ve read my paper on Sellars and Metzinger (here), and vice versa, as it deals with some of the same issues from a different angle.

Freedom Renewed

Posted in Announcement, Theory with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 6, 2013 by deontologistics

I’m always at a loss on how to start a post when the blog has been on hiatus for a while, which is something that seems to happen periodically with Deontologistics. The most recent hiatus has been a very long one, but it seems there are people still out there reading what comes out of this cognitive outflow vent. I’ve just returned from London, where I attended the third Matter of Contradiction conference: War Against the Sun, and the Speculative Aesthetics roundtable organised by James Trafford. These were both fantastic events, at which there was a palpable sense that certain divergent theoretical orientations are beginning to coalesce into a coherent trajectory of thought (indexed by the words ‘rationalism’, ‘accelerationism’, and ‘prometheanism’). I won’t say anything more about the content of these events, as the videos and transcripts of them will no doubt be appearing at some point, but I will mention that I had the opportunity to meet several very interesting people who knew me from the work I’ve posted here. This was very heartening, and convinced me that I should probably start putting some thoughts up here again.

I don’t have a lot of new material to put up here right now, as I’m currently working on the second half of my paper on Graham Harman (the first half of which is available here). However, after having some very interesting discussions with people on the topic of freedom (which I’ve written about in various ways: here, here and here), I realised that I had some old material languishing in a blog comment somewhere that some people might find interesting. As such, here’s some thoughts on the topic and its misappropriation by voluntarism.

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Dundee Again

Posted in Announcement, Theory with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 2, 2012 by deontologistics

I’ve just gotten back from the Dundee graduate conference on The Relevance of the Human in Politics. This was my third year at the Dundee grad conference, and my second time presenting a paper. As ever, it was an immense amount of fun. Some great people, some excellent papers, and nowhere near enough sleep. I highly recommend it for anyone thinking of going next year!

My own paper was entitled ‘The Parting of the Ways: Political Agency Between Rational Subjectivity and Phenomenal Selfhood’. The principle aim of the paper was to elucidate Ray Brassier’s recent distinction between rational subjectivity and phenomenal selfhood, by showing how the Sellarsian and Metzingerian philosophies of mind that he takes as the respective models of these can be integrated with one another. The paper was then supposed to draw some consequences of this for understanding political agency. However, as is unfortunately common, in writing the paper I found myself bound up with the preliminaries, albeit it in an enormously interesting fashion. Alas, 20 minutes is a short time to cram such a thing into!

I was hoping to do a bit of work extending the paper to compensate for this, and add some further examples and diagrams while I was at it, before posting it here. However, I’m buried under other writing commitments, and haven’t had time to do anything more than tidy it up a bit and add some notes about the potential consequences for the theory of political agency. Hopefully I’ll get to expand on these ideas at some point in the future. Anyway, for those still interested in the paper, you can get it here.

‘Only the Death of God Can Save Us’

Posted in Announcement, Discussion, Exegesis, Heads Up, Theory with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 23, 2012 by deontologistics

My talk for the Newcastle Philosophy Society on Saturday (discussed in the last post) went very well . Although I didn’t get to prepare as much as I might have liked, the ideas came together in a way that people seemed to understand, and it provoked a lot of interesting discussion. Despite the controversial thesis of the talk, there was no hostility or incredulity in the face of the claims I was making. What a wonderful way to spend a Saturday afternoon: eating pizza, drinking coffee, and talking about the death of God with a bunch of non-philosophers who are just interested in the topic.

Anyway, I managed to record a video of the talk on my laptop (giving it a slightly weird angle), and I’ve uploaded it to youtube (see here). The talk takes up the first 30 minutes. This is followed by a 30 minute Q&A session with a respondent, and a further 50 minutes of less focused discussion.

As another point of interest. Ray Brassier’s most recent talk ‘How to Train an Animal that Makes Inferences: Sellars on Rules and Regularities’, is now available online courtesy of Lorenzo Chiesa (see here). It’s Ray at his best: clear exegesis of Sellars with wonderful and incisive commentary upon the consequences that must be drawn from it. It also contains a small exchange between Ray and Zizek, which fans of both/either may find interesting/entertaining.

Finally, I’ve just finished making the final edits to the submission draft of my thesis. It contains no substantial changes from the current available draft, other than the fixing of a few typos and the inclusion of an acknowledgements page. However, I feel bound to put it up here for the sake of completeness if nothing else. It’s available on the usual page, linked in the sidebar. Now I’m free to finish a paper I’ve been working on for a couple months now. I’m sure you’ll all be interested to read it once it arrives!

No Givenness Please, We’re Sellarsians

Posted in Discussion, Heads Up, Theory with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 12, 2012 by deontologistics

Dan Sacilotto over at Being’s Poem has just put up an excellent post discussing some issues that myself and Ray Brassier have been working on, in the light of a comparison between the two titans of Hegelianism in contemporary philosophical world: Badiou (the paragon of mathematical ontology) and Brandom (the paragon of inferentialist semantics). As Dan was so generous in the complements with which he opened his post, I feel I should say a little something in return. The pleasure in our correspondence has been entirely mutual. Dan is an incredibly enthusiastic and sincere interlocutor, and he’s consistently challenged me to improve both the content of my ideas and their form of expression. He’s also patiently and valiantly attempted to explain Badiou to me, and has been very helpful, in spite of my persistent inability to grasp what Badiou means by ‘presentation’. Dan exemplifies a lot of the virtues of a good philosopher: he’s intensely autodidactic, philosophically omnivorous, he doesn’t pull his discursive punches, and he refuses to write about things unless he thinks he understands them. All in all, a top chap.

Now that that’s out of the way, I’d like to address a few of the aspects of Dan’s post. I’m not going to cover everything, as it’s filled to the brim with interesting content. However, I do think that I can present my own point of view on several issues in a bit more detail, and provide some additional context for those who aren’t aware of the way mine and Ray’s Sellarsian projects have been developing of late. To this end, I’m going to carry on my recent practice of quoting from my own correspondence, and post a few snippets from my correspondence with Ray.

However, before I get down to this it’s useful to quickly summarise the central point of Dan’s post. His basic idea is that, although their rejection of the primacy of phenomenal givenness is highly laudable, both Badiou and Brandom end up going too far in minimising the role of experience, especially in their rejection of the role that sensation plays within it. Although the way this happens within each philosophical system differs, he takes it that they both seem to collapse back into something like Hegelian idealism, albeit from opposite directions. He sees myself and Ray as attempting to avoid this danger by championing the work of Sellars, ameliorating the Hegelian dangers of Brandom and Badiou by returning to a more Kantian approach to the relation between thought and Being. The aim here is to give experience its due, without collapsing back into the Myth of the Given, and thereby establish both the principled separation and effective connection between mind and world. However, Dan also suggests that Ray’s greater interest in Sellars’ account of sensation (and the associated notion of picturing) keeps him safer than my own more Brandomian proclivities. Needless to say, I’ve got a few points I’d like to make about this.

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For the Love of Spinoza

Posted in Discussion, Exegesis, Theory with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 2, 2012 by deontologistics

Happy New Year everyone. Levi recently put up an interesting post about Spinoza’s account of the relation between causal knowledge and ethics (here). As some of you may know, I’m quite a big fan of Spinoza. Not just of his metaphysics, but also of his resistance to Aristotelian teleology and his resolve to think freedom in a way compatible with his completely deterministic metaphysics. As I’ve argued elsewhere (here), Spinoza reconciles freedom with the principle of sufficient reason in a much healthier manner than Leibniz, and a lot of contemporary debates on this issue can be interpreted as taking place between neo-Leibnizians and neo-Spinozists. I’m firmly in the neo-Spinozist camp, but this doesn’t mean that I agree with Spinoza completely. Levi’s post very clearly outlines one of the points where I have an important disagreement with him (and his heirs), so it’s useful to address it. It also gives me a good excuse to work through some of the ideas I’ve been having about ethics and politics over the past few months.

This post is another fairly long one (8,000 words or so), but it not only contains my thoughts on Spinoza, but also some thoughts on Kant, Foucault, Sellars, Hegel, and Plato, which it pulls together to provide the outline of a theory of Justice. That may sound a bit over the top, but I’m nothing if not ambitious. Anyway, on with the show…

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A Quickie on the KK Principle

Posted in Discussion, Theory with tags , , , , , , , on May 3, 2011 by deontologistics

I’m now in London, bumming around until I head off to Beirut on the 9th. If there’s anyone out there in London who wants to meet up with me in the meantime, feel free to email me, or communicate by some other means. On that note, I’m also now on twitter, for anyone who hasn’t already spotted me. This is a very quick post in response to Catarina Dulith Novaes’ post on the KK principle (here), because I couldn’t seem to post a comment on it. It’s thus pretty short (by my standards).

I won’t recapitulate Catarina’s post in any detail, as it’s a very short post itself, but the suggestion she makes is that the problem of whether the KK principle (i.e., if someone knows p, then they know that they know p) is true is amenable to empirical resolution to some extent, on the basis of research into metacognition. She also suggests that Kantian approaches to epistemology are incompatible with such analyses, the implication being that this is another reason why they don’t cut the mustard. I’m an unabashed Kantian on these matters. I take the widespread hostility to transcendental approaches to cognition to stem largely from the assumption that they place illegitimate constraints upon, or are downright incompatible with, empirical approaches. However, even Kant is fairly explicit that transcendental psychology is supposed to be a complement to empirical psychology, rather than a substitute for it. Whether or not Kant’s account of it is correct is another matter (though I increasingly suspect that it is less silly than it is often portrayed to be), rather, the issue is whether there are such things as legitimate constraints upon empirical approaches to cognition.

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Comments on Capitalist Realism (Part 1)

Posted in Discussion, Exegesis, Theory with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 22, 2011 by deontologistics

I recently finished reading Mark Fisher‘s Capitalist Realism. I’m very sorry it took me so long. Now I’m at the end of my thesis I’m starting to finally do things I’ve been putting off for a long time. Mark really must be praised for writing such an accessible and yet eminently perceptive and persuasive book. It touches on a number of issues I’ve been thinking about myself for a long time, and gives names to several phenomena that have been on the edge of my intellectual awareness for even longer. I don’t agree with all of it, and I can see numerous points where the discussion needs to be taken further, but these are merely signs of how thought provoking and well-written the book is.

As I’ve said, now I’m at the end of the thesis, I’m starting to pick up things I’ve put off, and start new projects again. Politics is what originally got me into philosophy. Specifically, I was motivated to take up theoretical philosophy by precisely what demotivated me to engage in practical political action: the problem of how it is possible to change anything in the current environment (an environment Mark so perspicuously circumscribes). I remember attending the big anti-war march just before the beginning of the Iraq war in London, the biggest peace protest in history at the time (I think), and seeing how easily it was assimilated and dissipated by the media-democratic complex. It struck me that a smaller number of people (with a smaller amount of public support behind them) brought down the Vietnam war, and yet this did precisely nothing. I was 17 at the time, and hoping to go into politics. That event disrupted my perspective and made me want to understand why it did nothing, and how it would be possible to do something. I’ve spent the last 7 years or so on a journey into high theory, acquiring a number of abstract theoretical tools along the way, and I think I’m finally ready to make my descent back toward concrete political issues. Capitalist Realism has only reinforced my resolve on this front.

To this end, I’m in the early stages of starting a new blog to discuss more concrete political issues. Deontologistics has always been very much a blog about abstract issues, and although I’ve touched on the odd bit of political and ethical theory here and there, that’s never been its purpose. The arrangements for the new blog are still coming together though (it doesn’t even have a name yet), so watch this space. The one thing I can tell you is that if there is one phrase that sums up its modus operandi, it’s this: political rationalism. Given all this, I feel that it’s a good idea for me to write up my thoughts on Capitalist Realism (or CR), as a preliminary to the work I’m hoping to undertake. This will be less of a summary of the book’s core ideas than an exploration of the terrain it covers from within my own theoretical perspective. This means adding some theoretical supplements and using these to sketch the ways in which I think some of Mark’s ideas can be developed. The other qualification to add here is that I’m not as well versed in political theory as I’d like, and so it’s quite possible that I’ll reinvent some theoretical wheels as I’m going here (especially with regard to Marx and Habermas). I’m very happy to have this pointed out to me.

As should be no surprise to regular readers, this will be a long post (this part is 16,000, which I believe is a new record). It started out life as an email to Mark and became somewhat excessive. It’s gotten so long that I’ve actually had to split it up into parts (the second has yet to be completed). Here is the first part, which involves more theoretical supplementation than political musing. The second part should get more concrete, or at least, as concrete as I am known to get.

Anyway, here we go…

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Rating Philosophers

Posted in Discussion with tags , , , , on September 3, 2010 by deontologistics

The underrated and overrated philosopher meme is going round again, and though I don’t normally join in such things, I had a good think about it on the bus today and figured I may as well put down my thoughts. The question of the most underrated is actually more difficult for me, because, even though the figures I’m most influenced by don’t obviously make for great bedfellows (Kant, Hegel, Heidegger, Deleuze, Wittgenstein, Quine, Brandom), they’re generally held in fairly high regard. An odd bunch, but hardly a minor tradition. Obviously one could say that some are underrated by certain philosophical traditions, Deleuze by the analytic tradition (despite Delanda’s fine work), or Quine by the continental tradition (despite Badiou’s scattered comments). Hegel certainly has been underrated at times, but isn’t anymore in either tradition. The only person who comes close to properly being underrated is Brandom (surprise surprise). He is becoming more popular, but I think he deserves a bit more recognition yet. He’s very popular in bits of Europe, but not so much in the US and seemingly even less in the UK (alas). I won’t go over his virtues again here, as I’ve done that plenty elsewhere.

Anyway, it seems somewhat of a cheat to pick a living philosopher, so I’ll have to make a different, if not so well informed choice: Wilfrid Sellars. I haven’t read much Sellars, but I’ve read a number of people who’re strongly influenced by him, and I’m increasingly reading more about him, largely thanks to the advice of Ray Brassier. Sellars strikes me as somewhat of the Captain Beefheart of philosophy, few people read (or listen) to him, but his influence is pervasive (at least in the analytic tradition). He has played a central role in shaping debates around rationality, normativity, perception, functionalism, naturalism, and scientific realism, and there are still potentially new insights to be found within his work. Moreover, much like Beefheart, despite his wide influence in a number of spheres, no one seems to be quite like him in the synoptic breadth of his concerns. As Ray has noted (following O’Shea I think), Sellarsians seem to split into right and left camps, either championing his metaphysical naturalism or his complex normative account of thought and action, but rarely do they adopt both at once. All in all, I intend to spend more time getting acquainted with him in the future.

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Phenomenology, Discourse and their Objects

Posted in Discussion, Theory with tags , , , , , on December 20, 2009 by deontologistics

Graham Harman recently responded (here) to my musings on his argument for his fourfold structure (here). That post was quite brief, but it suggested that the way to reject his approach is to reject the phenomenological standpoint that its based upon, loosely summed up in the idea that ontology must begin with experience. Given that Graham has picked up on the points I made, I feel that I should probably go into a bit more detail, although this will unfortunately fall short of presenting my alternative to phenomenology (fundamental deontology) in full. First though, I think it’s important to say a little bit more about what the core features of phenomenology are, before we try to provide possible reasons for rejecting them. I am of course no expert on Husserl, so my analysis will be faily crude, but hopefully fair nonetheless.

1. The Basic Problems with Phenomenology

Skipping over the methodological details of phenomenology (which are certainly most interesting), I think the two most important features to pick out are the theory of intentionality, and the correlative theory of meaning or content. The first encapsulates the real advance of phenomenology (via Brentano) over both the empiricist and Kantian accounts of experience. The advance over empiricism is threefold. First, phenomenology surpasses the empiricists’ indirect realism, holding that we do not experience ideas or representations of things, but that our experiences are directed at the things themselves. Secondly, experience is the encountering of objects as objects, not the encountering of bundles of sense data that must be actively united into objects. Thirdly, phenomenology takes the objects that our experiences are directed at to transcend our experiences of them. As Graham is fond of pointing out, this has the effect of opening up a distinction between the objects of experience and the qualities that they present to us.

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