ONTOLOGY WITHOUT CERTAINTY: towards a diachronic pluralism

I am trying to apply the loose set of meta-criteria that I have developed for evaluating metaphysical research programmes to Sean Kelly’s ALL THINGS SHINING (ATS) project and to its successor project THE PROPER DIGNITY OF HUMAN BEING (PDHB), as they are expressed on the ALL THINGS SHINING blog.

One of these criteria that seems particularly appropriate is having a place for testability (and a corresponding fallibilism). One should be able to examine a research programme, its theses and predictions, from the point of view of its confrontation with experience and with other hypotheses that seem confirmed in one way or another (experience, well-established theses, commonly shared principles, etc.).

A second criterion that seems heuristically appropriate is that of the generic. As we saw in the previous post, a minimal, generic language is one that is as free as possible from particularistic predicates, formulations and assumptions that limit its interpretation to specific places and times, customs and creeds, rather than allowing it to be universal.

In his post on « How do you make a decision » Sean Kelly puts forth a radical polytheist maxim:

« To make a decision, to make a genuine decision, is to be moved within to an understanding of yourself that is unshakeable and true”.

Now this is a very interesting vocabulary, particularly coming from someone who is aiming for a minimal perspective and language.While the term “unshakeable” may pass muster, with the understanding that it is hyperbole, the reinforcement brought by “true” is not just hyperbolic but excessive, because it implies some sort of infallibility. Bringing together the two predicates seems to unduly stabilise the « understanding », prescribing a response of absolute tenacity. and of (at least provisional) closure.

But are all our life decisions « given » in the modality of certainty? Are we not increasingly coming to see our previously « unshakeable » understandings as hypotheses? Obviously we need to hold firm to some things, but such tenacity is relative, as we remain open to future experiences and to future transformations of our understanding.

Unless one re-weakens this strong maxim by reading “true” as “true to”, or faithful, there is a cognitive component that may reflect a prejudice, an obsession, an emotionally or ideologically driven commitment rather than a validated apprehension.

A new understanding can be wrong or harmful, and our tenacity in remaining faithful to it can prove inappropriate or even catastrophic in the long run.

So there can be no implicit or explicit claim to infallibility, and such language is not fully generic in that it allows for only one modality (certainty) and for only one attitude or form of commitment (absolute tenacity).

In his succeeding post Kelly tries to come to terms with these problems, but I find that his analysis only complicates the picture, adding epicycles whose main function seems to be as protective measures to maintain unshakeability and truth as « ontological » properties, given that they fail to be plausible at the ontic level. That is to say, we are no longer supposed to feel validly grateful for our understandings, as some of them may prove to be false, inadequate, or harmful. Kelly now invites us to be grateful for our meta-capacity of « standing openness », an ability to accept the possible transformations of our first order understandings

For those who have been following my discussions of other philosophical projects on this blog, it should be no surprise that I am in favour of the hypothesis of this meta-capacity, which corresponds to my criteria of pluralism and diachronicity. However, I do not think it can serve to entrench the description of an understanding as « unshakeable » and « true » by way of a meta-validation.

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3 commentaires pour ONTOLOGY WITHOUT CERTAINTY: towards a diachronic pluralism

  1. dmf dit :

    « Obviously we need to hold firm to some things, but such tenacity is relative, as we remain open to future experiences and to future transformations of our understanding »
    in his correct critique of Rorty’s prescription of an ironic stance St.Fish pointed out that no matter how sophisticated our sense of historicity/contingency/etc that we cannot choose to not believe, or somehow hold lightly, what we currently hold (are held by?) to be true/right, but we surely we might somehow be part of (or assemble) organizations and procedures that put some checks and balances in place to keep our current prejudices from becoming tyrannical, perhaps like Isabelle Stengers’ plea for a « slow » science, as to the troubling use of true by Sean I think that Andy Pickering’s shift from thinking/acting in terms of representation to performativity is a potentially helpful corrective.
    Steven Shaviro noted « Isabelle Stengers has taught us, in the course of her reading of Whitehead, that the construction of metaphysical concepts always addresses certain particular, situated needs. The concepts that a philosopher produces depend upon the problems to which he or she is responding. Every thinker is motivated by the difficulties that cry out to him or to her, demanding a response. A philosophy therefore defines itself by the nature of its accomplishments, by what it is able to disclose, produce, or achieve. « 


  2. landzek dit :

    There is a kind of therapeutic intervention, or philosophical manner which describes how or why the therapeutic intervention should have its foundations.

    It is called, for lack of a better term, the “noticing self”. What it asks of someone who has an issue is for them to sit and be mindful or aware of what is occurring. For example, one finds comfort and notices the sound of a jet flying over to the left and above. Crickets chirp Ahead into the right; The small clicking of my dogs paws on the cement. The tug on my arm and the various muscle groups extending through my arm and into my back and in my body… etc… whatever it is, the person is asked to just point their attention to these things that are occurring in various ways.

    Thoughts going through one’s mind eventually come forward into awareness. The thoughts about the sound of the plane, thinking about speaking into the iPhone about my dogs small clicking paws on the cement, etc.

    The ideas go through the persons head about the things that are in awareness become things that are no different then there’s other things, so far as they enter the field of awareness.

    People tend to associate themselves, their issues, their problems, their identity, their persona, their souls, etc. as indeed one with one’s thinking and thoughts about such matters. Hence the difficulty of mental illness, hence the difficulty of attempting to try and help someone that might have a mental issue.

    So there is a particular type of therapeutic intervention called the “noticing self”. And what it is is an awareness of one’s thoughts. And the actual intervention is for a person to see or comprehend the possibility that there is something else that is noticing these things.

    I might postulate in reflection to your post here is that what is stable or unshakable is indeed this noticing self. The noticing self does not change under all these other conditions. But indeed the noticing self only changes under these conditions when one understands the noticing self as a condition of these aspects.

    Philosophically speaking, there is nothing that I can do as a therapist, say, to get a person to realize or understand what this noticing self might be. In fact there is no amount of talking or guided visualization or analogy that can make a person recognize this noticing self. And because this is the case, one is only left to say that indeed there are two situations, at least, of being human. It is not so much that these people are in capable of noticing something that is inherently common of being human, But rather that because, say, the therapist understands it self in the context of a noticing self that the unshakable billet he of the therapist allows that person the contingency available to them as truly having no self that can be noticed outside of the conditions which are those things that thought is attached to.


  3. Ping : The non-spiritual notice of a philosophical event – The Philosophical Hack

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