The preceding posts should make it clear that while taking a keen interest in Sean Kelly’s new project conceived as a pluralist endeavour, I reject his claim to develop a « radical » or « ultimate » polytheism/pluralism.

The principle reason is that there is no such ultimate perspective. In effect, the two terms of « ultimate » and « polytheism » contradict each other.  A coherent pluralism has no place for a single final perspective. The expression « radical polytheism » is more acceptable, but « radical » is both too vague in that it suggests only going further or going deeper, but does not specify a direction. The term « generic » does indicate, beyond the vague feel-good vibe of a positive valuation, a direction that one can move in.

Secondly, Kelly’s « radical » polytheism is conservative in its rollover of « gratitude » from a Christian or crypto-Christian (Heideggerian) perspective to his new The Proper Dignity of Human Beings. Gratitude is presented as correlative with the « gift » of an understanding, but the word « gift » is semantically fraught with personological implications, inclusive of the roles of giver and receiver. Intoning paradoxical syntagms such as « a gift without a giver » is more the recognition of a problem than the mark of a solution.

Rather, I propose talking in terms of « generic » polytheism/pluralism, and taking « generic » only as a relative or non-ultimate term. A concept or vocabulary is generic relative to a particular problem-situation. There is no ultimate generic perspective.

From this point of view I argue that « attention » and « openness » are more generic terms than « gratitude », and so more appropriate to describing human phenomena with as few particular presuppositions as possible. As we are moving away from the hegemony of onto-theology it has become increasingly possible to search for terms and experiences outside its purview.

My argument over the last few posts is that there is no « pure » language for experience, because experience is never pure, it is always pervaded by and partially constructed by concepts, values, significations, and interests. A « generic » language is different from the idea of a pure one, because there is no pretence that it would be theory-free, just that the minimal theory involved is more widely shareable than currently available alternatives.

There is a hesitation in Sean Kelly’s recent posts at ALL THINGS SHINING blog between gratitude for an “unshakeable and true” understanding that is given and gratitude for the possibility of transformations of understanding, that new possibilities may emerge. I am tempted to call the first type “Kuhnian” gratitude and the second type “Popperian” gratitude.

In the case of Popperian gratitude, my argument in favour of adopting the more generic term where we have a choice suggests that “gratitude” is not the best word, and that words like “attention” or “openness” are more appropriate.

A related distinction would be that between the dogmatic attitude, which presupposes a (provisional) determinateness of understanding, and the more open pluralist attitude, which presupposes both under-determination and indeterminateness of understanding, i.e. that several understandings are possible and that no one understanding will capture all aspects « in the last instance ».

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  1. dmf dit :

     » between gratitude for an “unshakeable and true” understanding that is given and gratitude for the possibility of transformations of understanding, that new possibilities may emerge »
    Jack Caputo offers an interesting derridean take on archetypal psychology in that his hope is in something radically different (not just more of something we already know and like) arriving (an event-uality if you will) but with a kind of haunting (luring) aspect (shades perhaps of Whitehead?) such that say the spirit of Democracy or Hospitality is at work even if not present (Jack says God insists rather than exists), for me this at least preserves the Kierkegaardian sense of existential risk tho I share your (and Rorty’s) wish that these theological gestures could be a world better left behind.
    If we must include (for sociological/political reasons and or in the name of pluralism) more religious aspects perhaps we could entertain something akin to:

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  2. Hi Terence,

    Got no further than ninety pages into Sean Kelly’s book and gave up, for all the reasons you described.

    Substitute such-ness, bliss or buddha-nature for giftedness or “gift without a giver” and you find the same argument transposed to a Buddhist onto-theological register. There is a mountain of texts about a purely negative or subtractive conceptualisation of the given field of experience (all revolving around Nargarjuna’s radical negations) and the more positive understanding of the given as a union of compassion and emptiness, a sort of Buddhist sacred. The idea of attention and openness also seem to me to reference a Budhist/Dzogchen sacred, although this may be a purely personal reaction to those terms.

    The Heidegger reference, though, makes me think I might have missed something in not finishing the book. I have been following a tread of thought (probably on a superficial reading I’m afraid) via Laruelle, Henry, Hiedegger, and Husserl, turning on the notion of experience as a process of manifestation/prehension/conscious retention, conceived as the temporalisation of a non-presence or not-yet-come that be-comes the present moment, a complex thought I probably have not fully grasped. Henry had objections to it on the grounds that it fractured what he insisted was the unmediated and immediate experience of self-presence or radical immanence. For Henry, time-consciousness presupposed objectification and fracture. Laruelle proposes three possibilities: firstly, a designation of the whole (so-called) onto/epistemological field as given-without-givenness; secondly, a transcendental structure bridging the gap between manifestation, conscious retention, and abstract thinking; thirdly, a differentiation between this transcendental thought/material and the transcendent doubling effected by philosophy.

    So I think Laruelle’s given-without-givenness is the most fecund for thinking and the most generic, even if the suspiciously positive aspect has more than a whiff of the sacred.

    Your “rule of thumb” formulation – pluralist, diachronic, apophatic, and democratic – is the best approach for assessing the worth of the “transcendental thought/material”. Your rule reduces philosophical postulation to the status of “ordinary thinking” or “transcendental material” by a process of democratisation, a reverse manoeuvrer forced on thought by philosophical appropriation. In actuality, “ordinary thought” is always embedded in a concrete instance and there is a plurality of such instances evolving over time. For me non-philosophy is any thought that tries to reformulate philosophical postulation as generic or minimally transcendent thought.
    I think of Laruelle’s given-without-givenness as an axiom establishing human inalienability as a presupposition for thinking and political practice. It’s “face” is set in the direction of the transcendental material and not “backward” at a non-conceptual, foreclosed ground. In other words it’s minimally transcendent. There is no argument, philosophical or otherwise, that can “justify” it without being circular. I think we should just refuse to step into that circle. Thinking, philosophy, ethics and politics, on the other hand, are always situated, contested, in need of justification, prone to error and distorted by unconscious ideological bias. Which is why they work better with the help of generic and agreed axioms.

    Laruelle, Delueze, Zizek Badiou etc have far more fecund and generic concepts. Still, what these posts prove is that useful concepts can be extracted from all sorts of places. Lastly, there is a path of individuation in all writing we must respect.

    Sorry, I have written a post-length comment. I seem to have found myself “blogless” again, which might account for my long-windedness.

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    • terenceblake dit :

      The book ALL THINGS SHINING is of very uneven quality, even from paragraph to paragraph. I always needed to fill it out with concepts and arguments taken from other pluralists. Given that you have read chapter 3 on Homer’s polytheism, I think it would be useful to skip over two chapters, and to read chapter 6 on Melville’s polytheism.


    • terenceblake dit :

      Feel free to make lengthy comments, and to open the space of discussion to ever further reaches. Your comment on respecting the paths of individuation, both our own and Sean Kelly’s, touches on an important point. Sometimes I think that we should give Sean Kelly a break, that the poor guy has published a few reflections in view of a future book, and already we are bearing down on his ideas, pulverising the presuppositions. One should be careful not to stifle the creative energy of the other, and of the need to practice patience and tolerance. On the other hand, this question of « gratitude » came up for critical analysis already on his blog, eight years ago. From this perspective, one is entitled to a little impatience, and to wonder if discussion leads anywhere. (A similar case where impatience seems the correct attitude is that of Laruelle’s continuing scientism). It may be the case that Kelly’s fairly generic, but still Christian-laden, religiosity could be a useful corrective to Badiou’s persistent refusal of religion as a fifth truth condition. Bruno Latour’s notion of « love » as defining the religious mode of veridiction is already a step in the generic direction, but « gratitude » could be seen as keeping the affirmative attitude without saturating it with Christian-laden affectivity. Kelly’s linking of gratitude to « standing openness » may be an attempt to draw it in the more generic direction, we must wait and see.

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