Adam Robbert and Graham Harman have both posted responses to my post about the anthrodecentrism of object-oriented ontology.

I think Adam’s summary of my position as regards the relationship between divinity, nature, and humanity is quite accurate. He chose Raimon Panikkar‘s term “cosmotheandrism” to describe my approach. I’m definitely sympathetic to this characterization and have worked Panikkar’s ideas into several essays on panentheism.

Harman responded in particular to my assertion that OOO needs to articulate its anthropological and theological foundations to avoid spiraling into nihilism.

He writes:

Since footnotes2plato doesn’t seem inherently opposed to the OOO project, I assume that when he says that “OOO needs to unpack its own theological and anthropological implications,” he doesn’t mean that the way to do this is by restoring human being to its previous grandiose eminence. I don’t think footnotes2plato means that nihilism automatically results from putting all beings on the same footing, and if he did mean that I would argue against it.

I don’t think, after Copernicus, Darwin, and Freud, that philosophy should or can re-instate humanity as God’s uniquely chosen species, singled out from all other life. I also don’t think nihilism necessarily follows from a flat ontology. It all depends on how we construe the relationship between Cosmos and Anthropos. The species Homo sapiens is not identical to the Anthropos; rather, the latter represents the ideal toward which our species, like all other life, is striving. I follow much ancient Hermetic thought in construing the Anthropos as an archetype active throughout the Cosmos, a potential form of manifestation that, at least on our planet, has been most closely approximated by Homo sapiens. I, like Teilhard de Chardin, think there is a direction to evolution, a curve toward greater complexity and consciousness expressed through deeper interiority. Given enough time, and as a result of the influence of divine lures, the Universe tends to evolve the capacity for a deeper feeling of Beauty, a clearer sight of Truth, and a stronger will for Goodness. I think overcoming nihilism requires articulating a coherent “cosmotheandric” scheme, wherein the role of the human is to more fully realize its potential as a representative of the Anthropos on planet Earth.

I need to unpack some of these thoughts further, but I’m running out the door now. More soon!

In order to correct what I fear may have been an unfair caricature of Hegel presented in some of my posts earlier this year (HERE and HERE) after reading Iain Hamilton Grant‘s Philosophies of Nature After Schelling, I’ve sought out perspectives from thinkers more sympathetic to Hegel’s approach.

First on the list was the integral philosopher Sean Kelly, under whom I study at CIIS. Sean wrote his dissertation on Hegel and Jung, and though he thinks Hegel is more systematic than Schelling, he agreed with me that Schelling’s naturphilosophy may benefit from being brought out from beneath Hegel’s shadow to be recognized as a distinct project. Sean also recommended a book edited by George R. Lucas, Hegel and Whitehead: Contemporary Perspectives on Systematic Philosophy (1986). I’ve read several essays in it so far, but the one by J. N. Findlay called “Hegel and Whitehead on Nature” seems most relevant to the issues at stake when thinking the differences between Schelling and Hegel.

Findlay focuses in on the relationship between Logic and Nature in Hegel’s system, showing that, although the Concept or Universality as such ranks supreme, it includes Specificity and Singularity (phylogeny and ontogeny, or the species and the individual) within itself as essential moments of its concrete realization.

“Hegel’s philosophy,” says Findlay,

…starts with a ‘realm of pure categories’ which anticipate the specificities that will afterwards be actualized in the objective world and in the subjective experiences of that world… The Absolute Idea is the Idea of an exhaustively specific Universality which also has indefinitely many actual and contingent instantiations and, being what it is, must accordingly be actively dynamic and not abstract, have all the wealth of concrete instantiation that fulfills it, and represent its notional inwardness completely brought to outwardness and actuality (p. 157).

In other words, as Findlay goes on to say, Hegel’s Logic requires supplementation by both his philosophies of Nature and of Spirit. The relation of Logic, Nature, and Spirit in Hegel is strikingly similar to Whitehead’s depiction of an immanent, bi-polar God: the realm of pure categories is equivalent to God’s primordial envisagment of the eternal objects, the Idea’s self-externalization as Nature is equivalent to the objective satisfactions of finite actual entities, and the process of externality’s return to itself as Spirit is equivalent to God’s consequent apprehension of the Universe’s concrescence.

The otherness of Nature, in Hegel, Schelling, and Whitehead, is necessary for God to come to know itself as Spirit. Nature is God’s mirror image, allowing the “everywhereness and everywheness of [ideal categories]” to find the immediacy of “the hereness and nowness of the instance” (ibid., p. 159). This scheme seems to me to transcend the dichotomy between idealism and realism, since universals are merely virtual without becoming realized in concrete particulars, just as particulars are unintelligible without some relevance to universals. This shade of black that I experience here and now may be particular, but its thisness participates in concrete actuality rather than emerging from it. This black may appear again in a different circumstance as the same black, making it as much the ingression of an idea as the prehension of a instance.

Hegel, like Whitehead and Schelling, overcomes the subjectivism of Kant by positing space and time as constitutive elements of Nature itself, rather than forms of intuition imposed upon it by consciousness.

The one area where Hegel may diverge from Schelling, and especially from Whitehead, is in his preference for a logical, rather than temporal conception of evolution.

“Hegel asserts,” writes Findlay,

that Nature essentially reveals itself in a ladder of forms from the most self-external to the most organically unified, since the ladder is that of the logical dialectic. But he repudiates the notion that this dialectical ladder must be turned into a historical temporal ladder… Hegel holds that all stages of the ladder coexist in time: their order is logical, not temporal. This position was modified when Hegel, compelled by the facts of the geological record, was forced to admit that life at least, in its higher vegetable and animal forms, emerged out of mere chemistry at a definite point in cosmic history. But even then he preferred to think of all species emerging together much as Pallas emerged fully armed from Zeus’ forehead… The earth is presupposed by life as having a long pre-vital history, but Hegel does not believe that many of the fossils found in early geological strata ever really lived, [rather] they are products of an organic-plastic impulse in inorganic matter which anticipated the lightning stroke of life (p. 161).

Despite much cognitive stress on my part, and several conversations with Sean Kelly, I’ve yet to comprehend what exactly Hegel is getting at as regards his denial of temporal evolution, short of offering a form of creationism that contradicts all empirical scientific study. I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt here, but try as I may, it just sounds absurd. No doubt deep time and cosmic evolution are difficult to imagine, but even more so is the creation of a diversity of biological forms ex nihilo.

Jonael Schickler argues in his dissertation that Hegel’s account of the difference between the organic and inorganic realms (between chemistry and life) is underdetermined. Nonetheless, Schickler agrees with Hegel that individual organisms perish as a result of being unable to reconcile their individuality with their universality (a feat achieved concretely in Christ’s resurrection, but only abstractly in the inner life of Spirit). Hegel conceives of Spirit’s initial emergence as a potentiality seeking actualization (he calls Spirit in its potential phase the “natural soul” that relates to Nature through feelings rather than thought) (ibid., p. 163).

I’ll have to post another essay wherein I more fully draw out how Schelling differs from Hegel, but I’m far less certain now that the two had fundamentally opposed projects. Whitehead, due to his empirical bent, seems like the perfect mediator to bring the two into fruitful conversation.

More soon…

Knowledge-Ecology has written a reflection upon finishing Graham Harman’s new book The Quadruple Object.

Adam writes that “OOO is greatly enriching our sense of cosmos, whilst (somewhat) impoverishing our sense of anthropos.”

I’ve had similar reservations about Harman’s anthrodecentrism (if I may diagnose it): Harman and the Special Magic of Human Knowledge.

Harman’s is an ontology that re-orients our human-centricity relative to objects in general, such that objects become full, autonomous participants in the cosmic drama right along side us. Humans are not ‘up ahead’ of objects in general, not the leading edge of evolution; neither are they any closer to Being than every other being. Harman’s is a sorely needed intervention into the philosophies of access currently dominating the Academy, especially in light of the difficulties faced by phenomenology and scientific naturalism alike when it comes to devising an actionable ethical response to an increasingly inevitable natural/ecological catastrophe. But in order to avoid spinning into the nihilism of some speculative realists, where human values are a fluke in an uncaring and fundamentally entropic universe (I’m thinking more of Brassier than Harman here), I think OOO needs to unpack its own theological and anthropological implications. Whitehead’s cosmic realism/object-orientation is brought into harmony with the fact of his own conscious knowing of the universe; but this scheme only holds together if, as Whitehead speculates, God’s primordial aims and consequent feelings are ingredient in our human experience, such that we become fully conscious of God’s envisagement of and suffering in the Universe. Meillasoux may not actually be so far from suggesting something similar to this polar Whiteheadian God.

I think a realism as regards Cosmos requires a realism in regard to Anthropos and Theos as well. Otherwise our conception of the Cosmos becomes impoverished, and our ethics dwell on passion (suffering) instead of compassion (love). Whitehead does bring God fully into relation with the World, and even though he is fully invested in the adventure of rationality precariously supported by our civilization, in the end he seems to deny human Consciousness any special role in the drama of creation. Eventually, our species may simply go extinct, making way for some as yet entirely unimaginable adventure in Creativity upon the Earth. Perhaps machines are awaiting the nuclear disaster that makes most organic life on this planet impossible, just as mammals once hid in the shadows of the dinosaurs to await their chance to rule the world.

Teilhard plays up the importance and inevitability of Consciousness a bit more, but only because it is the necessary condition for Christogenesis. Why is the Human really so important for Teilhard? Because like Matter for Life, and like Life for Thought, the Human provides the womb within which the Cosmos is able to turn in on itself again, gaining a deeper dimension of interiority (more vision, more feeling). Human consciousness (which in actuality is a collective phenomenon–in its full deployment is the Noosphere, the Planetary Mind) is the birthplace of Christ.

There is one point in particular where I think Harman implicitly recognizes the unique capacity of the Human. Are we not the only object who is capable of conceiving of “real,” as opposed “sensual” objects? Are we not the only things in the world who know the world withdraws from us and from itself, that things are always more than they at first appear to us to be? Are we not, in short, the only sort of object that can have an object-oriented metaphysics? Fire always thinks it is burning the paper, but it is only burning what was already fiery in the paper. It seems like a good place to start recognizing the “special magic” of the Human is our capacity for wonder and awe in the face of the sublime, our ecstatic participation in the infinite, our comprehension of the fire’s finite prehension of the paper.