Filippo Bertoni and Uli Beisel have written an interesting and intriguing essay on the ethical challenges posed by extending person-status to cetaceans: “More-than-human intelligence: of dolphins, Indian law and the multispecies turn” over at Society and Space. I only wish the terms in which their discussion is framed had been clearer. For example, they provide no working conception of personhood – though there are many philosophical candidates – and their passing allusion to sharing “somatic sensibilities” is similarly vague. This is a pity because the philosophical and ethical problem they raise is genuine. Should we regard human-style personhood as the tip of an cosmic moral hierarchy from which the only way is down? If not, then how do we negotiate relationships between beings with lives that are phenomenologically different but perhaps not less valuable than humans?
[A slightly edited extract from my paper "Nature's Dark Domain: an Argument for a Naturalised Phenomenology". Royal Institute Of Philosophy Supplement [serial online]. July 2013;72:169-188 with audio!]
Most listeners will readily distinguish an eight second sequence from Xenakis’ pioneering ‘granular’ composition Concret Ph.
and a loop that repeats the first one-second slice of it for eight seconds.
This is discernible because of the obvious repetition in pitch and dynamics.
Telling the looped sequence from the non-looped sequence is not the same as acquiring subjective identity conditions that would allow us to recognise the extra structure distinguishing the non-looped from the looped sequence in a different context (e.g. within the entirety of Concret Ph). What is discerned here is arguably a fact about the shortfall between type-identifiable phenomenology and non type-identifiable phenomenology (“unintuitable” or “dark” phenomenology).
As an illustration of this, the mere awareness that there is missing structure in the loop does not help settle the issue between virtualist and occurentist construals of that structure. It is plausible to suppose that the perceptual awareness of the missing structure in the Xenakis loop consists of virtual contents – a representation of tendencies in the developing sound rather than something like a constantly updated encoding of discrete sonic facts . Indeed the virtual model would be consistent with the widely held assumption that our representation of temporal structure is accomplished via recurrent neural architecture that modulates each current input by feeding back earlier input. But whether the contents of representations of temporal structure are virtual or occurrent in nature has no direct bearing on their conceptual or intuitive accessibility.
Tim Van Gelder, ‘Wooden Iron? Husserlian Phenomenology Meets Cognitive Science’, Electronic Journal of Analytic Philosophy, 4, 1996.
Étienne Balibar presents an illuminating synopsis of debates between French humanists and anti-humanists culminating in Foucault’s diagnosis in The Order of Things (Les mots et les choses) here.
Balibar sees Foucault’s book as a synthesis of two initially disparate critiques of philosophies founded on a conception of Man as the subject and object of philosophical reflection: Heidegger’s analysis of human finitude (stemming from his anthropological reading of Kant) and the formalist account of agency and indetermination in the structuralist anthropology of Levi-Strauss.
Link to an eText of Kant’s logic here.
For Balibar the central chapter is l’homme et ses doubles (‘Man and his doubles’) where Foucault criticizes the sublimation of data in the social sciences like psychology and history into attributes incarnated in each singular human individual. Balibar suggests that this position is formally akin to Marx’s criticism of anthropological essentialism – as in the sixth thesis on Feuerbach – with the difference that Foucault is interested in the projection of an abstract conception of a reflective ‘I think’ onto ‘quasi-transcendental’ conceptions of man as a living, labouring and speaking being. Finally, Balibar argues that Foucault’s text implies that Marx’s identification of the human with ’the open system or ensemble of all social relations’ can be critically re-engaged through confrontations with madness (psychoanalysis) and the non-European ’other’ (ethnography). Thus the death of man (qua abstract universal) does not imply the impossibility of a ‘critical anthropology of relations’.
Patrice Maniglier’s response makes some connections between the 60′s anti-humanism debates and Anglo-American interest in a teleological forms of ethics predicated on conceptions of humanly distinctive capacities (e.g. Nussbaum, Sandel, Kymlicka,etc). However, in view of claims made in my post on the ‘Category’ of the human, the most interesting claim is that Foucault’s project in OT derives from Ernst Cassirer’s assertion that transcendental philosophy is ‘conditioned by . . . transformations within empirical sciences’.
Maniglier claims that Foucault was attempting to neutralize the distinction between a naturalistic critique of transcendental thinking and a speculative history of being on the Heideggerian model by a) objectifying the structures (the epistemes) that putatively constitute our anthropological self-understanding and b) exhibiting the incompleteness of this frame. Thus anthropology is re-conceived as a method of soliciting the limits of humanist discourse.
Now, I find it hard to buy into the metaphysical project that Maniglier sketches here: in particular, it seems predicated on the doubtful claim that the difference between the human and the non-human falls out of a historical synthetic a priori which can then be subjected to some kind of deconstructive operation. There’s a covert anti-realism here that has tended to be passed over in most discussions. Moreover, there’s the ethical and political danger that those points of ‘otherness’ which solicit the limits of the human become mere figures of transcendence. Still the logic of the debate is of more than museological interest, if only because a similar line of argument actuates debates around the nonhuman and the posthuman in contemporary theory.
Luke Robert Mason with fascinating presentation on the past, present and future of human perceptual augmentation.
Here’s a great talk by philosopher of cognitive science Mike Wheeler entitled Science Friction: Phenomenology, Naturalism and Cognitive Science.
Wheeler’s basic claim (if I understand him) is that we can reconcile Heidegger’s historicized transcendental with naturalism by employing a McDowellian distinction between constitutive and enabling explanations. Phenomenology and philosophy give us constitutive explanations that describe the structural conditions of possibility of phenomena. Science can provide enabling accounts of the mechanisms required to generate these phenomena.
However, yoking these together within a naturalistic cognitive science requires a twist in the notion of the transcendental. Wheeler argues that even if science has transcendental preconditions these are not and need not be explicitly referred to in the regional ontologies of theories in the special sciences. This anti-foundationalist position receives its imprimatur in Division 1 of Being and Time where Heidegger discusses the relationship between fundamental ontology and the social sciences:
Since the positive science neither ‘can’ nor should wait for the ontological labours of philosophy to be done, the further course of research will not take the form of an ‘advance’ but will be accomplished by recapitulating what has already been ontically discovered, and by purifying it in a way that is ontologically more transparent (Heidegger 1962, p. 76)
The standard assumption made by all anti-naturalists is that because science presupposes transcendental X (substitute your preferred transcendental invariant here), X must be science-proof because any naturalistic explanation of X will have to presuppose X. Thus X will always precede any scientific theory in the order of justification.
However, the disconnect between the local ontologies of special sciences and their transcendental conditions means scientific progress does not require correlative progress in fundamental ontology or other transcendental enterprises. So enabling explanations of putative transcendental X’s don’t presuppose X’s in the way that the anti-naturalist argument requires
By the same token, although science does not directly provide constitutive explanation of transcendental foundations it can provide ground for revising philosophical theories about them. Both phenomenology and transcendental philosophy answer to naturalistic epistemological constraints. Thus, claims Wheeler, we can have our transcendental cake and naturalize it.
Heidegger, Martin (1962), Being and Time, John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson (trans.), New York and Evanston: Harper and Row.