Tuesday, January 14, 2014

How I Interpret Phenomenologically

Phenomenological interpretation of the sort that I practice is an attempt to submerge in the lived position of what I interpret.  The interest grounding the phenomenological interpretation is not in coming to agree or disagree with what is interpreted, but in rendering the position itself inhabitable by the reader in the way it was inhabited by the author.  Each attainment of this inhabited space is tentative, and we can introduce more material from the author to continue to adjust it - even to track differences over time.  With this inhabited standpoint, we may switch to a critical interpretation which will positively assess its limits, perhaps through imaginative variations that shatter the view (make it impossible to maintain).
Phenomenological interpretation clearly assumes somethings external to it, namely, that the position is able to be inhabited by the interpreter, and that if this position is uninhabitable that it must be rejected as even a possible standpoint.  This could be due to the author's poor description rendering the entry into the position impossible or, at an unfortunate extreme, the recognition of a form of experience that is otherwise than human (or rational).
Of course, there will be a circularity in using this interpretation technique to establish what 'humans' are determinatively, but it can serve regulatively in relating ourselves to those who it is possible for us to relate to.  But this circularity itself plays a role in the process of addressing the command 'know thyself' because it more and more clarifies what is involved in the universal human experience (in the limits of the interpretive process) and what is learned.  This being said, phenomenological interpretation has its sweet spot in texts that express elements of universal human condition (all texts due, to some degree).  This could be a text in any style, be it a poem, a work of philosophy or fiction.  Some genres are easier for reconstructing the lived experience, and some are harder.  Some may be open to multiple standpoints that are blurred together (either antinomic or complementary), and which may need to be separated.
As I practice phenomenological interpretation more I find greater confidence in an ability to inhabit the standpoint of an author and then emerge into the text of any number of other authors who had also led me to inhabit the same standpoint.  This enhances my interpretation of these other philosophers as well, since I find new routes to inhabiting their own standpoint.  Additionally, when moving between authors in dispute, I can find where terms are functioning differently for each within the same conversation by comparing where I can submerge myself in one author and emerge in the other.  Also, reading a tradition that has inherited its terms with an understanding of how to submerge myself in both reveals how one generation takes up another, and inherits what was thought in it, without exactly preserving the standpoint.
Biographically speaking, my reading technique is originally motivated by a rejection of contention and dispute as adequate ways of advancing understanding.  Ideally, when a dispute emerges, I think it is crucial that the conversation be allowed to completely settle the dispute before giving any arguments for what is to be done or understood.
We need to be able to communicate with each other better than we do, and even when people seem very difficult to understand, and it seems like a burden to understand them, we should be practiced, patient and gracious enough in our understanding - liberal enough with our understanding - to try to resolve our disputes at their foundation.  This requires each to work on understanding themselves as a means of discovering this foundation.
As a way of closing this out, I want to consider the significance of the name 'phenomenological interpretation.'  A year ago I was happy to call this sort of interpretation 'philosophical', and now I have decided to refer to it as 'phenomenological'.  There is a sense in which I have not settled on an understanding of 'philosophy' and 'phenomenology,' and that putting them in connection with the task of a technique or program for reading does violence to them.
For 'philosophical' interpretation, I was trying to emphasize the friendship aspect of the manner in which I interpret, which at the same time seems to require that one does their own work; that one gives themselves entirely to the interpretation.  'Phenomenological' interpretation here places emphasis on the way in which taking on a different position can alter the way that things appear - not always by adding new hypotheses, but exactly by removing them and clarifying the view in order to get to a description of more and more 'pure' phenomenon. (The use of the term 'pure' here, which must - form me - involve the removal of 'empirical' content, must seem strange.  It does to me as well, but there is a sense that all empirical content brings with it a specificity that is specifying and has the character of a hypothesis, and so paradoxically, in an analysis of experience to get to its structure, there is something of a struggle exactly against the material that is provided.  This seems to be why the form of experience is described in 'formal' language.  Understanding 'formal' language is itself an interesting task.)

Monday, January 13, 2014

Analysis of Descartes on Existence and Continuity

Descartes' analysis in the third meditation which equated the power for creating and preserving existence the same is important for how he sees God in relation to him as a cause.  I think that this moment in Descartes at the same time shows the distinction between two different kinds of causes, and then conceals them once again.  These causes begin to be unraveled again (in the canon passed down) by Leibniz, and the distinction is made again in Kant.
As a result of the second meditation, Descartes has placed the reader, and himself, before his own simple cognitions.  When you remove all inferences, and attempts to judge, Descartes still finds we have the raw activity of cognition - the seeming appearings, the loving and hating, the fact of judging (even if the truth is doubtable).  These shimmerings constitute our existence and this is what is referred to by the famous cogito sum.
The third meditation works on this more or less pure state recovered in the second meditation and attempts to analyze it to discover what else can be found in it.  When Descartes considers the cause of existence to be the same as the cause of the preservation of existence, we can get a clear picture of what he means by looking at our experience, which contains as a matter of fact a continuity as part of what is in every cognition.  How does Descartes take this experience, which contains a temporal depth (in its internal reference to the having been of the previous moment) and decide that it is the same thing to have this continuity as to have the simple existence?  Before I try to speak to this let me make some remarks about its apparent affect on history after him.
In Descartes' inheritors the results of the collapsed distinction between existence and preservation (continuity) are fascinating.  In Malebranche we find that at each moment God must act to set everything in its place (occasionalism).  In Spinoza we find something even more interesting which reveals a lot about what must happen when these things are collapsed: it no longer makes sense to say that the ego is a substance underlying the sequence, but that we must immediately have the absolute substance (God) be the unity of the continuity of events.  In both Malebranche and Spinoza we have God operating at every 'moment': everything is a miracle.
Lurking in the continuity of the cognitions is the 'great principle' put forward by Leibniz: the Principle of Sufficient Reason.  Through this principle, Leibniz will differentiate between the series of events (which is infinite) and the cause of the entire series itself (for Descartes, these were preservation and existence).  Leibniz found it intolerable that God would be performing a miracle at every moment, as apparently had to be the case under Descartes' analysis.  Additionally, the production of the 'I' (ego) in Leibniz is understood on the basis of the continuity of cognitions: in the Monadology, Leibniz discusses how apperception, as that which unified perceptions, is what produces the 'I' through a reflective process.  With differentiating between the continuity and the existence of moments of the series, Leibniz has introduced the substance of the subject again (which allows him to have more substances than just God, as in Spinoza).
Kant, perhaps without knowing it, takes Descartes' result in the second meditation more seriously, and along with the insights off Leibniz, continues more or less where Descartes has left off with an analysis of what is contained in the continuity of the experience.  What Descartes collapsed into the same cause, is for Kant's resolution to the third antinomy, the distinction between natural causes and spontaneous causes.  This distinction, in Kant, is the basis of the division of reason into the theoretical and the practical.  Many other implications in Malebranch and Spinoza, as well as things uncovered again by Leibniz and Kant, could be added to this, but I will save this for another time.
Returning to Descartes, what is it that he was seeing that allowed him to collapse the distinction that he had made between existence and preservation (continuity)?  It seems, to me, that one could see the continuity of the sequence as something that is entirely contained in the moment we are cognizing, and that we have  no reason to refer to the existence of another time before (the moment is entirely self-contained).  In Leibniz we find that the element in the moment which refers back transcends the moment and require just as much existence in the previous state in order to bring about the current one such that one original creation is sufficient for the series to continue.  At this point we have two speculative claims - that only this moment exists and that the whole series must exist.  In both Descartes and Leibniz the cause of existence is thought in terms of something in addition to the cognition of an object as such.
In Kant, the connection of the sequence is a rule of the understanding, and existence is not something we add to the object (as an extra judgment), but as part of the structure of cognition generally.  In Kant we do not find any reason to make the speculative claim that there is something like an 'efficient cause' of existence, or continuity, as seemed demanded by Descartes and Leibniz.
I think it is important to note that the advance that Kant seemed to make in his analysis is all possible in the picture that even Descartes had provided, and it would be interesting to try to carry the clarification through the rest of Descartes analysis (as well as those of other thinkers before and after).  When Descartes and Leibniz turned from their analysis - perhaps too soon - and started deriving knowledge from their conclusions, they turned to a scientific procedure which they hadn't eventuated yet in terms of its possibility.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Phenomenological Interpretation of Reason's Striving for Completeness

When reading Kant, it may occur to the reader to consider how Kant experienced reason's striving for completeness.  A more general treatment of reason's striving will involve discussing the ideas, and how these ideas relate to the three syllogistic figures.  However, what we are looking for is something that any reader of Kant can turn to themselves in order to experience that striving, and find the resources of developing Kant's own insight for themselves; we are looking for what we encounter in experience that Kant clarifies by discourse of the ideas and syllogisms.
The striving of reason concerns, ultimately, the coherence of things where incoherence will mean the impossibility of the attainment of our nature as knowers and agents generally.  Kant discusses how we want a complete system of nature as knowledge, and a resolution to our desire for happiness in relation to our virtue, and both of these are products we seek - but we don't originally feel our need for these it seems.  I will directly answer what the striving of reason looked like for Kant, and then discuss it.
For practical reason, the experience of hope is the product of the striving of reason, while for theoretical reason, it is the experience of learning.  Hope in God fulfills the human struggle for perfection, while learning is the clear advance of the human towards knowledge of a systematic kind.  However, the parts of our experience that directly show the working of the striving of reasons do not necessarily contribute to the differentiation of that activity from the striving of reason, and some other experience will be needful in the discovery of reason's operation.  We will need to consider despair for practical reason, and indeterminacy for theoretical reason.  These are practically (if not) the opposite of hope and learning, and these consist in a break down in reason's striving - something we have encountered that throws 'completeness' into question.
When we are in despair, we may express it as a loss of meaning or value of life; in relation to hope, in Kant, it will relate to a doubt in the existence of God.  If we can never be fulfilled, then we somehow no longer make sense to ourselves, and life seems a burden.  This anguish is the striving of reason, and the grounds for confirming once more a belief (not knowledge) in what brings possibility to our highest fulfillment.  This sort of despair seems to break out at one time or another in life.
For theoretical reason, it seems that some subtlety is required to discover the like of the Anitinomies, but more simply, and as a first step, we can refer to the experience of being wrong.  In Plato's Meno, Socrates shows that the slave boy already knows geometry, but this is not the point entirely.  Once the boy errs, Socrates points out that now that the boy has discovered his error he will want to know the truth (and that he will be better off for having learned his ignorance).  This shows the striving of reason through our impulse to heal what has ceased to make sense to us.  The discourse Diotima gives Socrates on love as lacking and striving seems also to relate to this.  In Kant, we are not confronted with errors of an accidental kind, but of errors that are lurking in the structure of experience itself.
When there is a debate over there being a smallest particle or not (a priori) we seem to find equally strong reasons to support each side.  This could lead to a general dispair of reason.  We cannot imagine an appearance of something with any size without dimension, and so always divisible in thought, and this both affirms the divisibility of the appearance and the necessity of the spaciality of appearances at once.  The indeterminacy we are lead to here has led to drawn out debates, and even pretended solutions (through calculus, for example, which already changes the nature of the object; or by using the current standard of empirical science, which certainly wouldn't be to settle the matter a priori).  The tail spit that we discover in these aporias is significant in how it shows our natural interest in coherence, and so the striving of reason directly given in our anxiety.
From these moments in experience we can see how Kant would see how even though we are in a situation not to know, it is a perennial concern to try to find out anyway.  The natural disposition to Metaphysics seems to be the result of the striving of reason for completeness along with our own falling into despair, error and aporia, and the anxiety we encounter here exerts all our resources to their limit and still leaves the problems unresolved: despair can always break out again, we will find people who have resolved their theoretical speculations in an different way than us.