Unreal Nature

August 26, 2012

Our Trust

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 8:09 am

…  Everything that exists, in the sense that we can undertake to describe it, or even to explain it, has first, and prior to any explanation, succeeded in existing. Our trust exhibits the success to which we owe our existence as thinking beings, a success that nothing guarantees. It has the character of a wager, but a wager with nothing behind it, on the basis of which it could be dissected. The organism expresses the task of thought: not to judge, but to learn to appreciate.

This is from Thinking with Whitehead: A Free and Wild Creation of Concepts by Isabelle Stengers (2011). In the italicized quotes below, [PR] means that it’s taken from Whitehead’s Process and Reality:

… Creativity … has the neutrality of metaphysics, and obliges the philosophy that defines it as “ultimate” to take the risk that is proper to empiricism: to affirm all that exists, all that happens, all that is created qua irreducible to a reason higher than the decision to exist, to happen in this and in no other way, to affirm and exhibit such-and-such a value and no other. And if everything we have to deal with at each instant, including ourselves, must be said to be first and foremost an “accident” of creativity, all that is to be thought, including the hypothesis that we have to do with a cosmos, must first be greeted with equanimity as a new and interesting exemplification of creativity.

… * …

… As an ultimate, creativity obliges the thinker to affirm that all the verbs used, “to characterize,” “to have to deal with,” “to describe,” themselves presuppose creativity. As soon as a situation matters enough for us to be tempted to see in it an “example of creativity,” the generic terms “one” and “many”* will have been specified, and thought will be conditioned by specialized categories, those that matter for this situation. Once again, this specification is not a screen, and does not separate us from an inaccessible truth. It is neither a source of nostalgia nor an object of denunciation, nor, above all, the instrument of a critique of the fallacious character of all explanation. If creativity intervened as a critical instrument, it would be characterized, enabling such-and-such a position to be defined against such-and-such another, whereas both are just as much its accidents. As a constraint, the neutrality of creativity thus has as its first effect to turn us away from the temptation always constituted for thinkers by a position that affirms itself to be “neutral,” defining them as “not participating” in a debate, which they will then be able to adjudication. In Whitehead’s speculative philosophy, there is no position of adjudicator, or else every “creature of creativity” is the carrying out of an adjudication, and adjudicators themselves are the one as unifying the many.*

Correlatively, creativity obliges us to think of conditions. There is not, nor can there be, any tension between creativity and conditioning, nor even between novelty and explanation, for novelty is inseparable from the way something is explained by something, the way of being is conditioned by what Whitehead often calls its “social environment.” Nothing is more alien to Whitehead than the strategy of Descartes’ “radical doubt,” which undertakes to make a clean sweep of any inference that could be recognized as fictive or mendacious but forgets all that is presupposed by this very approach, including the fact that his decision and his research presuppose, at the very least, words to formulate the legitimate reasons to reject, one after the other, everything that is no longer to be believed.

… Nothing holds together independently of a decision, which is played over again each time with regard to the “how,” with regard to the way it will hold together.

The ontological principle will place the rational pole of Whitehead’s system under a constraint that forbids it any facility, any shortcut to the transcendence of what might claim to be indubitable, to go without saying, holding together by itself, without risk, without adventure. The principle will demand reasons, while forbidding that the slightest authority be conferred upon reasons. If you’re looking for a reason, you are looking for an actual element that conditions creativity, but don’t forget that the very way this element conditions creativity affirms this creativity just as much, for it is the decision through which what has produced itself as “one”* has produced its reasons that has determined the actual role played by this conditioning.

… Trust is inseparable from thought as such: it does not refer to an opinion, whether historical or subjective. Nor will it ever be reducible to some functioning of the brain. The brain will never explain trust, for every explanation, by the brain or by something else, first of all manifests in principle the trust of those who have undertaken to explain. Trust can be killed by disqualifying words, by dominant opinions, by the accidents of life, but trust itself is not accidental. Trust is on the side of the “right,” of what is presupposed by every explanation.

The organism is a way of expressing this trust, because it conjugates existence and success. Nothing is “no matter what,” secondary, epiphenomenal, superstructure, anecdotal, with regard to something more general. Everything that exists, in the sense that we can undertake to describe it, or even to explain it, has first, and prior to any explanation, succeeded in existing. Our trust exhibits the success to which we owe our existence as thinking beings, a success that nothing guarantees. It has the character of a wager, but a wager with nothing behind it, on the basis of which it could be dissected. The organism expresses the task of thought: not to judge, but to learn to appreciate.

[ … ]

… My readers have been warned. If they are fascinated by the heroic grandeur of refusal, and despise compromises; if they deplore the fact that the radical demands of every new position are recuperated by what was supposed to be subverted; if “to deconstruct” is a goal in itself for them, and scandalizing self-righteous people is a testimony to truth; if they oppose the pure to the impure, the authentic to the artificial; if they cannot understand how the most “unplatonic” of philosophers situated himself as a “footnote” to the text of Plato … let them close this book. Never will they see celebrated in it the power of truth that is verified by the destruction of false pretenders. They will therefore find in it only disappointments and reasons for contempt.

I’ve taken the following Whitehead quote (asterisked* in the above) out of where it appears in the sequence of extracts above and given it, below, because I feared it might make you go all cross-eyed trying to sort out what he’s saying (which is quite lovely) — and to perhaps suddenly remember that you meant to clip your toenails this morning and you’d best be off to do it right now …

… *”Creativity,” “many,” “one” are the ultimate notions involved in the meaning of the synonymous terms. These three notions complete the Category of the Ultimate and are presupposed in all the more special categories.

The term “one” does not stand for “the integral number one,” which is a complex special notion. It stands for the general idea underlying alike the indefinite article “a or an,” and the definite article “the,” and the demonstratives “this or that,” and the relatives “which or what or how.” It stands for the singularity of an entity. The term “many” presupposes the term “one,” and the term “one” presupposed the term “many.” The term “many” conveys the notion of disjunctive diversity”; this notion is an essential element in the concept of “being.” There are many “beings” in disjunctive diversity [ … ]

“Creativity” is the principle of novelty. An actual occasion is a novel entity diverse from any entity in the “many” which it unifies [ … ]

“Together” is a generic term covering the various special ways in which various sorts of entity are “together” in any one actual occasion. Thus “together” presupposes the notions “creativity,” “many,” “one,” “identity,” and “diversity.” The ultimate metaphysical principle is the advance from disjunction to conjunction, creating a novel entity other than the entities given in disjunction. The novel entity is at once the togetherness of the “many” which it finds, and also it is the one among the disjunctive “many” which it leaves; it is a novel entity, disjunctively among the many entities which it synthesizes. The many become one, and are increased by one [ … ]

Thus the “production of novel togetherness” is the ultimate notion embodied in the term “concrescence.” These ultimate notions of “production of novelty” and of “concrete togetherness” are inexplicable either in terms of higher universals or in terms of the components participating in the concrescence. The analysis of the components abstracts from the concrescence. The sole appeal is to intuition. [PR]

My most recent previous post from Stengers’s book is here.

-Julie

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