When I was seriously exploring music, I started from the artists I enjoyed and searched their roots and influences and cascaded back. In the 1970s, this was to look at the roots of Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, and Keith Richards. I’d be brought back to James Burton or Elmore James; I’d find Robert Johnson, BB King, Muddy Waters and Hubert Sumlin (Howlin’ Wolf); and I’d find John Lee Hooker, and Chuck Berry. And then, I’d dg further to find Son House, T-Bone Walker, and Big Bill Broonzy. Although I grew to appreciate these originals, I still preferred the reinvigorated versions of my youth.
In philosophy, I seem to have taken a somewhat similar path. In particular, it’s a journey back to Husserl. I was exposed to essence and being most probably through Sartre. this brought me to Heidegger that brought me to Husserl. To be fair there was a large gap between Sartre and Heidegger and a fairly long gap from then until Husserl. I’ve come upon Husserl’s name time and again but I deprioritised him, He seemed always to be the AND of Heidegger, sort of like how Garfunkel was the AND of Simon.
But I thought that Heidegger was the root—the source, as Son House might have been to the Blues. Given the connection of Husserl and Heidegger, I’m not sure that Dasein‘s genesis is clear cut. Moreover, I believe it’s a pedestrian German world, that fancy pants academes wish to evermore preserve in amber as a stand-in to being there, though Heidegger insisted that the meaning was more nuanced and in some way I could consider that it prefigured Derrida’s privileged pairs highlighted in his Deconstruction.
I’ve commenced reading Husserl’s’ Ideas, and my takeaway at this point is his eidetic facts.
For years—decades even—I identified as an Existentialist, and I still have an affinity for some of the works of Sartre, Beauvoir, and Camus. I had read some Richard Wright. I never read Kierkegaard directly, and I may never. And of course, there’s proto-Existentialist Nietzsche. I’ve encountered to various degrees Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and Jaspers but not deeply.
The draw for me is that we create our own existences, but I came to feel this was at odds with Structuralism. Per my previous post, I don’t have much faith in the Agency seemingly required by Existentialism.
In Statistical analysis of variance (ANOVA), there is a notion known as degrees of freedom. This is how I view Agency. Per my Testudineous Agency post, after we account for genetics and environment, how much agency effectively remains? This is the degree of freedom. Under hard determinism, degrees of freedom are zero.
What else can we strip away after genetics, epigenetics, indoctrination, environment, and other mimetic and learned behaviours? And what remains after we do?
I find the notion of authenticity interesting. I believe that Heidegger was the first philosopher to promote the issue. As I have a contention with matters of identity in general, the notion of authenticity has no foundation in my eyes. As I don’t believe that the notion of identity is valid, it follows that I don’t ascribe to notions of authenticity either—the question is: authentic to what?
Essentially authenticity can be described as ‘being true to one’s own essence or true self’—whatever that might be. Heidegger presents authenticity as a response to our place in the world. An inauthentic person conforms to society and in the loses their own identity in the process to become assimilated into the society.
Carl Jung had a related concept, individuation. This is where a person strips off all of the ego and superego to get to the core of their being, to unpeel the onion, but to find a centre—and to become that true unadulterated self. This is not what Heidegger means by authentic.
To Heidegger, an authentic person remains true to themself within the constraints of society. As with Camus’ acceptance of the Absurd, Heidegger’ authenticity accepts the ‘real world’ as is it whilst retaining with awareness one’s self, even if this is more limiting than Jung’s individuation or Sartre’s freedom with no excuses.
Sartre’s vein of Existentialism contained within it the notion of authenticity. This is in common with other Continental philosophies. According to Sartre, when people hyper-constrain their identities to preclude their larger humanity, they are operating in bad faith, mauvaise foi (eidétique de la mauvaise foi). A while back, a story from an incident in 2013 was circulating on social media, where a Spanish runner, Ivan Fernandez Anaya, assisted another runner, Kenyan athlete, Abel Mutai, who errantly believed that he had already passed the finish line, so he stopped with another 10 metres to go.
The reaction was split—some praising Anaya for his humanity and other chastising him for not following the rules of the competition. These critics are guilty of mauvaise foi, of prioritising the minuscule for the larger picture. In fact, all sports do this. One might argue that all competition does this, but this is a matter of perspective. I think that Sartre’s scope was a bit narrower than this, but I believe it’s not off-point.
Evidently, I am just typing stream of consciousness, and the stream has come to an end.
I was engaged in a conversation in a Facebook Philosophy group for Pragmatists. I feel that these groups take me as adversarial because I question their system of belief. To the extent that I accept any categorical distinction, I consider myself to be a Postmodernist first and foremost and a Pragmatist second. In a similar fashion, I am at once an atheist first, but I operate as a Buddhist. I am a nihilist first, but I operate as an Existentialist. In any case, in explaining this, I hit upon an analogy that I hadn’t considered before.
everything just ‘is’
Pragmatism is Samsara. In Buddhism, there is the concept of Samsara, which contains the realms we reside in before we reach Enlightenment, the state of realising that everything just ‘is’, is , and is undifferentiated, at which case we either exit the system or remain as aware (woke anyone?) Bodhisattvas.
everything is a constructed illusion
The ‘just is’ is the postmodern condition. Nothing is as it seems and everything is a constructed illusion. There is no good, no bad, no right or wrong—not even black or white. This is all perception of difference, but there is no difference.
I am a Buddhist in the same way I am a Pragmatist. I know that this is all a cognitive construct—or constructs—, but I am still stuck in the middle of it, ‘thrown in’ (Geworfenheit) to echo Heidegger, and I attempt to make the best of it. None of it is real, but, as with people of the Matrix, I can’t perceive my way out of it.
The risk for Pragmatists is that they are empiricists. They trust that the past will ostensibly operate the same as the future. It’s been generally that way thus far, and we’ve misinterpreted how things operate in the past, but we’ve corrected this interpretation, and we’ll correct and refine these interpretations in future. That’s the employed logic. I’ve not got a better plan, so as shoddy or rickety as it might be, it’s my life raft replete with holes, but I’ll patch them as swiftly as I can and hope my history of having not encountered any sharks or tidal disruptions or undertows persists.
none of this exists
All the while, my core beliefs are that none of this exists—not in a solipsistic way, just not as we imagine it does. It’s the wall constructed of atoms and molecules that is more space than not, and yet we can’t pass through it. If only we could all be Neo and overcome this misperception.
OK, so this isn’t at all about Foucault’s rhetoric. My main riff this year is the assertion that there is no Truth, only rhetoric—or should I rather say Rhetoric. I created a Reddit post asking for references to other philosophers (or whomever) who had made a similar claim, to which I was offered Vico and Rorty. Unfortunately, there were only two responders, and their assistance was superficial.
What I did encounter by one of the responders was a criticism similar to that levelled at Foucault, hence the inspired title of this post. This critique at its essence is that having proposed no positive solutions to the issues I point to, I cannot defend my position. In fact, as with Habermas‘ fault with Foucault, evidently, I have disarmed myself.
I find this line of argumentation weak tea at best. To argue that one has no claim to declare something incorrect if they don’t have a correct replacement for it is absurd. For example, I don’t know what 13,297 ÷ 1,492 equals arithmetically; but I can assert with confidence that it does not equal 2. Moreover, to criticise, one doesn’t need the ‘ability to generate positive alternatives’.
“There is no truth but rhetoric.”
So when I say there is no Truth but rhetoric (for non-ontic concepts), I am making a Truth statement. As such, this assertion—by my own admission—is only as strong as the rhetoric I can muster to its defence. Alas, my defences are weak, and so the argument fails. Were I to make a stronger argument—a more convincing argument—, it might be accepted as Truth.
Evidently, my first mistake was to separate ontic and non-ontic, which is to say things existing apart from their given names and those whose existence is entirely fabricated. An ontic thing might be a stone, a tree, a planet, a star, or the sensation of pain. These things exist even without language, a label, or an observer. As Saussure and other structuralists have noted, in semiotics, there is the signified (or referent) and the signifier—the object and the identifier. In the context of language, these are tautological.
Non-ontic things are conceptual, freedom, truth, justice, rights, gods, and so on. I may opt to replace non-ontic with language-contextual or some such to sidestep the taxonomical quagmire. Or perhaps I’ll adopt the dichotomy of concrete versus abstract. These concepts do not exist outside of language. They are wholly constructed in a complex system created by humans—and humans whilst humans have done OK with complicated systems, they have an abysmal track record when it comes to complex systems. By analogue to the physics of solids, there is more space than atoms, and the atoms and their constituent particles are in constant motion—zero-degrees Kelvin, be damned. Our senses perceive something to be there, but as in that scene in The Matrix, ‘there is no spoon‘.
In my mind, leveraging Saussure’s ideas are useful to depict the differences in the concrete versus the abstract.
The famous painting depicted above illustrates explains the difference between a signifier and a referent. In this image, there is only the signifier. Magritte makes clear the distinction with the text, Ceci, n’est pas une pipe: This is not a pipe. It is merely a depiction of one. To be even more arcane, the image is a signifier to another signifier that in turn refers to the referent.
A sign is the device that encapsulates the concept. It may be visual—an icon (an illustration of photograph) or a written word or even Braille—or it can be spoken or signed, as with American Sign Language. These are all signs.
Notice when one considers a sign that a concrete cat (or in French, chat), it is pretty clear to what one is referring. Above the line, we see the signified, the idea conveyed by the sign. This doesn’t mean that everyone sees the silhouette depicted above, but it is a catlike thing, a feline animal, a mammal, normally with four legs and a tail. Perhaps you are thinking of a particular cat. But to someone with a grasp of the language in which you are communicating, when you say cat, there is little room for ambiguity. In fact, if you are trying to teach someone a different language, say, French, you could show them the cat with the chat signifier, and they would grasp your meaning almost instantaneously.
All language is arbitrary and socially constructed, so there is no connection between the words—say, the spelling or shape of a word—and its referent. The words cat and chat do not look like cats.
There are concrete things that cannot be so readily translated into an icon; for example, the wind. However, one could fairly quickly be able to articulate or gesticulate, as the case might be, the notion of wind. The same cannot be said for the abstract concept of justice.
As I’ve mentioned before, justice, especially one of the restorative or retributive varieties, is a euphemism for vengeance. The distinction is supposed to be found in the intent, but intent cannot be known; it can only be inferred. And, speaking of Foucault, justice can only be delivered from a power position.
But the notion of justice relies heavily on social construct; it has geo-spacial dependencies. What is considered to be just in ancient times may not be considered just now. What is considered just in one country might not be considered to be just in another. And this is more than a difference in instantiation. It is due to the arbitrary if not capricious articulation of a nebulous concept.
Returning to Foucault, (Christian apologist) Nancy Pearcey declares his stance paradoxical: “[when someone] states that it is impossible to attain objectivity, is that an objective statement? The theory undercuts its own claims.”
First, Pearcey merely asks a question about objectivity, but it doesn’t matter. The answer is: this may as well be an objective statement, but it’s just another language game. Wittgenstein (and Russell and Heidegger and Rorty…) was on the right path when he pointed out that the ambiguity inherent in language provide cover for all sorts of mischief. I’m only pretty sure that Derrida might yield paydirt as well. Besides, let’s pretend for a moment that there exists some objective truth, there is no reason (language game; except in accepting the broadest definition, reason is a capability elusive to many if not most humans) to expect that this truth is either accessible or verifiable anyway. The best one can do is to pose a more convincing rhetorical argument.
Reason /ˈrēzən/ (noun) the power of the mind to think, understand, and form judgments by a process of logic
A similar critique has been advanced by (another Christian apologist) Diana Taylor, and by Nancy Fraser who argues that “Foucault’s critique encompasses traditional moral systems, he denies himself recourse to concepts such as ‘freedom’ and ‘justice’, and therefore lacks the ability to generate positive alternatives.”
So whilst I’ve just managed to stream-of-consciousness my contention, I am not in a position to resolve anything. For now, I’ll settle for documenting my position as I continue to search for other supporters and formulate a more cogent response, a more robust rhetorical presentment.
If anyone can direct me to resources relevant to my position, let me know in the comments. I’ll appreciate it. If you don’t agree—which would be expected, as this is the accepted orthodoxy—feel free to comment as well.