Verification Processes, Radical Empiricism and Truth


In the very beginning of William James’s The Meaning of Truth (1909), he cites a long passage from Pragmatism (1907):

True ideas are those that we can assimilate, validate, corroborate and verify. False ideas are those that we cannot. That is the practical difference it makes to us to have true ideas; that, therefore, is the meaning of truth, for it is all that truth is known-as.

This thesis is what I have to defend. The truth of an idea is not a stagnant property inherent in it. Truth happens to an idea. It becomes true, is made true by events. Its verity is in fact an event, a process: the process namely of verifying itself, its veri-fication. Its validity is the process of valid-ation.

But what do the words verification and validation themselves pragmatically mean? They again signify certain practical consequences of the verified and validated idea. It is hard to find any one phrase that characterizes these consequences better than the ordinary agreement-formula—just such consequences being what we have in mind whenever we say that our ideas agree with reality. They lead us, namely, through the acts and other ideas which they instigate, into or up to, or towards, other parts of experience with which we feel all the while—such feeling being among our potentialities—that the original ideas remain in agreement. The connexions and transitions come to us from point to point as being progressive, harmonious, satisfactory. This function of agreeable leading is what we mean by an idea’s verification.[1]

In the above passage, truth is an event. An ontology of the event is something akin we find in Alfred North Whitehead or Martin Heidegger’s disclosure of the event. These are process philosophies in which if we understood how the parts are arranged in their very becoming, we could greatly more understand what James also means by truth happening, becoming, and being made by events. To read James, then, as a process philosopher is the best way to achieve clarity about truth, and the resources of The Meaning of Truth are helpful in this regard; it especially helps that James called The Meaning of Truth “a sequel,” and the long quotation is where he picks up in his own work. We see this even above in that he hyphenates veri-fication and valid-ation.

James’s emphasis is on the very process of experience. “[A]ll experience is a process, no point of view can ever be the last one.”[2] This is exactly the same with Heidegger’s being-in-the-world (Sein-in-der-welt). James, like Heidegger, adopts a poetic playability of language to articulate this process-oriented view of experience and the metaphysics it entails for belief. To borrow a phrase about characterizing process metaphysics in relationship to the development of metaphysics, Whitehead says, “There is not even language to frame [the axioms to start metaphysical inquiry].”[3] For this reason, new insights, new concepts, and a new way of framing older frameworks must replace older ones.

James is not very clear despite even generously considering that his language is different than how interpreters tend to read him through their own analytic proclivities. To say that James’s language about experience is process-oriented and phenomenological still does not add much when seeking out what his conception of truth is. Later on, James defines truth. “Truth is for us is a simply a collective name for verification processes…Truth is made, just as health, wealth, and strength are made, in the course of experience.”[4] This definition leaves us less clear than the passage above. All that we know is that truth is an event within the process of experience. The answer, it seems, lies in whatever structure experience has for James.

We do know that verification not only involves an individual’s experience, but an intersubjective and shared process. This is what James calls in his Pragmatism, “exchange” and “social intercourse,”

All human thinking gets discursified; we exchange ideas; we lend and borrow verifications, get them from one another by means of social intercourse. All truth thus gets verbally built out, stored up, and made available for everyone. Hence, we must talk consistently just as we must think consistently: for both in talk and thought we deal with kinds. Names are arbitrary, but once understood they must be kept to.[5]

In this passage, verification can be borrowed from another’s experience; it must have a social moment. Social acts such as lending, borrowing, and talking to each other allow us to access whatever these verification processes consist in. At the very least, there’s a common shared meaning that is “made available for everyone” in the storehouse of language. Language deals with kinds, the very stuff we can generalize about from particulars, and is directed, like intentionality, to accessing an intersubjective process.

My efforts here are wedged between two factors. First, James is not very clear about what verification processes mean. Second, skeptics about James’s doctrine of truth and more importantly religious belief, think a belief is true if the subject wants it to be true. In this way, James is seen as a subjectivist concerning the truth of religious beliefs, and James dangerously advocates wrong-headed notions of truth. In between these two views, a correction must be made against the prevailing trends. Regarding the first, James is not that clear. In his Pragmatism lectures, he foregoes the language of radical empiricism, the very process-oriented metaphysics of pure experience that could explain what verification means in a richer more qualitative sense. As for the second, when critics regard James as a subjectivist, or thinking of truth as merely subjective, they reinscribe James back with a dualism his very metaphysics of pure experience attempts to overcome.[6]

Such engagements with James ignore his metaphysics of pure experience completely as if the only claims he ever made about truth are contained in Lecture VI of Pragmatism. If they engaged with the James of radical empiricism, then they would see James’s more fleshed out process view articulates the conjoined structure of both acts of consciousness and the objects of consciousness as necessary moments of all experiences. Like Husserl, James will describe truth as satisfying or agreeable from the first-person point of view, but in describing the subject-side of these felt relations, James is not describing a subjective view of truth completely, but merely one side of the overall structure that still has in mind, the enjoined object to conscious acts. Understood in this way, James’s radical empiricism situates experience already in process in which truth is but one part of an overall process.

A process-oriented philosophy can be supported by integrating the friendliness of The Meaning of Truth (1909) and the posthumously contained writings in Essays in Radical Empiricism (1912) to radical empiricism itself despite the lack of it in the Pragmatism’s Preface (1907). This is key to understanding truth in James.


[1] William James, Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1978), 97.

[2] William James, Meaning of Truth Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press,1978), [55] 221.

[3] Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality ed. David Ray Griffin and Donald W. Sherburne (New York: Free Press, 1978), 13.

[4] James, Pragmatism, 104.

[5] James, Pragmatism, 103.

[6] The only decent picture of truth sketched out in contemporary literature that never loses sight of the process and transactional nature of truth in experience is Sarin Marchetti’s “William James on Truth and the Invention of Morality” in European Journal of Pragmatism and American Philosophy vol. 2, no. 2 (2010): 1-29. His opposition to Richard Gale is also extremely encouraging as Gale, Misak, Talisse, and Aikin all impose analytlic –isms upon James and are not sensitive to the deep textual reading Marchetti achieves of James’s “The Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life.”


Upcoming Lecture at UGA

I am giving a lecture Friday to my first presentation to a graduate department at the University of Georgia. I am writing a book on religious toleration rooted in James’s metaphysics of pure experience, and I started out my argument by first going to his criticism of representational metaphysics. Like postmodernism, James’s metaphysics of pure experience arises out of a critique of access to reality, and falling prey to the illusion that reality is a static changeless thing that reason/nous/intellection/intuition can access as it is. This illusion comes in both rationalistic forms and Hegelian idealistic monisms. I’ve been pouring over the draft and only have time to do the first half of the chapter. Should be fun.

Fr. Thomas Merton at his best

beloved communityRecently in a preliminary interview, I cited one of my favorite passages. It comes from the first essay in No Man Is an Island by Thomas Merton:

…the gift of love is the gift of the power and capacity to love, and therefore, to give love with full effect is also to receive it. So, love can only be kept by being given away, and it can only be given perfectly when it is also received (Merton, p. 8)

I think this claim to be the best phenomenological description of agapic love I’ve ever heard, and it was Fr. Merton who inspired me to look to King’s description of love just two posts ago. It’s a very phenomenological description of love employing the metaphor of a gift. To give love assumes the reality of its gifting to others. Agapic love is only known in this self-reinforcing way, and this is the reason why it’s the root of community in King and his beloved community. Only a world with this type of agapic love can rescue our constant failure to love others in this way.

Nishitani on Religion

il_570xn.1026499172_6k6vIn his “What is Religion?” Nishitani considers religion an expressive outgrowth inherent in human experience. For him, the starting point of all religion thinking is “when we have become a question to ourselves, the religious quest awakens in us.”[1] Thus understood, religion is a returning to an awareness of our own experience such that the religious dimension opens up; it comes into view in this returning to ourselves in much the same way that Heidegger’s fundamental ontology returns to Dasein to inquire into the question of being. The question of being and the question of religion, then, are fundamentally ontological and answered within the structures of experience we all have access to and share. Hence we can understand his approach. Nishitani characterizes his “approach to religion…as the self-awareness of reality, or more correctly, the real self-awareness of reality.”[2]

Reality consists of two-sided relations that are actively unrolling in time. First, there’s the position of objects, which we have pretended to be ontologically separate from our experiencing, and then there’s focusing on our experiencing that has been realized in us, which has also been regarded as ontologically separate. In this way, persons truly participate in the very reality they seek to understand, and that these poles on the mental act-side and the object-side collapse into each other into each other. Thus, Nishitani says, “reality realizes (actualizes) itself in us; that this in turn is the only way that we can realize (appropriate through understanding) the fact that reality is so realizing itself in us; and that in so doing the self-realization of reality takes place.” The really-real becomes only in relation to participating subjects and from their coalescing is what I have called participatory realism in my recent book, Persons and Values in Pragmatic Phenomenology (2018).

Given this shared reality of co-experiencing experiencers and attendant reality becoming in us and us through it, the irreducible contents of experience, including values, acquire existence. Reality becomes in us, and us through it simultaneously. Given that phenomenology has singled out this relational aspect of our being, this is also the same ontological site of Nishitani’s contribution to understanding the limits of what participatory realism truly is by circumscribing the limits of our co-relationality. These limits do not entitle participatory realism to be considered a form of realism that relies on mind-independent ontologically separate objects. When we return to attend to this dynamic and unrolling field of relations of reality actualizing itself in us, Nishitani exposes the groundless grounding human experience stands on. I had to learn this lesson through Buddhism and not the ontotheological Gods and fellow metaphysics of presences we get in the West and in Heidegger.

Nishitani’s criticism of the West is seen inevitably starting with the inauguration of metaphysics in Plato and culminating in the modern period with Rene Descartes. In Plato’s Cave, human beings “sit like spectators in the cave of self.”[3] When we merely look at things from the standpoint of Western self what we see is merely objects. We see them without, and consider our inner thoughts real in their own right. We forget that reality actualizes itself in that relation we maintain with the world and the meaning of the world arises in us simultaneously. Descartes’s cogito ergo sum expressed “the mode of being of the ego as a self-centered assertion of its own realness…the things in the natural world came to appear as bearing no living connection to the internal ego.”[4]

The implications of Descartes are twofold. First, by isolating the realm of physical nature from the mind, nature becomes all extended bodies. The natural sciences become a project of finding out the fixed mathematical laws of a mechanistic universe. By contrast, the soul has no connection to biological life since bodies are about physics. The second implication is that the truths of the cogito and God are outside the natural world such that no skepticism of the natural sciences can undermine the essential truths of what is sacred. What this also means, however, is that nothing in the physical universe and no relation we have to it is sacred. The sacred cuts only along the dimension of that which is inside the mind revealed immaterial. The ontology of mathematical ideas, God, and the soul are all nonphysical.

When the sacred is cut from the world in which it truly stands in relation to (following Nishitani and my thesis of participatory realism), a person is rendered absolutely independent with no ontological connection in his or her very reality to the larger world. Hence, out of the Cartesian view that came to infect all developing modern systems originates an irreplaceable Western self alienated against all connection no matter how tenuous this connection is. The cogito, standing above all doubt comes at the expense of a metaphysical alienation. Even the Lockean substance I know not what is a mystery to itself, but regarded as separate from the world it experiences.

[1] Keiji Nishitani, “What is Religion?” in Religion and Nothinginess trans. Jan Van Bragt (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1982): 1-45. Cited here is Nishitani, “What is Religion?”, 3.

[2] Nishitani, “What is Religion?”, 5.

[3] Nishitani, “What is Religion?”, 9.

[4] Nishitani, “What is Religion?”, 11.

Reflections on King’s Conception of Love


A Lecture to Be Delivered In Light of SSU’s Observance of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Day and the Upcoming Importance of African American History Month

January 25, 2019


As we observe King’s importance in our national consciousness and that we share in the legacy of being an HBCU, I wanted to take some time to reflect on some passages concerning love in some of Dr. King’s writings. I have been drawn to the prospect of love as a world transforming metaphysical force (what King calls in some places “soulforce”) since I discovered Scheler’s phenomenology, though it has its limits in Scheler’s writings (See the Formalism p. 480-481). Love in Scheler however has deep roots in the Augustinian powers of Christian thought that King draws from in equal measure, and King’s approach is more concrete. As we look to something in the human experience that can change, transform and provide a reorientation to new possibilities of cultural action and perspective in the 21st century, the power of love in the human experience is one the few possibilities we all share access. Oftentimes, it takes a religious mindset to be open to unconditional love, but King greatly admired this as a human capacity to be the starting place for improving communities on a moral and spiritual level. Throughout this lecture, I will explain why love is central to King’s thinking.

Let me describe how I will proceed. First, I will delineate the types of love as King understood them. Next, I will introduce why we should consider King’s writings as philosophical explorations on the topic of love. Third, I will explain the proper role of Agape and how agapic love is our highest form of love, even concerning nonviolence we find in Gandhi and non-Christians. Fourth, I will explain why love is a necessary virtue for community and the transforming power love possesses for all people. These three aims are connected to explicating King’s sermon “Loving Your Enemies” and his more famous “My Pilgrimage to Nonviolence,” which is King’s own description of the philosophical journey he took to arrive at the principles of nonviolence rooted in love.

What Others Call Love

King wanted us to understand what love is not. For him, love is not “some sentimental or affectionate emotion” since “it would be nonsense to urge men to love their oppressors in an affectionate sense.”[1] This would be foolish, a lavish devotion, and at worst an uncritical affection that often blinds us from the faults of others. We might use the word love to describe such loyalty or devotion for even the house slave who under a current regime is better off from the slave in the field. Such a love is already corrupted from the beginning since it asks for devotion or loyalty that justifies and reinforces racist society and propagates division between members of the same community. The same parallel may be found in abusive relationships where a woman is convinced she is loved by her abuser since any other way at looking at her relationship reveals the ugly truth that patriarchal love is no real love at all. Passing off uncritical devotion as love is no real love at all, especially if such alleged “love” only perpetuates racism and sexism from the devotion it seeks in others.

Coming from a Christian background, King also meditated on all types of love mentioned in the Bible. Let us take up in order.

First, love can come from the Greek eros from which some of our current youth know all too well. This is the youthful passion or infatuation that overtakes our sensibilities. As King outlines, “In Platonic philosophy, eros meant the yearning of the soul for the realm of the divine. It has come now to mean a sort of aesthetic or romantic love.”[2] When King says romantic or aesthetic, this phrasing is a bit 1950s and family-friendly for us. King means the aesthetic of the senses, what delights the body, and the appetitive drive that animates our sexual impulses. In eros, we our our own English word: erotic. In later Christian thought, the impulses of our sexual drives are associated with our body and the impulses of our bodily appetites are interpreted as possible distractions away from trying to reconnect to the non-bodily soul. Christian priests enact ascetic lives, following strict codes that deny the body to get closer to the spirit. How many stories do we need to hear about two people acting on their passion to consummate sexual union even though such actions lead to their ruin? Many relationships confuse eros for a higher type of love when really there should be no illusion that such a relationship is only maintained by the physical relationship.

Second, there is philia; it means a type of fraternal love, “an intimate affection between friends.”[3] To speak of fraternal love in this way puts a lot of emphasis on the previous word between. The between-ness of philia has a structure King described as “a sort of reciprocal love; the person loves because he is loved.”[4] It is the love of friendship between friends, maybe even the best of friends, but such friendships are familiar and familial. These reciprocal conditions can change. I can stop hanging out with my good friend Walter because he had to move away or change jobs suddenly. We can lose contact, or if a friend moves away, I as the friend chooses to sustain that relationship. If I had to guess, this type of love is the most common, but does not yield the transformations into higher form of loves King needed to reform Jim Crow laws. This type of love can be a stepping-stone to higher forms if you befriend the right type of friend. There also lies the danger. Reciprocal conditions can lead us astray as well as empower us, but make no mistake, the reciprocal conditions of such friendships help and endanger us depending on the friend we choose to have.

Finally, the highest form of love that King does have in mind is Agape. In the next section, I describe the highest form of love King wishes to harness in his activism, but also elicit in others.

Agapic Love 

While I have talked about the other conceptions of love, I wanted to take a minute and share with why a philosopher might gravitate towards making sense of agapic love in King’s writings. Why talk about love in philosophical terms if King’s thought always connects love and nonviolence as a principle to animate his activism against segregation and racism? Foregoing that King was a pastoral theologian, King described love in strictly philosophical terms twice that come immediately to mind. Let me reproduce them here.

I still believe that love is the most durable power in the world. Over the centuries, men have sought to discover the highest good. This has been the chief quest of ethical philosophy. This was one of the big questions of Greek philosophy. The Epicureans and the Stoics sought to answer it: Plato and Aristotle sought to answer it. What is the summum bonum of life? I think I have discovered the highest good. It is love. This principle stands at the center of the cosmos. As John Says, “God is love.” He who loves is a participant in the being of God. He who hates does not know God.[5]

In the above passage, we see that love needs to be analyzed. First, King’s answer to what the highest good is love. Second, we need to understand why that is the case since he also thinks the principle of love “stands at the center of the cosmos” since being so located at the center of the cosmos is a metaphysical pronouncement as well as at the same time a theological claim. Third, King’s theology rests on persons joining with God as a participant in the cosmos through acting on love. In this third and final insight, King’s claim is an ethical orientation as well as a theological claim again.

Given that King’s thinking centers upon love as a metaphysical, ethical, and theological claim, I often tell my colleagues who cannot stand to see philosophy and religion commingle that King is ethico-religious. The theologian cannot be teased apart from the philosopher anymore than the philosopher can be teased apart from the theologian. The tendency to see King as a non-philosopher comes from this common opposition to religion among academic philosophers. If we are then to see King as a philosopher reflecting on agapic love, then we must see that in King both philosophy and theology contain each other. When we see the interplay in philosophy and religion in his work, we can understand a little more about the spirit of the second philosophical moment about love. Consider this lengthy passage,

And one of the greatest problems of history is that concepts of love and power have usually been contrasted as opposites—polar opposites—so that love is identical to a resignation of power, and power with a denial of love…It was this misinterpretation that caused Nietzsche, who was a philosopher of the will to power, to reject the Christian concept of love. It as the same misinterpretation which induced Christian theologians to reject the Nietzschean philosophy of the will to power in the name of the Christian idea of love. Now we’ve got to get this [relationship of love and power] right. What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.[6]

In the passage above, I won’t get into why I think this reading of Nietzsche is false, but I can say what motivated King to ground his discussion on love in relation to power employing this understanding of Nietzsche. King’s encounter with the relationship between love and power reveals a philosophical awareness between an atheistic philosophy in which values are solely created by the will and a Christian spiritual philosophy. In such a Nietzschean approach to value, there is no objective morality to call upon, and we know from his foray into Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus and the Stoics that King regards Christianity as an answer to the question: What is the highest good for human life? For him, it is love, but it is the love exemplified in Christ and God. In the same essay a page before the previous passage from “The Most Durable Power,” King says, “The end of life is to do the will of God, come what may.”[7]

From these two passages, there’s some confusion about how love is a durable power, and what King means by political power. I propose that we interpret King drawing a distinction between political power that we can call earthly power and love as an ability in persons. Earthly power is the arrangements of the social, political and economic orders contrived by human beings. In this way, we should understand that power refers to the earthly abilities of moral and political subjects to address problems in their community. However, the earthly powers are contingent, and succumb to the brokenness of community and the world. King’s reference to the durability of love is, then, proposing that love is somehow an ability of individuals; it’s an attitude and standpoint from which persons can act and create value. In this way, King offers us a structure on the process of how persons relate to community, how values manifest in the feeling acts of love, and the implications of this process for the ethical, metaphysical and theological lines mentioned earlier. How exactly this is the case will be seen by exploring what King reveals in some of his other writings.         

Agape is the highest form of love for King and the Christian tradition. King defines this conception of love below,

[Agape] is an overflowing love which is purely spontaneous, unmotivated, groundless, and creative. It is not set in motion by any quality or function of its object. It is the love of God operating in the human heart.[8]

In this passage, love is characterized by a creative effortless quality almost as if it occurs like breathing but without the causal conditions of the body. King’s language in this passage reveals a deep belief in this as a capacity persons share. The capacity or power is of the human heart to achieve relation with something higher than itself, but emanates outward to God and the individual before us at the same time.

As many writers, he recycled the same thoughts regarding the three types of Greek love by reusing some of his same words in another sermon. In King’s sermon “Love Your Enemies,” following the previous passage from “My Pilgrimage to Nonviolence”, King qualified what it meant for love to “operate in the human heart” in greater detail.

At this level, we love men not because we like them, nor because their ways appeal to us, nor even because they possess some type of divine spark; we love every man because God loves him. At this level, we love the person who does an evil deed, although we hate the deed that he does.[9]

This operation in the human heart is, then, connected to what King meant as creative. Our love creates community. We should follow this commandment because of its divine origin. Because every person is infinitely lovable before God and so loved without reservation, God’s example in the person of Christ summons us to love others as infinitely as He. This power to love is at the heart of what it means to be a spiritual person for King. For this reason, agape is seen as going to great lengths “to preserve and create community”[10] and ultimately restore it.

First, this love is a disinterested love. In that way, this type of love is not based on conditions we find in eros or philia. Agapic love is not based on the benefit derived from being another’s friend that one may expect in passionate or fraternal love. Instead, agapic love is without conditions; therefore, it applies to all people and “does not begin by discriminating between worthy and unworthy people.”[11] In agapic love, all are equal because of its disinterested nature. Agapic love pours forth as a ray of regard for the heart of everyone, and “makes no distinction between friend and enemy.”[12] We find the love they neighbor in every person we meet. Consider, the Biblical passage in the Gospel of Matthew King cites at the beginning of his sermon, “Loving Your Enemies,”

Ye have heard that it has been said, Thou shalt love they neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be children of your Father which is in heaven (Matthew 5:43-44).[13]

In the passage above, King seems to make a distinction between agapic love as an opening to see their worth, but this is not the same as forgiveness. Instead, forgiveness is on the spectrum of having a loving orientation towards others. In this way, we might say that forgiveness is a type of application of the capacity of agapic love. For this reason, we might interpret King as claiming they are mutually related, yet agapic love is a part of forgiveness. As a type of agapic love, forgiveness is made possible by the agapic vision such that we may love our enemies.

The duty to love is given in an imperative, a command to love all, and as practicing Christians, one’s responsibility, according to King, “is to discover the meaning of this command and seek passionately to live it out in our daily lives.”[14] For King, “forgiveness means reconciliation, a coming together” and we can see their interrelation, “The degree to which we are able to forgive determines the degree to which we are able to love our enemies.[15] The more we come together in forgiveness, the easier it is to love. For this reason, they are conjoined, but not to be seen as identical. Forgiveness receives its ability from love, and the unconditionality of agapic love is practiced in the forgiving act. The act of forgiveness, says King, “must always be initiated by the person who has been wronged.”[16] Forgiveness is, then, a spiritual exercise in maintaining and sustaining the loving vision for what love can create in us always in relation to others even when those others are our enemies, benefiting from maintaining laws that denigrate and degrade human personality.

At the same time, the other side of the spectrum of our capacity for agapic love is hate. An option King warns us not to choose. As King warned, “To retaliate in kind would do nothing but intensify the existence of hate in the universe.”[17] Hatred only begets itself. It generates a a sickness and devaluation of persons from which no love can find germination in the external relationship with others, but also is a spiritual sickness internally to how one relates to oneself as a person. Thus, we understand why King regarded love as the only remedy to the sickness that included Whites. “Hate is just as injurious as to the person who hates.”[18] Just as African Americans suffered from segregation directly, for King, “the white man’s personality is greatly distorted by segregation” and this indirectly caused an unchecked cancer to spread.[19] In so doing, the white man no longer can love as he was meant to love spiritually. Accordingly, King says that hatred blocks community. By loving our enemies, the oppressors “are not beyond the reach of God’s redemptive love.”[20] Such love enables us to see other persons, even to the point that we love our enemies and maintain an active relation to them as persons even when they do not do the same for us.

Because love has this power to create relationships that then constitute communities, Agapic love is the basis for the very possibility of what King called the Beloved Community. According to King, “In the final analysis, agape means a recognition of the fact that all life is interrelated. All humanity is involved in a single process, and all men are brothers.”[21] According to King, we can understand the image of the Christian cross in relation to community. For King, then, “the resurrection is a symbol of God’s triumph over all the forces that seek to block community” [since] “the Holy Spirit is the continuing community creating reality that moves through history.”[22] Thus, the whole process of persons acting on love join with God’s will, and thereby manifest the Holy Spirit which moves throughout history. For this reason, we can understand his words from “A Christmas Sermon on Peace” in which he stated two beliefs. First, King believed “in the ultimate morality of the universe” and accepted that “all reality hinges on moral foundations.”[23] Those that act out on hate move against the very heart of creation. Those that act on love then manifest God’s love in between our intrapersonal relationships. For this reason, King also thinks that “creation is so designed that [persons] can only be fulfilled in the context of community.”[24] In this way, we now understand our earlier passage that called love a principle of the cosmos and why “the arc of the universe is long but it bends towards justice.”[25]

In coming to the close of our lecture and the brief foray into King’s writings, let’s summarize some tentative conclusions about agapic love:

(1) Existential Implication: Love is a type of orientation, attitude, and standpoint one can take in relation to another person. It requires discipline to cultivate this spontaneous ability. In this way, love plays a role similar to how virtue theory assists ethical theories in talking about how people ought to be such that they may more easily act on moral principles they should accept.

(2) Other forms of love (philia and eros) are contingent and conditional.

(3) Ethical Implication and Theological Duty: Agapic love opens up persons to see the eternal dignity we all possess. Love enables us to see the infinite worth we have before God, and in God’s infinite capacity to love, God’s love of others serves as a model for how we always ought to love others. For this reason, love is a command and a duty.

(4) Implication for Moral Metaphysics and a Theory of Community: By entering into agapic love with another, our intrapersonal relationships constitute community and in between them is the very place of value creation.

(5) Agapic Love is Restorative and Generative of Community: In so doing, agapic love embodies God’s choice to restore broken communities and our choosing agapic love is an attempt to restore that same broken community. When successful, we bring about the Beloved Community.

(6) The Metaphysics of Community is the Holy Spirit: Given everyone’s ability to act on agapic love, we join God’s call to love, and this means we become cooperative with God and that God requires our help in manifesting the love of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit that animates King’s conception of history is made manifest or hindered by the choice to act on the agapic principle of love.


King, Martin Luther “A Christmas Sermon on Peace” in A Testament of Hope: Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. ed. James M. Washington (New York:HarperOne, 1986): 253-258.

King, Martin Luther “If the Negro Wins, Labor Wins” in A Testament of Hope: Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. ed. James M. Washington (New York:HarperOne, 1986): 201-207.

King, Martin Luther “Loving Your Enemies” in The Radical King (Boston: Beacon Press, 2015): 55-64.

King, Martin Luther “The Most Durable Power” in A Testament of Hope: Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. ed. James M. Washington (New York: HarperOne,1986): 10-11.

King, Martin Luther “My Pilgrimage to Nonviolence” in The Radical King (Boston: BeaconPress, 2015): 39-54.

King, Martin Luther, “Where Do We Go From Here?” in A Testament of Hope: Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. ed. James M. Washington (New York: HarperOne, 1986): 245-252.


[1] Martin Luther King, “My Pilgrimage to Nonviolence” in The Radical King (Boston: Beacon Press, 2015), 51.

[2] King, “My Pilgrimage to Nonviolence,” 51.

[3] King, “My Pilgrimage to Nonviolence,” 51.

[4] King, “My Pilgrimage to Nonviolence,” 51.

[5] Martin Luther King, Jr. “The Most Durable Power” in A Testament of Hope: Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. ed. James M. Washington (New York: HarperOne, 1986), 11.

[6] Martin Luther King, Jr. “Where Do We Go From Here?” in A Testament of Hope: Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. ed. James M. Washington (New York: HarperOne, 1986), 247.

[7] King, “The Most Durable Power,” 11.

[8] King, “My Pilgrimage to Nonviolence,” 51.

[9] Martin Luther King, “Loving Your Enemies” in The Radical King (Boston: Beacon Press, 2015), 58

[10] King, “My Pilgrimage to Nonviolence,” 52.

[11] King, “My Pilgrimage to Nonviolence,” 51.

[12] King, “My Pilgrimage to Nonviolence,” 51.

[13] King, “Loving Your Enemies,” 55. I’ve kept the Biblical passage as is, and do not know from which version this translation follows.

[14] King, “Loving Your Enemies,” 56.

[15] King, “Loving Your Enemies,” 57. Italics mine.

[16] King, “Loving Your Enemies,” 56.

[17] King, “My Pilgrimage to Nonviolence,” 51.

[18] King, “Loving Your Enemies,” 59.

[19] King, “My Pilgrimage to Nonviolence,” 52.

[20] King, “Loving Your Enemies,” 58.

[21] King, “My Pilgrimage to Nonviolence,” 53.

[22] King, “My Pilgrimage to Nonviolence,” 52.

[23] Martin Luther King, Jr. “A Christmas Sermon on Peace” in A Testament of Hope: Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. ed. James M. Washington (New York: HarperOne, 1986), 257.

[24] King, “My Pilgrimage to Nonviolence,” 52.

[25] Martin Luther King, Jr. “If the Negro Wins, Labor Wins” in A Testament of Hope: Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. ed. James M. Washington (New York: HarperOne, 1986), 207.

Pragmatic and Phenomenological Tensions in My Thinking

imagesThere are tensions in my thought, tensions because I inhabit more than one philosophical tradition at the same time, but also because I have never truly resolved them. I’ve left them alone willingly just like when you pull back on the classroom discussion to let students go, not knowing if it will be a productive digression or not. First, the fact that for phenomenology to work at all, some type of ontological givenness must be presumed… and the question then becomes just how much of reality-as-experienced is truly given? Second, the other tension is the more constructivist view of things that some find in pragmatism. How much of reality-as-experienced are we constructing from our percepts? If percepts are later reflected upon and conceptualized into philosophical problems, then all phenomenology might be is delimited to a narrow givenness in percepts. This strategy requires naturalizing the given as percepts.

James can resolve this tension if you unify his thought through the field of attention in PBC, selective interest, and then what’s given is what is attended to. One can then unify early James with the later James’s metaphysics (and is my current reading of James I endorse) You maintain a soft naturalism that allows for an ontology of felt relations such that anything experienced is considered genuinely real in an expansive sense. This claim is James’s “principle of principles.” In this expansive sense, many interpretations abound and result in an ontological pluralisms of seeing reality. Out of resolving one tension, many tensions foster and hoist up the world. Pragmatism, then, becomes a way of testing these later ontological pluralisms that constitute the world.

One might look for a solution that seemingly combined both pragmatism and phenomenology, and near as I can gather, Brightman is a synthesis of both traditions. Brightman holds that coherence is not a matter of intuitions, nor is intuition thick in a Husserlian and categorical sense. Instead, the fact that an intuition gives rise to a proposition must cohere with the bulk of other propositions in experience. Thus, experience and reflection upon those propositions is a higher test than intuitions cohering that one finds amongst Husserlians. Brightman thus adds a critical element of reason to the given content of reality. For him, the irreducible level of reality where values are experienced is the same place that logic is apprehended. For Brightman, reality is rational and intelligible all the way through thus also with reality-as-experienced. The intelligibility of reality is also grounded upon the fact that we are persons living in a personal mind of God, so the intelligibility of all experience and its coherence is a product of the harmony undergirding the world in his personalistic idealism. What’s clear is that human beings and God corroborate to create a better world.

Still, one can make moves that deny both Brightman and James. For instance, as a friend and expert in Wilfrid Sellars told me:

The key move that Sellars makes in his theory of perception is to deny what you think phenomenology must assume: that the givenness of perception is ontological. To perceive, Sellars thinks, involves a coordination of conceptual and non-conceptual representations, where non-conceptual representations are states of sensory consciousness. But that’s all that phenomenology can tell us (he thinks): we need to go beyond phenomenology and into cognitive neuroscience to understand what those states really are.

Phenomenology, at least the Husserlian variety, then is making a mistake about perception. Perception is not just one instance of all consciousness being intentional. Intentionality is wrongly described. For the Husserlian, all conscious and nonconscious states exhibit this constitutive relationship of the co-relation between noesis and noema. It’s not the case that perception is given, but rather that perception is a faculty that emerges out of the coordination of conceptual and nonconceptual representations. The conceptual and nonconceptual emerge out of somehow altering our normal sensory consciousness in much as the same perceptual constraint in James (and likewise holds our attention as our “selective interest”). All conceptualizations in James are the result of taking a piece of some percept and then abstracting that content away from its initial sensory delivery into some higher-ordered concept or idea that coordinates other aspects of experience. James’s conception of experience allows for the irreducible elements of the religious, the aesthetic, and the philosophical to commingle at a level that does not seek to reduce their complexity to something akin to cognitive neuroscience.

To be fair, neither my friend nor others that research cognitive neuroscience feel as if they are reducing complexity to cognitive neuroscience. They are simply interested in developing a scientific understanding of mental states necessary to talk about that which exhibits the complexity of experience. Personally, I always find the move that such talk invites reductive materialism as a red herring to what they are trying to do, even if they must assume some type of materialism true about the mind to investigate it. All scientists have to assume some type of methodological naturalism to engage in scientific inquiry. If James is right, then really the choices are either some form of idealism in which reality is fundamentally mental or some form of materialism in which reality is fundamentally physical. Not many people are sated with a neutral monism in which the question of the ontology of minds and the world is eternally suspended because of our own limits.

As a Jamesian, I often live in between the all-or-nothing-isms of philosophy. I live between these extremes because of James’s critique of metaphysics is skeptical we have access to reality to settle how it is ultimately. This limitation means you make friends with theists and atheists, yet you remind each that there’s really no final test for these ideas except whether or not practical consequences follow from adhering to them. Some metaphysical problems boil down to a Will to Believe (also privately a reason why people cannot understand James’s Will to Believe Argument without understanding pragmatism as a way to settle metaphysical disputes). If a friend embraces a metaphysical theory that offers no consequences to experience, then you must remind her that such a metaphysical theory can never answer what she thinks her answers can. Again, there’s no access to reality in the way that offers privileged access to settle some metaphysical problem.  There are only the ways in which those ideas cohere and anticipate interaction with other ideas of experience and the ideas of others.

Following the Jamesian commitments, I should be able to resolve the tension of the givenness or non-givenness of reality-as-experienced along the same lines. However, the problem will still be with me for some time. I need to think more on it, so if you’ve read this expecting this post to go somewhere, then I’m sorry it only ends in aporia for me.


Philosophical Canon and Reading as World Literature

ccs_bildI am schooled in the traditions of Continental and American philosophy. I have also read for an analytic philosophical MA, and all are philosophically insulated in their own right. Indeed, you can make a career out of teaching and researching in any of them, though to be honest you’ll teach more than you ever specialize (I say this for the youngsters who might be reading this). Now, while I prefer Continental and American philosophy precisely because there’s something about paying attention to lived-experience that’s at the heart of how I choose to philosophize in these traditions, there’s still a dearth of women and minorities represented in the typical canon of all these traditions. There are a few exceptions to be sure. Fritz Fanon and Simone de Beauvoir in Continental and W. E. B. Du Bois and Mary Whiton Calkins might make the secondary reading lists in existentialism and American philosophy surveys, but they are still not the “core” and about a dozen more examples are possible. Be that as it may, Continental, Anglophone-analytic, and American philosophers all have to take stock of both the questions they’re asking and the canon of what thinkers make it on our reading lists in classes. I am a firm believer in students finding their own concerns mirrored in the reading lists of classes. Part of my thoughts here are pedagogical, but they are also offered and motivated by connecting to the larger world we find ourselves existing within.

I think we should teach philosophy as a type of world literature with as much width and breadth as we find in our literary brothers and sisters. This isn’t a call for emulation. Instead, we should consider that philosophy is truly the appreciation of wisdom. There are prudent reasons for adopting this strategy. During my career, the United States will be more diverse by the time I end my career. Young people will be more diverse than now from the influx of Asian and Hispanic immigration. The questions persons of color are asking of themselves and their concerns they’re calling into question reflect the ways in which society is organized politically, socially, and economically currently. These questions should be given a fair hearing. In this climate of ever-growing population complexity, questions about pluralism and liberation have been dominant themes in my thinking as I have become invested in the future of my HBCU students. These concerns are also concerns internal to the identities of many persons of color including Black and African philosophers I’ve come to know over the course of the last two years. They’ve been saying these same things for years for good reasons.

The professionalization of Western philosophy tries often to avoid asking these questions and sometimes not even taking up the lived-experience of others. For this reason, philosophers should be reading widely and outside one’s cultural frame of reference. The status quo of our disciplines comes across as not seriously taking up the experience of others into consideration. In fact, I honestly feel that one could read the Anglophone analytic tradition as taking up and holding up every philosophical problem through the epistemic subject, an abstraction that never truly obtains in the concrete experience of our lives. If you might concede that as a methodological point, then it’s understandable both why pragmatism and phenomenology interrogated that viewpoint that comes almost straight out of the positivism of the Vienna circle. Still, none of these traditions has moved the needle to take seriously, for example, Africana philosophy.

To suggest that philosophy takes its cue from world literature is a way to be more inclusive for the needs of the future. It also means that our students will need a more global, more multicultural understanding of the world than the range of questions that currently exist. If the world they live in becomes fundamentally different, then the philosophical problems will change in relation to those differences. These differences will have an affect on us today. How many philosophy departments right now just do not require any history of philosophy courses and simply take up the same old questions of their predecessors and doctoral supervisors? Ask yourself are you just another metaethicist, political philosophers interested in Rawls and/or game theory, another naturalist philosopher of mind, formal epistemologist, or philosophy of science scholar? In another vain, are you another Dewey or Heidegger scholar?

It’s easy to pick on the insularity of analytics. What’s more, how many in American philosophy read beyond their primary dissertation figure on James or Dewey. The same problem can well persist. How many young Continental Ph.D.s are minted from the Heidegger factory? Or write on Derrida and Deleuze, but never lift a finger to think outside the internal Western-ness of the Continental tradition? Yes, you can take pride that some have taken their methodological cues from the Continentals and the Pragmatists. In these traditions, we have a place for the experience of others. It’s easier, but it doesn’t follow that simply because you are aware of some other voices or took a French feminism seminar that you’re even close or read in these traditions enough to push others to be so moved in appreciating other sources of wisdom. In these schools it’s all too easy to think that you’ve done enough or applied some thinker to think through some social problem. Oftentimes, it’s just programmatic that some work gets repeated ad nauseam. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read the program to SPEP to find some graduate student whose written the Levinas + gender/sexuality or Levinas + race paper.

Now, I know that many will not heed this call. Many have decided that philosophy is about something else than the lived-experience of others (true beliefs, thinking through the implications of a current scientific findings or proposing a naturalist ontology for thought’s representational content or whatever it may be). I really don’t have a response to those with a different meta-philosophy yet except to push the reasons further that lived-experience of others means appreciating wisdom, learning from other civilizations, and reading as widely as we can about other sources of wisdom other than what we are used to—all to the effect of making us more capable of connecting to the populations we teach. It’s the teaching answer that rarely ever finds a home in discussions of graduate committees and comprehensive exams. The way we are taught philosophy in graduate school oftentimes reflects what we are comfortable to teach, and then people never change after they graduate.

The takeaway from discussing these things is simply that there’s wisdom in being conversant in Tao Te Ching, Wiredu, Ortega y Gasset, or Al Farabi. It makes one better. The argument for reading wider is that it enhances our ability to be transformed by sources of wisdom as we should be moved by great works of literature (or as geeks might be moved by science fiction). Some great works have guided other theaters of civilization. Who could really understand the United States without reading John Locke’s Second Treatise on Civil Government? The same is true of China and Confucius’s Analects. I anticipate the objection that someone might claim that they just don’t have time. They must continue the research of their dissertation and teach, striving ever more to unlock the secrets of their overspecialization in professionalized philosophy. Yes, you were trained on the metaethical problem of the twin moral Earth problem or Arendt and political plurlaism, but that doesn’t mean you can’t pick up a copy of the Dhammapada. Given that we are more interconnected than ever before, the duties incumbent to understand each other as scholars is one I’d argue we all possess. When world leaders are vying for economic supremacy between the US and China, scholars are meeting across borders irrespective of their home country’s politics. Scholars have unique minds that yearn to understand the world, and we are more fit to demonstrate this understanding than others. If we read another culture’s sources of wisdom, we may even improve the impressions of our brothers and sisters in far off countries. Through our scholarly actions, understanding floats between borders because of a disposition to appreciate wisdom, not to produce the most accurate account of what is true.

There will be pushback against the idea that we should read widely or read texts in languages other than English. The American geopolitical position is one of extreme privilege and hegemony. With that position and privilege comes the fact that other people learn our language before we are called to do the same with others. Where else can you find young people (American citizens) majoring in international business who cannot speak another language? Many Anglophone philosophy departments also allow for logic or scientific methods of inquiry to substitute for the methods requirement to study another language. In effect, these philosophy departments in the United States are awarding doctorate degrees without an eye to reading wider than our own language, let alone just reading just ourselves. This breeds an insularity that gets habituated to the point that we don’t even want to read any wider than the comfort of what we find acceptable. Acceptable often means comfortable, but not necessarily better. Western philosophers can do better.

My Personal History with the Analytic/Continental Divide

static1.squarespaceI’ve been invited to write about the legacy of William James’s Pragmatism (1907) and what if anything can it say about “settling” the Analytic and Continental Divide since his pragmatism is proposed as settling metaphysical disputes. The Divide has been with me for a LONG TIME, and apart from moral realisms, it’s one thing I feel I’ve experienced personally (for good and for bad as a professional philosopher). As far as I know, I may be the only one of my colleagues who was obsessed with it to the point of personal choice in graduate education. I chose to attend Simon Fraser to get an analytic MA after being scared shitless that I couldn’t follow the very uber-Continental conversations in the University of Essex’s MA in Continental philosophy. I lasted two months studying Kant with Espen Hammer and really awful and rather unclear graduate seminar with Peter Dews on the history of a moral world order. At the time, everyone was obsessed with Alain Badiou’s book On Evil. Then, I decided to work in phenomenology and write on Husserl who I had been reading more earnestly than I would let on with my colleagues at Simon Fraser. In fact the personal alienation I was made to feel and felt with the snide comments about “Continental philosophy” very much made me want to get out of there. I even made contact with a group of graduate students at Think Cafe in Point Grey (just outside UBC’s main campus) who had formed “the Continental Underground.” They met off campus to read Continental philosophy free from the onslaught of their colleagues, so the dogma was pretty bad on both ends of Vancouver.

When I had came to SIU, the dogma was in reverse, but not as prominent. Still, I took almost exclusive course work in Phenomenology and all Ethics courses. My first few years I wanted to wage war, and soon found myself also “not Continental enough” and “too analytic.” For two years, I’d argue with a colleague that Jamesian pragmatism committed a form of psychologism, and that being a student of Husserl, I could see this as clear as day. Interesting that I am writing this piece, and consequently now think that many Husserlian claims are full of shit. Next, I’m pretty sure there’s one professor who thinks it odd to put Scheler into conversation with metaethics, yet this seems (still to this day) to be an exciting way to engage Scheler’s ideas since both Scheler and metaethicists are responding to similar if not the same concerns. Apart from me, I did not know the SIU institutional histories that have been waged for the soul of pragmatism, yet I ran into them personally and in my scholarship (e.g., see my reactions to Talisse and Aikin or Misak’s horrible reading of James to which I must respond to eventually). These histories constituted perhaps some of the reactions to my analytic upbringing I got from colleagues that have forever filtered their perceptions of me and what contexts I didn’t know I was navigating when I arrived, the legacies of Pierce and Dewey (especially Dewey since we had the entire archive of Dewey’s writings and some of the best Dewey scholars on the planet).

Since then, I have corresponded with many the world over about the AP/CP Divide, but it’s always somewhere in the back of my mind. As I look out onto PhDs my age in Facebook, there was a time when I was rather hopeful that it didn’t matter anymore. For the most part, my experience is that it doesn’t. Then again, my analytic friends are all from that very analytic SFU experience who are sympathetic even if they don’t philosophically agree with anything I say. The Divide is really only a concern now for those Analytics where prestige bias and those legacies matter (fueled forever by the politics of the PGR no less) and maybe the placement officers from very Continental schools that are not gatekeepers in the profession or may have access to alternative placement networks.

I find myself very much now attracted to system-builders, and most recently have found myself falling in love with Ortega y Gasset, Whitehead, John McDermott’s process-oriented William James but most prominently in the field of my attention is Edgar Sheffield Brightman who I found both through Randy Auxier’s suggestion and Rufus Burrows work on personalism and Martin Luther King. I have no idea where I am going half the time in these thinkers, carried on by explorations into the various ontologies of God and value that attracted me to James and Scheler, but I know eventually that these thinkers will come together in a new constellation. Currently, I am reading Bowne’s Personalism (1908) and Brightman’s A Philosophy of Religion (1940), and Robert Corrington’s Deep Pantheism (2016). The farther I travel into these thinkers, the more I know I am adding to the legacy of American philosophy to include attention to Boston personalism eclipsed by the legacies of American pragmatism in much the same way that Scheler is eclipsed by the legacy of Heidegger scholarship. The farther I go…I also know that the Divide really means nothing to me anymore, but it has taken a very long time to shed.

Three Philosophical Types of Vulnerability

One failing of moral phenomenology is the lack of agreement about what should be described in moral experience. I have given some attention to Scheler’s conception of affective intentionality in Persons and Values in Pragmatic Phenomenology (2018), yet another aspect of Scheler is deficient—the space opened up by the positive emotions we may call love, the very movement of ascension in the value rankings and therefore possibility versus the negation of hate.

In this post, I will contend that a moral phenomenology must deal with the reasons behind why such value-qualities and feeling acts matter. The fact that we find various emotive intuitings valuable belies the condition into which these feelings enter into our experience. The higher one ascends value, the more unique and personal our awareness grows of ourselves. As we proceed higher, the more we become aware of our own vulnerability in terms of its spiritual reality. In fact, all religion is an aesthetic response and habitual comportment directed at responding to suffering and the want for meaning in light of that suffering. At every level of value rankings, we can see the vulnerability accentuated and undergirding these feelings. For this reason, we must develop an understanding of vulnerability as the primary precondition for all moral experience (even in Scheler’s system) since it involves the person as a lived-body in relation to all feeling modalities of affective intentionality and the value-qualities those modalities intend.

Consider Henri Bergson’s discussion of duration and intuition. An intuition is always an experience of duration of immediate consciousness. This intuition allows us to “enter into” a phenomenon. By contrast, Scheler’s phenomenological intuition allows us to grasp the essence of how an interconnection between the object and the intentional act. Understanding in intuition is immediate of this essence, but in speak like that Scheler privileges direct and unmediated knowledge but never spells out exactly how this process works in his Formalism. He contrasts non-phenomenological knowledge as always mediated by signs and symbols, and not the basis of knowledge of experienced things whereas the phenomenological essence undergirds the possibility of knowing A and B. I think an analogy might be made here about how vulnerability is at work in phenomenological intuition as much as intuition of a durational moment in Bergson can be used as an analogy to understand vulnerability as an unnoticed reality in all moral phenomenology.

“Enter into” a phenomenon gives us absolute knowledge—the way something is in relation to other things. This is a higher form of knowledge than phenomenology tends to aspire. In Bergson, an intuition is always an intuition of duration of immediate consciousness, yet when we examine that each duration possesses an enter into other things, which Bergson will call a sympathizing, we get to know immediately that phenomenon are built up and out of a multiplicity of things—what he will call qualitative multiplicity. Bergson uses the example of knowing only that the color orange is built up and out of redness and yellowness. Out of this intellectual sympathizing, we get to know the various elements that compositionally make up the qualitative multiplicity of the color orange (Bergson, Creative Mind, p. 187). In getting to know the color orange, we can directly see in the moment of experiencing the variegated shades that inform its makeup from the various multiplicities that give rise to experiencing the felt reality of values. In much the same way, the various value-rankings are not reducible to each other as Scheler very well knew, but they are phenomenologically constitutive of the various shades of vulnerability that all bind the value-rankings together in a conceptual unity, which is the very reason why values matter. Values are felt precisely because of a shared vulnerability we possess with others. This fact is an absolute intuition that gives rise to the possibility of every ethical system.

Vulnerability, then, is distinctive at three levels. My contention is that they are inextricably link in a hierarchy that starts with (1) as the most basic, and each layer assumes the previous level until you get to the highest level in (3).

(1) Bodily vulnerability undergirds the vital feelings and values, and out of this level is engendered a new level.

(2) Fragility is the vulnerability of intersubjective modes that can easily de-personalize someone at institutional and cultural levels. Some might call this level “interdependency,” and it underlies the basic intrapersonal relationships we have with others and every social interaction. In that way, you might say this level of vulnerability is deeply ontological. Most moral systems are located at this level, but this also contains the larger values of utility that de-personalize as well. Fragility also gives rise to the next level.

(3) Nihilistic vulnerability is the sense of vulnerability that a persons is not significant, sacred or absolutely valuable. It is the highest level of possible suffering since it occurs at the highest level of spiritual feelings that would make this life worth living. Most existential philosophers (whether religious or secular) responding to nihilism occur at this level.

I contend that future philosophical work will have to explore these various relations of all three senses of vulnerability.


Thinking About the Process of Philosophy in José Ortega y Gasset’s The Origin of Philosophy

Origin of Philosophy pictureIn José Ortega y Gasset’s The Origin of Philosophy, he remarks about our relationship to the past:

It remained, however, where it was—in the realm of what has been. Embalmed, but finally dead. It was an archeological view. Now, however, we realize that those formed experiences must be continually reconstructed, albeit with the benefit of having been received ready-made. Thus we do not leave them behind, but our present philosophy is in great part the current resuscitation of all the yesterdays of philosophy (29).

I find this passage so eloquent. We reconstruct elements of our experience by being aware of the needs of why we are resuscitating the past for our present. This is Deweyian, but also it is awareness of James’s “conceivable effects,” which have invoked so many wrongful characterizations of nominalism to which James never falls prey. Moreover, this thought hits the Gadamerian tinges too. We philosophize not only because of the intrinsic thinking need, but also in large part because other philosophers have also answered the same pressing questions. Next, our awareness of their earlier efforts often goes silent in our efforts. We are as curious as those who have come before. Our very ability is as Ortega y Gasset says “in great part the current resuscitation of all the yesterdays of philosophy.” The phrase to pay attention to is “in great part.” There is still a tiny part not constituted by the past, but involves us—the very snake of the human.

Such metaphilosophical thoughts regarding our philosophizing often brings doubt that this hermeneutic and pragmatic attention to the past is simply a self-defeating historicism. Such doubters might think we are proffering a view that philosophy should be reduced to literary or historical studies and only be an articulation of various historical periods. Of course, this is a red herring, but since it’s proven so common in my academic life when I talk to varying philosophers outside Continental and American traditions, the fallacious nature and characterization of these claims is never generous. For this reason, I’d like to think alongside Ortega y Gassett this morning and pay attention how he continues. “The historical past is not past simply because it is not now in the present…but because it has passed or happened to other [persons] whom we remember, and consequently it keeps happening to us in our continual repassing or reviewing of it” (30). For Ortega y Gasset, like Gadamer, the historical past happens to those of us in the present. The same needs, the same practical interests drive our very reasons for inquiry in the first place. The need to ask a philosophical question that enlivened the past invigorate me. However, this truism is not simply about philosophy. At its core, all experience is a culmination of the past encompassing the present. As the future cannot be possessed “except in the measure in which we can predict it” (30).

Our knowledge to predict the natural sciences is the answer to the gap of unknowability in the future, and becomes Ortega y Gasset’s model of how we might regard the temporalizing process and limits of experience outlined above. The more we can predict of the future, the more persons will eternalize themselves in the same scientific thinking. To be fair, though, enduring and persisting in the same way is not what he means by self-eternalization. For Ortega y Gasset, self-eternalization means “remembering and foreseeing” such that one is ”not moving from the present, but allowing the past and future to attain the present and occupy it” (31). Philosophy is, then, the reflective practice and awareness of bringing these streams of the past and future to occupy our present-day need, and it falls on us to decide if we think the history of philosophy is a history of errors or affirmation (or some history of errors and/or some affirmations to be more nuanced and less vague).

If we generalize this conception of philosophy to something resembling analytic philosophy whereupon the philosopher is more like a speculative naturalist, then some interesting implications are generated. I’m proposing this terminology because to be quite frank, there are so many varieties now of “analytic philosophy” that the sociological category is almost meaningless except to say, perhaps, a few comments about types. Let me further clarify what I mean by a speculative naturalist.

A speculative naturalist is someone—perhaps like Hume—who is in touch with the predictive power of the sciences, and maybe someone who is well aware of the conceptual limitations of that regional ontology of objects in that science. Thus, the philosopher qua speculative naturalist frees up the conceptual space of a natural science and employs their imagination to speculate about the most likely true picture of what concepts can explore or know but contemporary science cannot. By extension, speculative naturalism is the thesis that our philosophical concepts should be compatible and coextensive with the most informed scientific account of reality. From our contrast above, the speculative naturalist is only aware of bringing the future into present and thereby ignores the fact that history is happening to them at this very moment in the field of experience. The speculative naturalist is not interested in the wisdom of how-we-got-here that conditions and enables the present inquiry. The philosopher qua speculative naturalist regards philosophizing as a temporary responsibility in which the philosopher is asking until scientists can take over from that initial conceptual exploration. In effect, speculative naturalists are denying the very temporal limits of experiencing the very inquiry they are set upon, and by thinking of philosophy as a not-yet science, these philosophers tend to be indifferent of the past and elevate the status of the present in much the same way that a scientist dismisses a failed hypothesis for whatever current  hypothesis is working presently.

Such indifference, however, is not wrong in Ortega y Gasset’s eyes. The speculative naturalist is only wrong in being wholly dismissive and thinking that her speculation carries more weight beyond the necessity to see one’s efforts as an extension of history happening to her. Philosophical history can look as if the past is filled with error, or it can be affirmed means that we should be indifferent to the judgment itself. Instead, the past contains some truths and some errors. In this way, Ortega y Gasset sees philosophical history in a dialectic process of getting some aspects right and wrong. We could only make judgments about the errors of philosophy if we had some knowledge of the partial truths gleaned. In his words, “With the realization that the philosophical past is, in reality, indifferent to its aspect of error and to its aspect of truth, we ought in our behavior abandon neither, but to integrate both” (33, italics belong to Ortega y Gassett).

In short, the fact that the speculative naturalist cannot deal with the ongoing temporal nature of inquiry, which results in uncritical dismissal of the past for a privileged look at one’s efforts, generates the problem that philosophy is unaware of its overall dialectical growth. Philosophers only have partial expressions of the truth at any one time, and when philosophers ignore this history, they are prone to an elevated hubris of their present conceptual elaboration as ultimately expressing the whole truth, but certainly – perhaps – the philosopher has only a glimpse of the overwhelming perplexity whence we consider rightly how to reconcile present philosophizing in relation to its historic origins in earlier efforts.

At the center of my synthesized definition of philosophy is, then, the process of growth entailed by the limits of experience, the aims of speculation, and the awareness of this process. These elements must be present in our future efforts. Reality has a process that we experience, and every historical exploration of this process embodies the same growth of philosophy itself, but it would seem that in order to express this process we must turn philosophy towards becoming. All Being is becoming.