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.  

From the book…what remains

Sorry, it has been awhile. In the words of my students, “it’s been a minute.”


The manuscript that has taken me two years to put together is now a monograph: Persons and Values in Pragmatic Phenomenology: An Exploration in Moral Metaphysics. I have been asked to put together a few words of meditation from what I learned about it, and I also conjecture where I might go. At present, the book touches upon how persons participate in intentional feeling to create values into the world, but I have not

When I had decided to write Persons and Values in Pragmatic Phenomenology: An Exploration in Moral Metaphysics, I had no idea of the result. I had published several papers with two thinkers in each: James correcting Husserl, Scheler correcting Heidegger, an aspect of Heidegger helping us with Scheler, Scheler correcting James, and James correcting Scheler. In these explorations, I suddenly found the possibility of the title by bringing these essays together; I am forming a system out of both Jamesian pragmatism, and the phenomenological tradition.

At the point when you discover you are systematizing yourself it’s a very weird experience. That moment is the closest you can come to disembodied state of consciousness. You begin to look down on your own self as if you floated above your own philosophical life. Then, you can move the various pieces of your beliefs and commitments around, adjusting them as you see fit to address the existential and pragmatic needs of life—both for yourself and whoever you think will be listening to your thoughts.

I discovered a few things.

First, I have never given up on the role intentionality plays in concrete life, and this is undoubtedly Husserl’s influence in me. However, Husserl only indicated the absolute need in every description of consciousness is a consciousness-of. Paul Ricoeur’s dictum of Husserl remains true for all time—the history of phenomenology is “the history of Husserlian heresies.” Everyone must start with Husserl, but nobody remains with him for very long unless, of course, they want some level of systematization that doesn’t exist in the rest of Continental philosophy.

Second, Scheler’s contribution to metaethics is unacknowledged in analytic philosophy, but then again, there’s no patience for sustained descriptions of the primordiality intentionality plays in concrete life (or what we might call doing phenomenology with a capital “P”). That’s the insight I took from Scheler. Scheler provides a type of phenomenological dictum to all moral theorists and ethicists alike. Before all moral theorizing can occur, we need to engage in a phenomenological description of persons, values, and otherness. These are the three concepts I see at the basis of all ethical inquiry, and we need to understand exactly how each concept is situated in the most concrete way. In this way, we should seek to describe the conditions under which these concepts are given in the modalities of experience: self-to-self relation, self-to-other relations, self-and-temporal-horizon, and self-to-nature-and-God. Currently, we could say these are the architectonic assumptions of what lies behind my commitments to personalism and pragmatic phenomenology as a method of doing philosophy.

In the first, we might think of the Socratic impulse to “Know Thyself,” and perhaps Kant’s duties of self-perfection. Next, the self-to-other relationship is at the heart of it a commitment to the radical belief about the absolute uniqueness of every person that resonates in Scheler, but ever more lively in Levinas’s phenomenology of the face-to-face relation, and what Buber called the I-thou relationship. An entire work could be done on this level of philosophical engagement with the ethical. The self-and-temporal horizon is what limits our ability to transcend the very conditions of being subjects unfolding and living out the structures of experience in time. To some extent, Heidegger, but more importantly, James’s radical empiricism articulates this within-time-ness the best.

Finally, I put self in relation to nature-and-God. Nature and God can stand in for ideas of unified totality, and if these two are exclusive then we should try to find out exactly what it means to relate to the entire whole. Philosophical anthropology, then, is an attempt to articulate the most general interpretation of human beings in relation to a conception of the totality of reality within the bounds of unified experience. Questions of philosophical anthropology are not settled, and I am cautious when talking about really big ideas of totality and unity. Practically speaking, the manner in which someone believes they are in relation to reality of the whole—whether that is Nature or some ideas of the Divine like God (and what could be meant by God and even collapsing the distinction between Nature and God), these are metaphysical interpretations that become culturally sedimented in human practices and daily life, which is the brilliance of Husserl’s Crisis in the European Sciences. Imagine various interpretations of human beings and the cosmos as a whole: Greco-Roman humanism, Judeo-Christian traditions, and the scientific materialism of the human person. Scheler rightly understood that in the 20th century we’ve forgotten ourselves much like Heidegger thought we have forgotten the question of being, but also how to frame the very question of our being—being a person. The success of Scheler over Heidegger is that values saturate our very existence, and Heidegger so divorced values from action that his Nazism is no surprise to me. His fundamental ontology does not have a place for the absolute uniqueness and dignity of persons to be felt at all (let alone values), and every Heideggerian I meet is guilty of a flirtation with fascism because of the dearth of values in the heart of Heidegger’s fundamental ontology.

Currently if I were to commit a digression, I might say that my colleagues in English, Cultural Studies, and more worldly engaged humanities are thinking through the devastation of the environment. For them, this is the age of the anthropocene, a term invented to signify that human civilization has altered the very geophysical situatedness of the planet, and a thorough exploration of how we got here can be traced to the Judeo-Christian religious tradition in thinking that God provided nature for human beings to do with what they saw fit with it rather than perceiving the interdependency of all living things. Christianity and capitalism proved to be a dangerous combination. In this way, a proper pragmatic phenomenology might align itself with those engaged in philosophical genealogies of Nietzsche and Foucault and try to understand both how the anthropocene started philosophically in the habits of the past and what new possible understandings of the human person in relation to the cosmic whole are necessary to affect change. If the environment is already ruined, then it stands to reason we should lessen our impact. I know that I have left us far afield from where I started so let me return now to the discoveries I previously mentioned.

Third, unlike Husserl, Scheler regards moral values and non-moral values to be rooted in intentional feeling. Intentional feeling is itself not a type of rational logic motivated by epistemic concerns that inaugurated the development of both the epoche and reduction in Husserl’s thought. Instead, the ordo amoris, as Scheler called it, has its own logic, and it precedes all other epistemic motivations. In this way, Scheler’s interpretation of phenomenology is that it discerns essences in the interconnections between feeling acts and the value-qualities that form the object of those feeling acts. To understand, then, the metaphysics of value, which is the heart of my current thinking and what Persons and Values in Pragmatic Phenomenology is about, is to understand the very phenomenological relation with the world. For me, Scheler’s affective intentionality is the answer both to the metaphysics of value question but more importantly a guiding principle to answer how phenomenologies always become ontologies themselves. I also see this in Scheler’s later concern with philosophical anthropology and his sociology of knowledge. The very core of his phenomenological ethics is never abandoned, the same value-rankings and respective hierarchy are maintained. It’s a more difficult question about whether or not he is phenomenological in his later works.

Fourth, the type of ontologies you get in pragmatism tend to be a metaphysics where phenomenological essences activate in relation to the objects of experience. I know that sounds a bit vague, so let me explain. If all ideas functionalize as Scheler put it, then they unfold in relations, the metaphysics of value are what phenomenologists describe, but we shouldn’t just take phenomenologists at their word. Part of the problem of phenomenology is that after you describe the world and open up eidetic seeing, you’re essentially done with the philosophizing. Pure phenomenological descriptions are inert if we don’t ask what effects those descriptions have in our experience. These descriptions can be tested by seeing how they harmonize in action pragmatically and what their conceivable effects are. I saw this union when James and Scheler both gave primacy to felt relations and the essences and/or habits such relations entail. When I saw that, that’s when I decided to place them together in dialogue. Persons and Values in Pragmatic Phenomenology is a consequence of that insight.

The fifth and final discovery is that James’s radical empiricism might just be the best form of phenomenology ever to be developed. I have yet to explore or develop this insight, and it would require juxtaposing James in relation to every major phenomenologist to see if such a working hypothesis has any traction. As a consequence of Persons and Values in Pragmatic Phenomenology, I may be returning to James more fervently than when I started. What’s clear to me, however, is that you can do more with James, but it’s not clear that phenomenologists alone can do much without pragmatism.

What’s Actual?

download-2The metaphysical status of pure actuality is interesting to me. Before me, I regard the physical as the actual. That’s an easy intuition to hold onto. Butter is one of only a few ingredients right now capable of being a bonding agent in baking. It’s unfolding in experience; I see the cupcakes rise in the oven. I take them out. I cut into one of them, and see the ingredients becoming whole. Now, those of you who read me know of my commitments to phenomenology and the ongoing experienced phenomena know that I do not divide nature and reality into what’s subjective and what’s objective. Like Whitehead and James, there’s no bifurcation of nature. Following this phenomenological commitment, pure actuality refers to both what’s going on in each of the act-side and object-side.

Even if we are phenomenologists, it’s easy to identify the actual with simply the nonreductive content that’s immanent in the field of pure experience. In phenomenology, we might even reify the nonreductive as what is only capable of being actual in the same way that we wrongly associate the actual with the physical.

Pure actuality is what is experienced in immediate flux. One could easily be a neutral monist to what is considered actual.

The more difficult thought is to think that what’s actual does not track the potentiality of growth and the overwhelming openness of both conscious acts and the objective side. A pragmatic phenomenology would sustain a vision to the growth and becoming of how ideas and habits guide our limited, but by no means exhaustive, experience of nonreductive contents. Just as much as every snowflake (as seen in the picture) is so unique, the possible configuration of how reality becomes is unique into every event that arises, and also of the position of experiencer in relation to that event. The very ground of phenomena isn’t settled; it’s in the process of becoming. We experience experiencing. Every experienced phenomena is an experiencing. What’s actual now is, then, only possible because all actualities are possible (or so I am thinking). Simply because something is not appearing, or something is not taken as physical doesn’t imply that actualities don’t exist independently of their instantiation in the field of experience. In fact, we might posit that all actualities exist universally until their instantiation in the growth and process of reality itself.

The strange thing is that there’s no knockdown argument for this speculation as there is for any metaphysical description. The sole criterion is how we experience the world and if that description coheres with those facts of experience.

All actualities are universally possible.

All possibilities we know are actualized.

Simply because we know some actualities doesn’t mean that other configurations of reality are not possible and could not like a tree limb grow towards what’s possible in a way yet to be experienced.



Epistemic Inconsistency and Lying About Santa

santa lieIf we accept the goal of epistemology, then we’re concerned with finding the conditions that describe when we should accept some beliefs over others. We look for principles of justification. In this way, epistemology is normative and descriptive; it gives us a thick analysis of beliefs.

One principle I think useful is called Ockham’s razor. Ockham’s razor stipulates that we should not posit entities in explanation needlessly. When the simpler explanation is possible, we should go with the simpler one over the more complicated one. During medieval times, there was a debate about whether or not the planets were pushed by angels or if God is so powerful, he could create planets that moved under their own power. Ockham’s razor would stipulate we should accept the latter over the former.

Now think about Christmas. On Facebook, I am waking up to family and friends all claiming that Santa came, yet some of these people are also philosophers and scientists with whom I would think find Ockham’s razor useful—if not true. These philosophers and scientists are placing gifts under the tree and then telling their children that Santa came.

For these philosophers and scientists, there’s a bit of inconsistency between the roles of parent and philosopher-scientist. If they ultimately thought that their children should be forming true beliefs about the world based on evidence, then philosophy/science-parents should teach their children about Ockham’s razor. When they do, children are faced with two competing interpretations of Christmas morning. Either Santa brought those gifts or parents bought them and placed them there. Accordingly, we know what we should believe since as adults we’re all in on the joke.

There’s a real problem in the United States with a lack of scientific knowledge informing policy and opinion. A National Science Foundation survey in 2014 found that of those 2200 Americans surveyed, 1 in 4 believed that the sun revolved around the Earth. More than that, we all participate in the collective lie about Santa. There’s no real benefit to lying to our kids other than the jealously we all have about their innocence. At that point, we might as well tell them that Frodo is real, being a Jedi is possible, and that their cousin is Kryptonian. These lies would at least be entertaining, yet what makes this type of lying wrong (and lying about Santa) is that these lies violate Ockham’s razor. I am not on rapport with reality if I think that Santa is real or that being a Jedi is possible. In effect, philosophy-science parents this morning are in tension and contradiction with what they find valuable (if they accept Ockham’s razor) on some practical or epistemological grounds and parenting.

Next, consider the ethics of lying. Is it right to lie collectively to children about non-entities that don’t exist? Without straying too much into religion, I will only focus on Santa’s existence. Generally, lying is at least prima facie wrong. As a deontological principle, the thought is we betray the rationality and autonomy of another when we lie to them. Under a consequentialist ethic, lying is more complicated because we could justify some white lies because no damage really results from them, and lying about Santa tends to fall in this category. Yet what if the harm is in not teaching children the truth about the world?

Consider again the NSF survey from above. Some Americans believe the Earth is flat, or any number of weirdly false claims about the world. They are false because those beliefs are not in rapport with what’s real, and one way to describe what’s real reliably is through teaching our children what’s scientifically accurate and in accordance with Ockham’s razor. It’s immoral then to lie about Santa Claus.

My Review of The Last Jedi (Spoilers Everywhere)

download-1Concerning The Last Jedi, I will spell out a few disappointments before giving my own philosophical take and embrace of the original trilogy. There are several initial disappointments.

First, I am disappointed with Snoke. We know nothing about this villain, and we were slightly invested in him from Episode 7: The Force Awakens. The internet was filled with speculation about his identity, how he survived and his relationship to the Sith and the Dark Side, and the Emperor.

Initially, the Emperor set up the Empire with a Dark Side theocracy at its center. Without the Force, it would collapse, and this was a theme Timothy Zahn explored in the Heir to the Empire Trilogy (1991) and other expanded universe sources picked up, e.g., Dark Empire (1997) graphic novels. From what I have seen of the First Order, the idea remains the same. Force-users hold the reins of power, and the First Order and the Empire are instantiations of the Dark Side where those reins of power become more than just metaphors.

Second, the Star Wars universe has developed technologies that have some rationale for their existence in the fictional setting. Weapons hurl energy bolts against other ships and we see turrets, turbolaser batteries, missiles and the like. When Vice Admiral Holdo rams the ship into the fleet, I do not think this is technologically feasible in this fictional setting. This tactic renders the very idea of modified freighters or capital ships with large weapons useless. Why build such ships and fleets if you are just going to ram capital ships slags of metal into fleet formations?

Third, when Holdo smashes the enemy fleet, the First Order had enough ships to encompass the fleeing ships three-dimensionally on the aft, port, and starboard formations. Much like the mistake of the fleet in Starship Troopers (1997) who clustered their ships around the planet to be beaten up by insectoid races hurling asteroids, the First Order failed fleet tactics 101.

Fourth, Finn is not very developed, and probably represents the most creative origin for a Star Wars character ever despite the writers lack of developing him. He is a stormtrooper brainwashed from birth who grows a conscience, and he obeys that moral conscience to flee from the insipid evil of the First Order. There’s some speculation that he grew a conscience in tune with the Force in some way. Notice Ren’s attention to him in the opening sequence, and we see him take up a lightsaber against Kylo Ren in The Force Awakens. In both films, Finn winds up trying to flee from battles he cannot runaway from (a possible analogy to millennial feelings about being born and thrust into the legacies of austerity and neoliberalism). In the heat of conflict, he finds his moral resolve, but only when his friends are in danger. His only practical function seems to be to know layout of Star Destroyers, Imperial bases, and has an extensive knowledge of tactics. However, this is not a very impressive reason for him to be kept around. His character has untapped potential and should be developed further than he is.

Luke’s character rejects everything that came before. He grew wise to the hubris of the Jedi at the height of their power. Luke is critical of the Jedi allowing Darth Sidious to grow in power right in front of them. Luke is rejecting the orthodoxy of tradition. Such tradition breeds hubris and mortal certitude. Yoda seems to agree, and in rejecting tradition, Luke’s refusal to teach Rey looks like the right call. She already has power enough to renew in orthropraxy what Luke rejects in orthodoxy. Yoda reminds Luke, our students succeed and exceed the charges of their masters. That’s the curse of all masters. When Luke is confronted by Yoda’s Force-ghost, he’s already on his way to burn sacred texts and teachings of the Jedi. Yoda calls down lightning to drive Luke’s point home, but also in refusing Rey, the Force and something like the Jedi will survive. Yoda and Luke fade away in The Force Awakens to inaugurate new adventures. images-1

In Buddhism, sometimes monks will burn sacred texts in front of their students. It’s very easy for the young and devoted to attach themselves to the possession of a sacred teaching rather than focusing on the right conduct such teachings should bring about in those that study them. In this way, both Luke and Yoda recover a pragmatic and existential orientation to what it means to be spiritual, religious, and in this case, Jedi, and they see this renewal of purpose to the Jedi in Rey. Rey also seems to embody a more complementary idea of the Force than what seemed a separation between good and evil from before.

Rey is the cosmic balance to Ren’s raw power. Snoke reveals that he thought Luke was Ren’s equal in power, and here the Force seems to have chosen a nobody-Jakku-born spacerat to bear that responsibility. Rey and Kylo overthrow Snoke and in their cooperation, Rey pleads with Kylo not to go in the direction of the First Order. He asks her to join them, and she pleads with him to stop. Their interaction embodies the ebb and flow of a complementary universe rather than the earlier dogmatic black and white, light and dark absolutism of the hero’s journey me and those older than me grew up with. In some ways, this might resemble a millennial retelling of the Star Wars mythos from a younger generation that seems to reject organized religion for both science or spirituality. For me, this retelling of the Force is more Tao than the rigid orthodoxy of an inherited Judeo-Christian (Jedi vs. Sith) dogmatism (I’ve talked about this before over at Philpercs).

Like the Tao, Rey seems to be fluid with respect to the Light and the Dark. When she goes into the Dark Side hole on Ahch-To, she is looking for answers about her parents. In her vision, her image is reflected back in a nearly endless mirror until she sees her own reflection staring back at her. One possible interpretation could be that she has no parents, and that she may well be a clone—a copy of a copy of a copy.* Of course, this only holds if we maintain a very literal interpretation the nearly endless mirror scene. The Dark Side cave warned Luke about his possible folly. Another interpretation might be to figure out what the Dark Side warning is. Perhaps, she expends so much energy on her parents that she loses sight of herself—a more likely interpretation, I think.

The Last Jedi succeeds more than it fails, however. First, I like the more nuanced understanding of the Force. Today’s youth is more cynical, more appreciative of context, and the directors are capitalizing on these more contemporary (and sensible) attitudes. As a moral theorist, contextual details matter more than adherence to rigid uncompromising moral principles that oversimplify moral understanding and nuance. At least, this describes my theoretical commitments regarding morality. In Episode 7 and 8, the morality of the Force is not as dogmatic as in the original trilogy. In the original trilogy, Star Wars suffers from what Terry Gilliam said of fantasy in an interview several years ago. “Fantasy isn’t just a jolly escape. It’s an escape, but into something far more extreme than reality, or normality. It’s where things are more beautiful and more wondrous and more terrifying. You move into a world of conflicting extremes.” In fantasy, good and evil can acquire more poignant and manifest roles in everyday life.

The fact that fantastic fiction can oversimplify conflicting extremes is a reason why I do not accept Dan Fincke’s interpretion of The Last Jedi over at Patheos. He’s sees Nietzsche’s critique of dualistic morality in The Last Jedi everywhere (where in this essay it should be understood perhaps as embracing a more virtue-oriented approach to Jedis, or understanding the transition away from deontological rigidity to a more Taoistic metaphysics undergirding the Force). While I am sympathetic, Fincke ignores the metaphysical truth of the conflicting extremes in the original trilogy and the role that fantasy embodied rather than imposing our own philosophical views and finding confirmation of them in the original trilogy. We should understand the contrast provided by both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi and the ultimate philosophical departure concerning those conflicting extremes. We are moving away from those extremes, or at the very least as a culture we are seeing uncompromising rigidity and tradition in a negative light, especially regarding the Trumpist era of politics.

The Last Jedi speaks directly to Millennials about the uncompromising rigidity of tradition when Rose interferes with the Finn’s impending heroic sacrifice. Finn is about to take the speeder directly into battering ram cannon on the planet Crait. Rose flies right into his speeder preventing that sacrifice. Nearly dying, she looks up to Finn. She says that what makes us different is our ability not just destroy what’s in front of us, but what we find worthy to love. At this moment, the multicultural Disney ABC franchise is speaking to our contemporary climate, and I am glad they went there. So much hate has funneled out of the White House that citing the difference between love and hate is a necessary message. The earlier franchise romanticized violence in the oversimplifying extreme of calling for its necessity, and perhaps the love/hate distinction is this generation’s conflicting extreme.

Finally, we should talk a little bit about Luke Skywalker. If I were writing a roleplaying supplement, I’d make a new Force power and call it “Astral Projective Illusion,” and require Affect Mind and Projective Telepathy as its prerequisites. Luke projects himself across the galaxy, and everyone can see him. He’s not an illusion as much as we might think of a soft light hologram like we encounter in the X-men’s Danger Room. Poe Dameron, Leia, Hux, and Ren all see him. The illusion buys time for the rest of the resistance to escape, and Rey levitates rocks with the Force. Everyone witnesses her power and Luke’s power. The Force, then, is known and celebrated in the tale of Luke’s sacrifice again. Luke becomes the very legend Luke didn’t want himself to be.

Luke sees the Jedi complicit in the rise of the Dark Side Force Users. In fact, he stands over Kylo Ren momentarily thinking he should strike him down. This scene is told in three different tales borrowing from the narrative strategy of the Kurosawa’s Rashômon. In this Japanese samurai film, the same tale is told from three fluid perspectives, and this living fluidity of the encounter that turns Kylo and causes Luke to doubt himself eventually is a powerful tool. In Rian Johnson’s cinematic Star Wars tale, The Last Jedi is still a postmodern eclectic collage of cinematic influences.

*I owe this insight to the science fiction fantasy writer Casey Matthews.


Scheler and Vulnerability

imagesThe insight I find remarkably refreshing in Scheler is that values are given in intentional feeling. There’s no good (such as knowledge or friendship), person, or deed that’s not given-as-felt. Each good, person, or deed is encountered in terms of its value quality precisely because Scheler discovered the phenomenological reality of values resided in correlated feeling acts.

The implication of this view is that all felt aspects of experience and what can be experienced (all intended objects) are shot through with value. Like a drop of ink in water, the feeling acts always correspond to value qualities. For me, it also explains the content of what intuitions target. Moral intuitions track the feeling acts and intuitive content of them. They are given immediately.

Accordingly, there’s a hierarchy of varying degrees of givenness of feeling acts and values. The more endurable values are permanent, less transient. The more endurable values are intrinsically whole and less divisible. From these two working assumptions, Scheler posits that the highest feeling are spiritual feelings and the highest value is the dignity of persons given in religious holy values. That’s the contentious realm of Scheler’s more controversial claim. The really ethical implies an adherence to religious values. In this post, I do have a suggestion to rethink that hierarchy such that the religious and holy domain of values and feeling may not be the highest. Instead, they are just cultural regions in which values of vulnerability manifest the most. Let me explain.

Consider in Christianity that the Gospels contain an entire social ethic that addresses the marginalized, the poor, the unclean (as opposed to the Pharisees code of cleanliness). In Buddhism, our more natural and enlightened state is one in which we are spontaneously responsive to the suffering of others. What’s phenomenologically salient is that the absolute dignity of persons are given as wholly valuable, unique, but also vulnerable. Morality tracks self-other relationships and the various ways in which persons appear valuable simultaneously appear as vulnerable.

Religions, on their own, are attempts to address the existential realities of our suffering. They address what I call the aesthetics of suffering. With this in mind, the entire orthropraxy of religion consists of recognizing the vulnerability of the other, not just its singular unique transcendence found in the face-to-face encounter. Instead, Levinasian transcendence is undergirded by vulnerability, and while not all vulnerability can be eradicated (such as our mortality or suffering bodily disease), human action can contribute to or lessen institutional and intrapersonal vulnerability. We can realize more love into the world and foster conditions that can arrest willing exploitation and objectification of others that contributes to transgressing the other.

Of course, I will not get into the role religion has had both positive and negative effects on transgressing vulnerability and its history. My only intention in this post is to explain how we might reconcile what Scheler and Levinas find redeemable in religious phenomenological talk, and highlight (at the very least) what Scheler might be doing with putting personalist values within the sphere of the Holy. In a functional sense, it makes sense that religions are the place most responsive to the absolute dignity of persons. However, like most things, human beings are very good at exploiting vulnerability and “ruining a good thing.” There are plenty of instances in which religion is used as a way to gain advantage and power over others and sometimes it can be a sincere attempt to address the suffering of others.