Phenomenological Moral Supervenient Realism

I am trying to explore whether or not any of this makes sense.

First, as everybody may know by now, I defend a version of moral realism rooted in Scheler’s phenomenology. Let’s review what these theses are.


1. Being-in-an-act manifests value in the world in affective intentionality. The material-content of values is based in intentional-feeling.

2. For Scheler, the higher modes of feeling are independent of physical organization. The spiritual life of value and feeling are not reducible to any other lower form of organization.

3. Being-in-an-act is the mode of affective intentionality that opens us up to value’s possibility or impossibility; the corresponding modes of being that realize value are love, which opens us up to value, and hatred that closes us off from value. These are separate modes of feeling.

4. The co-operation of intrapersonal relationships can either realize more love or hatred into the world, and thus either ascend in value-rankings or descrend value-rankings.

Because Scheler’s phenomenology ontologizes human feelings, I have been thinking about how to classify this value-ontoloy beyond the label participatory realism I concluded in my dissertation. Needless to say, participatory realism is the thesis that values are realized by a subject’s participation in affective intentionality, and through affective intentionality, values constitute either a person, good, or deed–what could be viewed in 1-4. The real answer turns on how exactly to interpret phenomenological constitution. Constitution is a concrete language about feeling and participation/realization of value into being. Yet, there are limits to this type of language. Let me spell out a possible objection to my project I find worthwhile to think about.

If someone had said to me “I get that you have discovered value ontology in Scheler in being-an-act and you claim that intentional constitution of the feeling act are responsible for value’s realization”, then all I have done is passed the buck of value ontology on the back of Scheler’s conception of affective intentionality. Let us assume I answer by explaining that affective intentionality, like all other intentionalities, transforms the quality of intended objects in time. This transformation or shaping an intentional objects meaning by an intentional act is called “constitution.” The apple is given to me as valuable in vital feeling; I am hungry and have not eaten breakfast. If I do not eat, I will remain hungry and the second option of looking at the apple as not delicious might appeal on a sensible level. Even if I do not like apples, the higher value of my anticipated need to eat as an organism in an environing world should take hold of even the lower value, especially if my access to food is limited.  Husserl claims that constitution is the sui generis of meaning. Originally conceived as a temporal constitution, the meaning of some phenomena are rooted in their disclosure in time to being experienced. If that’s truly the case, then I have just opened up my account to an objection of passing the buck. Now, it’s the constitutional power of affective intentionality that is responsible for value’s being.

Identifying the phenomenological reasons for why something exists indicates thinking about phenomenology as more than just a series of descriptions about experience within a certain relation. Instead, the most fundamental relationship we have to value is feeling act–value correlate relation. At its root, the ontology of value is fundamentally relational, and that’s why it took great pains to figure out exactly what I thought about value for the past several years. Moreover, the version of moral realism I am after is a concrete, dynamic, and relational, not concrete, static and independent. There is no strong mind-independence. There is only a commitment to the fact that human beings experience the world in such a similar way that claims about value can be concrete in the phenomenological disclosed process of experience (I realize how problematic and ontologically-laden the term “process” is). However, how do I cash out this explanation of an ontology of relations? Last time (in the dissertation), I borrowed from Heidegger. I thought of Scheler’s affective intentionality as Befindlichkeit  and how we can think of phenomenology as a way to disclose a fundamental ontology of how we are in the world. Here, I want to borrow from supervenience and interpret intentional constitution as a form of supervenience, and William James’s neutral monism.

At first glance, this move might seem strange, so let me clarify. Typically, in philosophy of mind non-reductive physicalists use supervenience to talk about functionalist account of mind. In that way, we can say the mental state functions in such and such a way without being committed to a non-natural conception that we’re talking about the functions of a soul or monad. We are only talking about minds in the physical world. We can say that the mental supervenes on the physical. Such an account is uni-directional. If we were idealists, we could say that the physical supervenes on the mental, and we would get a version of idealism, I suppose. Again, such an account would be uni-directional. The end of the supervenience relation is the primary stuff we take to be the most fundamental. Throwing neutral monism into the mix only adds to the confusion as to how supervenience could properly function.

Neutral monism is the thesis that the world can appear as either fundamentally mental or fundamentally physical. For James, the purpose of my relation is directed by me, and so how I come to regard these relations has more to do with the purpose I assign in thinking one stuff more fundamental than the other. For example, the living room may appear to me in mind as a memory when I am trying to recall where I put my wallet. I am at work and cannot readily go home anytime soon to see if my wallet is in the living. If I am permitted to go home, I can walk into the same living room. When I walk into the living room, the living room is now more a physical object than a psychic content recalled through memory. Accordingly, the ontological neutrality of the living room is clear. The role the concept of living room plays has to do with my purpose. Both purposes are so plausible that we cannot assign either the concept or the percept more ontological priority. James is clear that we should remain neutral. There is only one type of stuff. Both concept and percept are the stuff of pure experience.

How does neutral monism about the stuff of pure experience help us regarding the constituting/constituted relation in phenomenology that I have claimed is at bottom of value ontology? The answer is basically that there are two directional supervenient relations occurring at the same time. The intentional object or percept is constituting how I may experience it, and in that way the constituting relation is an ontological and therefore supervenient relation as well. The objective complex of the experience may already be decided already and I happen upon these complexes. For instance, I do not re-constituted a new meaning out of a stop sign when driving on a road. I accept its already constituted status and find it constituting me. As a driver, I do not regularly run stop signs. However, my intentional feeling can also supervene or constitute how I feel about this particular stop sign. Say my parents died in a car crash at this stop sign, and so I cannot help but feel like avoiding this place. I could actively decide to take alternative routes and avoid how I feel towards it. In either case, some elements of experience find more prominence in the purpose they are serving in my experience. The reason why I think Husserl can claim ontological neutrality about the constituting/constituted relation of the intentional act and intended object is to think that there are two simultaneous supervenient relations canceling each other out. One must also be thinking that intend objects are just not constituted but constitute acts as well.

With respect to moral claims, we make ought-claims rooted in feeling. We participate in affective intentionality to realize values into the world since only persons can realize value. This relation is more on the side of feeling acts than it is on the goods of the world that are experienced as valuable. Still, every moral judgment that comes out of this value-experiencing, and moral judgments are always thick as Bernard Williams will put it. Ought-claims have a descriptive-component and an evaluative-component. If I say, “You ought to attend class more,” then I am claiming empirically I have observed you not attending class as you should, and secondly, I am evaluating the “should” part of attending class more regularly might help your performance. Such moral judgments are thick and deeply relational. As such, only an ontology rooted in relational concepts can adequately describe values. Therefore, I am a realist about the process of experiencing values as many Peirceans are realists about firstness.


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