Posted by | Chris | 18.7.10 | 1 Comment

One of the things that really struck me from ‘All Things Think’ was the use of the word “reason” in two senses. In the context of a discussion of the principle of sufficient reason (page 297 from which every quote below is taken unless otherwise stated), reason is both rational and grounding cause. I’m intrigued to understand more of this since my feeling is that the chapter spends some time dealing with the “pan-” of panpsychism but much less on the “psyche”; what is the power of psyche that is genetically related to being?

“We may now move on to the genetic or causal claim on the part of externalism”; the first step in this is to move beyond empirical philosophy to embrace a realism concerning causes in nature. Hume has shown that empirical in experimental philosophy causality can only be grounded in “anthroponoetic habit”, which is not grounded at all. Alternative to empirical philosophy then a realist metaphysics must ground causality in something else. Iain argues that Leibniz provides a principle potentially able to do just this.

I’ve read very little Leibniz and have only vague feelings about the kind of work he produced. Looking things up for this post I read interpretation of the principle of sufficient reason (PoSR from now on) as an argument for determinism. The first example given by Iain is from the Monadology: “there can be no fact can real or existing, no statement true, unless there be a sufficient reason why it should be so and not otherwise” (my emphasis). This certainly seems to imply determinism. However, it is not determinism which we are concerned with (not at the moment anyway) but reason and existence and the relationship between them.

Another statement of the PoSR comes in the Theodicy: “nothing ever comes to pass without there being a cause or at least a reason determining it, that is, something to give an a priori reason why it is existent rather than non-existent, and in this wise rather than in any other”. This is halfway to the other formulation given in the chapter (from the Principles of Nature and Grace Based on Reason): “the full cause is equivalent to the entire effect”. That the Theodicy links cause and reason gives some weight to the argument for “equivalence relations between reason and existence and cause and effect”. This argument in the chapter is conditional on the statements from the Monadology and Principles of Nature and Grace being one and not two different principles, a condition for which little argument is made. The formulation of the Theodicy supports the reading of the PoSR as principle of reason and causality. If we accept then that reason and cause are equivalent it is argued that “the reason for existence is a causal one and […] existence is always the effect of a reason”.

The externality thesis taken from Bosanquet coupled with the dynamic interpretation of Parmenides’ identity thesis is suggested as satisfying reason in the equivalent way of the PoSR. I do not fully understand externality but as I read it externality refers to the temporal dimension of nature, the activity (which is genetic) of priors in posteriors (which are complementary) or the metaphysical process of becoming; it is about time, activity and causality then. Causality in this sense is productive and equivalency is then understood generatively: “being = thinking entails that being generates thinking; in naturalistic terms, nature = reason entails that nature generates reasoning” (emphasis in the original).

Three conclusions are drawn from the argument so far:

  1. “[N]ature thinks, or reasoning is one of the powers causally operative in nature”.
  2. “[T]hinking is finite with respect to the that generates it”
  3. Consciousness is the product of reason which is the product of nature. Consciousness is not self creating but is generated by and forms a part of nature.

All this, so far, I think I understand. But I still don’t now what kind of power “thinking” or “reasoning” are. Obviously I experience my own thoughts or reasons but this does not seems the same as a simple cause, the kind active in every event in nature. Two lines of thought may expand this for us. First, the equivalence/generativity of reasons and causes to existents and effects is asymmetric in that “there is more in reason than in existence […] and more causes than have actual effects”. As I mentioned in a previous post I argue that a realist metaphysics will make reference to forms or powers that exceed their particular instantiation. This is a metaphysics in line with Plato (dynamically, not dualistically, understood), an ontology of universal and particular, virtual and real, eternal entity and actual occasion. Whichever way you choose to describe it reality is wider, or deeper, than actuality. In this sense then reason is a power of this depth.

Pierre Hadot’s The Veil of Isis is a history of the idea of nature from Heraclitus aphorism “nature loves to hide (phusis kruptesthai philein)”. These words have been variously understood: that all that lives tends to die; that nature is hard to know; that it wraps itself in sensible forms and myths; that it hides occult virtues within it, and that nature folds and unfolds forms from and infinite or ineffable Being. It is related to this final sense that towards the end of the book Hadot quotes Nietzsche from The Gay Science: “We should have more respect for the modesty with which Nature hides behind enigmas and colourful uncertainties. Perhaps Truth is a women who has reasons for not wanting to let her reasons be seen” (preface §4). The word translated as “reason” is “gründe” in the German. Reason is grounded in reason and these reasons (grounds) extend all the way down. No final reason can be given, for this would deprive reason of its power, and power is ungrounded. This is the second potential line of thought, that reason is the grounding of power and it is from this ground that posterior reasons are generatively powerful.

My etymological dictionary defines “reason” as a “fact or circumstance serving as ground or motive for action; intellectual power, thinking faculty”. Reason in the first sense is gründe; in the second sense raison (Leibniz wrote in French). The generative process of being and the dynamic movement from being to thinking is a serial repetition. Might we talk of this process under a new word (and yet another philosophical language): psyche (psūkhé)? The original meaning of breath, the breath that animates life, has a dipolar character something like a systole and diastole or a contraction and expansion. The contraction of being in actuality is then a formative ground for expansion into reason and contraction to new grounds.

I think it’s time to stop now since, first, I have collapsed the externality which described the dynamic panpsychism argued for, and second, I’m writing bad poetry and quoting from a dictionary. I still have these questions then: what power is reason and where’s the psyche?