File spoon-archives/bhaskar.archive/bhaskar_1998/bhaskar.9807, message 1

Date: Wed, 1 Jul 1998 01:52:46 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: Re:  BHA: Causal powers of absence - are they real?

Thanks very much, Louis, for reminding me that onts come in all
If a deont on causal criteria is a presence, is it a thing with
powers?  Or is it a no-thing with powers?  In either case what is
its nature or structure or mechanism of generation?  If we cannot
answer such questions without considering the causal whole of which
a deont is a part, then are we saying that things with powers have
gaps, even very large ones, and things with powers have limits so
that there are other things with powers and the world is a
pluriverse with gaps?  This makes sense to me.  Limits are
necessary to a finite thing being what it is and things combine
with other things so that it matters whether combinations do or
don't occur.  In normal speech it would be strange to avoid
reference to the causal potency of gaps or omissions or absence or
failures and in any event negativity is essential to causal
transformation .  But if absence makes the heart grow fonder, it is
also causally impotent (out of sight out of mind), and so for any
real inquiry the challenge is to identify structures, define these
and explain how they operate, gaps and all.
I do wrestle with the question of the ontology of mental things and
this seems to be a domain where CR could develop.  Tobin said as
much by calling attention to critical realism's underdeveloped
semiotic dimension in the Journal for the Theory of Social
Behavior.  Mental things are characterized by emergence from
material things.  They remain rooted in the material the way life
remains rooted in the physical.  First, mental things have their
source in the causal transformations of nature.  We gain knowledge
of the world by means of signs and signs -- words, gestures, our
experiences of things or events -- are always ultimately materially
embodied.  Second, we are never not engaged in causally
transforming the world and we always do so on the basis of our
understanding of it, even if we are oblivious to what the picture
we have formed of the world is.  This is the sense in which I
understand reasons to be causes.  But understanding is a form of
symbolically organizing the world and this must be in some sense
distinct from the causal transformation of it.  Because of our
syntactical ability we can fashion all kinds of meanings in
language -- fictions, counterfactuals, alternative scenarios --
some at least which have little to do with the world in any
respect.  I think it is possible to say that some of the meaningful
constructions a person can generate in a particular language are
ontologically inferior to ordinary things like trees and chairs. 
It seems we need a distinction between these and the understandings
we use to causally transform the world.  I suppose truth is one of
the ways we try to make that distinction.
Anyway talk of "information as onts" is ultimately a question of
emergence.  Here is a quote from section 2 of Chapter 2 of DPF at
p. 51:
     "To comprehend human agency as a causally and taxonomically
     irreducible mode of matter is not to posit a distinct
     substance 'mind' endowed with reasons for acting apart from
     the causal network, but to credit intentional embodied agency
     with distinct (emergent) causal powers from the biological
     matter out of which agents were formed . . . . On such a
     synchronic emergent causal powers materialism, reasons (that
     are acted on) just are causes."  
Apparently then we make an ontological distinction between reasons
that are acted upon and those that aren't.  Are the ones real and
the others not?  In PON RB makes a distinction between the
pretended and the real reason for doing a thing on causal criteria. 
Is this an ontological difference?  Is the real reason an ont, but
not the pretended one?  Does the linguistic network have no
existence "apart from the causal network"?  If in some sense it
does, what is the ontology of that (on causal criteria)?
Howard Engelskirchen

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