File spoon-archives/bhaskar.archive/bhaskar_1998/bhaskar.9807, message 10

Date: Fri, 3 Jul 1998 15:04:35 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: Re:  BHA: Causal powers of absence - are they real?

If you are going to explain desire as an ont, Louis, I don't think
you can do it without an explanation of the symbolic, linguistic
and social network by which the meaning of your desire is
organized.  What does it mean, by the way, to say "my specific idea
(as opposed to meaning)"?
In other words we talk about an ontologically emergent stratum, and
it is important not to collapse the the social and the meaningful
into the purely natural.  Motivation or desire (final cause) is
emergent from the physical world (the domain of material causes) so
that we can say that these belong to different ontological strata
and we have to understand the relationship of emergence in order to
explain their relationship.  The stars burn because the speed of
movement of hydrogen atoms overcomes the repulsive force of their
nuclei and fusion occurs.  Perhaps the Aristotelian framework
doesn't work so well in that example.  But it works well enough for
striking a match.  Marx views labor as purposive agency, that is,
as the force mediating between the strata of motivation and the
physical, and Bhaskar picks up on that.  But we can make two
errors:  (1) thinking that ideas, desires or motivations have
causal power in and of themselves (idealism), or (2) thinking that
there is nothing but material transformations and that ideas are
the phenomenal fluff of neurochemical reactions (eliminative
materialism).  We need the sense of mediation offered by the
concept of labor as purposive agency and the emergent materialism
associated with it.  To say desire is efficiently causal is
problematic because you desire to act and produce nothing. -- the
limbs are paralyzed, for example.  You *can* say *agency* is
efficiently causal because it is a muscled causal transformation in
nature of material things that are part of nature.  That is the
material world distinction between "agency" and "desire."  You can
say that agency is always purposive, but not that purpose is
efficiently causal.  That's why I think it's necessary to come back
to the question I asked about the ontological status of the
linguistic, symbolic and social networks according to which our
understanding of the world is organized, an organization emergent
from the world of material causality which it organizes.
In a separate post I've collected some passages from Bhaskar that
show his use of the Aristotelian framework of causality.  It is
clear he is committed to the framework (query whether Harre and
Madden are?), though not always to the way Aristotle would have
understood it.  So in rejecting the scheme, one would want to make
clear also, for example, how much of the TMSA (the transformational
model of social activity), is being rejected along with it.  
Anyway, notice this:  in the fourth excerpt Bhaskar refers to "the
material causality of social forms and the efficient causality of
beliefs."  He says these emerge as "conditions of intentional
agency and discursive thought respectively."  This is a very
provocative idea.  If beliefs did not connect to our ability to
transform the causal world, I think it is true that we would have
no linguistic ability at all.  But as far as I understand things
now, I think it is just wrong (and idealist) to say broadly that
beliefs are efficiently causal.  Intentional agency is efficiently
causal.  There's a difference.  Intentional agency is not only
ideas and purposes but also muscle and kinetic energy.  You can't
engage in causal transformation without these.  You just can't. 
The concept of intentional agency bridges the emergent distance
between the ontology of the mental and the ontology of the
physical.  Reasons as causes rests upon the twin propositions that
we always act in the world and we always act according to our
understanding of the world.  In other words that our agency is
always intentional.  But there is a difference between the
linguistic network and the causal network.  Otherwise why do we
concern ourselves with the reduction of the one to the other (I mean 
concern ourselves with the *impermissibility* of reducing one to the 
other)?  It is an implication of emergent powers materialism that we can't
reduce the one to the other.  Then we need a bridge from the one to
the other.  Intentional agency mediates the difference and we need
to know much more about how the connect occurs, about how we can
characterize it, about its specificity. 
Howard Engelskirchen

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