File spoon-archives/bhaskar.archive/bhaskar_1998/bhaskar.9807, message 2


Date: Wed, 01 Jul 1998 12:26:23 -0400
Subject: Re:  BHA: Causal powers of absence - are they real?


Howard,

Just two comments.

1. You ask: "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?"  I think they are both real, however the ontological distinction is 
that in the one case the reason is manifested and in the other case not, in 
other words a real/actual distinction (where the actual is of course also 
real, though not conversely).

2. "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."

Why do we really want to say that an absence that makes the heart grow 
fonder is causally impotent?  What presence is doing the causal work
instead?  
Surely it is unsatisfactory to offer various emotions.  They may be the 
immediate causes of the increased fondness, but by themselves they are 
inadequate, unless you think they just fall out of the sky, as it were.  If 
you suddenly die, one explanation for your death is that you ingested 
poison.  That explanation (assuming it's true) is satisfying at the level 
where one asks "Did he have a heart attack, or what?"  But your relatives 
are not liable to be satisifed by it!  A complete causal explantion has to 
involve the explanation of how you came to ingest poison.  Similarly, a 
complete causal explanation for increased fondness has to include an 
explanation of how the emotions were acquired.  

Now RB makes an important point that absences are experienced as lacks.  You 
might then claim that the explanation of the emotions is the subjective 
experience of absence, moreover you can argue (correctly, I believe) that 
such experiences are onts.  Do we not then have a complete explanation 
involving no absences?  If you answer in the affirmative, then by parity you 
ought also say that joy at someone's presence is entirely explained by 
reference to one's experiences.  Following this line commits us to the 
epistmic fallacy.  Instead, we must rather relate our subjective
experiences, of 
absences as well as of presences, to the reality that those experiences are
about.

Now you seem willing to accord absence an ontological status, but your
concern is that absence seems to lack causal potency.  Is the joy at
someone's presence really all that different from the fondness due to
someone's absence?  Why is a person's presence potent in regard to the
ensuing joy, yet the person's absence is impotent in regard to the ensuing
fondness?  One answer, explored above, commits the epistemic fallacy by
placing all causal potency in subjective experience.  Do you have an
alternative, realist analysis that supports the causal potence of presence
in causing joy yet does not support the causal potence of absence in
causing fondness?

Louis Irwin





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