Monday, November 21, 2011

UC Davis, Political Violence on Campus and the Occupy Movement

Universities are not places for police actions, and the intimidation used by police on peaceful protests. Universities are no violence zones. Period. End of story. I'm sorry, but call me old-fashioned. Weapons do not belong where the mind should have free reign. This means that violence of any sort is intolerable and wrong. Universities are about seeking out the truth and asking questions. The point of a university is never to be a place that condones violence. When the Chancellor Linda Zatehi condoned and ordered the removal of peaceful protesters at UC Davis, she violated the sanctity of the university. I am not surprised at the least, however. The Administrators of our universities are often scholars that couldn't hack it.

Now let's not be fooled. The Occupy Movement is so named since it is a form of civil disobedience that disrupts the cohesiveness of a public space's meaning. It seeks to appropriate that space, to re-invent its original function and re-integrate that space into an interrogation of the de facto meaning the space originally held. In this way, the Occupy movement seeks a transformation of a space as part of its protest. It is a disruption of the original status-quo, and calls attention to the specific problems and challenges facing America. As such, it is a new form of civil disobedience. It is a call to self-interrogation inasmuch as it might highlight or specify its claims.

Within the occupation, there is no violence. It plays on the ambiguity by calling for transformation by occupying, but occupying with irony. Usually, the term occupying is completely disruptive in that occupiers are the leftover of some invading force--"the boots on the ground" keeping steady the peace after some war. Here, they are occupying not through violence, but by locking arms, holding working groups and sharing ideas so that something may foment, come to the surface and radiate outward. It is a call for social transformation without much design; it is an organic dialogue that moves about in its own way like an infant learning to take its first step. Eventually, it will take form, mature and make demands. But part of its inability to be co-opted by the larger discourses is an enactment of political refusal. The Occupying movement is a movement actual commitment since so many times before the partisan discourses seek to integrate populist movements into itself and play off that political energy. Here, the political refusal is a resistance, a civil disobedient form itself. In that regard, it is very clever; it is neither Democratic or Republican. Though, I wonder how long before the possibility of the Occupy Movement becomes a New Left and integrates itself into the populist movement to reelect President Obama. Time will only tell, though I digress.

As a form of peaceful resistance, the system will lash back. There will be arrests, perhaps violence as we saw, and the integrity of the university will be far from the police officer's mind. However, it should never be far from the mind of a Chancellor that calls for the intolerance of peaceful protesting.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A. R. Luther's "The Articulated Unity of Being"

There is a lot in this essay, and I offer my thoughts in no particular order. I am, however, interested in what is necessitated ontologically for values to be given in experience, and how far the phenomenological method is privileged by Scheler--the latter is a question about the merits of interpretation of his works. Oftentimes when I discuss Scheler's work, it seems that people want to push the phenomenological angle and subordinate later inquiries into metaphysics and philosophical anthropology to Scheler qua phenomenologist. It is easy, however, to smooth over the complexity of a thinker's thought and relegate the complexity into a unified conception. We make systems out of past thinkers usually; it is rare that past thinkers attempted to systematize their own thought in ways we reconstruct and interpret them. Thus, I am plagued by the tenacity of the phenomenological angle of interpretation of his later works.

Most notably, Arthur Luther apparently had a fondness for the phenomenological interpretation to such an extent that he reads the Eternal Cosmos in Man against Sceler's phenomenology. 

For Heidegger, existence can be described without value. In some way, there is a mooded relief and backdrop implicit in the field of human life, but there are no values associated with those moods, only their function in relation to us. However, for Scheler, values can be articulated without human beings, but what they cannot exist without is God. For Scheler, as Luther interprets him, man, person and God come together in a creative becoming that is inexhaustibly full and rich. It is a coming together of the vital impetus and blind releasements of force and power in our biological reality and simultaneously the abiding and immediate expression of our primordial loving. For Luther, this structure has more phenomenological depth.

Pushing deeper here, it must be said that simultaneous and co-operative acting does not mean that God executes an act and that man as person executes an act, and that these two acts coincide. Simultaneous acting means that an act executed in and through man as person, when it is directed towards higher values (ultimately the Holy) is simultaneously God acting, to the extent that He is becoming in and through man becoming as the realization of values, which although disclosed in and through man, transcend man as absolute, by hence, as values of the absolute person, as values which coincide with the directedness of primordial loving. Moreover, in and through such realization of values God becomes really and fully who He is, but in a way that does not exhaust the fullness who He is because it is a way rather than that fullness itself. This relation between fullness itself, whole or totality (Ganzheit), and concrete expression, manifestation, realization is possible because fullness itself, whole or totality here is spirit, which is to say, no thing or object. Fundamentally boundless, the fullness which is spirit is inclusive while transcending as a whole or totality, any expression, manifestation or realization (Luther, Articulated, p. 36). 

The actualization of acts is a relational aspect given entirely in the fullness of spirit. Man as person realizes higher values in a simultaneity of God realizing his own fullness of spirit whenever we realize higher values. This realization is a becoming in and through man, and unmentioned in the passage above is the plurality necessitated by that becoming. As such, like Levinas, God can only be a possibility realized in human community in Scheler's thought. It takes others, and others held at the level of un-objectifiable spirit or person, for God to become realized in and through man. This is why Being for Luther and Scheler means "solidarity of persons." A solidarity of persons "is a community of uniquely executed dynamic orientations" (p. 37). Persons are radically unique points of dynamic orientation. Phenomenologically, they are given in terms of their ability to act and be free such that persons are spontaneous free initiators of acts.

The point of citing the above passage is that it one candidate amongst many that pushes Scheler in a phenomenological direction. However, I wonder if the tone of phenomenology is accomplishing anything significant here. This worry manifests since I have recently written extensively of the phenomenology of essences in the Formalism for part of my dissertation. I see this type of phenomenology as vastly different from Heidegger's hermeneutic turn in sections 31 and 32 of Being and Time. Luther construes Scheler's phenomenology as a deep commitment to an irreducibility. At the beginning of the Essay, Luther provides a lengthy but very relevant passage,

What is unique about Scheler's phenomenological approach is that it constitutes an attitude of "openness towards...", which permits what is revealing itself to reveal itself as it is in itself. The significance of this approach, or attitude, is that the openness it cultivates excludes reductionism of any sort. It is an openness which is ready for revelation in its fullness. More specifically, the openness here is the implicit affirmation that what appears is precisely what it is (Wesen) and not something else, hence, cannot be reduced to something else. The approach is not so much determined by an applied methodology as it is by how what is appear is , in fact, appearing in the openness who is man. The effort, then, in Scheler's phenomenology is not to reduce something to something else, or to explain something away, or to demonstrate the proof of something , but to account for "everything" as it discloses itself in concrete experiencing...Phenomena are everywhere apparent, referring to one another, in a dynamism of appearing that indicates an inexhaustible richness of potential meaning-fulfillment. The problem becomes one of penetrating each phenomenon, each revelation as it is in itself, in order to lay bare  or let appear in some way that center or core or whole or totality which constitutes its essence (Wesen) or inner actuality (Wirklichkiet), without losing sight of the fact that each phenomenon is in relation to all other phenomena. The relational character of "appearing" is a priori. Man is man as a unique "place" of appearing; appearing here includes implicitly all that can appear, without determining in advance what will appear, with respect to the phenomenon itself or to the phenomenon as situated in the horizon or totality. In short, one is always encountering a whole, in and through perspectives, which either diminish or augment, occult or disclose the richness of that whole (Luther, Articulated, p. 4-5)

Before, you will note in the very opening, two words used by Luther. These are "revelation" and "fullness." Fullness for Luther is a way to communicate how the givenness of spirit and God are considered overflowing. A language of epistemological emphasis would talk about spirit and God as reified abstract representations,and could not account for the experiential elements of these two words. Yet, this brings up the fascinating point that if Luther along the way has tripped up Scheler. In the Formalism, Scheler makes references to God and the relationship between man, person, values and spirit. Yet, he does not present his talk about phenomenological method with the chosen religious tones with which Luther communicates it. Phenomena are apprehended as immediately given essences within intuition. If anything, the phenomenology of the Formalism is more akin to something like William Alston's religious epistemology than importing the theological emphasis with phenomenological tones.

Luther's talk about phenomenological description not succumbing to reductionism is a familiar point, especially considering the inauguration of phenomenological method in Husserl preoccupied itself with the erroneous tendency of psychologism. Psychologism proffered to reduce logical laws to descriptive psychological laws to the point that the normativity of logical laws could not suggest itself as a way we ought to reason. Instead, if we reasoned logically, it was because we were determined to do so since we had proper psychologies. Husserl's Logical Investigations is, then, a defense of the irreducibility of logical laws and how they are constituted within intentional consciousness. Husserl, like Luther, is consistently a good phenomenologist, and insofar as Scheler is a phenomenologist, he is attempting to describe phenomena as they appear to him. We do not presuppose anything about those phenomena, but let them appear as they will in experience. However, this also commits us to the possibility that if we are "too open" or in Luther's emphasis too "open towards" in attitude, then any phenomenon insofar as we have a word for it, or need to invent one, can appear for phenomenological investigation. This would be fine if we were nominalists like William James. However, Scheler has some very nasty things to say about ethical nominalism to the point that we can infer that he would be against any larger commitments to nominalism. By Luther exploiting that phenomenological openness in Scheler, it is very easy to sneak within that openness the very suppositions of a theological phenomenology without really being honest about it. It is, therefore, an open question whether or not all things can appear, nor should we be so naively open to the world such that simply because Scheler's phenomenological approach admits of irreducible phenomena  that we should admit God, spirit, persons and values tout court.

Certainly, God, spirit, persons and values have a central place in Scheler's thought. This cannot be ignored. However, is it really the case that phenomenology can admit these things and still remain phenomenological? Perhaps, I am echoing Dominique Janicaud's worry too much. If we honestly bracket all things about moral experience, it seems intelligible that we can phenomenological access to the givenness of value in emotive intuition. I can readily point to examples of those kind such as loving and preferring in Scheler's thought, and readily admit them as evidence. Yet, to point to something like spirit or God is another matter entirely. Scheler can freely admit a phenomenological conception of the person as the intentional unity of acts. Being a person manifests as being the locus of intentionality in a lived-body. These are things that we can also easily point to describe. However, to call spirit the interiority of our experience the sphere of actuality and one of several spheres in human experience is not a readily available phenomenological insight. These spheres are not irreducible phenomena, they are mediated. Our understanding of organic and inorganic being might be phenomenological at first, but to put these concepts in touch with each other in a system is to exploit the openness attitude and irreducibility criterion of phenomenological description. Calling them phenomenological is a ploy in authority; it is a trump card against skepticism and the natural attitude. In this way, phenomenology is always in danger. It can be too open and liberal with what it thinks is given, and shore up one's biases rather than disclose what is truly given.

I suggest a way out of this predicament. When Scheler talks about how man relates to God, perhaps he is simply doing that attempting to conceptualize man's relation to God. Given how Scheler later came to reject Catholicism, it was a very pressing philosophical inquiry for him. We need not presuppose that this inquiry must take a phenomenological orientation that grounds all other attempts. To push the phenomenological angle oversimplifies many of the issue that Scheler's very short lived life could not further develop. What we do have, however, is a dynamic thinker that regularly adopts new methods, addresses completely new and alien contexts, incorporates old ones, and synthesizes all of these elements with frustrating detail. As such, Scheler scholars may always be frustrated that Scheler is not given to easy systematization, but that is exactly why we like him. This is also where Luther went wrong.