Sunday, 28 April 2019

Philosophical Confusions Part III: Derrida, Difference, and, Quite Possibly, Da Point

by Simon Smith

Last time you may recall, we had finally got to the point where Derrida – the very fellow this whole thing is mean to be about – stepped on to the stage. Then everything went a bit pear-shaped. The Illuminati kicked the door and dragged everyone off for ‘an attitude adjustment’. I’ve spent the last three weeks in a grain silo in Gorslava with nothing to eat but Soylent Green and a dozen little impenetrable sachets of mayonnaise.
The SG isn’t bad as long as you mash it up properly so you can’t see the eyebrows and bits of ear.
However, assuming that conspiracy theories and feeble attempts to get a running gag off the ground aren’t your thing, let us resume our discussion. The point we were trying to make, you may recall was that there may be some good reasons for Derrida’s suggestion that neither author nor reader are actually necessary for a message to be a message. And just what, I hear you ask, might those reasons be? Reasons want you to share ‘em; got their tongues hanging out, waiting to be said.
First, ontologically harness the message to author and reader and we seem to make the message a unique event, one never to be repeated or replicated. Obviously, everything I write is unique, uniquely unique even (as somebody famous once said); but I doubt if that’s true of anybody else’s communications. For one thing, people have the same conversations with one another all the time, often using exactly the same words and meaning exactly the same thing.  

For the love of merciful Christ! 
And your own fragile body! 
Will you please! 
Stop doing that?!

Whatever ‘that’ may be. Now, I fully realise that sentiment doesn’t entirely make sense in Derridean terms. Although, it may be worth keeping in mind that if we didn’t at least think it was possible for words to bear the self-same meaning at different times, such outbursts, with which I am sure we are all perfectly familiar, wouldn’t really get going in the first place. Given that, it might be worth bearing in mind J. L. Austin’s wise words about the underlying assumptions of ordinary language.[1]
     That, as it happens, may well be a topic for further consideration at some point: given the flexibility, or even fluidity, that Derrida seems to find in language-use, how do those ordinary language presuppositions arise in the first place? Why, that is, do we suppose that the things we say mean the same thing every time we say them? For that matter, do we suppose that the things we say mean the same thing every time we say them or is that just what we think we suppose we mean?

Another interminable ramble for another day. For the present, let us assume that, as Derrida suggests, differance remains perpetually at play in every single linguistic act – written or spoken – hurling the signified over a garden wall while smooching up a storm with the signifier. Meanwhile, there’s another reason, which has just occurred to me, for being suspicious of the idea that linguistic acts might be unique. In Science, Faith, and Society, Michael Polanyi talks about the nature of objectivity and the ways in which we designate things as ‘real’. (I can’t for the life of me remember where it comes, but it’s a short book – read it and you’ll be bound to come across it). In essence, Polanyi argues that the objectively real, or rather our experience of the objectively real, is ‘future-oriented’; that’s my expression, not Polanyi’s, obviously. What he means, I think, is that, in our encounters with the world, it’s the things which turn up time and again which count as ‘real’; and this is because those repeated encounters first allow us to form theories and beliefs about the world – they are the material from which those theories and beliefs are constructed – and then either confirm or disconfirm those theories and beliefs.
That, by the way, is why the sciences are essentially pragmatic: crudely put, the proof of any particular theoretical pudding is in the future opportunities that reality affords to dig in and have a taste. And, of course, the fact that dessert comes with a number of spoons so that everyone qualified and capable of doing so can also have taste is all part of it. Although these days, thanks to ‘publish-or-perish’ and publishers’ insatiable demand for novelty, most scientists are more like the person who orders dessert and then pulls a butter knife, threatening to gut anyone who come near them with a spoon.
The point here is that, if a pudding or indeed phenomenon of any kind occurs only once and with only a few witnesses, then we have no way to verify that it is, in fact, real, let alone what kind of reality it might be. A unique phenomenon, or pudding, cannot be checked or tested: it cannot be measured or assessed, or analysed in any way. We can’t even get someone else to come along and have a look to see if it really is what we think it is.
For example: is that stuff they serve in little plastic wine bottles on aeroplanes really the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
            With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
Or merely evidence that there’s a sick donkey somewhere on your flight? Who can tell?
Unlike that sick donkey, a unique phenomenon must stand outside the causal network that is the universe as we know and understand it. What’s more, any phenomenon that’s encountered only once can hardly impact on the way we think or act in the future. So there goes our most basic epistemological principle.
In any case, the point is— 

Wait, who are you and what are you doing with our most basic epistemological principle? Put that back! I’ve got an axiom and I’m not afraid to use it! I’m not kidding! Stay back! Stay back or I’ll…
                        KAPOW! KAPOW! KAPOW!
                                                            Urrrrrrr. Thud.

[1] This was in that exceptional essay, without perusal of which no philosophical education can be considered complete, ‘A Plea for Excuses’ in Philosophical Papers (eds J. O. Urmson & G. J. Warnock. Oxford: Clarendon, 1961). There, Austin reminds philosophers that ‘[i]f a distinction works well for practical purposes in ordinary life (no mean feat, for even ordinary life is full of hard cases), then there is sure to be something in it, it will not mark nothing’ (p. 133; my emphasis). Ordinary language (whatever that means) quite obviously is cannot and should not be the last word. ‘Only remember, it is the first word.’

Sunday, 21 April 2019

Philosophical Confusion Part II: Curried Derrida (with lime pickle)

by Simon Smith

The last time we foregathered I was thumping on about intentionality and the presuppositional logic that underpins it. This, in an effort to provide the set up to something that, one day perhaps, will turn out to be a moderately cogent thought about Derrida.
The discussion, as I recall, drew to a rather dramatic halt as I tried to serve up a curry that wasn’t just unpalatable, it was utterly indigestible. Then, because I couldn’t think of a sensible way to put a pause on proceedings, I faked my own death.
A writer has to be prepared to do these things when the chips are down and the devil is at the kerb, engine revving and the hunger on him for an onion bhaji. 
Nevertheless, the point I was trying to make was that I had no desire whatsoever to call my creation of that weird mess – that weird, over-spiced, vinegary mess – I had no desire to call it an intentional action and not just because it’s a bit embarrassing. In a sense, nobody intentionally made the weird mess.  That’s not just an excuse, either. In reality, it just sort of happened. Yes, it was very much a result of all the things I did (and a few things I didn’t do), but it wasn’t something I actually did. What I did was essay to make a curry and fail. Draw the inference from act back to agent too tight, however, and it becomes very difficult to explain what actually happened. The weird mess certainly bears all the hallmarks of an action; therefore, it must entail an agent: i.e. me. See? No room for error, or accident, or even a bad curry.
Entailment relations don’t allow for mistakes, for those many and inevitable instances when our intended actions go awry. If something looks like an action, then that is what it is; and if it is, then it entails the existence of the agent what done it.

And now we get to the bit about Derrida.
Well, we do in just one minute now. First, another thought about why necessity and entailment are no good for thinking about action in the proper, personal sense: not only do we sometimes (quite often, in some cases) end up not doing what we really mean to do, it’s not even particularly difficult to set out to do something without really knowing what we’re doing. I don’t mean those (altogether far too common) instances where someone will set out to do something that they don’t know how to do. Things like, oh I don’t know, building a catio, for example (that’s a real thing, Google it). Neither do I mean those instances where we might do something without considering, even for a moment, the consequences, no matter how politically and economically devastating they may turn out to be in the medium to long term. More simply, it just is remarkably easy to say much, much more than we mean to say; sometimes it takes someone else to fully understand what we’re on about. And if that wasn’t true, hermeneutics wouldn’t be a real job. 

So now we get to the bit about Derrida.
Nearly, just one final thought on intending. Another reason the keep the inferential relation between acts and agents a little bit loose is because it permits us to remain just that little bit humil. It means that, rather than saying, ‘I know, absolutely, positively, necessarily, and for certain that X must be the case!’ – a statement which, according to narrative convention immediately blows up in the speaker’s face – we can, instead, say, with just a touch of humility, ‘Well, I’m pretty sure that X is the case; in fact I can’t think of any other way for X to work. So, I’m quite confident about this one but, you know, I could always be wrong.’ That seems like a much more sensible philosophical position to adopt.

And now, finally, we get to the bit about Derrida.
Let me say to start with, that this in no way purports to be anything other than an initial, deeply puzzled, and no doubt fumbling attempt to get to grips with the Man in the Black Hat. It’s a thought in progress and the progress is slow. Excuses made, I think Derrida offers something very interesting and possibly rather important when it comes to thinking about relations and what they relate.
First of all, as everyone knows, Derrida was interested in writing. I gather, he regarded writing as, in some sense which I don’t fully understand, more basic or possibly more authentic than speech. One reason – and, again, I’m not for a second suggesting that it’s Derrida’s reason – might be that, when it’s written down, language becomes ‘self-conscious,’ ‘wakes up,’ in a sort of Feuerbachian sense. But that’s another story for another day; for now, let’s just stick with the writing thing. And on that subject, as I understand it, he says something like this:
Let’s suppose I write you a message. It doesn’t have to be anything complicated or profound, like a recipe for lamb madras, it could just be something trivial and simple, like outlining a cogent philosophical theology grounded in an anti-metaphysical metaphysics of action. (It’s amazing how, in my imagination, his examples are exactly the ones I would have thought of.) For that message to be a message, it has to be able to function without both the sender and the recipient. 
It might help to understand this rather peculiar suggestion if we think about the alternative for a moment. Let’s say that this message, such as it is, could only be a message, ontologically speaking, on the condition that I wrote it and you read it. Wouldn’t that be very odd? Evidently, you and I both know that you and I are both here right now, but how does the message know? Is it a conspiracy that goes to the heart of government or is it just a case of wilful misunderstanding? Who can tell? Wake up sheeple! The truth is out there! The lies are in your head!
Deep State conspiracies, aside, the point is—

Wait, what’s that banging at the door? Hell’s teeth! It’s the Illuminati! They’re on to us! Flush everything and head for the fire escape!

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Thanks and a Call for Contributions

Salutations, dear readers!
I know you’re out there somewhere, I can hear you breathing.

Your indulgence I crave for the briefest of spells. Two things I have, two things for a bright Wednesday afternoon.
Thing 1 is a simple thank you. On behalf of our authors: to those kind-hearted readers who have lately taken the trouble to comment on our efforts, you’re too kind. Well, perhaps not too kind; too kind might be something more like sending piles of cash or buying us speedboats and champagne and the like. Nevertheless, your comments are, believe it or not, very much appreciated.
It is always very nice to know that someone, somewhere, sometime, has taken the trouble to cast their baby blues – or browns or greens or what have you – over our writings, be they never so rambling and windy. It is nicer still when the occasional someone goes to the effort of posting a comment, even if all they have to say is that they enjoyed what they read.
Who am I kidding? Those are always the best comments. They warm the very cockles of our hearts; nay, not just the cockles but the entire sub- and supra- cockle area is kept toasty and snug by your thoughtfulness. 
Of course, those who spare a moment to respond at greater length kind, with a thought or two of their own, are also very dear to our shrivelled up literary hearts. Nice, it is, to feel that, once in a while, we are engaged in some kind of conversation; especially of the style where no one gets called a ‘Nazi’.

Thing 2 is more by way of an invitation. It occurs to me that the time may have come to open our doors and, indeed, our arms – metaphorically speaking – to contributions.
Short pieces of up to about 1000 words would be exceeding welcome, short pieces that are, for preference, in some way connected with or at least in orbit around concepts of persons or personhood (whatever that means). Writings philosophical, theological, psychological, sociological, historical, hysterical, creative, constructive, political, perspicacious, perspirational and, of course, literary, we should be most glad to see.
Writers and researchers keen to discuss or even – dare I use such filthy language? I dare, I dare! – promote their work should feel very free to get in touch. We’d like to know what you’re up to, as I’m certain, would our readers. The doings of others are always of considerable interest. Likewise, conference or workshop reports, reviews of (almost) any kind; or merely, as so often seems the case, reflections inspired by new reading and old conversations.

Should any of you be tempted, send your submissions to

A word about writing style. As you may have noticed, we do not have a ‘house style’ as such. All we ask is that submissions be as clear as possible with as little jargon/technical terminology. This, like change, appears to be an anathema to many philosophers. However, please keep in mind that not all of our readers are familiar with the nonsense-words we pepper our official publications with.
Submissions as editable documents please: .doc, .docx, .rtf or what have you; just not pdfs. And if you could put your name and affiliation (if you have one) at the top of the first page, that would be grand.
One last request: keep it clean. We’re delicate souls here at the BPF blog, untouched and innocent when it comes to all that mucky business you find on the internet – pictures of ladies sans vests and such like.
And if it’s not clean, it had better be good.

Sunday, 14 April 2019

Philosophical Confusions Part I: ADerridasayswhat?

by Simon Smith

I’ve been turning something a bit Derridean over in my mind recently. It was, in part, sparked by someone (can’t remember who) mentioning Jacques Derrida’s visit to the University of Sussex in 1997 (I think). I was a mere stripling at the time, about to finish my undergraduate degree in philosophy and go out into the big wide world. Well, Brighton. The man himself was everything any of us could have hoped for: brilliant, enigmatic, French. He wore a broad-brimmed black hat and a black cape; I remember him as carrying a stick, but that might not be true since memory paints it as a silver top cane, which at the time I hoped was a sword-stick. I still do. Derrida looked every inch the Continental Philosopher, an intellectual hero in the oh-so Romantic tradition. Next to the shabby fuc– individuals who populated the philosophy department at Sussex, he was very, very cool.
He was also quite incomprehensible, at least as far as this particular shabby individual was concerned. Understood nary a word of it. Impressed, I most assuredly was, but.
Since then, things have changed little. True, I’m no longer an undergraduate, shabby or otherwise. I even tuck my shirt in all the way round sometimes. I still wouldn’t claim to have a fulsome or especially clear grasp of Derrida’s philosophy, but I believe I have some idea as to what’s occurring and I’m working on it, insofar as it might turn out to be useful.
My rather loose noodling around with the Man in the Black Hat, came a bit more into focus recently when talking at a friend: viz. Dr James Beauregard also of this digital parish. I say, ‘talking at;’ it began as conversation, but I had, in Jamesian fashion (M.R., not Old Bill), ‘fallen somewhat into the tone of a lecturer.’ I suspect that, on the other end of the email, Jim ‘was feeling a little restive under… [my] harangue.’ And I dahn’t blame ‘im niyver.
In an effort to give that harangue still more focus, perhaps to the stage where it might, to slight some degree, begin to make sense, I decided to set it down here for the delectation and edification of any who might happen this way.

The discussion was, as is so often the case with Jim and I, about the nature of persons. I was maintaining a dynamic view: persons as persons-in-action, persons-in-relation (hooray!). Jim holds out for the ontological priority (whatever that means) of persons apart from action and relation in line with an older, metaphysic of the inert and the static (boo!). What set me off about Derrida was a comment to the effect that, in order to have relations or actions or anything of the sort, we need at least two somethings to do the relating or acting.
As it happens, I wouldn’t automatically disagree with this claim, except when being deliberately difficult or obtuse. In a purely philosophical mood, however, it all depends on the logical status of the word ‘need’.  Where ‘need’ signifies necessity or entailment relations – which it doesn’t actually need to do, as it were – the claim is certainly false. When we look at the fundamental constituents of the universe, we find that there are no actual things at all, only (but not just, no never just) the constant interplay of process: rhythmic patterns of energy or activity interconnecting like the bejaysus. There are no things to relate. 
On the other hand, if ‘need’ means ‘presupposes,’ then Jim is basically correct, especially at the higher level of personal action: relations do presuppose relata just as actions presuppose agents. But that just means, in order to talk about or make sense of ideas like ‘relation’ and ‘action,’ we need the idea of agents to do the relating or acting. Logically speaking, it’s a requirement not a condition. This gives us something a little looser and more flexible to replace rigid and supposedly watertight entailment relations. Presuppositional logic is, incidentally, how intentionality works: the intended, as Austin Farrer very nearly said but didn’t, presupposes the intending, the act presupposes the agent.
As an existence claim, this allows plenty of room for being wrong. I could, after all, be wrong about the circumstances I interpret as personal action. It might be a natural event, like the wind or the tides. Isn’t that the real meaning of magic and superstition, ghosties and ghoulies and the like? So we’re told. When I look at the stars, I might imagine that I see figures or symbols, figures and symbols presumably put there by somebody. But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’s just a lot of flaming gas balls scattered across the night sky and I’m projecting the symbols and figures onto them.


The point is, presuppositional logic allows for mistakes: what looks like personal activity (the placing of astral bodies in particular patterns) is actually nothing of the sort; it looks that way but isn’t really.

To put it another way, we can’t draw the inference any tighter because what counts as an intentional action is always going to be a matter of interpretation. And this is true, even when it’s something someone does; even, for that matter, when it’s something you or I do. We set out to do something deliberately, intentionally, and we do something else by accident or mistake. You pick up a glass of what looks like beer, but it turns out to be another kind of yellow fizzing liquid (though why someone put that in a beer glass is a mystery). This very evening, I set out to make a very nice curry. In so doing, I singularly failed. My intentional action went badly awry and what I actually made was a bit of a weird mess with too much vinegar and way too much tamarind. I did not deliberately or intentionally create a weird mess; that was an accident. Honest.
I’m actually a pretty good cook, if you want to know. Ask anybody. The only person I’ve even remotely poisoned is my father; and that, only a couple of times thus far.
In any case, the point is—

Wait, what’s that strange burning sensation in my thro….ack ack aaarrrgh?! Thud! 

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Articles and an Author's observations thereupon

The Blog?
by Julian Stern
I am exercised by the use of the definite and indefinite articles.  (Perhaps I should exercise more, as this, and jumping to conclusions, is just about all I get.)  When I say ‘the use’, I mean ‘a use’.  I wrote a book, one with the title A Philosophy of Schooling: Care and Curiosity in Community.  ‘A’, not ‘the’, philosophy. 
When I was a student, I used to hitchhike a lot, and if the driver asked what I was studying I might answer ‘philosophy’.  The most common question following that was, ‘well, what’s your philosophy, then?’  At the time, I thought it a rather poor question, and said something like ‘philosophy’s really a method, a way of arguing about things’.  For 20 years, I probably gave that answer – since I stopped hitchhiking, usually to myself.  And my answer was also, increasingly, the reason philosophy didn’t appeal to me. 
Gradually over the following 20 years, another answer emerged.  It is worth answering the question ‘what is your philosophy?’  A Philosophy of Schooling was my answer.  I used the indefinite article (‘a’ philosophy) as an attempt to make the book more definite.  It is a specific position.  I was intentionally contrasting the title with that of a book by Robin Barrow: The Philosophy of Schooling, published in 1981.  Robin Barrow taught philosophy of education to me when I was training to be a teacher in 1979-80, so his book is based on the course he had been teaching.  I hadn’t read his book until 35 years after it was written, when I was writing my own book, but I recognised many of the ideas and the anecdotes.  By calling his book ‘the’ philosophy of schooling, the author was saying that his book addressed schooling in a general, universal, way.  Some parts I agree with, others I disagree with.  What I disagree with most is the idea that schooling is something that can be captured by the word ‘the’. 
The consequence of having a philosophy is precisely that it means something, it is normative (as philosophers are wont to say), it means something or answers a so what? question.  Philosophers spend a lot of time interpreting the world; the point (a point), however, is to change – to learn, to become more real.  That is part of my philosophy, and as a consequence of that, the end of the book is the start of the conversation.  After the last conventional chapter is a ‘manifesto’ for schooling, saying what I do and will do, what I try and will try to avoid doing, and what happens when I am less than perfect. 
Mine is an ‘immanent’ manifesto, a making manifest what is there, if sometimes hidden under the snow, not a ‘transcendent’ manifesto or distant ideal.  But of course, immanent as it is, a piece of writing like this is of the past, present and future.  The Polish poet Szymborska says in her poem The Three Oddest Words,

When I pronounce the word Future,
the first syllable already belongs to the past

I’ve been tweeting bits of the manifesto for a while now (@2018Care) and will continue to do so – and have a Facebook page in the name of the great Irish thinker, Phil O’Sophy.  If you agree with the manifesto, tell me; if you disagree, tell me. 
Writing ‘a’ philosophy is a personal matter.  Admitting that it is a, not the, philosophy admits to it being personal.  But as a personalist, this is hardly an admission.  I am ‘a’ person, I am not a representative of personhood or of humanity.  The irreducibility of the personal is what makes personalism so important.  Whether this comes from Kant’s account of persons as ends in themselves, not merely means to ends, or from other philosophical or religious sources, persons are irreducible.  And this means philosophy is personal, a philosophy is a personal, irreducible, statement.  Any attempt to write ‘the’ philosophy (of schooling or of anything else) is an attempt to rise above particularity to universality.  In the attempt, the particular, the personal, is either lost or disguised. 
I have written a philosophy, not the philosophy.  On this, I am definite.

Julian Stern, Professor of Education and Religion, joined York St John University in 2008 as Dean of the Faculty of Education & Theology. Born and brought up in Hull [which we at the BPF do not hold against him in any way], he qualified at the Royal Academy of Music, Oxford University, Leicester University School of Education, and the Institute of Education, London. He was a school teacher in the South of England for fourteen years and worked in universities for sixteen years prior to coming to York St John. He has worked at the Institute of Education, London, the Open University, Brunel University, and the University of Hull.
He is General Secretary of ISREV, the International Seminar on Religious Education and Values, working with 250 senior researchers across 36 countries) and on the editorial boards of the British Journal of Religious Education, the Religious Education Journal of Australia, the Journal for the Study of Spirituality, and Other Education: The Journal of Educational Alternatives. He is also the Deputy Chair of the Diocese of York Board of Education, and a Director and Trustee of the Centre for Global Education, York.

Sunday, 7 April 2019

Neuroethics and Cartesian Metaphysics: An Enduring and Inconvenient Marriage

by Denis Larrivee & Luis Echarte

Philosophical roots of modern neuroethical praxis and neuroscience are greatly influenced by the metaphysical approach to natural reality developed by Descartes. Seen in contemporary trends like cognitive ontology, neuroessentialism, posthumanism, and extended mind theory these varying approaches reflect emphases on Cartesian philosophical attempts to come to grips with the empirical reality of the phenomenal subject and its fundamental, i.e., metaphysical, relation to natural reality.  

1. The Cartesian Legacy in Conceptions of Natural Reality.
A. The French Philosopher’s Novelty and Enduring Influence in the Understanding of the Natural World. 
Heidegger points out that Descartes effected a fundamental change in the understanding of natural reality by taking the ground of reality to be the autonomous I (Onishi, 2011). Before Descartes, natural reality was conceived as individuated, composed of entities or holisms that possessed unique properties distinguishing them from all other entities (Esfeld, 2004; Freddosso, 2010; Marion, 2007). Descartes’ introduction of the divided and autonomous I, distinct from the individual though Descartes attempted to link the subject to a bodily location in the pineal gland was consistent with his understanding of efficient causality that attributed to the ‘mental’ I a causal origin capable of effecting change. This exteriorized notion of causality initiated a scientific revolution in succeeding centuries that explored compositional and contiguous relations in natural phenomena and developed an empiricist epistemology that interpreted nature as a product of more and still more elementary components, which could exert direct, causal influences on one another. Nonetheless, the introduction of the segregated I created an enduring legacy in dualistic approaches to cognition.

B. Connecting the Cartesian Interpretation of Natural Reality with Metaethics in Modern Neuroethical Praxis
Cartesian compositional and dualistic conceptions of nature, in concert with their subsequent evolution, yet influence the understanding of the personal subject, cognition, neuroscience, and neuroethical praxis. Cartesian influence is most directly seen in the metaethical understanding of the personal subject and its manner of association with the physical reality of the individual, as interpreted by neuroscience. Because the personal subject constitutes a locus of value, the material reality of the body acquires value through its association with the individual subject. In general three modern metaethical variants trace their interpretation to Cartesian influence on the manner of this association, 1) the autonomy of the personal subject from the physical structure of the brain/body, seen, e.g., in posthumanism (Bostrom, 2005), 2) a tenuous and amorphous link, initially proposed by John Locke in his appropriation of the Cartesian subject, now influencing extended mind theories (Levy 2011), and 3) a direct mapping of the subject onto the material form of the brain/body, seen, for example, in neuroessentialism and cognitive ontology (Reiner, 2011). In posthumanism, the emancipatory and liberated I/ego validates plastic alteration of the material, neural architecture. In extended mind theory, ethical parity notions between the external and brain-based mind are used to justify neuromodulation of the brain. In neuroessentialism/cognitive ontology the subject is situated only to the brain or its parts which thereby acquire normative priority with respect to the body or remainder of the brain.

2. Unresolved Paradoxes Introduced by Cartesian Metaphysics
A. The Paradox of Hierarchy and Order
Cartesian emphasis on causal relations that are solely external, efficient interactions leaves unanswered the question of organizational order and why only certain arrangements are selected. Indeed, the explanation of preferred orders cannot be explained by efficient causal relations alone, e.g., as in interlevel interactions, but necessitates the invocation of a formal causal order that can account for such organization, like the case of intrasystemic feedback (Bechtel, 2017). In its absence features like neural integration are unexplained, leaving, unintegrated functionalist accounts of neural network operation to explicate operation. Such explanations, for example, are offered in cognitive ontology.

B. The Paradox of the Self: The Dynamic Unity of the Individual
The Cartesian emphasis on the isolated ego leaves unaddressed the necessity of the self as a principle of coordinated and dynamic unity. Without an overall unity that is subject to guidance it is not possible to engage in coordinated performance. This unity must emerge from within the individual, and not outside the topological perimeter of the body, that is, it is through the unique structural/operational order of the body and neural architecture that the self emerges (Mossio and Moreno, 2015). Extended mind, by contrast, presupposes that the self is emancipated from the body, lacking a common neural and biological core.

C. The Paradox of Subjectivity: The Mind Amidst the Material
The redaction of the autonomous ego that transpired in the 18th century after Descartes, situated the subject in the material composition of the body, leaving the generation of the subject to be explained on purely material grounds.  Increasingly complex behavior, the product of evolutionary advances, (e.g., self-agency/agent causality, consciousness), became through the Cartesian/materialist scheme the product of material forces alone. Yet, for this explanation to suffice material reality must be pre-endowed with properties that have a latent disposition to yield subjective order, a point made by Thomas Nagel in Mind and Cosmos (Nagel, 2012). The posthumanist challenge, however, presupposes that the materially altered - and emancipated and autonomous – subject/ego will remain unchanged.

3. Conciliating Cartesian Metaphysics and Neuroethics through Neuroscience
Modern neuroscience, once the province of single cell analyses only, today tackles empirical questions dealing with mega features of brain operation, like large scale network architecture or faculties such as memory. These current studies, that adopt a methodological legacy from Cartesian conceptions of reality, illuminate the organization and manner of working of the human brain, arguably the most complex natural structure in the known universe. However, they do not explain the why question for the brain and body’s organization, which reflects a supra(meta)physical order, one extrinsic to the brain and necessarily adopted in its design; e.g., the need for unity in individuated and coordinated action. This metaphysical ordering is made evident in neuroscience discoveries and can help to resolve paradoxes introduced by Cartesian thinking and conciliate, in turn, their resolution with neuroethics.

A. Functionalist interpretations of human faculties.
The inability of mechanistic i.e., having a central causal nexus - views of brain operation to explicate higher order argue for a systemic organization in which the brain (and body) are intrinsically and holistically configured, much like the autopoietic, recursive model of Varela and Maturana (1979).   

B. Extended notions of mind
The premise that the mind derives from an elastic and intersystemic organization is challenged by the individuation that is ubiquitous in goal directed, organismal life. The general observation of integrated autonomous wholes that are endemic in natural life reveals, rather, that living organisms must exist as entities in order to express properties like agency (Hooker 2008). Modern neuroscientific evidence is consistent with a dynamical self-organization that arises from within and extends throughout the whole individual, but not beyond him (Allen and Friston, 2016). 

C. Autonomous Ego
The Cartesian notion that the I/ego is segregated from the material form of its expression, is challenged by the failure to account for the appearance of subjectivity in material nature, suggesting, rather, that the material character of the natural world is itself impressed with a latent metaphysical order. The apparent existence of this impressed order seems to mean that subjectivity is not itself a feature derived from the physical reality of the world but rather one imposed from without (Nagel, 20). 

  • Cartesian attempts to explain causality in nature introduce modern riddles of brain operation affecting neuroethics.
  • Philosophy of science observations on neuroscience may help to resolve these ambiguities and offer a sounder metaethical foundation for neuroethics

Bechtel W (2017) Explicating top-down causation using networks and dynamics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Bostrom N (2005) In defense of posthuman dignity. Bioethics 19(3):202-214.
Esfeld M (2004) Quantum entanglement and a metaphysics of relations. Studies History Philosophy Modern Physics 35:601-617.
Freddosso AJ (2010) Thomas Aquinas: Treatise on Human Nature. South Bend, Indiana: St Augustine Press.
Hooker C (2008) Interaction and bio-cognitive order. Synthese 166:513-546.
Levy N (2011) Neuroethics and the extended mind. In (J Illes and B Sahakian Eds) The Oxford Handbook of Neuroethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Marion JL (2007) On the ego and on God New York: Fordham University Press.
Maturana HR and Varela F (1979) De Maquinas y Seres Vivos Autopoiesis: La Organizacion de lo vivo. In Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science. Dordrech: Reidel Publishing.
Moreno A and Mossio M (2015) Biological Autonomy: A Philosophical and Theoretical Enquiry. Berlin: Springer Press.
Nagel T (2012) Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Onishi B (2011) Information, bodies, and Heidegger: tracing visions of the posthuman. Sophia 50:101-112.

Reiner P (2011) The rise of neuroessentialism.  In (J Illes and B Sahakian Eds) The Oxford Handbook of Neuroethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Thursday, 4 April 2019

Call for Papers

15th International Conference on Persons

Aug. 12th-16th, 2019
Domus Galilaeae on the Mount of Beatitudes, Israel

The Domus Galilaeae overlooks the Sea of Galilee, near Capernaum

Papers in any area or discipline are welcome, so long as their themes are of concern to the ideas and concepts of persons, personhood, and personality as a philosophical, theological, psychological, social, political, historical, creative or linguistic concern.
Papers must not exceed a length of 3000 words and should be prepared for blind review. In the e-mail sent with the submission, we require the following eight items:
1. word count -3000 words maximum
2. author’s name
3. academic status (professor, unaffiliated, graduate student)
4. institutional affiliation (if any)
5. mailing address
6. e-mail address
7. the paper s title
8. an abstract -200 words maximum

Submission deadline for abstracts is MAY 25th, 2019, but please submit as soon as possible. Preliminary acceptance of an abstract may come with instructions as to how the full paper should be adjusted for blind refereeing. An accepted abstract is an invitation to submit a full paper. Only full papers will be accepted for the conference. Those full papers are welcome as submissions at any time and will be reviewed for acceptance as soon as they are received. Full texts of accepted abstracts are due by July 1, but they should be submitted earlier if possible. Full papers may be submitted at any time earlier and rolling, prompt notification will be facilitated so that travel arrangements can be made early.
Submissions which do not include items 2-8 (if only abstract is being submitted) will be disqualified. Word count is due when full paper is submitted. No more than one submission by the same author will be considered.
Email as an attachment a copy of your paper and/or abstract in rich text format to: 

Each paper will have a commentator. Those interested in commenting should send a note to by May 25th detailing availability and areas of interest. Persons whose papers are accepted will be expected to serve as commentators, if asked.
Copies of papers will be available by July 1st. E-mails of authors will also be available for purposes of sending your commentary in advance of the conference.

Conference Website

Conference Housing
Lodging and the conference itself will be at the Domus Galilaeae, a conference center owned and run by the Roman Catholic Church. The website and contact information is here: 
The Conference will begin with Registration from noon on Mon. August 12th and run through the morning of August 16th. Those whose papers are accepted are expected to attend the full conference and may be called on to give commentaries on other accepted papers. Further details about meals, schedules, and Conference fees will be provided as they become available.