Shaviro with an interesting twist

May 9, 2010

First, in response to a couple of commenters who have wished the debate between me, Levi, Adrian, and Steven to continue, and have found the tone of it quite nice, let me say that I have also found the tone of it quite nice. The others are free to do as they wish. I simply find that it’s hard to maintain good, detailed debates in the blogosphere for more than a couple of posts, and think these debates are best for exchanging 2 or 3 salvoes just to give readers a taste of what is at stake– sort of like film previews.

Unlike Levi (and I really think it’s just a personality difference) I still view the blog medium as a supplement to written work, and find it tiring to have to respond continually here when there’s so much else to be done.

That said, Steven Shaviro adds an interesting twist in the comments section TO HIS OWN POST:

“See Graham’s reply, linked in the comment above. I am inclined to say, in counter-reply, that it is precisely because ‘an object is not a bundle of qualities’ (which is one of the things that I have learned from Graham) that the fact that any given object misses many of the qualities of whatever other object it encounters need not mean that the objects are withdrawn from one another. If it were purely a matter of qualities, then I would have to say that the mosquito didn’t really encounter me, since it only prehended a few of my qualities. But since I am not equal to the sum of a bundle of qualities, the fact that the mosquito missed many of my qualities does not mean that the mosquito missed me. Unfortunately, it didn’t miss me; it encountered me directly, and I have an annoying itch to show for it. (Or worse — what if it had given me malaria?).”

At the risk of violating my own proposed cease fire…

1. The fact that the mosquito encountered me (and caused an annoying itch) does not prove that it encountered me directly. My position has never been that causation does not occur, but that it must be indirect. The sensual realm exists as a buffer between any two real objects, and only occurs by way of that realm. Causation is indirect, of “vicarious.”

2. But Shaviro hits on another side of my theory, which is that direct contact does occur– with sensual objects. There is often a sort of unspoken assumption (not for Shaviro; I’m changing the subject here) that objects “hide” for Husserl just as they do for Heidegger. Husserl knows that you can’t see a horse from all angles at once, and therefore the horse is hidden for him just as it is for Heidegger.

This is false. The horse would indeed be veiled, withdrawn, or hidden for Heidegger. But not for Husserl. There is no “hiding” going on in Husserl. If the horse were “hidden,” I wouldn’t be able to intend it. Instead of being hidden from our access like a real horse, Husserl’s horse is already there as soon as I intend it, but it is also encrusted with additional superfluous angles and profiles.

In Heidegger, the concern is with something that always slips away from our access.

In Husserl, the concern is with something to which we already have access, but which is covered over with additional jewels, rhinestones, and cobwebs that must be swept away by eidetic variation so that we don’t wrongly believe that these superfluous additions belong to the things themselves.

There is no hiding in Husserl. He is in no way a realist, and hence there is nowhere for things to hide.

Back to Shaviro… When he says it is precisely because ‘an object is not a bundle of qualities’… that the fact that any given object misses many of the qualities of whatever other object it encounters need not mean that the objects are withdrawn from one another.”

I agree with this point: for sensual objects. They are not withdrawn from us at all. At the moment I see a couple of doors, a chair, a hotel mini-bar, and (in the distance, across the water) a medieval fortress. I do have direct contact with these things, because my life consists in dealing with them right now; and they are units, not bundles of qualities.

Nonetheless, these sensual entities are merely translations or caricatures of whatever is really in the world outside my experience.

It is still only a minority of readers, even supportive readers, who accept my point about the two kinds of objects. But I am confident that many more will accept it over time, because I was forced to adopt it by the facts.

*Husserl is right: we experience objects, not sense data

*Heidegger is right: experienced objects cannot be the whole story (see the tool-analysis, or at least my interpretation of it)

I suppose you could take the eliminativist route and claim that the sensual objects don’t necessarily exist in any sense (this seems to be the heir of Russell’s response to Meinong). But the problem with eliminativism, as I see it, is that it makes no room for real objects at all. Its sense of realism is that of scientific realism, and so there isn’t any concept of withdrawal there. The difference between real and unreal, for that position, is is simply a difference between real images and scientific images. It is a mere metaphysics of images, despite all its huffing and puffing about reality.

You can see this in Ladyman and Ross, and you’ll also see it this summer in Brassier’s piece in The Speculative Turn, which takes a few digs at the “metaphysical” distinction between real and sensual, demands “criteria” for distinguishing between real and unreal, and neglects to admit that it has already made a metaphysical decision by assuming that all that’s at stake is the development of criteria for calling some images Bad Folk Images and others Good Scientific Images.

But philosophy is not just about images, and the sense of the real in scientistic philosophy is generally quite feeble. These positions collapse into pragmatism or instrumentalism at the slightest touch. “Realism” for them really just means: using science to beat up unscientific people. The real is never addressed at all.


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