on panpsychism and OOO

March 8, 2011

This will probably be the topic of one of those chapters in my forthcoming book.

As late as Guerrilla Metaphysics (2005), I was making very negative remarks about panpsychism. What changed my feelings about hte word somewhat was David Skrbina’s excellent survey Panpsychism in the West, which shows how much diversity there has been across the centuries in the features regarded as belonging to “thought.” This helped mitigate my suspicion that panpyschists would not be willing to take the “psyche” of inanimate objects in a sufficiently primitive sense– that it would always have human mental categories projected onto it, and so forth.

But what OOO really says is as follows. Humans and animals do not confront reality directly, but only sensual caricatures of it. So far, that’s pretty much just basic Kant, and shouldn’t be too controversial.

The controversial step is to say that the same is true of inanimate beings in confrontation with each other.

However, keep in mind that this is not the same thing as ascribing “consciousness” to rocks. Consider, for example, the purely unconscious aspects of human existence. If we’re relying on a solid floor and not realizing it at all, the point is that we are relying on a caricature of the floor; countless aspects of the floor are of no relevance at all to the human body sitting on it, and play no role in preventing that body from plummeting 30 meters into the cellar.

In short, what OOO (in my version) opposes is the idea that conscious representation is some sort of magical leap beyond the sort of caricaturing that goes on in inanimate relations. The two are certainly very different in qualitative terms, no question. The question is whether this qualitative difference warrants a giant ontological rift between inanimate causation and conscious perception.

My answer is no. You don’t have to agree, of course. But I do give arguments. And furthermore, I’ve also argued that the other option, viewing representation as some sort of ontologically special relation to the world not found in the inanimate sphere, is riddled with difficulties.

In short, there is an interesting argument to be had here. And those arguments should be had, not pre-empted with declarations.


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