In order to provide a brief and clear outline of my proposal I will 'lift' part of my of my original proposal and entitle it 'Part 1'. Then I will discuss what changes I have made since the original proposal in 'Part 2'.
Provide a concise outline of your argument
§1. To create and ‘break down’ the dichotomy between reflective and ontological accounts of teleology found between Kant’s Critique of Judgment and Varela’s developments concerning “Autopoiesis”.
§2. To demonstrate how the dichotomy between Kant and Varela’s conception of teleology originates from Aristotle in De Anima. It will be argued that De Anima contains a form of vitalism; a philosophy of life. De Anima will be considered as an extension of Aristotle’s Metaphysics and Physics, not separate from them as a psychology or empiricism. This account will be formulated through comparisons with Hegel, Maine de Biran, Ravaisson and Canguilhem.
§3. After tracing themes from De Anima through 19th Century German and 20th Century French philosophy, De Anima will be considered in relation to contemporary philosophers of Mind. It will be shown that Andy Clark is an Aristotelian. From Clark’s discussions with Dennett and Dennett’s own work, it will be show that Dennett is also Aristotelian. It will be shown that Dennett’s philosophy is analogous to the Aristotelian theme running through 20th Century French philosophy whereas Clark is closer to Aristotle himself.
The proceeding argument is motivated by another of my papers from the “MA Continental Philosophy” course at UWE. This essay emphasised the similarities and differences between Kant and Varela. The conclusion found that both have a self-proclaimed legacy to Aristotle which has as of yet been unexplored in the proceeding way.
Kant’s account of reflective philosophy can mainly be found within the Critique of Judgment. In short, the argument is that any teleology (as purpose/final purpose) can only ever be reflective or ‘for us’ and does apply to the objects of experience. Therefore, purposive objects are not autonomous nor do they independently exist. They are ‘heautonomous’ which means I perceive them as if they independently exist; but they are always-already dependent upon my perception.
For Longuenesse, Kant’s account of reflective philosophy is not only confined the Critique of Judgment but can also found within the “Transcendental Deduction of the Pure Concepts of Understanding” in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. Longuenesse bases this argument on Kant’s claim that any categorical assertion/assimilation of the world necessitates there having been a judgment. Although there is insufficient space to explain this in full, the conclusion is that the Critique of Pure Reason also becomes reflective through this interpretation.
Varela is primarily a biologist for whom his relation to the concept of teleology oscillates between affirmation and denial. In “Autopoiesis: The Organization of the Living” (1973) he argues for identity over teleology because of the transcendental or mystical implications of teleology (1973, p.80). Therefore, any teleology is explicitly denied. Whereas in “Life after Kant” (2002) Varela advocates a ‘naturalized teleology’ (2002, p.103); a new Aristotelian approach in which teleology is unified with identity, it is autonomous and not ‘heautonomous’.
In the “First Introduction” of Fichte’s 1794 Wissenschaftslehre Fichte opposes the dogmatist to the idealist as ‘two sorts of philosophy that depend on what sort of man one is’ (1982, I, 434). Between the two there can be no resolution as the idealist presupposes act over object, whereas the dogmatist presupposes object over act. In other words, the idealist places primacy on the act of consciousness, whereas the dogmatist places primacy on the object. Fichte’s resolution is to accept the opposition between them although he does side with idealism.
The dichotomy between idealism and dogmatism is analogous to the dichotomy between Kantian reflective teleology and Varela’s naturalized teleology. Kant’s idealist position is evident from Fichte’s claim that all his own philosophy is fundamentally Kantian (I, 420). Kant’s account of ‘heautonomy’ and the ‘unity of apperception’ are both examples of ‘act over fact’; ‘thought over thing’. Varela fulfils the position of the dogmatist as in the introduction to “The Organization of the Living”, Beer criticises Maturana and Varela for claiming that only material substances be autopoietic; excluding universities, law firms, etc. (1973, p.71) Therefore, a prerequisite for an autopoietic structure is that it has material components; it is a thing.
Fichte enables a suspension of the dichotomy without necessarily holding either of the positions to be correct (although Fichte positions himself as an idealist). In this way Kant’s idealism Varela’s dogmatism can be suspended, leaving their true self-proclaimed similarity of Aristotle which will be developed within this project.
How will the account of De Anima be achieved?
It is only possible to provide a brief account of Aristotle’s De Anima. The discussion of De Anima will be supported by Nussbaum’s Essays on Aristotle’s De Anima, and Polansky’s Aristotle’s De Anima. Polansky provides an extensive commentary to the text which emphasises the importance of life within De Anima. Nussbaum’s account makes connections between De Anima, hylomorphismand functionalism. Hylomorphism explains the necessary connection between form, organization or structure on the one side, and material composition on the other (Nussbaum, 1995, p.31). Shields connects hylomorphism to Aristotle’s conception of life in chapter seven (“Living Beings”) of his book Aristotle. Within this chapter, Shields argues that Aristotle’s ‘living being’ is not only found within De Anima,but also within passages from the Metaphysics and the Physics.
Through demonstrating that the ‘living being’ or vitalism within De Anima is not an anomaly, Aristotle will be discussed in relation to certain themes prevalent within Hegel. Using Ross’ Aristotle and Ferrarin’s Hegel and Aristotle it will be shown that De Anima does not portray Aristotle as an empiricist or nominalist. In “Aristotle’s De Anima and Hegel’s Philosophy of the Subjective Spirit” (chapter 8), Ferrarin explains Hegel’s interest in the way the soul is receptive to forms on the one hand, and on the other the souls activity is the becoming of all forms (2001, p.251). Ross provides further evidence for reading Aristotle as a naturalist as within his account of Aristotle’s four causes they are all interdependent upon one another (1995, p.76). This interdependence will be shown to be analogous to Hegel’s triadic logic of thesis, antithesis and synthesis (sublation). Through discussing Aristotle in relation to Hegel, the case will be made for De Anima not merely being a ‘psychology’ or ‘empiricism’, but as vitalism which is extended and added to through Aristotle’s Metaphysics and Physics.
What will the account of De Anima achieve?
In relation to §1, it is not sufficient to merely suspend and ‘crystallize’ the dichotomy between Kant’s and Varela’s conception of teleology by reducing it to an irresolvable status. Through De Anima it will be shown how the soul, body and nature are connected through hylomorphism which is neither dogmatic nor idealistic in the Fichtean sense. It will be shown how nature alters the body because the soul enables it to do so; according to Hegel, this argument also reveals why De Anima cannot be read as ‘empiricist’.
In De Anima, Aristotle uses the example of the eye which perceives because the soul actively enables the function to passively perceive; as opposed to wax in the shape of an eye cannot perceive because it is lacking the soul. The eye is altered by nature. Aristotle states that perception, as alteration, is in a state of suffering or ‘being acted upon’ by nature (1907, Ch.2, 11, 11). Consciousness is later described as suffering or bodily resistance through Maine de Biran, Ravaisson and Canguilhem. Within these philosophers, teleology is ‘naturalized’ and no longer refers to metaphysical or transcendental principles. At this point, it can be concluded that the content of De Anima has been influential upon Hegel, Maine Biran, Ravaisson and Canguilhem. It will be shown that although these French philosophers are explicitly Aristotelian, within their philosophies the concept of the ‘intellect’ is replaced with the concept of nature. It is nature, and not rationality that is the ground of consciousness. §3 will discuss how Aristotle and this French ‘twist’ on Aristotle can be seen as influential within contemporary philosophy of Mind.
§1 contained the discussion of how Varela uses Kant as vehicle through which Varela aims to ‘naturalize teleology’. The problem is that the dichotomy between reflective and ontological teleology is irresolvable. Therefore, after considering §2, Varela would avoid the dichotomy if he were to use Aristotle instead of Kant as a vehicle for teleology.
Dennett and Clark
Through a development of themes within §2 it will be shown that both Dennett and Clark are expressions of Aristotelianism. It will be shown that Clark expresses something close to Aristotle’s own vitalism developed in De Anima. It will be shown that Dennett’s Darwinian, Skinnerian, Popperian and Gregorian creatures from Kinds of Minds is analogous to Aristotle’s hierarchy of psuchē. Dennett expresses a different type of Aristotelianism which is more inline with the French ‘twist’ on Aristotle. This is because for Dennett, consciousness is explained as originating from a culmination of evolutionary ‘tools’; most important of these being language. Clark’s criticism of this is that the ability to make tools which ‘solve’ environmental problems requires “expensive, advanced, design-oriented cogitation”; Clark calls this “the paradox of active stupidity” (“Minds, Brains and Tools”, 1999, §.2). For Clark, there is preceding ‘intelligence’ which creates ‘tools’, analogously, for Aristotle the passive intellect is dependent upon the existence of an active intellect. Therefore Clark is more aligned to Aristotle whereas Dennett is more aligned to the Aristotelianism found within 20th Century French philosophy. As for both Ravaisson and Canguilhem consciousness is explained in accordance to nature, not the intellect. This can be read as a rejection of consciousness as ‘qualia’ (the subjective experience of consciousness) which Dennett also argues against in Consciousness Explained.
It will be shown that both Clark and Dennett are expressing a vitalism and Aristotelianism. The difference between Clark and Dennett is analogous to the difference between Aristotle himself and the Aristotelian ‘twist’ in 20th Century French philosophy which is not grounded upon ‘intellect’ but nature.
This dissertation aims to prove beyond doubt that there is a sense of Aristotelian teleology and vitalism is present in 19th Century German Idealism, 20th Century French philosophy and 21st Century philosophy of Mind.
Since writing the proposal my interests have turned toward the philosophy of identity and difference. In many ways this mirrors the dichotomy between reflective and ontological accounts of teleology within my original proposal. The dichotomy between these accounts of teleology is reductive in a way which the dichotomy between identity and difference is not. The dichotomy of teleology is reductive because there cannot be any resolution between these opposed accounts which is why Varela is wrong to identify his own project with that of Kant’s.
The dichotomy between identity and difference that is represented by Deleuze and Fichte shows that the nature of identity and difference is questionable. It shows that Fichte’s identity and Deleuze’s difference both fall short (aspects of a previous essay discussed this in detail). Through discussing this opposition between Fichte and Deleuze, Fichte’s compatiblism with vitalism will become apparent. This will make up the first part of the dissertation.
In the second section I would like to propose another perspective on this identity debate through ‘biological vitalism’. This will be much like the genealogical development of neo-Aristotelianism through German Idealism, French “epistemology” and finally modern day philosophy of mind proposed within the previous proposal. The philosophers discussed will be Aristotle, Hegel & Malabou, Canguilhem (possibly Ravaisson), Varela, Dennett and Clark. This section will show that “Plasticity” as discussed by Malabou, Varela and Dennett decentralizes cognition. It will also show that plasticity is implicit within Aristotle, Canguilhem and Clark within their discussions concerning the subject’s relation to the environment. The essay will try to explicitly show that plasticity denotes the type of relationship between the double law of the active and passive within both Aristotle and Ravaisson insofar as it explains how identity is maintained through being acted upon by nature.
The dichotomy concerning teleology in the first proposal is not completely absent from this project, it will re-emerge in relation to Dennett on the one side, and Clark or Varela on the other. It will be argued that Dennett’s attempt to describe the world in terms of ‘intentional narratives’ relates to a world for the observer that is not intentional, but exists for that observer as if it were intentional. Kant draws this same conclusion concerning natural purposiveness where he says that natural purposes in nature are not autonomous but heautonomous.
Finally, I will provide more support for the choice to change the emphasis on the dichotomy of identity and difference over reflective ontology/teleology. The neo/ Aristotelian philosophy can be divided into the pre and post Kantian era. Many post Kantians including Ravaisson and Varela claim to get beyond the third antinomy concerning freedom and necessity as stated in Kant’s CPR. My project will show that this antinomy ultimately is a question concerning identity and all the philosophers in ‘section two’ overcome this antinomy through biological vitalism.
In short, I think that the dichotomy between reflective and ontological accounts of teleology depends on the dichotomy concerning identity and difference. The teleological dichotomy is concerned with how identity persists; either within our faculties or within nature. It does not question the existence of identity whatsoever. The question of the existence of identity is imperative for the vitalism proposed within this essay. This is evident when Varela and Malabou express a new way of looking at the world.