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The Socialists: A Fraction of America Therein

This note announces the formation of a new political organization – The Socialists. The Socialists will be a political fraction for *individuals* who have con-trib-u-ted to the functional American economy and find themselves without additional “helpful advice” for those with a more properly *political* role in the present time. Broadly they agree with the principles of Marxist socialism, that transmission of the material facts of human history – which can never be surpassed, for it is an “addendum” to the governing principles of a society in a period which bars no “opening to the theological” or, must it be said, “hold”. However, having – as many people have – received a *thorough grounding* in the principles of critical political thought over the years and across the centuries (as is “meet and proper” for American citizens) they have less to say about the “niceties” of contemporary communal life than may be supposed by others; and consequently, the organization will follow a program of “political abstentionism” where its members will exercise no *dirigente* control over the electorate through “party or class” organization – rather, instruct the populace generally (including its *externale* elements) through their thoughts and actions in a spirit of “helpfulness” rather than *camaraderie* properly spoken.

Mr Jeffrey Daniel Rubard, a “Democratic-Republican” and Labourite, *Politologe* and *litterateur* of some standing proposes this, but the point is intended to be *quite general* and “hive off” the pointed and “live” concerns of the American multitude from those with issues only to be raised in a Future Perfect, through contemplation of their *ever-green* and functionally unquestionable thoughts as regards sociocultural matters and aesthetics; *pace* Perelman, we care not how funds are allocated for *faits accompli* and can care little as regards the works of those with “so much to give” – and *perhaps* rightly so: for there is no more water in certain “wells”, H.G. Wells inclusive, the thoughts having been /completely absorbed/ in the traditional style of ‘subterranean’ American tradition; and thankfully, we ought to thankfully accept the /blessings/ of a *saison* in the American Republic without feeling compelled to “get up, get into it, and get involved” for those we cannot *effectively help*, perhaps against our “better judgment”. Having seen much [as is to be expected for an *ordinary* human being] we hold no brief *sic et non* difficulties for our selves, but we confidently expect you will be unable to “get past” our accomplishments except by achieving an unacceptable state of insanity – and something learned thereof will be. The organization can be joined simply by registering “The Socialists” on a registration card, and refraining from voting and electoral organization. Details to follow.


The Australian philosopher David Chalmers discovered a few years ago that to his surprise his most-cited papers were not his famous work on consciousness and the possibility of “zombies”, but artificial intelligence papers he wrote as a cognitive science graduate student. I’m no David Chalmers, but similarly the #1 Internet fan favorite out of all my “works” is something I wrote about Philip K. Dick when I was fifteen: “The Mystical Experience in Science Fiction: Philip K. Dick’s Radio Free Albemuth and Valis“, published by legendary Portland scenester Shawn Swagerty in his ‘zine Storefront Bar-B-Q. I still get requests for it, and so I thought I’d add it at the bottom of the Essays page.

If you suspect this super-juvenilia is going to be a little too precious for you, I will mention that at that stage of my life I was working as a semi-pro writer for Portland magazines, so the writing’s really not too bad. The memories aren’t quite all smile-provoking, though: the research for the piece introduced me to the life and death of Ioan Culianu, an expert on Gnosticism who in 1991 was murdered execution-style in the bathroom of the University of Chicago divinity school. Although that’s not really par for the academic course, his example and that of our hero Montague (the victim of a rough-trade beheading that has gone unsolved for over thirty-five years) weighed a little heavily on my mind at certain points in the past.

But if you’re having fun, dear reader, I’m having fun, and I suspect Dickian questions about the veracity of our hold on the world have not a little to do with the intellectual history of someone coming here for putatively grown-up observations. (I’m planning to soon advance to laying out Montague’s concrete linguistic theory rather than just logical prerequisites, but I’m having to do a little “skilling up” with respect to creating inline images of LaTeX versions of the formulas involved.)

In the interests of having new material for people to read without having to, y’know, write it, I’ve added some longer things I wrote about four years ago under a new “Essays” page on the bar. These were part of a series of things I wrote under the title “Logic and Politics” in 2003: insofar as they are a coherent anything, they amount to an attempt to formalize Gramscian and Frankfurter social theory. (I’ve only included the ones which were halfway successful: if you want to see what I had to say about Althusser and Turing Machines, or glasnost and Gentzen’s consistency proof for arithmetic, or a reading of Nietzsche via Talcott Parsons, you’ll have to do some digging in the Google Groups archives.)

Topics addressed include:

  • Sequent calculi (esp. the “cut” and “mix” rules)
  • The logic of political “left” and “right”
  • Schmitt’s friend-enemy distinction
  • The master-slave dialectic
  • The Lacanian character of the United States
  • De re vs. de dicto
  • Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem
  • The dictatorship of the proletariat
  • Television
  • Lindström’s Theorem
  • Gricean pragmatics
  • Vico
  • Bakhtin
  • The “cultural state”
  • “The temperature is ninety and rising”
  • etc.

The formal logic used is real, if inexpertly wielded, and the political sentiments are heartfelt. I wanted to forget them for a long time, since they brought me nothing but grief, but this seems like a genuinely more open time in intellectual life and the writing does not displease me. They are edited for spelling and grammar, and errors of fact (as opposed to lapses of reason) have been corrected; but even if you’re sympathetic to this particular “hermeneutics of suspicion” you’d probably do well not to take them too seriously. (One of these days I’ll get around to long-form explanations of every little thing again, but as they say I have “other fish to fry” at the moment.)

Ever wonder what it would be like if the guy who can’t stop talking to himself on the street had a blog? Wonder no longer — I’ve added some material from my dark ages under the category “Old”. The stuff was originally posted on Usenet in 2003 and 2004; I would have liked a blog but had exactly $0 to spend on the effort and didn’t care for Blogger. Since the Google Groups archive has become (presumably intentionally) harder to survey, I’ve added it as “archives”. I have suppressed material from that time, mostly for the reason that someone chancing upon it unawares might rationally expect my opinions on a certain topic haven’t changed; the material that is presented has been lightly edited to correct for the paraphasia which was glaringly evident in my speech and writing at that time. Although I wasn’t exactly a sympathetic person, be aware that some of the material is intentionally humorous, and was envisioned as a kind of “serious parody” of cultural studies and “theory” for more demotic circumstances; I was particularly proud of the title “What Color Is Cuauhtemoc Cardenas’ Parachute?”, for instance.

Qualia (raw perceptual “feels”) are often supposed to be a problem for physicalism, the doctrine that everything that exists is physical; a problem because they do not occupy any physical location. It seems to me that these arguments are mistaken, for the reason that I suspect qualia can be shown to be thoroughly based in conditions obtaining in the brain. Now, Qualia are often taken to be epiphenomena of brain activity, caused by it without causing further physical effects. But to study the phenomenon of qualia in this light is to give in to a construal of mentality which evades our better knowledge of the mind in nature, by giving in to a picture of the brain’s representational ability which divorces it from occurrences in the world. The thought that leads to such a conclusion is this: the mind represents external states of the world.
On this account, a mental representation is conceptually related to the external world, such that a series of questions as to its accuracy and mode of causation obtain and give rise to the epistemological treatment of mental states. Qualia are considered subsidiary phenomena to the mainstay of intentional states, such that the question of the “distance” between them and the world obtains as well. But to operate with “representational distance”, rather than considering the mental event as foremost a piece of the physical world, is already to grant our consideration of the phenomenology of mental states too much distance from physical reality. It is obvious, if we consider the matter metaphysically rather than epistemologically, that the mental state contains a more direct relation to physical reality than its content: the material which forms its basis. 

In other words, the psychological mechanisms by which humans successfully perceive external realities are mooted from the standpoint of considering what mental states consist of: relations of epistemological significance are dependent on relations of ontological constitution, and the former set of problems presupposes a solution for the latter. Mental states causally interact with the world before they representationally interact. On this model, qualia are a more central, not a derivative, form of mindedness: they get their phenomenological characteristics from the causal relations the brain instantiates, not the representational characteristics it simulates. There is no contradiction in “feeling the cause”: our experience is constituted by causal nexi in the nervous system, and the representational character of mental states is based upon the causal network constituting the character of experience. We perceive because a part of the physical world feels.

What is it for something to be necessary? There are many different kinds of necessity, but their common characteristic is hard to see. Perhaps it is located where we would not normally look for it: in experience. Experiences seem to be largely contingent: if anything could not be the case, it would be a certain set of perceptions associated with an event. However, a more careful examination of the concept of experience shows that necessity impinges upon it at nearly every step. To have an experience, a certain content must be perceived, and this content processed by the mind. For both perception and cognition of the experience to take place, the experience must possess unique features such as establish it as an experience of one particular event; and the only way for this to occur is through the operation of some kind of necessity. 

For example, in an experience of motion we perceive an object moving after being struck by another object. For the content of the thought to be that of an experience of motion, causal powers are required: and the only way of thinking of these causal powers is as necessitating the motion of the second object. If the motion were contingent, we would be unable to process the thought that the first object caused the second to move for the reason that the experience itself contains regularities strict enough to be covered by causal necessity, and becomes less than an experience if stripped of the concepts employing that necessity. The very content of experience requires that elements within experience are necessarily related to each other; necessity serves as the glue of experience, so to speak. 

It is true that this concept of experience has a wider bearing than that of sense-experience. In the case of logical necessity, what is necessary to an experience has to do with the binding of particulars using general concepts: the experience of truth requires that the content of a true inference be logically necessitated. But the common element between sense-experience and other realms is that the content of an experience has to do with objectivity, and necessity determines the character of objects being considered. For example, the statement from philosophy of language that Aristotle was necessarily Aristotle serves to delimit a field of objects, making possible an experience of language involving proper names. The expression “experience of” could be omitted, provided that it is recognized that we are speaking of object-language properties entering directly into thought via ground-floor conceptualization, the Kantian understanding. 

On such an understanding, talk of necessity is shorthand for the connections which make for the objectivity of objects: the conceptual steps taken by the subject in examining a particular object are determined by what the object makes available in terms of properties and relations to other objects, such that we are able to think of them as such-and-such an object only in connection with a form of necessity. The form of an object, however, is not laid down for all time by this. That form is dependent on the rational linkages we make between statements about kinds of necessity (as in psychophysical correlations, which relate two different kinds of necessity), which in turn constitute the theories of necessity (theories of objectivity) with which we contemplate the conceptually monitored status of said objects. In this sequence, the real element (the understanding) is dependent on the rational (reasoning about objects), and vice versa: we could not think of objects save by thinking *of* them, and in so doing we make use of a vocabulary exceeding necessity by which the events contained in a particular system of objects are subject to rational constraint, considered as the discursive openness of any particular body of concepts with which we think objectivity as necessity.

What is language? Since there are so many different languages and types of language, yet all manifesting marked similarities, the question may seem otiose. Yet language possesses a character which may permit us to search deeper for its meaning. The mark of language which reveals its unity is to be found in a psychological definition. Language is the public, objective face of the mind: any and all mental phenomena surpassing the bounds of subjectivity are linguistic, and linguistic phenomena are mental in a useful sense, being the product and reflection of individual minds in concert. If this be the case, the characterizing of language and the mind ought to demonstrate a sort of maturity relative to other psychological facts, reflecting that language is the province of mutual intelligibility: and indeed it does, in the form of truth.
Truth is often defined metaphysically, in terms of a correspondence between a linguistic entity and some item in the world. There is another definition, a psychological one, which seems to me to be more fruitful: truth is a property possessed by psychological states many-sided enough to be characterized linguistically, that is permitting of reflection. Of course, many states complex enough to be captured by a propositional attitude do not share in truth, but the substantive point is that truths are distinguished by the operations which can be performed upon them, the “laws of truth”. The reflective theory of truth is thusly not an empty platitude, but rather results in a typology of the properties which true statements have: cognizability, shareability, judgeability. 

For example, let us take the famous example “snow is white” and subject it to the proposed analysis. “Snow is white” is true if it can be reflectively ascertained that snow is white, that is if possession of the concepts “snow” and “white” permits of their combination in an exceptionless judgement that snow is white which permits the subject to entertain the thought that snow is white (to reflectively examine the judgment). Similarities between this theory of truth and the famous “semantic” definition of truth are not accidental: if language is taken for mind, then the psychological fleshing-out of semantics leads to an alteration in focus, where the mental activity associated with grasping a truth receives priority rather than the semantic status of the statement: true contents are then characterized by the sorts of combination they permit, their thinkability. 

However, what is not a candidate for the status of language cannot be a truth, on account of its inadequacy for the purpose of reflection: a “true image” can serve as constituent of a shareable thought, but the thought must enable a community of mind a la Frege, where each person grasps the same thought. Considered this way, the objectivity of truth is not a formality, but a substantive property of the element of truth, language subjected to the application of the concept of truth — it just so happens that the employment of truth as a property possessed by linguistic items marks out psychological states which permit of synchronization. Truth is therefore a name for a sort of structure, which permits thought to assume the form of language: without the structure, we should be bereft of the mental states associated with reflection and their public availability in discourse.

Causality seems to be one of the fundamental pieces of metaphysics. How can anything be reckoned to exist, if it does not stand in causal relations? But what are these causal relations we speak of, scientifically considered? And how do they relate to the rest of our conception of the world? I would like to suggest here that causality is fundamentally interrelated with the mind in a sense deeper than the fact that nobody spoke of it before humans were around to do so. Causality is an element of understanding, meaning that it composes the fundamental unit with which the understanding operates. Now, to understand something is to know it in a sense permitting of conceptual clarification, dialectical refinement, and other forms of belief revision (e.g., empirical test). But what is it that permits an understanding to exist? I would argue it is nothing other than the concept of cause. 

An understanding is always an understanding of causality: grasping that something is caused by something else requires cognitive machinery subtle enough to comprehend an object as possessing relevant attributes that permit it to combine with other objects in a regular fashion. Without the concept of cause, the objects of understanding would cease to have the clarity and distinctness appropriate to constituents of contentful thought. Problems such as mental causation should therefore be handled from the standpoint of whether or not the potential cause is an object of the understanding, systematically known with respect to its role in the experienced world. On this view epiphenomena (phenomena without causal effects) are not, properly speaking, understood; their role in experience is not fleshed-out enough to permit of judgements combining them with other objects, such that we must say that with epiphenomena experience takes its leave of thinking (the conceptual comprehension of the world). 

Similarly, whether more than one type of cause is permitted is a question which devolves upon distinctions between ways of understanding (Erklaerung vs. Verstehen): there should be no more entities postulated than are necessary to preserve the discursive clarity of conceptual thought, and this is actually a well-enough-defined task from the standpoint of ordinary experience. With respect to scientific research, the questions become more complicated, but if the fundamental integrity of cause as related to the operations of the mind is respected all the commonly accepted forms of causation can be reconciled as integral to the clear conception of the object. Furthermore, such a “discursive” standard for the grasp of causality should be easily compatible with systems that order bodies of knowledge in such a way that the order preserves cross-object relations: to understand causality is to have an unconflicted object or objects.

It seems an important point to me that the structure of knowledge is discrete: the inferential status of knowledge is determined, not only by the inferential relations a piece of knowledge stands in, but by epistemic warrants awarded to individual pieces of knowledge on the basis of their relation to the world. Much as it is possible to know something without knowing all its consequences, it is possible to know something without knowing all its prerequisites. The limits on the level of consequences drawn from knowledge indicate that useful knowledge is clearly not individuated by its object, in which case knowledge would have to be as faithful to the completely given object as possible, in order to qualify as correctly related to it. Given this, what must a knower be? 

Firstly, knowledge requires a knower to have such a structure as to unobtrusively register epistemic facts: if the subject was such as to psychologically constitute all its information about the world, no piece of that information could constitute a piece of knowledge for the reason that all which was contained was information about a subject continuous in all respects relevant to epistemic assessment (serving not only as in a certain way the object of the information but also as its epistemically undifferentiated matter). In other words, sense cannot constitute knowledge for the reason that there is no individuation of known contents in such a way as to make their epistemic assessment possible: a piece of knowledge requires not only an object, but criteria indicating what piece of knowledge it is, and these cannot be supplied by the subject. 

So empirical idealism is a nonstarter for the reason that it is unclear what we are talking about when we attribute knowledge of perception to the idealist subject. What would count as knowledge on this score? Pieces of information differentiated, not by the object or subject, but by their inferential relations internal to a body of knowledge: a piece of knowledge has not only an origin but its epistemic standing as part of a more-or-less-systematic body of interconnected propositions. And as such, it is clear that what a knower must do is not only to accurately capture the contours of the object (this much can be done by sense) but to maintain knowledge’s interrelations: that is, to let knowledge be knowledge as an independent realm of thought relating itself to itself. 

Knowledge’s objectivity derives from this, that it is formally checked only by other pieces of knowledge, forming an independent unity separate from psychological states: and any entity worthy of the name “knower” needs to duplicate, not psychological states, but the independence of the epistemic qua information: a body of knowledge composed of neither objectively nor subjectively determined information could exist separate from the consciousness of the individual subject. What it could not exist without is the recognition of knowledge as inferential discreteness: that is to say, there can be no theory of knowledge suitable to the task which is not, in the end, atomistic.

Concepts are general features of thought permitting of employment to capture the structure of a given state of affairs. Can a concept be a material thing? It seems to me that this is, from a materialist standpoint, the wrong question to ask: a better question is “what features of the material world do concepts correspond to?” These are clearly not particulars, but rather the properties and relations obtaining between particulars; such that one could say the material face of the concept was in making available for thought features of reality not permitting of proper instantiation. That is, a concept has as its material counterpart every physical phenomenon the instances of which are not individuated by the individual thinker, the “overhead” of thinking physically about the world. A concept does not correspond to the thing it enables thought about, but serves to make possible simple general thought about the object: it is no disadvantage that Frege’s theory of concepts does not individuate them more finely than their contributions to structured thought. Put this way, a concept is no more problematic a piece of linguistic structure than a particle. 

The consequence of the “non-referential” account of the constitution of concepts is that problems with a materialist account of thought are solved by specifying that concepts are not made out of a special “mind-stuff”, but rather are mere elements of thought whose representative capacity derives from various objective linkages between thought and reality, not an intrinsic power to represent possessed by the concept. A materialist theory of thought can therefore include conceptual thinking as not involving added particulars without compromising its materialism: the brain and physical states of conceptuality are simply various, in accordance with the lack of referential structure implicit in concepts. Whether or not there are further consequences for the understanding of concept-related particulars depends on how intricate the non-conceptual reckoning with particulars is made out to be. This “conceptual holism” has no other theoretical committments for the materialist with an eye to incorporate concepts into the material view of the world.