Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, Vol 3, No 1 (2007)

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Editorial Introduction

Arran Gare

After the special double edition last year focused on the work of Alan Badiou, this edition is characterized by the diversity of its papers. It includes papers grappling with developments in the humanities, but also a paper engaging with a core problem in theoretical physics. Other papers are concerned in some way with the problematic relation between the sciences and the humanities, and we have put these papers first, followed by the papers more exclusively focused on the humanities, and then a paper paper focused on theoretical physics. It should be clear from reading these latter papers, however, that they are relevant to broader questions of natural and social philosophy and the relationship between them. The final paper is simultaneously a critique of modernist notions of rationality and a work of natural philosophy, developing Whitehead’s philosophy of symbolism to propose a new metaphysical imaginary. It transcends the opposition between the sciences and the humanities.

The edition begins with Sami Pihlström’s paper “A Meaningful Life in a Meaningless Cosmos? Two Rival Approaches’. Quite apart from the careful critical analysis of possible approaches to the problem of living a meaningful life in an apparently meaningless cosmos and the originality of Pihlström’s proposed ‘solution’, the question addressed by him underlies almost all the reactions to the collapse of medieval cosmology and the rise of modern science. This provides a unifying theme to the whole edition.

This paper is followed by Neil Paul Cummins’ paper ‘Human Nature, Cosmic Evolution and Modernity in Hölderlin’. Over the last two or three decades there has been a virtual revolution in the study of late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century German philosophy. Previously most historians of philosophy had focused almost exclusively on Kant and Hegel. The study of other thinkers of the time has revealed the astonishing creativity of thought of this period. Most importantly, it has revealed the profundity of the reaction against Newtonian cosmology and the nihilism to which it led by those wishing to defend the reality of human freedom and, associated with this, the importance of the literature and the humanities. This defence led to the development of an evolutionary cosmology which could justify and give a place to the more exalted notion of humanity and nature these philosophers were defending. While most people are aware of the greatness of Hölderlin as a poet, and philosophers might be aware of the influence of Hölderlin on Heidegger, it is only now coming to be appreciated that Hölderlin was one of the most original philosophers of the time and central to the development of this post-mechanistic, evolutionary cosmology and science. Cummins study contributes to this re-evaluation of Hölderlin.

Against the background of Cummins’ paper we can now see that recent efforts to develop a post-mechanistic science supporting rather than undermining the cognitive status of the humanities are part of a very long tradition of thought. While being a creative and fruitful tradition, the problems it faces have by no means been solved. The following three papers by Artigiani, Fairlamb and myself grapple in different ways with the problem of how to develop a cosmology adequate to the reality of human purpose and freedom. Robert Artigiani’s paper is an ambitious effort to carry through Ilya Prigogine’s project of allying science and the humanities; most importantly, history. Horace Fairlamb’s paper is an attempt to revive evolutionary ethics. Examining the roots of the crisis in ethics in the development of Newtonian metaphysics, and confused efforts to overcome this crisis, Fairlamb invokes and develops Ernst Mayr’s notion of ‘telonomy’ to explain the possibility of and to characterize degrees of goal directedness in nature. He argues that with final causation restored to biology through the notion of ‘attractor’, human freedom (teleology) can be conceived of as the natural extension of organic adaptiveness. He then shows how this conception of freedom overcomes a number of dichotomies that have vitiated cosmology and ethical thought. My own paper, taking up Stuart Kauffman’s argument that even the most radical developments of complexity theory are inadequate to account for creativity in nature, considers the implications of taking stories to be irreducible and more basic to rational thought than analytical reasoning.

The next three papers by Healy, Holba and Hirst are based squarely in the humanities. Each goes beyond ‘foundationalist’ thinking, that is, the effort (which began with Descartes) to find absolute foundations on which all claims to knowledge can be based, and spells out the consequences of rejecting foundationalism. Holba in ‘Rhetorical Turn to Otherness’ characterize the foundationalism of the ‘moderate Enlightenment’ as ‘bad faith’, upholding the delusion that we can stand above history, replacing the tyranny of the medical Church with the tyranny of the disengaged, self-absorbed communicator. In place of this they promote the ‘rhetorical turn to otherness’ as ‘embedded responsiveness to the traditions of the Other and the pragmatic necessity of welcoming fragility and error as interlocutors’. Paul Healy in ‘Rationality, Dialogue and Critical Inquiry’ shows how to construct a notion of rationality without recourse to absolute foundations. Angela Hirst explicates and develops the ideas of Levinas.

Following this we have David Grandy’s ‘Conceptual Nonlocality’. In order to clarify the problem of non-locality in light, Grandy shows how the arguments of de Broglie against locality in matter can be applied to light. De Broglie’s arguments, designed to justify his claim that electrons are characterized by wave-particle duality, developed philosophical arguments about continuity and discontinuity in nature that go back to the Ancient Greeks. A consideration of these arguments overcomes the apparent difficulties in ascribing what on the surface appear to be contradictory characteristics to nature. Apart from the argument itself, Grandy shows the importance of both philosophy and its history to overcoming basic problems within science. While Grandy makes no effort to relate conceptual nonlocality to the humanities, the argument is important for undermining concepts that had rendered life and mind unintelligible and for paving the way for the development of a more adequate ontology.

The final paper is Murray Code’s ‘On Letting the Dialectic Go’. This provides an introduction to Code’s recently published book, Process, Reality, and the Power of Symbols. As opposed to Pihlström’s paper which accepts the prevailing nihilistic cosmology and tries to work out how we can find meaning in life anyway, Code rejects not only this cosmology, but criticises the forms of reasoning which produced it and made it prevail. Basing his argument on Alfred North Whitehead’s work on symbolism, Code argues that the problematic of mathematics and its application is only a branch of the vast and open problematic of symbolism. Developing ideas from Coleridge, Deleuze and Wolfgang Pauli, Code reinterprets and develops Whitehead’s vision of philosophy and rationality to open the path for the construction of ‘a metaphysical imaginary that is capable of fostering the production of genuine knowledge in the form of real insights and intuitions that pertain to every aspect of living and thinking.’

Arran Gare
Associate Professor
Philosophy and Cultural Inquiry
Swinburne University