I kept threatening to write about essences, but never seemed to get around to it.  I’ll now put my money where my mouth is and try to say something at least semi-intelligent...

 

(Btw, I was going to put this in the machine consciousness discussion because that's where the inspiration came from, but it seems too off-topic, so I've decided to make a new thread.)

 

An essence refers to what something “is”.  This works by having a set of essential properties or qualities, which act as necessary and sufficient conditions for it to “be” that thing.   For example, I can say of a poodle that it “is” a dog.  This implies that the essential features of “dogness” (an abstract entity, so to speak) are instantiated in that particular (concrete) poodle.  I hope I’m not over-simplifying things here.  There’s a lot more that I could say that doesn’t seem all that relevant, so I’m leaving it out.

 

As a result of all this, I can say that cats “are not” dogs because they do not meet the necessary and sufficient conditions of “dogness”.  Note the bivalent (0 or 1; true or false; black or white) logic at play here – either something “is” that thing or it “is not” that thing.  Robert Anton Wilson wrote strongly against this kind of “either/or” logic, rightly I think (though perhaps too aggressively at times).  In any case, even if one distrusts RAW, in my opinion Wittgenstein had already effectively demonstrated years ago that there are no essences in the sense just described, and I further suggest that, taken to its logical extreme, his point also implies that we can’t use bivalent logic to describe objects without doing metaphysics.

 

To illustrate his anti-essentialist ideas, Wittgenstein used the example of games.  He pointed out that there is no essential description that fits all games – no fully consistent set of necessary and sufficient conditions that applies to all games.  This results in a sort of Goldilocks paradox, where any attempt at creating an essential definition either results in a standard too permissive, that lets too many things count as games, or a standard too restrictive, not letting in things that uncontroversially count as games.  For example, if we treat the quality of using balls as a necessary condition, then games that do not use balls are excluded.  If, however, we treat using balls as a sufficient condition, then anything that involves balls counts as a game.

 

Instead, Wittgenstein suggested that definitions function instead more like a sort of family resemblance model.  Imagine a family that has lots of tall members.  That is, most, if not all, have this quality.  Also, most, but not all, have black hair; and most, but not all, have large noses, etc.  So some might be tall and have black hair, but a normal nose; and some might be tall and have large noses, but not black hair, and so on, for all combinations.  The family resemblance, then, consists of a set of overlapping features, with no, one necessary and sufficient definition that works for everyone.

 

This generalises to all “objects”.  For example, a while ago, I saw a media programme about technology featuring a journalist trying to decide where computers begin and where they end.  He phrased the question as “what is a computer?”  But if there is no “computerness” essence—no essential definition of computers—then the question makes no sense.  “Is” an iPod a computer?  What about a Smartphone?  In effect, we can only say things like, “for legal purposes, that counts as a computer” or, perhaps, “I don’t consider that a computer”.

 

Unfortunately, these family resemblance models—nominal essences, if I can call them that—change with time and experience, according to needs or perspective, or across cultures (or subcultures... or even from individual to individual).  Wittgenstein used the rules of tennis as an example.  There is no rule stating that one can’t throw the ball 200’ in the air in order to serve.  But if someone started doing that, a new rule banning it might come into effect very quickly.  In this way, nominal essences can change; they do not have a fixed nature.  (I’ll give a real-life example shortly.)

 

The situation gets worse, however.  Not only do nominal essences have a fluid and imprecise nature, but we can’t even be absolutely sure we are all using words to mean the same things.  (I believe I am saying something similar to Derrida, where we can’t be totally sure that the same signs have the same referents.)  I don’t think this problem of communication need concern us too much, but it’ll take me too long to explain that point here.  Another post, perhaps.  Anyway, that example...

 

Kant suggested that two words with same meaning can be used synonymously.  He called this an analytic truth.  The classic example being: “All batchelors are unmarried men”.  But if the meanings of both “bachelor” and “unmarried man” refer to fluid, imprecise nominal essences, rather than rigid and fixed essences—like Platonic ideals, equally transparent to all—then we can’t really say that bachelors “are” unmarried men.  This point was made by the philosopher W.V.O. Quine.  Rigid essences don’t exist – or, perhaps more fairly, we have no right to insist that they exist.  To say that one knows the essence of something seems like bad metaphysics – an article of faith.

 

A concrete instance of this might help to flesh it out.  Under UK law, homosexuals cannot marry.  Therefore, using Kantian logic, if we know that George “is” gay, one could say that, by definition, George “is” a bachelor.  However, relatively recently, the law was amended to allow homosexual couples to register under “civil partnerships” (a legally recognised partnership, but not technically a marriage).  So if George “joins” with his partner under a civil partnership, “is” he still a bachelor?  One person might want to answer “yes” – a conservative, say, who wants so stick literally to the old definition, because the idea of gay relationships offends his sensibilities.  But a more liberal person might not consider George a bachelor anymore because he is in a legal partnership, which, although it might not be called a marriage by law, to that person, it still counts as a marriage in spirit.

 

So we can say neither that George “is” a bachelor nor that he “is not” a bachelor, because either description implies that there is a “bachelor” essence we have access to.  Really, we can only say something like “some people consider George a bachelor”.  That might sound silly to some people, but there are other ways in which using the “is of identity” results in dogmatic metaphysical proclamations.  Consider Wilber’s language (paraphrasing from memory, with italics added for emphasis: “... that is beautiful. It really is.”  But if we assume that no one knows the essence of beauty, we should instead say something like, “some people consider that beautiful”.  That adds context and forces us to admit perspective – it changes beauty from an object to a suobject.  (Or considering that socio-linguistic concepts are socially constructed, an inter-suobject.)

 

Another example, one that RAW used a lot: light “is” a wave and “is” a particle.  Saying instead something like “In some experimental conditions, light behaves as a wave; in other conditions, it behaves as a particle” avoids invoking the idea that we know the essence of light.  I asked a physicist friend today and he agreed with me that this sort of essence-agnostic language seems more appropriate for fundamental science.  Obviously, I know relatively little of physics myself, but it seems to me that if we treat scientific theories as just models rather than literal, metaphysical truths, then we acknowledge our own role in the perception of reality.  The world ceases to consist of “things” that we view objectively, and shifts to a more confusing (but more metaphysically honest) mass of (inter-)suobjects.

 

That shouldn’t be taken as license to annoy people.  I recommend a charitable reading of everyday language, e.g. we can assume that “the movie was great!” means the person liked the movie.  For metaphysically sensitive topics, however (or other things, if we feel up to the task), I suggest we drop the “is of identity” altogether.

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What??? That's very strange.  I can see it now, and I'm copying and pasting it from what is on my screen:

 

Delete

Tom:  Bruce, what could any qualifier to any word mean but some negation (finition) of that word?  Surely you're not saying "post" means "fully"?  No, in your worldframe, from what I can glean, post means other-than, after that old age called the age of metaphysics, after that dead bird.

 

Yes, certainly, some 'finition' of the word - some qualification and differentiation-from -- is involved, but is such differentiation on the same plane, at the same 'octave,' or not?  You are implying, it seems to me, that post-metaphysics is a same-octave movement as the perspective which it is critiquing ("still in thinging modality").  How do you 'hold' the 'post-' that you have affixed to causal in a number of your posts?  What does that mean for you?  

 

Tom:  Please give me your best definition of post, yes?
I use it to mean 'after' or 'beyond,' and take metaphysics (in this context) to refer to a particular epistemological frame.  You yourself have argued that the quantum view is an epistemological advance beyond Newtonian thinking (and Einsteinian as well).  That is what I took your 'post' in post-causal to mean.  Did you not mean that?

 

Tom:  I agree with your third paragraph.  A negative of negate is a positive, therefore is returns, dethinged.  Precisely.  Is is metaphysical.  Dethinged metaphysics looks very different from thing-metaphysics, which is causal, pre-Nagarjunic or some such.

 

You appear to be using metaphysics here as 'beyond physical,' where 'physical' corresponds with 'thing,' which is not the meaning of the 'metaphysics' of postmetaphysics.  If 'beyond' in 'metaphysical' is taken to refer to some formless realm 'outside' of or alongside or underlying the physical realm (I don't think this is primarily what you are saying), that is metaphysical in the sense that postmetaphysics critiques (not because postmetaphysics rejects 'spiritual realities' and only embraces the physical realm, but rather because this view still trades in thing-thinking, where physical and non-physical are held in symmetric-polar form and where one or the other may be embraced and the other rejected, as we find, for instance, in materialism or idealism).  But if 'metaphysical' points to a way of looking in which representationalist thing-thinking is transcended, that is what is meant (here at IPS, or at least by me!) by postmetaphysical.  :-)  

 

If this is indeed what you mean, yes, I'll buy that T-shirt and wear it proudly.

Oh yeah? Well I am postmetaphysical!

 

No, Theurji, your mother is.

 

I mean... err, the other day around town I noticed some posters advertising Space Marine, a computer game, with the slogan "I AM WAR" on it.  $10 if you can tell me what that means...

 

Btw, what altitude do you think one needs to be at to get all this?  I think at least Orange to begin to understand it cognitively, Green to resonate with it, but probably Teal/Yellow to totally get its postmetaphysical implications.  RAW was about...what, Green to Yellow/Teal?  I think that Green streak held him back.  (Oh, and I don't think that GS can be used as an altitude test, so please don't think I'm saying, "If you don't get this, you're not 2nd tier!")

Hrmm, my post acted strangely, like it was indented, and Thomas' last post was missing.  Reloading the page fixed it though.  Odd...
Can others see the post that Tom can't see (but I can)?

Nope.  I see what Thomas' screen-shot posted: an empty post.

 

Anyway, got to go...

One more attempt at a re-post....


Tom:  Bruce, what could any qualifier to any word mean but some negation (finition) of that word?  Surely you're not saying "post" means "fully"?  No, in your worldframe, from what I can glean, post means other-than, after that old age called the age of metaphysics, after that dead bird.

Yes, certainly, some 'finition' of the word - some qualification and differentiation-from -- is involved, but is such differentiation on the same plane, at the same 'octave,' or not?  You are implying, it seems to me, that post-metaphysics is a same-octave movement as the perspective which it is critiquing ("still in thinging modality").  How do you 'hold' the 'post-' that you have affixed to causal in a number of your posts?  What does that mean for you? 

Tom:  Please give me your best definition of post, yes?

I use it to mean 'after' or 'beyond,' and take metaphysics (in this context) to refer to a particular epistemological frame.  You yourself have argued that the quantum view is an epistemological advance beyond Newtonian thinking (and Einsteinian as well).  That is what I took your 'post' in post-causal to mean.  Did you not mean that?
 
Tom:  I agree with your third paragraph.  A negative of negate is a positive, therefore is returns, dethinged.  Precisely.  Is is metaphysical.  Dethinged metaphysics looks very different from thing-metaphysics, which is causal, pre-Nagarjunic or some such.

You appear to be using metaphysics here as 'beyond physical,' where 'physical' corresponds with 'thing,' which is not the meaning of the 'metaphysics' of postmetaphysics.  If 'beyond' in 'metaphysical' is taken to refer to some formless realm 'outside' of or alongside or underlying the physical realm (I don't think this is primarily what you are saying), that is metaphysical in the sense that postmetaphysics critiques (not because postmetaphysics rejects 'spiritual realities' and only embraces the physical realm, but rather because this view still trades in thing-thinking, where physical and non-physical are held in symmetric-polar form and where one or the other may be embraced and the other rejected, as we find, for instance, in materialism or idealism).  But if 'metaphysical' points to a way of looking in which representationalist thing-thinking is transcended, that is what is meant (here at IPS, or at least by me!) by postmetaphysical.  :-) 
 
If this is indeed what you mean by 'metaphysical,' yes, I'll buy that T-shirt and wear it proudly.

What altitude do you think one needs to be at to get all this?

I no longer think in those terms, for the question assumes the very metaphysical identity you so aptly criticized. Not to debunk levels completely, just that we are never at one level as a 'whole,' either individually or collectively, going up and down the scale in so many different lines and states that there doesn't seem to ever be a 'whole' identity this is fixed and permanent. Like inches our self is a useful construct but as they say in (some) Buddhist (and elsewhere) circles, it it an illusion. But men, they have to measure in inches, my (penis) self is bigger than yours.

Fuck that, literally. Oops, I guess that makes me mean and 'green' to big pricks! But I could care less what a big prick, or an assholon, thinks. (Directed at no one in particular but kennilingus in general.)*

* By the way, kennilingus is not Ken Wilber in particular (that would be Kennilingam); see this for definitions.

<smiling>

Dawid Dahl said:
(Awesome T-shirt, Thomas!)
You are hopeless Tom, really. And not worth another moment.

metaphysics (Newtonian one-pole posit) --> post-metaphysics (Einsteinian one-pole negate) --> subtle metaphysics (Bohrian two-pole-contradiction posit)

 

Tom, you missed one.  :-) 

 

metaphysics (Newtonian one-pole posit) --> post-metaphysics (Einsteinian one-pole negate) --> subtle metaphysics (Bohrian two-pole-contradiction posit) --> integral post-metaphysics (Nagarjunan four-fold negation / paradoxical matrix)

Hi Theurji,

 

I no longer think in those [SD-type developmental] terms, for the question assumes the very metaphysical identity you so aptly criticized.

 

I think I now understand your... hesitation to use those sort of developmental terms.  Not quite sure I agree with the idea that measuring an approximate psychological level implies an identity of essences; I think it still has its uses.  But I can agree to disagree on that.  I do realise, however, that level identification (especially when comparing oneself to others) can potentially lead to the Kennnilingus one-upmanship that you describe.  Maybe we can save that discussion for another thread though -- it might prove useful to discuss the connection between negative stereotyping (and metaphysics) and psychological developmental schemes.

How we interpret a 'postformal' cognitive level goes to the crux of the essence issue, as I explored at length in the real and false reason thread, i.e., it depends on which perspective(s) one chooses to describe it. There is no 'level in itself' like Kennilingam might suppose, with its own objective kosmic address. As you've noted in this thread it matters who is doing the addressing. So for me it comes down to the issue of postmetaphysics, which generally has a different interpretation of levels than does a metaphysician. I pointed to how Commons et al (the gold standard) are quite metaphysical in formulating postformal levels, whereas others see it as, if anything, not a 'higher level' but one that integrates what came before and is more a move of depth than of height. And minus the metaphysical underpinnings, more intersobjective perhaps. More a-perspectival, we might even say.

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