Tag Archive: Hartshorne


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Here’s a version of the theoretical model I develop in Ecologies of the Moving Image. (An earlier version can be found here.) Following Peircian phenomenology (or “phaneroscopy”) and Whiteheadian ontology, that model is process-relational and triadic. (*See Note at bottom for more on the relationship between Peirce, Whitehead, and their leading synthesist, Hartshorne.)

This means:

Everything is three. Or, everything there is can be thought of in terms of three relational processes:

(1) The thing itself, which is a qualitatively distinctive phenomenon. Let’s call it the thing-world, since it is an unfolding of a particular kind, which sets up a formal structure of internal relations and (externally) interactive potentials as it unfolds, and since our relationship to it is generally from its ‘outside,’ though we can enter into a relationship with it.

(2) The interaction of that thing with another. Let’s call this the thing-experience, since we (or others) experience it from the ‘inside.’ This experience is what happens with us when we enter into the relationship with (1). (Other things may be happening with us simultaneously; this thing-experience doesn’t exhaust us. It’s just what we’re trying to understand here.)

(3) The relating of the thing-world and thing-experience with the whole world. To keep things simple, we can call this the thing-world/extra-thing-world relation (with the thing-experience being a subset of this whole relation, and the only piece of it that is distinctly “ours”). Or we can call it the world-earth relation, or the world-universe relation, with the ‘world’ being the thing-world and the ‘earth’ or ‘universe’ being the unencompassable ground (considered either in its earthbound or its cosmic aspect) within which all thing-worlds have their being/becoming. This relation is the full set of connections and interdependencies within which the thing has its action. To map out this relation in its entirety is impossible, but to understand the more proximal and direct parts of it is possible and useful. It is, in effect, the thing come into its fullness: both its full glory and its full dispersion into (other) things.

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Buddhist objects & processes

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Does object-oriented ontology = Buddhism? Tim Morton has been making intriguing sounds to that effect, and Levi Bryant has begun to ask him the hard questions about how and whether that might be possible — of how to “square the circle” of independent substances (OOO) with Buddhism’s conditioned genesis (a.k.a. dependent arising, codependent origination).

Tim’s task strikes me as quite challenging, especially because Buddhism is conventionally thought to be as relational as philosophical traditions can get. Levi has a clear exposition of conditioned genesis, which he rightfully depicts as the cornerstone metaphysical principle on which Buddhist practice, psychology, and soteriology are all built.

It’s necessary, however, to think carefully about Buddhism’s relationality. One of the popular metaphors for thinking about conditioned origination is the idea of Indra’s jeweled net. Levi uses the image of a spider web, but the idea is the same. He writes:

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The following are some working notes following up on my previous post on the relationship between Charles Sanders Peirce and Alfred North Whitehead, specifically on Peirce’s logical/relational/phenomenological categories (firstness, secondness, thirdness) and Whitehead’s notion of prehension and the “actual occasion.” It’s become clear to me since writing that post that any rapprochement between the two requires going through Charles Hartshorne (which is something I had been resisting due to the theological cast of many of Hartshorne’s writings, but I’ve come to see that it’s unavoidable).

Hartshorne (pronounced “Harts-horn”) was a close student of Whitehead’s and an editor and archive keeper of Peirce’s work at Harvard. From what I can tell, Hartshorne is the most important philosopher directly related to both CSP and ANW to have attempted a synthesis of the two. The most thorough and final elucidation of that synthesis seems to come in his 1984 book Creativity in American Philosophy [note: this post originally incorrectly identified the year of his death as 1990; it was actually 2000 - Hartshorne lived to the ripe old age of 103].

Hartshorne has great respect for Peirce’s phenomenology (a word Peirce uses somewhat differently from Husserl, being empty of what we would now call Husserl’s “correlationism”), which in his account begins to set us on the right path of metaphysics, but doesn’t quite get us all the way there. Whitehead’s metaphysics, on the other hand, for Hartshorne, tower over all recent rivals in their “conceptual clarity and relevance to our total intellectual situation” (103). Within Whitehead’s system, it is, for Hartshorne, the concept of “prehension” that is “one of the most original, central, lucid proposals ever offered in metaphysics” (109). As Hartshorne defines it, prehension

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