Adam Robbert has posted a helpful overview of Steven Shaviro’s paper, “Consequences of Panpsychism,” a paper which I heard Shaviro deliver at Claremont in 2010. 

I’m somewhat sympathetic with panpsychism, but I don’t consider myself a panpsychist.  Of course, any “ism” has its problems, but I’m not just bothered by the “ism” in panpsychism.  It’s the “pan” that bothers me.  I would have similar reservations about pantheism or pan-anything. 

What’s wrong with the “pan” in panpsychism?  Everything!  It everythings things.  In contrast, attending to things themselves, I tend to resist the everythinging of things. 

No quality or thing should be panned.  It would be better if the “pan” in panpsychism meant that panpsychism would involve inquiry into the souls of dish pans, or what it’s like to be a baking pan.  Even better, in a more Latinate turn of phrase, panpsychism would describe the vibrant materiality of animate bread.

4 thoughts on “Panpsychism

  1. Yes! Very good. I’m highly sympathetic to this critique. Now if only a more suitable word would present itself!

  2. On a more interrogative note: is saying that what’s true about things is their radical particularity necessarily a better way of attending to things-themselves? It’s a question that I ask in order to hold the door open for the potential that things actually do have things in common with other things (e.g., affectivity). This would allow for an understanding that affectivity is part of thingly-ness without necessarily stating that affectivity is somehow alike (or even recognizable) across different modes of things.

    That was a mouthful, but I think it’s a worthwhile question to ask.

    1. Good comments. I suppose the problem with “pan”isms is that, when they everything things (or allify them?), they don’t just efface the particularity of things, they also efface their commonalities by reducing their being in common to some originary signification or ontotheological foundation (not unlike a baking pan). Pan-talk is a symptom of ontotheological panic.

      This reminds me of Jean-Luc Nancy, who describes the togetherness of all beings (including nonhumans) in terms of the sharing out of the meaning of being. “There is no meaning if meaning is not shared, and not because there would be an ultimate or first signification that all beings have in common, but because *meaning is itself the sharing of Being*.” (p. 2, Being Singular Plural)

      Maybe even better: Lingis sums it up in a book title, The Community of Those Who Have Nothing in Common.

      What’s a more suitable term? I suppose Latour’s advice might be that a better term would have to be a lot worse. It would have to be an experimental term that can do things without carrying too much explanatory weight. Some candidates: ANT, onticology, alien phenomenology, multicentrism, panallurism, and surely knowledge ecology.

  3. All good things happening here, Sam. I like thinking about the myriad problems that “pan”isms face (I thought your statement “they don’t just efface the particularity of things, they also efface their commonalities by reducing their being in common to some originary signification or ontotheological foundation” was particularly inspired).

    I’m stuck between dealing with particular philosophical problems e.g., the question of mind and/or experience, and the more general problem between ontotheology and practicing ontology at all.

    I’m not quite at the point where I think “pan”something is always equivalent to ontotheology, since by positing a general affectivity (for example) one is not saying that: (a) affectivity is homogenous (or even continuous), (b) it couldn’t also be described in a plurality of incommensurable ways, and (c) that what is a part of beings in general has some legislative power over a particular being, or over all beings.

    To your great list I would add: polypsychism, agential separability, radical noumena, ontography, and cosmopolitics. I also liking Brian Massumi’s phrase “taking up” as a way to describe the interactions between entities.

    Thanks for thinking!

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