Monthly Archives: August 2014

The Philosophy of Big History

I attended the recent conference of the International Big History Association.  The association is oriented toward researching and teaching “Big History,” which aims (as their website says) to “understand the integrated history of the Cosmos, Earth, Life, and Humanity,” specifically by means of “the best available empirical evidence and scholarly methods.”  That opens up the field of history into a comprehensive and cross-disciplinary account of the entire 13.8 billion year history of our universe.

Big History is far from alone in its aim to articulate an integrated and evolutionary vision of matter, life, and humanity.  Multiple scholarly fields and schools of thought share the integrative aims of Big History (e.g., the universe story, the field of religion and ecology, integral theory, ecofeminism, complexity theory, posthumanities, process philosophy).  Big historians still have much to learn from those and other integrative and transdisciplinary sources of evolutionary knowledge.  Continue reading

Philosophy as Resistance: Commons for All

Thinking of philosophy as resistance, one might think first of the philosophical activities of Marxists, feminists, and environmentalists.  I would add process philosophers to that list.  For Bergson, for instance, philosophizing is a violent inversion of the status quo.

The mind has to do violence to itself, has to reverse the direction of the operation by which it habitually thinks, has perpetually to revise, or rather recast, all its categories.  But in this way it will attain to fluid concepts, capable of following reality in all its sinuosities and of adopting the very movement of the inward life of things.  Only thus will a progressive philosophy be built up, freed from the disputes which arise between the various schools, and able to solve its problems naturally, because it will be released from the artificial expression in terms of which such problems are posited.  To philosophize, therefore, is to invert the habitual direction of the work of thought. (Bergson, An Introduction to Metaphysics [trans. T. E. Hulme. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1912], p. 51).

That’s not very different from Whitehead’s claim that philosophy “reverses the slow descent of accepted thought towards the inactive commonplace” (Modes of Thought, p. 174).  The question I’m left with is to what extent Bergson and Whitehead can facilitate resistance to a particularly obstinate habit that pervades late modernity: the enclosure of the commons (the becoming-inactive of the commonplace).  For Bergson, resistance to enclosures might have something to do with love, reminiscent of his famous saying, “The motive power of democracy is love.”  In Whitehead, maybe the notion of conformation provides a sense of the commons.  Consider a few quotes from Process and Reality:

The philosophy of organism holds that, in order to understand “power,” we must have a correct notion of how each individual actual entity contributes to the datum from which its successors arise and to which they must conform. (p. 56)

The pragmatic use of the actual entity, constituting its static life, lies in the future. The creature perishes and is immortal. The actual entities beyond it can say, “It is mine.” But the possession imposes conformation. (p. 82)

..and from Symbolism: Its Meaning and Effect, “Time in the concrete is the conformation of state to state” (35).

Some discussion of the DeleuzoGuattarian concepts of Hardt/Negri would help elaborate on the role of process thought in resisting enclosures and recuperating the commons, as would a discussion of Anne Pomeroy’s work on Marx and Whitehead and the anthology Bergson, Politics, and Religion, edited by Alexandre Lefebvre and Melanie White.  I’ll have more to say about this later.  In the meantime, I’m enjoying the essays in The Wealth of the Commons, edited by two wonderful defenders of the commons, David Bollier and Silke Helfrich.