The Problem with Descartes: It’s Not Dualism

Some people, a lot of people, treat René Descartes as a sort of bogeyman of modern philosophy. Somehow, in the first half of the seventeenth century, Descartes sundered the seamless fabric of Being into two factions, mind and body, a thinking thing and an extended thing, res cogitans and res extensa. With that dualism set in place, soul was thereby evacuated from the universe…except for a tiny piece of property that soul could rent out in the human head, accessed through a steep driveway in the pineal gland. In a universe devoid of soul, humans lost any motivation or justification for caring about anything beyond the solipsistic ego. Thanks a lot, René! There’s no concern for other humans, for community, or for the natural world. Mechanistic thinking thus spurred the rapacious destruction of ecosocial integrity through the development of industrial technologies and market economies. Now, as humans are sawing off the environmental limb that we’re sitting on, it’s more urgent than ever to overcome Cartesian dualism and find a way back into the seamless interconnectivity of existence. No, not really. Something is very wrong with that story. “In order to seek truth,” as Descartes says in his Principles of Philosophy, “it is necessary once in the course of our life to doubt, as far as possible, of all things.” Well, one of the things of which I’m doubtful is the idea that dualism is what’s wrong with Descartes.

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Toward an Ecological Civilization: Whitehead and Ecological Democracy

I’ll be giving a couple of presentations at the upcoming conference, Seizing an Alternative: Toward an Ecological Civilization, which is taking place early June in Claremont, California. It’s a massive assemblage of a few different conferences: the 10th International Whitehead Conference, the 9th International Forum on Ecological Civilization, the Inaugural Pando Populus Conference, the Pilgrim Place Centennial Celebration, and the Process & Faith Summer Institute.

I’m on a panel with some of my closest coconspirators discussing cosmopolitics and the Journey of the Universe project. I’ll have more to say about that later. I’m also happy to be part of a track focusing on Alfred North Whitehead’s contributions to the philosophy of religion. Here’s the abstract for the paper I’ll deliver for that track: Continue reading

Monads: windowless glass houses

Graham Harman has a nice post up “On the Laziness of Comparing Object-Oriented Philosophy with Leibniz.”  One of the points he brings up is that, even though he and Leibniz affirm windowless monads, monads are still determined by their relations in Leibniz , but their reality is non-relational in object-oriented philosophy. 

Although I tend to follow Whitehead and Deleuze in thinking of monads as having windows, I also accept Harman’s Heideggerian conception of a non-relational reality, in which monads would have no windows.  If we are going to continue describing entities as having windows, it would be important to add that contact through these windows is never direct but only happens indirectly… through a glass darkly.  I am committed to affirming relational and non-relational aspects of monads, and I think that the image of windows with dark glass might help draw out the complex tension between relationality and non-relationality.  Really, though, the window still implies too much accessibility, even if the window has bars on it or is wired with a bomb.  Perhaps it would be better to say that a monad does not have windows at all but is a house of glass.  The glass is dark, and what appears dimly in and through the glass is not comprised of reflections but of diffractions (not totally unlike the diffraction glasses that people wear for light shows, raves, fireworks, etc.). 

Windowless and alluring, every object is a glass house of dark diffractions.