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Throwing A-causal Stones From Theoretical Glass Houses

I don’t read Harman’s blog, but directed there by Steve Shaviro I noted this rather odd criticism given toward Shaviro’s theoretical embrace of becoming, apparently only the mere illusion of change in lieu of a real explanation:

GH: “Shaviro claims that his position explains change, but all it really gives us is the illusion of change: like those card decks with stationary cartoons which, when flipped through in rapid succession, give the illusory impression of a dynamic event.”

This of course should be contrasted with Graham’s own theory of “vicarious causation” which not only possesses almost no explanatory value of what causation might be, but actually invents in perhaps a non-Occamian profusion, a host of objects imagined to interact in ways that are yet revealed by their author. The objects are posited, but they are still waiting for their theory. Indeed Graham’s thinking ALLOWS cars to be crushed and ice cream to be eaten, as he proudly proclaims, but his theory of cause and effect seems to fall even below the threshold of “illusion” when it comes to change itself. Instead vacuous objects retreat into ghost worlds connected through subterranean mojo mixed with the mysteries of intention, becoming all the more inapplicable at the level of bowling-ball type objects that the theory is supposed to rescue.

Adventures in Incoherence

Graham recoiled from Steven’s description of his (general) theory as incoherent, and Steven apologized for the word choice, and in fact praises to a strong degree the effect the criticism he has received. But at least in this aspect of Harman’s thinking – his explanation of cause – to this reader, the Harman account is incoherent. Which is not to say that I disagree with it, but rather, it lacks applicable coherence: the theoretical parts match up (Harman’s importation of Husserlian Idealist objects exotically fused to a Heideggerian matrix), to be sure, but they do so in an utterly non-productive way, leaving one to feel that one is just making categories up in some kind of meta-love of the Husserl-Heidegger tradition. There doesn’t seem to be anything to actually disagree with other than that the notion of “allure” (unexplained and largely undifferentiated) explains what causation is, especially given its anthropomorphic projection of human experience onto largely inanimate objects that are supposed to make up our orientation.

There is a thin line between “incoherent” and “the supposed coherence between concepts does not do the explanatory job”. “The hand of Zeus makes it rain” is both coherent (at least I understand what the sentence means), and also incoherent as an explanation. All the explanatory connectives are missing. As far as Whitehead’s causation as becoming I feel we are at least closer to having concepts that when understood contain a kind of explanatory value that is more satisfying. I find it very odd though that Graham would chose causation as the house from which to throw his stone.

In the comments section to the linked Shaviro post I offered a sketch of how Spinoza’s metaphysics might address the breach between these two camps, for what it is worth.

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