replying to a comment on comments – part 1 (teleonomy)

(With apologies to john c halasz, who could not have anticipated in his comment responding to my comment, under my most recent post collecting comments, that I would decide to make a couple of posts out of my reply. I have left his comments unaltered, and hope that others will not hold whatever typos or other incidental imperfections against him, but rather treat them as reminders that his remarks were informal, would not have been composed with the expectation that I’d be using them in this way, and, unlike mine, are not subject to convenient revision.)

1 – geography and politics

john c halasz says:

Yes, 2 oceans and abundant natural resources, (though the latter are somewhat relative to economic/technological systems). But geo-political considerations apply quite generally and are never completely explanatory.

I say:

No explanation explains anything “completely,” but there’s more to the idea than “2 oceans and abundant natural resources.”

Yes, geopolitical or geographic factors come into play according to economic and technological potentials, but the latter also are conditioned by the former. The two oceans were a nearly impassable barrier up to the 15th-16th Century, then turned into relatively more efficient avenues of trade and communication as well as attack, but still remain of a different character than land approaches. In this regard, “America” can be understood as grown-up child of a long age of practical ocean-faring, still developing in the current era under a process of globalization, with aero- and cyber-space its furthest extension, but with the global system still crucially (in terms of resource-and-supply chains) a water-borne system up to today.

I’ll leave this complex subject to some other time, and just note the intermittent attempts, with an ancient pedigree, to divide up political-cultural systems and tendencies in relation to dependence on sea- vs. land-power. The thinking might even be considered “teleonomic” (see below).

2 – historicism, time, and the natural divine

jch says:

History, insofar as it is not just one damned thing after another, concerns the conjunctural emergences and transformations of meanings, understanding, norms and world-views, together with their correlated social/institutional structures, which is the prime interest in such a study, (and why “origins” must be plural and periodic), insofar as it contributes to current self-understandings. And it also follows that there are no “eternal”,  extra-worldly or trans-historical truths, reflexively, especially about history itself, which doesn’t vitiate any sort of validity claim, but simply limits it, as always potentially and even inevitably, if unforeseeably, revisable. And it also follows that there are no “eternal”,  extra-worldly or trans-historical truths, reflexively, especially about history itself, which doesn’t vitiate any sort of validity claim, but simply limits it, as always potentially and even inevitably, if unforeseeably, revisable.

I say:

jch’s statement, in a manner typical for historicist/post-modernist thought, asserts the impossibility of an eternal, transcendent truth: The intended effect is of something resembling or equivalent to an eternal, transcendent truth, meaning that, to the extent the statement is to be taken to be true, it must be taken to be false. Put differently, historicism says that every history as history will have a certain character: This truth would pervade and transcend historical time or historical events. Since the very statement proposes a trans-historical truth, clearly it does not logically follow from a universal open-ended revisability of historical insights that there are no “trans-historical truths.” Even apart from this problem, in whose articulation the proponent of historicism may claim to detect sophistry, the description of history as a constant process of  re-articulation or transformation does not preclude under- and overlying continuities or universalities. Indeed, as already stated, the postulate implies and would constitute at least one such universal, in a manner that may still serve as illustrative even if possibly subject to special exception for unique merely logical defect (supposing there can be such a thing). I write “something resembling or equivalent to an eternal, transcendent truth” because historicism excludes or seeks to exclude any beyond- or before-history as pointlessly “extra-worldly” – like Olympus on the other side of the flaming walls or relevance. If historicists treat the notion of being external to history as irrelevant being or non-existence, then they put themselves or their thought in that irrelevant position, and the resemblance becomes, for all intents and purpose for them, an identity: History is eternality for historicism.

The non-historicist thought, which allows for being external, beyond, and prior to historical being, considers that human being and all of human history are embedded within the relation, and are unknowable apart from it, so can be said in this sense to originate in it, to be “really” constituted in a relationship of the mortal and immortal or finite and infinite. For Voegelin, who credits von Doderer for the terminology, this relation is essential, a supposed reality supposedly apart from it is not really reality, and the supposed reality of the historicist’s reality principle is a false “second reality.” As I have noted before, though Voegelin saw himself as an opponent of Hegel, he and Hegel are in agreement on this gnosis in whose light we are left either to commit ourselves to falsehood, whose end result is actualization of its nullity – typified by the Nazi crimes, or perhaps in our near future by the realization of the nullity of technologism in ecological catastrophe – or, instead, like the widely derogated metaphysicians of old, to contemplate the second transcendence (in relation to the telos) as a corollary of the first (in relation to the universal): To the eternality of history to itself, we must add (are always-already adding and have always-already added) the relation of (or impossible-universal movement to-from) the immortal or perfect or eternal or transcendent – or, simply, the divine – to (and from) the mortal or imperfect or temporal or immanent.

3 – between teleonomy or anancasm and teleology or agapasm

jch says:

Further, there is a third alternative between reductive causal immanence and unjustifiable metaphysical teleology: teleonomy.

Peirce in his typology of evolutionary theories proposed a term in the same position: “anancasm.” He associated it or a form of it with Hegel, though in my reading Hegel is closer to Peirce on the side of agapasm or agapasticism: love (agape) as mainspring of evolution, indicating a telos that Hegel described in different terms, but which also treats present time as the future discovering itself, in other words re-considers the simple linear or unidirectional causal relation typical of historicist thought (which after Hegel often appears as degraded Hegelianism)  – or, as Kojève explained schematically:

In the Time that pre-Hegelian Philosophy considered, the movement went from the Past toward the Future, by way of the Present. In the Time of which Hegel speaks, on the other hand, the movement is engendered in the Future and goes toward the Present by way of the Past: Future -> Past -> Present (-> Future). And this is indeed the specific structure of properly human – that is, historical – Time.

So, for Kojève’s Hegel, in human or historical, as opposed to historicist, time: the telos (also) precedes the past. Maybe Peirce’s criticism of Hegel is indicative: Jerusalem and Athens depend on each other: The teleological thinker or agapasticist in committing to a telos or to agape would always be committing to it as “Vorstellung,” image different from what was to be imagined or than what would become both imaginable and real upon its assumption, but the teleonomist or anancasticist is always guilty of a different misprision, since the statement in favor of teleonomy makes teleonomy its telos, or will always be teleology by stealth, or no one proposes anancasm except for agape, perhaps under an excess of eros – love with a guilty conscience as to its “unjustifiability,” experienced as origin of justice at all.

4 – not all Schmittness

jch says:

6) Economics is not your strong suit, eh?

I’m not aware that I possess any strong suits, but I’m not sure why jch brings up economics in relation to my #6, unless it was a mistake or it was intended to mark a reluctance to commit theology.

Perhaps a purely Schmittian account has some functional and normative deficits which would qualify its explanatory and explicative “force”

Not merely likely but I would say demonstrable and demonstrated. I’m neither seeking nor advocating a purely Schmittian account.

I sometimes wonder what Schmitt and Kojève discussed when they met, and one of these days will see if someone somewhere knows.

(Additional comments, in relation to current events, to follow.)


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One comment on “replying to a comment on comments – part 1 (teleonomy)

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  1. This is all to involuted and projective to be dealt with, even if I weren’t busy with other obligations, but:


    1) That compunding of historical and geographical features called “geo-political” is useful, especially for understanding limiting factors in international affairs, it’s not determinative. So, for example, compare the U.S. and Argentina circa 1900 and then explain their divergent 20th century destinies. And outlining the lineaments of U.S. ascendency does not lead on to or underwrite fantasies like “full spectrum dominance”.


    2) “Historicism” and “post-modernism” are definitely not the same thing, but often opposites. Further, as Gadamer points out, the merely formal refutation of relativism/skepticism, that they must assert the universal truth of their claim and thus necessarily contradict themselves, doesn’t really work, as it evades substantive engagement with the matter in question, doesn’t eo ipso underwrite an opposing “absolute” claim, and really only refers back to the punctual self-reference of the claimant. (Though these sorts of issues are dealt with better via Wittgenstein). Nor is historical thinking necessarily relativistic. (The way to confute such relativism is to point out that it itself implicitly adheres to an absolute standard, such that historical relativism, to the extent that it is not simply an obvious, empirical observation, itself holds itself above history, rather than understanding itself as emerging from history). Nor does historical thinking deny any (relation to) any “outside”. It’s just that there is no securable access to any transcendent or noumenal realm, certainly not outside the mediations of history, and any claims about such are necessarily projections within history. The most that can be fully claimed is that a movement of transcendence within human historical existence is “necessary” to the achievement of any coherent understanding. But that doesn’t amount to the sheerly dogmatic claim that something transcendent must precede and underwrite all history, else no understanding is possible. Speculative metaphysical or religious claims can be adhered to, on an operative existential basis, but they can’t be fully “made out” and adequately “justified” on the basis of public reason. They are not so much irrational, nor completely void of the operations of rational thinking, but arational.

    3) Kojeve is a mash-up of Hegel, Marx and Heidegger, a famous instance of “creative misinterpretation”. And I would read Hegel as making precisely this point: henceforth modern societies must generate their sense of legitimate authority out of their own resources, without appealing to any extra-worldly transcendent source. But beyond Hegel, an appreciation of human finitude is in order, both individually and collectively, which involves a sense of limits. Nor is finitude reducuble to what merely fleeting and perishable. A “synchronic order”, essential to coherent thinking and understanding , is nonetheless attached to the diachronic, and can be coherently conceived as another mode of temporality, rather than “eternal”. The point about “teleonomy”, a term originally invented by general systems theorists, is that it permit purposive human behavior, both on the level of individual agents and on the level of overall “system goals”, without such behavior being predetermined or predestined by some pre-given a priori “foundation”. Any “ultimate ends” are projectively constructed, in the clash between human freedom and objective reality, rather than amounting to a final revelation of the timeless or eternal.


    4) The wise-crack about economics came up in the context of the claim that American “democracy” in the era of neo-liberalism and elite-sponsored corporate globalization increasingly doesn’t represent the interests of the vast majority of its citizens. Consider this chart for instance:


    More generally, I don’t understand your desire to endlessly rationalize growing U.S. dysfunction at home and abroad, and proclaim its catabolic tendencies as “providential”, when it clearly undermines the sovereignty of governments and thus the possibility of any stable alliance of republics that might make “international law”, (something I’m not very big on), something of a reality, rather than a transparently and heedlessly manipulated hypocrisy.

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