An Essay Featured in (Re)constructing “A Is A” by O.G. Rose
The Differences Between the “Continentally Concrete” and “Analytically Empirical”
In a recent discussion with the magnificent Dr. Cadell Last, it was noted how in Hegel an idea isn’t even an idea until it is made concrete.” Hegel discusses abstraction, negation, and concretion — the full arch of sublation, as I understand it — which for me highlights how we start off with an idea for how to start a business, then we “negate” the idea phase of our potential entrepreneurship so that it can be “sublimated” into reality, and then we start living with and operating “the concrete” and actualized business. Ideas are negated as ideas and thereby actualized into “concretion,” which for Hegel an idea practically isn’t even itself unless it goes through this final phase. Why’s that? Well, it’s because we basically never think of all the unintended consequences, details, and so on of an idea until we actually try to implement it. We think we know what it’s like to raise kids until we have them, and then we find out that we had “no idea”: the lived experienced unveils that we practically didn’t even “have an idea about” parenthood, that the idea was about “something else” (an ideal), so much so that it’s as if the idea wasn’t even about anything at all (it had no substance, no being). For me, this is what it means to say that, in Hegel, an idea isn’t even an idea until it’s made concrete: ideas that stay ideas are practically not even ideas.
What Cadell and I discussed brought to mind a topic I think about often, which is the strange overlap yet distinctions between Phenomenology, Empiricism, and Pragmaticism. They all take experience seriously, but not in the same way. Or are they the same? Admittedly, in my mind, I’ve often conflated the camps. Here, after so long, I would like to start getting things straight by introducing a new category, “Phenomenological Pragmaticism.”
In this work, I would generally like to describe Phenomenology and Empiricism as two different approaches to Pragmaticism (with Pragmaticism also perhaps being what we can “move through” to move between Phenomenology and Empiricism dialectically). Reminiscent of “The Creative Concord,” this can be visually represented as follows:
Both Phenomenology and Empiricism are “toward” Pragmaticism and ultimately manifest as and into a Pragmaticism (in the same way that truths manifest into a rationality). Because both Phenomenology and Empiricism have this orientation, both ultimately come down to a way to hold ourselves and approach the world. A Phenomenologist takes experience very seriously, while an Empiricist gives observation great weight, which means both focus on “what we sense” in comparison to the abstract and intellectual. “Sensing” (physical) versus “making sense” (intellectual) is a great concern to the Phenomenologist and Empiricist, and that means experience and what is in experience matter.
Pragmaticism is always informed, for we don’t from our experience of the world learn how we should operate in the world. That notion comes from ideas, though not all ideas are formed in the same way (the methods of Descartes are not the methods of Heidegger, for example). Considering this, Pragmaticism is always in Phenomenology or Empiricism, relative to how we think we should weigh, consider, etc. experience. If we think we should take subjectivity into account, our Pragmaticism will be “in-formed” (“formed in”) accordingly; if we think we should “bracket out subjectivity,” our Pragmaticism will similarly be “in-formed.” Considering this, if we are a Pragmatistic, we are also generally going to be either a Phenomenologist or an Empiricist (as I have so defined them), and the choice of which we are will have a lot to do with how we ultimately decide to treat “the subject” (and “metaphysics” by extension). All this needs elaboration, but the main point is that Pragmaticism is always “in-formed” (our ideas of “the practical” are always through “our ideas,” as described in “Ideas Are Practically Eyes” by O.G. Rose).
What is the key difference between Phenomenology and Empiricism? Generally, the Phenomenologist is concerned about “experience” itself, while the Empiricist is concerned about what is “in experience.” Yes, both overlap, but while the Phenomenologist is focused on “the experience which things make possible,” the Empiricist is focused on “the things in our experience.” Phenomenology and Empiricism are unified and blurred by their concern with experience, and since experience is “the realm in which we are practicing,” that means both end up in Pragmaticism. Phenomenology is an intellectual practice, as is Empiricism, and ultimately I will argue that we need both, as we need both “explanation” and “address” (to allude to “Explained and Addressed” by O.G. Rose). Unfortunately, the likelihood we will realize that we “need both” is greatly reduced if we fail to see distinctions between Phenomenology and Empiricism, and in treating them as “the same,” I fear both will end up effaced (to allude to “Negation and Effacement” by O.G. Rose).
I have named this paper “Phenomenological Pragmaticism” (or PP) not because I am trying to claim Phenomenology is “better” than Empiricism, nor because I am claiming to be the founder of some new “school of thought.” Rather, my hope is to help us see Phenomenology as closely related to Empiricism and as practical versus abstractly metaphysical. I believe “Empirical Pragmaticism” (which is what this paper will call EP) is basically how most people treat Pragmaticism and Empiricism today, and this paper will discuss distinctions between “Phenomenological Pragmaticism” and “Empirical Pragmaticism” extensively. Following the tradition of Hegel and the Kyoto School (to name a few figureheads), I think Phenomenology takes into consideration subjectivity and “the subject,” whereas I think Empiricism is much more likely to leave those behind (especially when it is mixed up with Scientism). In the phrase “Phenomenological Pragmaticism,” I am trying to keep “(empirical) observation” without losing space for “the subject,” a balance I think Hegel was trying to maintain in the language of “concretion” himself.
As of January 2022, I think most schools in Philosophy and Theology are focused on Pragmaticism of some kind. There seems to be little appetite for “abstract metaphysics” or “brains on sticks” (though I fear that we might have gone too far and deconstructed all metaphysics, a topic explored in The Philosophy of Glimpses), with “pure abstraction” now generally only being seen as appropriate in Mathematics. I think this is a positive development, but it is a development that will struggle to realize itself if we do not maintain distinctions between Phenomenology, Empiricism, and Pragmaticism (failure to do so will lead to confusion, error, and effacement). My hope in this work is mostly to provide language to help us keep these three distinct precisely so that all three can be better implemented. If Phenomenology was clearly distinguished from Empiricism and vice-versa, both Phenomenology and Empiricism would benefit.
Phenomenology (P), Empiricism (E), and Pragmatism (PR) blur together because they are similar, and generally I think we could highlight the differences in the following way:
Phenomenology: The study of experience as if entities aren’t a factor. (The experience)
Empiricism: The study of entities as if experience isn’t a factor. (The experienced)
Pragmaticism: The study of knowing through doing. (Experience)
We can only undergo experience as “experience of” (as consciousness is always “consciousness of”), which means experience always entails intentionality. We experience intentionality as “focus,” and P, E, and Pr are all “focused” on the realm and world which I know through my senses. Because of this “similarity of focus,” P, E, and Pr all seem the same, but this “unity of focus” isn’t the same as a “unity of concern.”
All practice is through an idea of what constitutes “good practice,” and in this way our practice will radically change based on if we are a Phenomenologist or an Empiricist. If we treat “raw experience” as highest reality, how we “practice” will be very different from someone who treats “hard materiality” as highest reality (“truth organizes values,” as discussed in The Conflict of Mind). Also, while it is theoretically possible for someone to be a Cartesian and sit around thinking all day with their eyes closed, the Phenomenologist and Empiricist must act, observe, and sense, which is hence another reason why Phenomenology and Empiricism are “toward” Pr. If there is no practice, there cannot be Phenomenology or Empiricism: both require thinking and practice, not just thinking.
Now, it should be noted that if I understand the Phenomenology of Edmund Husserl correctly, we see in that particular Phenomenology an effort to remove “the subject” in favor of “experience to experience” (“pure experience,” we could say, like the “pure observation” critiqued in (Re)constructing “A Is A,” two examples of A/A). This Phenomenology is just as problematic as Empiricism which removes “the subject” — both distance us from “The Absolute” which I associate with Hegel (as discussed in “Absolute Knowing” by O.G. Rose) — and a reason I have decided a phrase like “Phenomenological Pragmaticism” is needed is both to define Phenomenology from Empiricism and to define Phenomenology that tries to “bracket out the subject for pure experience” from Phenomenology which maintains “the subject.” In other words, Husserl isn’t Hegel.
In my mind, “Phenomenological Pragmaticism” takes experience seriously, but since it is “pragmatic” (and “practice” requires “a person practicing”), PP also takes seriously “the experiencer.” This brings us to the topic of “the subject,” which taking seriously brings us to a Hegelian consideration of The Absolute (“everything that is the case plus us”) versus just The Truth (“everything that is the case”). But doesn’t Empiricism also lead to practice and thus “a person practicing?” Yes, but in Empiricism being focused on “things as if experience isn’t a factor,” that means we can move from Empiricism to “the body,” but not really to “the subject.” The subject is primarily “an entity which experiences and is constituted by experience,” and so if “experience” is (practically) not considered relevant, then we cannot move from Empiricism into subjectivity. In this way, we could say that PP is “pragmaticism with the subject,” while EP is “pragmaticism despite the subject” (please note that PP could thus guide us into Metaphysics, though that is another topic for another time).
Both PP and EP are interested in a similar question: “How should we practice ourselves in the world?” This is akin to the question, “How ought we live?” and “How can we die well?” — famously paramount concerns of philosophy. Both have concluded that abstract intellectualism is not the answer, and both have concluded that dealing with pure symbols like in Mathematics or Semiotics will not yield the results we need. Instead, we need to take the information we receive from our senses very seriously, but how PP and EP exercise this concern is according to different emphasizes, focuses, and principles. To help clarify the distinctions (though often these categories overlap), consider:
Confidence (versus certainty)
Falsification (versus verification)
More could be written here, and I am tempted to associate “such-ness” and “particularity” with Phenomenology and “is-ness” with Empiricism, but I think that might be going too far (both need to be focused on “such-ness” and can be). Regardless, what is listed is very general, but hopefully it’s a start and provides a guide for future thought. Do note that I am not arguing in this work that “Phenomenological Pragmaticism” is better than “Empirical Pragmaticism,” for science requires EP, and there are times when science is paramount. There are situations where “bracketing out the subject” is necessary, and if we never do so, “explanation” will prove difficult to achieve. As hopefully “Explained and Addressed” made clear, we need both explanation and address, dialectically informing one another: otherwise, we will end up “poorly (in)formed.”
Another reason PP is needed is because it helps clarify the nature of “social philosophy” (on civilization, family, relationships, etc.), which is a major concern of mine but doesn’t fit neatly into preexisting categories. Belonging Again by O.G. Rose is a sociological account of how civilizations operate according to “givens” and “releases,” and how we must find a balance between these two to avoid making authoritarianism appealing. The book also hopefully makes clear why we need both “explanation” and “address,” the imbalance of which I think is a pressing problem today. Belonging Again explores how we experience the ideas which hold society together, about how we embody and participate in those ideas without even realizing that we’re doing so. The book is indebted to the work of Freud and Philip Rieff, and for me can be associated with the work of Robert Brandon, the incredible Hegel scholar behind A Spirit of Trust. Dr. Brandon describes society as a constant exchange of intentions and “reasons” so that we as human beings have a sense of what the people around us are doing, thinking about, and the like. We cannot function with too much uncertainty and chaos, and so social interactions develop to help us feel like life is “given enough” so that we can operate and not be overwhelmed by existential anxiety. For me, all of this thinking falls under the category of “Phenomenological Pragmaticism,” for the noted work describes how we experience ideas to make social life possible, comprehendible, and desirable. In fact, such sociological work could be the most vivid example of “Phenomenological Pragmaticism,” for it is explicitly a description of how society forms relative to how people experience ideas. I believe Dr. Brandon is correct to understand rationality and intentionality as profoundly social, and indeed I have been convinced that we can find evidence of this thinking in Hegel. Hegel though also gives us reason to think “the self” is ultimately an entity which exists through “(re)constitution,” making “lack” fundamental — how can Brandon’s thinking and “lacks” be combined? That deserves a paper, but to allude to the answer, we could say that “I am we, and Daniel is not I” — but elaborations will have to wait.
To continue this paper, I’d like to explore my own life story and formation of my thinking, an effort which will hopefully “show” what constitutes PP.
As described in “How Should We Live?” by O.G. Rose, I have always liked Pragmaticism, yet felt Empiricism was incomplete. In my experience, “Pragmaticism” and “Empiricism” were often conflated, but that came to strike me as a mistake (not that it was always easy to define the differences). My love of Pragmaticism (as I understood it) was first inspired by Charles W. Mills and this sentence in his marvelous Blackness Visible (which I find myself constantly referencing a decade later):
‘If your daily existence is defined by oppression, by forced intercourse with the world, it is not going to occur to you to doubt about your oppressor’s existence in any serious fashion as a pressing philosophical problem; this idea seems frivolous, a perk of social privilege.’¹
This was a powerful revelation, for it made me realize that a lived experience could help us figure out what philosophical questions were likely erroneous in their very asking. I had been reading Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Wittgenstein suggested that many philosophical problems were not problems at all: they only arose because of poorly used language. Language made us think there were philosophical problems we needed to address that we actually didn’t need to address, and regardless if we agreed with Wittgenstein here, the thought struck me in light of Mills that “lived experience” could help us “address” philosophical inquiries. If the slave practically knew “other minds existed” exactly as Mills described, then we practically had very good reason to consider the philosophical problem solved. As Wittgenstein would have us examine language to “slice apart the Gordian knot” of a philosophy problem, so Mills made me realize that experience could similarly “slice apart Gordian knots,” per se.
Around that time, I was also reading Being and Nothingness by Jean-Paul Sartre, and his example of someone being caught looking through a keyhole at a woman changing also suggested that other minds must exist because, when caught in such experiences, we are “pinned down.” In that moment, we know that person is there: “their gaze” is undeniable. It struck me that what Mills and Sartre were proposing weren’t arguments which proved other minds existed (with certainty), but arguments which made considering the question impractical, to the point where we could have great confidence that other minds did exist.² The slave practically experiences the reality of other minds, as does the person who is “pinned down.” I understood these to be “proofs,” but I also didn’t know if I could claim such, seeing as the “proofs” didn’t stand up to scientific scrutiny, empiricism, or provide certainty. I started using “Pragmaticism” as a heuristic even though I wasn’t sure if I should, also at the time conflating “Pragmaticism” and “Phenomenology.” I felt there was a connection
I was studying Economics back then, and the economic thinking of Hayek and Sowell both stressed that we could never know “the essential value” of things for sure, nor could we ever be certain that our “socioeconomic model” would make the world “a better place” or even work, and thus there was the need for a “market test,” a system of “managing” (not “solving”) limited resources, and a way to make sure that when inevitable failures and mistakes happened, the damages were contained (and in fact could help us learn and improve for next time). All this was colored by my reading of Nassim Taleb, who similarly stressed the limitations of our knowledge and need to “work with” those limitations. So far, I had absorbed a few major categories for my epistemology:
Practically knowing x, y, and z as an epistemological standard
The need for tests
The inevitability of limitations
Uncertainty and confidence versus certainty
Economics made me realize that if a person’s vision or a socioeconomic order couldn’t explain how I could access bottled water at a reasonable price, the socioeconomic order was merely “an idea” (and, following Hegel, not even that). Similarly, if a philosophical problem could be practically deconstructed (as Charles W. Mills described), then the philosophical problem was not pressing. That didn’t mean “The Problem of Other Minds” couldn’t be explored or considered, but it did mean that I would consider the problem “practically addressed.” Since “certainty” was impossible, as my reading of Kurt Gödel lead me to conclude, a “practical solution” was indeed a solution. It provided us grounds for confidence, and confidence was the best we could do.
Gödel was another big influence on my thinking, not because Gödel lead me into relativism, but because he showed that a system which was true, precisely because it was truth, couldn’t necessarily “prove” itself to be true. If a system indeed “proved itself to be truth,” that very proof, if “complete,” could actually be evidence that the system wasn’t true. In Gödel, I found radical inversions from which I have still not recovered: if a map is complete (to allude to those famous epistemological paradoxes), then it cannot be the territory, and if what we are trying to map is indeed a territory, it cannot be completely mapped. It is a mistake to think Gödel is saying knowledge is impossible, as it is a mistake to assume that what we have “confidence in” is not something we can be right about (“certainty” is a problematic standard). Rather, Gödel is saying that we should expect “incompleteness,” not because what we think is wrong, but because of the nature of reality and thought itself: “incompleteness” is simply part of things (meaning our challenge is to figure out how to be “(in)complete,” complete in incompleteness, as discussed throughout O.G. Rose). For me, what Gödel argued helped me see how the arguments of Mills and Sartre were in fact valid arguments, even if they didn’t provide “certainty” in favor of their claims. Whether my understanding of Gödel should have led me to thinking the way I did is debatable, but, all the same, I took Gödel’s work to justify arguments based on experience and practice (which I also associated with the “practical reason” discussed by Kant). Gödel legitimized the arguments of Mills and Sartre, and also suggested that Economics played an important role precisely as Hayek argued. Gödel justified.
More could be said, such as how I took American Sign Language and thought solutions to Wittgenstein might be found in “sign language” versus “verbal language,” which also influenced me to think of Literature and creative writing as potential “tests” for philosophical reasoning (similar to Economics), for Literature was generally in the business of “showing.” If an idea for social design couldn’t explain how people would have access to bottled water, there was a problem; likewise, if a philosophical argument could not be rendered into a story, my skepticism increased. In my mind, all of these were examples of holding ideas up to a “practical standard,” for I associated a story with a “proof” (like in Mathematics) that justified a philosophical enterprise (which also worked the other way around, for I concluded that if “Great Literature” was often ironic, as Harold Bloom argued, then the philosophy which was “most likely to be true” would also be ironic). I wanted methods of “bringing Philosophy down to earth,” and I associated “lived experience,” Phenomenology, Economics, and Literature as being such methods. All this led me to the Scottish Enlightenment and my love of Vico and Hume, but I have written so much on them that I will not discuss them here. To put it simply, the Scottish Enlightenment taught me to value “suchness,” to assume that if x idea could not be brought down to the “particular,” there was reason to doubt x. And as I have learned from Dr. Cadell Last, that heuristic of mine could be associated with Hegel’s “concretion.”
It is difficult to describe “Phenomenological Pragmaticism,” for it seems to be something that must be “shown” more than “talked about,” as I have attempted in this section. PP is not a method that provides certainty, but it is a method for confidence that takes Gödel seriously while also validating “the subject” and making space for Metaphysics “in-formed” by “suchness.” It is this method I am suggesting whenever I emphasize the word “practically,” for PP validates assuming that what is “practically” thus is that which there is “reason to think” is thus. It is this word “practically” which I would like to now focus on.
“Practically” could be the most important word in my epistemology, for it plays a double role of combing the notions of probability, “living out,” confidence, “almost,” and “not technically.” To borrow an example from “The Tragedy of Us” by O.G. Rose, if something is “practically inevitable,” for example, that means the thing is not “technically inevitable,” which is to say that even if it is possible to think of scenarios where the thing doesn’t happen, it could still be the case that the thing “will always happen in practice.” This description unveils a possible break between “theory” and “practice” (correspondence and coherence, truth and rationality, and other terms I constantly discuss), which is to say that even if I could prove to you that Capitalism doesn’t necessarily destroy the arts, it could still be the case that Capitalism always happens to destroy the arts “in practice” (which would mean that we could fairly say that “Capitalism practically destroys the arts”). In fact, the reality that Capitalism doesn’t technically have to destroy the arts could function as a means for “ideology preservation,” in that someone who supports Capitalism could point this technicality out, and thus continue to support Capitalism, contributing to the “practically inevitable destruction of the arts,” all while thinking that they were perhaps supporting and enabling art. For reasons like this, it is paramount to grasp the differences between what is “technically the case” and what is “practically the case.” In this world, to avoid “ideological capture,” we must understand that what matters is what is “practically the case,” not what is “technically” thus (for “the map is not the territory”).
As a failure to define “practical” and “technical” could contribute to self-deception, a lack of the distinction could also contribute to us focusing on problems, questions, concerns, topics, and the like which are technically problems but not practically. “The Problem of Other Minds” is an example of this: alluding to Charles W. Mills again, though the problem is not technically solved by the phenomenological experience of the slave, it is solved practically, and in a world where “certainty” is impossible and efforts for “confidence” and “proofs of confidence” justified by Kurt Gödel, a “practical solution” is indeed a solution (arguably the only kind possible). If we don’t realize this though, we as thinkers may continue to pursue “technical solutions” which may or may not exist, and that ultimately may not even apply to our lives (for “maps/ideas are not experiences/territories”). This quandary can be associated with “The Pynchon Risk” discussed in The Conflict of Mind, and it is especially dangerous since “the map is indestructible” (to allude to the third book in the trilogy). Do note though that if we understand that “there is no technical solution” to a problem (say regarding the question, “How do we know reality is real?”), we must still practice accordingly to feel like our (alternative) “practical solution” is indeed valid. For example, as discussed in “Homo Egeo” by O.G. Rose, if I decide there is no “technical answer” to the problem of proving the existence of reality, only the “practical answer” of living life, I must still make “a real choice” and fully commit to something in order to practice and “feel” that answer (as valid) (as “(in)complete”). For there to be an actual dialectic between action and thought, I really have to act, not just think about action (an easy mistake). Similarly, if I conclude there is no “technical answer” to “The Problem of Other Minds,” I still have to “act like” other minds are there even if not fully knowable, which means I have to resist the temptation to “be certain about what someone thinks,” to indulge in metamentality, and so on — all of which constitutes a “practical answer” (all “practical answers” are practiced).
To take seriously “Phenomenological Pragmaticism” is to focus on what is “practically the case” versus what is “technically the case,” but determining this requires paying very close attention to how “the world unfolds” in order for us to make a strong prediction for what will “practically turn out to be the case” if “the world unfolds” according to Capitalism, Socialism, a given psychological theory, a given practice on how a family should be organized, and so on. Note here that “Phenomenological Pragmaticism” treats and tests theory differently than how it is traditionally tested, for though PP knows a theory can be dismissed if it entails contradictions and fails to be “internally consistent,” PP also knows that an “internally consistent” theory or idea that entails no contradictions could nevertheless be “practically false” even though it might be “technically true.” A perfect map could nevertheless fail to describe a territory, the PP realizes, and so focuses on “the experience of the territory” then the map, versus assume the map must be correct and then interpret the territory to fit the map. Most people know this is a silly mistake when asked directly, but it is still remarkably easy to still in practice end up acting like “the map is realer than the territory.” Indeed, maps are necessary and should be treated with respect, but if Capitalism always ends up destroying the arts “in practice,” I think that should be given consideration even though Capitalism theoretically could enable the arts. “Theoretically” is another term I like, for it means “in theory” x should/must happen, even though x might never happen (it is possible for something that is “always theoretically the case” to never “actually be the case”).
Wittgenstein’s effort to “dissolve” philosophical problems by examining the mechanisms of language was legitimate, I think, but it was Charles W. Mills who helped me see a way to ground Wittgenstein’s effort on experience versus language. No, Mills doesn’t “dissolve” say “The Problem of Other Minds,” but he does provide us with a way to understand the problem as “theoretically a problem” but not “practically a problem” (what Wittgenstein wanted to “dissolve,” Mills gives us a justified way to “move beyond”), and following Hegel’s “concretion,” that means “The Problem of Other Minds” isn’t really a problem at all. Again, that doesn’t mean nobody should ever think about “The Problem of Other Minds” (that depends), but it does mean that an effort to take it seriously must incorporate the fact that it is only technically a concern, which means it is notably susceptible to being a “Pynchon Risk” (of pulling us into an investigation from which there is no end and that becomes harder to escape once we start, like a conspiracy). “Autonomously technical problems,” as perhaps we could call them (alluding to “Deconstructing Common Life” and David Hume), are risky, but I will not say here that considering “The Problem of Other Minds” can never yield creative results and new insights. That depends: my point is only that the very fact it is only technically a concern, not practically, suggesting that the problem might simply be a result of “essential incompleteness,” that there is no solution precisely because the lack of a solution is a feature of reality itself (an essential “gap” between Vectors, to allude to Alexander Elung and Alexander Bard, and it should be noted that the need for “practice” would then be a result of Vector differences). My red cup on my desk isn’t equal to the cat outside in the barn because “noncontradiction” as such is “a feature” of the world; likewise, the inability to prove with certainty that “other minds exist” is easily “a feature” of existence and existing. In my epistemology, it is precisely problems which are “theoretically problems but not practically problems” for which there is “most reason to think” are features of existence. Considering this, there is justified reason to “accept” these problems as features of reality, as expressions of “essential incompleteness” (as Gödel discussed), versus try to solve what ultimately might be (unsolvable) features (a mistake we must always be vigilant to avoid). Solving being is effacing it.
Determining what constitutes an “autonomous technical problem” is only possible from within the realm of practice, thanks to a dialectic between action and thought, and a hope of “Phenomenological Pragmaticism” is precisely to provide that dialectic. When a theory is practically x versus (only) theoretically x, there is reason to consider the theory “as more so” its practice, for it is in the realm of “practice” that we live and breathe. I think Hegel understood this with his emphasis on concretion, and for Hegel we can basically say that a theory isn’t its theoretics at all. A theory is its practice, so if Capitalism “practically must destroy the arts,” then Capitalism must destroy the arts. “Coherence” is distinct from “correspondence,” but there’s a sense in which “coherence” hardly exists at all — though problematically “correspondence” isn’t always determinable, even when “a guess at it” is necessary (to organize our values). But all this must be explored elsewhere, in The Conflict of Mind — here, we must settle with establishing “a heuristic of concern” based on what is “practically” the case. Again, alluding to Hegel, what is “practically” the case is the case, and all “practice” is done thanks to a subject, thus why we must focus on “The Absolute” versus “The Truth” (as expanded on in “Absolute Knowing” by O.G. Rose).
“Phenomenological Pragmaticism” is not an effort to discard theory, for again all ideas of the “practical” must be so defined from within a theoretical framework. Instead, my point is that theory should be viewed in light of what is “practically the case” versus what is “theoretically the case,” for the first forms a dialectic between thinking and action (a Hegelian point stressed throughout O.G. Rose), accepts Gödel’s “Incompleteness Theorem” (that “maps aren’t territories”), and provides “a heuristic of concern” (inspired by Charles W. Mills) by which we can determine which ideas we should focus on (and have the highest probability for a “return on investment,” per se). To use language from (Re)constructing “A Is A” by O.G. Rose, both Phenomenology and Pragmaticism have tended to become their own forms of A/A-thinking, with Phenomenology seeking “experiences to experiences” and Pragmaticism generally becoming Empiricist and seeking “things to things.” By combining both into “Phenomenological Pragmaticism,” my hope has been to introduce much needed A/B-thinking into both.³ Also, though it isn’t elaborated on until The Map Is Indestructible, but if we take seriously “the problem of internally consistent systems,” the “Pynchon Risks” discussed in The Conflict of Mind, the terrors of “Pandora’s Rationality” — we will be compelled into “Phenomenological Pragmaticism” out of “reverential fear.”
In my opinion, “Phenomenological Pragmatism” is better able to take seriously both “the practice” of the Kyoto School and “the practical” of someone like Richard Rorty or C.S. Pierce, while EP struggles to incorporate the Kyoto School and thinking of people like Maurice Merleau-Ponty. PP also seems to me to be better at making space for both “explanation and address,” while EP tends to be more prone to making the mistake of conflating them (a conflation which has worsened “The Meaning Crisis”). This is not a hard point of mine, and I ultimately want us all to be able to dialectically “move” between PP and EP based on the situation: if we are trying to figure out how the Big Bang occurred, we need EP, not PP, but if only ever do EP, then “the subject” will be discarded and “The Meaning Crisis” will get worse. The optimal state is to see PP and EP as “different tools for different times,” but I fear that if we don’t even have a distinction between PP and EP, it will be difficult for us not to conflate Phenomenology, Empiricism, and Pragmaticism, causing error.
EP is arguably better than some forms of Platonism, Cartesianism, and other theoretically traditions which fail to take seriously “lived experience” (creating an A/A), but I think “The Meaning Crisis” makes it clear that EP is not enough. We need “Phenomenological Pragmaticism,” and though the terms “Pragmaticism” and “Empiricism” are often used interchangeably, I find the work of Charles W. Mills, Sartre, Hume, Hegel, Husserl, literature, and the like to be very different from a “scientific empiricism” like Physicalism. I have always considered these thinkers and enterprises to be “practical,” but I quickly learned that most people did not include them under the regular category of Pragmaticism, as I also learned that Phenomenology could be “anti-subject.” As a result, I have ended up in “Phenomenological Pragmaticism,” a way of thinking that I have been led to think is Hegelian (to whom the term “Phenomenological” indeed alludes). What a long road to find Hegel yet again, but a road I am glad to have walked. After all, ideas are not experiences.
¹Mills. Charles W. Blackness Visible. Cornell University Press, 1998: 8.
²This suggests Kuhn’s idea that paradigms and zeitgeists are overturned not because they are disproved but because they become too complex, impractical, etc. to maintain: “the question of other minds” simply ceased to be pressing because of what struck me as “practical reality.”
³This hints also at why I did not go with “Metaphysical Pragmaticism,” for though Phenomenology can lead to Metaphysics, Metaphysics is prone to get stuck in itself and become an A/A. Also, Phenomenology and Empiricism are naturally “toward” Pragmaticism, while Metaphysics lacks such “toward-ness.”
This piece was inspired by Cadell Last during our 1.26.22 Discussion. For more by the wonderful Dr. Cadell Last:
I'm an anthropologist (M.Sc.) and philosopher (Ph.D.) with an interest in: biocultural evolution, mind-matter relation…
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