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Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Kant, like Hume accepts “inheritance” and opens the door to Whitehead’s “theory of feelings”

Time and space, the inner and outer forms of intuition, are modes of feeling before they are conditions for understanding. This follows from Kant’s very definition of sensibility as “the capacity (a receptivity) to acquire presentations as a result of the way we are affected by objects”; Kant goes on to say that this is how “objects are given to us” (1996, 72). Whitehead retains a number of things from this formulation.
First, there is Kant’s insistence upon the sheer givennness of the external world, and upon the receptivity with which we encounter it. This parallels Whitehead’s (1929/1978) own insistence upon “stubborn fact which cannot be evaded” (43), and “which at once limits and provides opportunity for the actual occasion” (129).
Then, there is the fact that Kant phrases his account in terms of actual “objects,” rather than in terms of sensa (Hume’s bare sense impressions). This accords with Whitehead’s appeal to “actual entities,” or res verae, as the ultimate constituents of reality, and his insistence that the “ideas” of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century empiricism always already (despite the empiricists’ mentalist presuppositions) refer to “exterior things” (55), or are “ ‘determined’ to particular existents” (138).
Finally, there is Kant’s implicit acknowledgement that these objects affect us, prior to any knowledge of them on our part, or to any formal process of cause and effect (since Kant only accounts for, or accepts, causality at a latter stage, in his “deduction” of the Categories of understanding). This means that Kant, like Hume before him, implicitly (and in contradiction to his own premises) accepts the existence of relations of “inheritance” and influence, connecting entities one to another according to what Whitehead calls the mode of “causal efficacy” (168-183). In all these ways, Kant opens the door to Whitehead’s “theory of feelings” (219-235).
Through his analysis of “subjective form,” Whitehead privileges feeling over understanding, and offers an account of experience that is affective rather than cognitive. Even if we restrict our focus, as Kant did, to “sensa” (qualia, the basic atoms of sense-perception in the mode of “presentational immediacy”), the “main characteristic” of these sensa “is their enormous emotional significance” (1933/1967, 215). Every experience of perception involves an “affective tone” (176), and this tone precedes, and both determines and exceeds, cognition. We do not first perceive what is before us, and then respond emotionally to these perceptions. Whitehead says that the order is rather the reverse. For “the direct information to be derived from sense-perception wholly concerns the functionings of the animal body” (215).
Perception is first a matter of being-affected bodily. Contact with the outside world strengthens or weakens the body, stimulates it or inhibits it, furthers or impairs its various functions. Every perception or prehension thus provokes the body into “adversion or aversion” – and this is already the “subjective form” of the prehension (1929/1978, 184). It is only later that (in “high-grade” organisms such as ourselves, at least) “the qualitative characters of affective tones inherent in the bodily functionings are transmuted into the characters of regions” in space (1933/1967, 215), so that sensa can be taken to qualify (or to give us information about) objects of knowledge in the external world. We respond to things in the first place by feeling them; it is only afterwards that we identify, and cognize, what it is we feel. Whitehead’s account of perception as feeling is a refinement, and an extension, of William James’ (1983) theory of the emotions. Steven Shaviro shaviro@shaviro.com The Pinocchio Theory

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