The Integral Assumption of American Philosophy

Jeff Carreira Blog Posts 14 Comments

Mind cannot exist without matter; matter cannot exist without mind. This is what I have come to see as perhaps the most essential theme that runs through American philosophy. In the modern western world it is the French genius Rene Descartes that is cited as having definitively cleaved mind from matter res cogitans and res extrensa. Of course we all have literally everything to thank Descartes for. As the father of Western philosophy he paved the way for all of the victories of the modern world. At the same time many have critisized the split between mind and matter that he seems to have solidified, making it possible to imagine a mind without matter and matter without a mind. This means that those with more idealistic tendencies can imagine an absolute mind – a God – that exists in a transcendent realm completely apart from or prior to the existence of any material universe whatsoever. At the same time those tending toward nominalism or materialism can imagine an entirely dead universe, empty space filled with inert matter, without any intelligence whatsoever. As I read the American philosophers their tendency, particularly in the blossoming of Pragmatism, was to see mind and matter as two aspects of one thing.

Of course to us this is nonsense. You can’t have one side of a coin without the other side. Similarly in the integral understanding of reality that was being developed through the course of American philosophy, it is nonsense to think that you could have mind without matter, or matter without mind. A pure absolute intelligence or an absolutely dead universe cannot exist. And to go further, every element of mind must have a correlate in matter and all of matter must have its parallel in mind. To look at it in another way, all insides must have an outside and all outsides must have an inside. This is the Integral Assumption that rests at the foundation of American philosophy. It is also why the Pragmatists believed that the value of all thought must be found in the world.

It was the German philosopherImmanuel Kant  that began the revolution in philosophy that tried to insist upon a necessary unity between mind and matter. American philosophy from the Transcendentalists to the Pragmatists is resting on the broad shoulders of Kant and building on some of his essential insights. “Nature is the opposite of the soul, answering to it part for part. One is seal, and one is print.” Ralph Waldo Emerson says in his famous American Scholar address. There is a necessary unity between mind and matter. They are two sides of one coin as the saying goes. Now when we say that something and something else are two sides of one coin we are not saying that they are two parts that make up one whole. The metal head and the wooden handle are two parts that make up a hammer, but they are parts that can be separated.  You can remove the head from the hammer and each remains intact. Not so with the two sides of a coin.

You cannot separate one side of a coin from the other. Even if you were to slice the coin through its edge into two halves and through one half away the half remaining would still have two sides. You could split the coin again and again, each time throwing away one half, and every time you look at the half remaining half you will find that it still has two sides. You cannot separate the two sides of a coin. In fact, the only way I can imagine what it would be like to remove one side of a coin is to imagine holding a coin between my fingers and looking at one side flatly. Then imagine flipping your fingers around so that you were looking flatly at the other side of the coin. Now imagine when you do this that you find once your fingers have turned the coin around that to your surprise there is nothing between your fingers. You flip the coin over again and you clearly see the other side. Flip it back and the coin is nowhere to be seen between your fingers. Go back and forth a few times and you realize that one side of the coin is missing!

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Liesbeth
Liesbeth
9 years ago

This static connection Mind/matter connects for me with a speech of Emerson: But man is divided, metamorphosed into a thing: a priest becomes a form, the attorney a statute-book, the mechanic a machine, the sailor a rope of a ship. The scholar is the delegated intellect’. There is something more. For example: great art transmits something which goes beyond the senses. Also Emerson transmits more. Reading him widens awareness for a moment. (Steiner says: God is that which we experience beyond our senses). ‘Standing on the bare ground, -my head bathed by the blithe air and uplifted into infinite space,-… Read more »

Jeff Carreira
Jeff Carreira
9 years ago
Reply to  Liesbeth

Those are great quotes from Emerson! Thank you.

Catherine
Catherine
9 years ago

Jeff, “To look at it in another way, all insides must have an outside and all outsides must have an inside. This is the Integral Assumption that rests at the foundation of American philosophy. ” this looks on the contrary very dualistic to me. You still have “two” sides here. You just have put them back “together” but they didn’t merge at all. You just say that everything is split into two parts which still hold together. This looks like a manifesto of dualism. Not everything is a coin, actually. Not everything has two sides. For example, there are mathematical… Read more »

Catherine
Catherine
9 years ago

what I find unfair is to say that the pragmatists are the only ones to reconcile mind and matter. That is simply not true. Steiner, Descrates, Kant have all their way of reconciling the two. Again , to put a hierarchy between the two, as Steiner does or Descartes does, doesn’t mean that they cannot interact. The pragmatists deny the existence of the abstract world. For me it is a terribly materialistic position; although ultimate materialism says that only matter exists and not ideas. so here is my map of all this : a) ultimate idealism : only mind exists… Read more »

Catherine
Catherine
9 years ago

Sorry I noticed I gave you the WIKi for the Moebius strip in French : here is it is english http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Möbius_strip at last one object with on side only… coming directly from the Abstract Ideas of a mathematician. One cannot reduce idea to their symbols, and the pragmatists view seems to do just this. That’s why it is potentially limited, although it was very useful to navigate in the 20th century. We didn’t evolve out of it yet, and the 20th century was so tough that it was the best thing human could do at the time, and the world… Read more »

Jeff Carreira
Jeff Carreira
9 years ago

Catherine, I am intrigued by your distinction of mind being first. I now feel that I have expressed the pragmatists ontological view as clearly as a I can at the time and I would like to devote the next few points to looking at some of the more subtle distinctions that you are brining up. In fact I would be happy to post a “guest” post from you on the nature of the mind first idealism that you are discussing if you would care to write something. I would really like to go into these distinctions, mind/matter, body/soul, idealism/materialism, rationalism/empiricism,… Read more »

Nils Montan
9 years ago

Is anyone working on a book, “Jeff Carreira for Complete Dummies?” I could really use it!

Don Briddell
Don Briddell
9 years ago

Jeff,
What you have said about American pragmatic philosophers is correct. Are you saying you too believe this is so?
Don

Liesbeth
Liesbeth
9 years ago

Catherine, I do not know if you have already looked at Gebser. Today I started reading and looked for the issues mentioned above. It is only now that I see that your background is needed to really understand it. Physics, Einstein, Planck, fourth dimension I just do not have the possibility to understand it. I also would appreciate it very much if you could write about it. Thank you for the things you already wrote.

Liesbeth
Liesbeth
9 years ago

I did find some interesting things with Jung on the subject. Even though I should also leave this to Catherine, I would love to point at it already. He says: the human soul is imprisoned in the body as the anima mundi is in matter (p240). I have mainly looking back in Mysterium coniunctions, looking for this anima mundi, which is called the quintessence and real substance of Physis (nature). This was a second soul that grew through the mineral, vegetable, and animal kingdoms up to man, pervading the whole of nature and to it the natural forms where attached… Read more »

Catherine
Catherine
9 years ago

dear all I just come back to the blog; I will follow Liesbeth’s recommendation and plunge back to Gebser [ I am in the middle of this big book; it takes me a huge time to read]. To tell the truth I had a really challenging week where all this was turning into my head. This was for me what I call a breaking point. For the first time I understood the huge gap that there is between european intellectuals like me and the american pragmatists ones [ which view is conquering the world, which viewpoint is everywhere… for better… Read more »

Anonymous
Anonymous
9 years ago

Thank you for writing Catherine! It is amazing to read about your research, it is great you tell us about it and I look forward to see what Jeff’s response will be. I will not mix in the discussion, but look forward reading it. I found that Jung pointed to William James’ variety of spiritual experiences for his understanding of Soul and also Andrew had his first experience when reading this book (he talkes about deep structures in consciousness, as far as I understand in the Universe..). Since reading Jung I am very intriged by the anima mundi. This is… Read more »

Sun
Sun
8 years ago

Some more notes to atecncuate your article..1) Product design is the domain of a creative process. All those recent wonderful Apple products are the works of two chief creative folks: Steve Jobs & Jonathan Ive. There is no substitute for a creative person’s instincts.2) There are however some standard techniques people employ in new product design (eg. CTQs from SixSigma or QFD – Quality Function Deployment etc). Such techniques are too rigorous and at times can stiffle the creative juices but they are needed for huge projects like designing a new airplane.3) There is a nice book called “Don’t make… Read more »

Bill
Bill
8 years ago

Hello all, A quick reply to Catherine, and thank you so much for your thoughts. I intend to look at Steiner. I would like to proffer a recommendation, should you have not read them before. Take the opportunity to look over the books of Gilles Deleuze, perhaps beginning with his book “Bergsonism” and then moving into Difference and Repetition and the Logic of Sense. Deleuze’s delineation of the virtual and the immanent sounds parallel to what you have described. In short, Deleuze’s rigorous inversions of, and challenges to, Cartesian, Kantian and Hegelian philosophy leave the “coin” much more open. They… Read more »