The Aristo-Newtonian formalism described in this essay for causally open systems, an idealist ontology of ultimate reality broadly covering both the natural and social, by way of example, has been applied to the sociopolitical forces driving an American “macrohistorical Demiurge of secularism” circa 1650 to the present, and predictably beyond into the future. America’s macrohistorical powers, the source of an economic Demiurge, suggest that nature’s laws—contradicting what “scientific materialism” herein defined requires about nature being “strictly” governed by impersonal laws—have been employed instrumentally by holistic powers of natural creativity that geographically, economically, politically, and socially have purposefully ordered and fashioned the nation’s “manifest destiny.”
Social historian Walter Dean Burnham, frustrated at the inability to come up with anything remotely resembling a causal explanation of political development, fumed that politics is just “one damn thing after another.” The Aristo-Newtonian formalism for causally open systems, in this essay apparently for the first time, thus introduces a high-level causal explanation thereof—specifically of the economic and sociopolitical machinery of American macrohistory circa 1650 to the present—grounded on a postmodern rethinking of Aristotelian naturalism. Nobel laureate (physicist) Steven Weinberg suggests, correctly, that one of the most important impacts science has made on society has been the (supposed) discovery that “nature is strictly [i.e. mechanistically] governed by impersonal laws.” In this essay, however, taking a closer look at this “discovery” here labeled scientific materialism; we find that “scientific materialism” thus mechanistically formulated in fact may be existentially false. A postmodern rethinking of Aristotelian naturalism, creating in essence a higher “Aristo-Newtonian formalism” for causally open systems, considers the alternative that nature is governed by impersonal laws instrumentally, meaning purposefully by naturally-constituted, volitionally-embedded agents qua intelligences that—unlike current Artificial Intelligence—possess the power of volition.
In scientific materialism volition is nonexistent, while in an opposed neo-Aristotelian materialism (Aristo-Newtonian formalism for causally open systems) it is fundamental. Free agents exercise their volition through nature’s laws—specifically including the Newtonian laws reconceptualized in neo-Aristotelian terms as “efficient causes”—employed instrumentally by “formal causes” seeking through “material causes” to realize intended “final causes.” And thereby does a broad theoretical, Aristo-Newtonian unification of the natural and social sciences become possible: one in which nature, rather than being governed strictly by laws that are impersonal, is instead governed through the same impersonal laws instrumentally, by free agents whose governance in nature and society is voluntaristic rather than strictly law-driven. The intelligence of Aristotelian agents here defined, naturalistically, is simply the intrinsic ability to pick one out of several possible courses of action, and then directly employ nature’s laws as instruments in the pursuit of the selected course. The philosophical “underlaboring” needed to reinterpret Newtonian and other principles of science within this Aristo-Newtonian unification—the material, efficient, formal, and final causes thereof—is provided by Roy Bhaskar’s critical-realist philosophy of “causal powers.”
A version of this essay was presented at the 7 th Annual Hawaii International Conference on Social Science, May 29 – June 1, 2008.
Ignorance of one side of Truth or the choice of a partial ignorance or ignoring for better concentration on another side is often a necessity of our imperfect mental nature. It is unfortunate if ignorance becomes dogmatic and denies what it has refused to examine, but still no permanent harm need have been done if this willed self-limitation is compelled to disappear when the occasion of its utility is exhausted. Now that we have founded rigorously our knowledge of the physical, we can go forward with a much firmer step to a more open, secure, and luminous repossession of mental and psychic knowledge.
Sociological theory currently is free floating in that it is not naturalistically grounded. The reason for this, of course, is the philosophy of “scientific materialism” through which the natural sciences interpret nature as being devoid of purposivity, which philosophy of nature clearly cannot serve as the ground on which social science is positioned. Nobel laureate (physicist) Steven Weinberg, authoritatively stating in his essay Sokal’s Hoax that “nature is strictly governed by impersonal laws,” provides what can be taken as a defining statement of that overarching mechanistic philosophy of science the present essay labels “scientific materialism,” wherein nature is treated—and perhaps thought to be by natural scientists increasingly—as being devoid of volition and purpose.
In the present essay, however, I abandon this philosophy of nature as a founding principle; and develop a very different, neo-Aristotelian framework more suited to sociological concerns, on which social science theory can be grounded naturalistically. Scientists might consider that “scientific materialism,” in the form stated by Weinberg, has been proved many times over. It turns out, however, that this philosophy of science really hasn’t been proved; nor has it even been necessary in order for the natural sciences to have achieved their amazing success. Indeed, it can be forcefully argued to the contrary that the principle result of scientific materialism has been the profoundly negative effect of denying the life sciences the philosophical ground for recognizing what could be reality’s most fundamental character—an idealist ontology of volition and purposefulness that is both “natural” and “social.”
The benefits of abandoning Weinberg’s touted scientific materialism as the overarching philosophy of science will be profound indeed. Evolution, in biology for example, when this mechanistic metaphilosophy is abandoned, becomes the evolution of nature’s innate purposivity in ever increasing variety and complexity, ever directed toward survival in a world of generally conflicting and constantly evolving purposes. Thus reconsidered, biological evolution is fundamentally purposive, the purpose of which is always the survival of nature’s manifest purposefulness. Genetic variation in this view, directed toward increasingly complex forms of purposivity, is the biological mechanism by which nature—through evolutionary experimentation—purposively evolves in terms of the survival of its organic purposefulness. Genetic variation is no accident in this view. It is the experimental engine par excellence driving the survival of nature’s purposivity. And natural selection then provides the guidance, the directional character of evolution, toward manifestations of purposivity that are successful in their ability to survive in a constantly evolving world.
The principle of innate purposefulness that thus can be argued to operate in nature clearly operates in the social world equally. Social order always exhibits purposefulness; and social evolution appears to be generally directed toward increasingly different and more complex varieties of social purpose, all struggling to survive in a competitive and constantly evolving environment. The mechanism of variation by which the social world evolves purposefully, some have called “memetic variation,” is directed toward evolving social orders of increasing complexity through selection processes both social and natural. The social world in this view, the same as its biological counterpart, is no accident—it is the product of “purposive designs” spontaneously evolving out of innate social processes.
Weinberg’s scientific materialism, although it is a doctrinaire approach to science that makes sense in the “physical world” where nature’s purposivity is not visibly apparent (at least not to the modern mind thus trained), is nonsensical and counterproductive in the understanding of life per se. The purposivity of living organisms individually and collectively, considered with respect to their survival and in other ways as well, is abundantly clear. Scientific materialism furthermore, as a rebuttal of the existence of nature’s purposivity, has no objective empirical foundation in the life sciences; nor is it actually required as a philosophy of science for the physical sciences. It is becoming clear, to those not blinded by the successes of the mechanistic worldview in science, that the way forward for the life sciences in the 21st century will be opened up only after the physicists’ doctrinaire “scientific materialism” has been expurgated from the social text of science.
What will be needed, however, if this feat is to be accomplished, is a common foundation in science for volition and purposefulness both natural and social. This, it turns out, can be provided by the development of a nouveau Aristotelian-Newtonian formalism, an “Aristo-Newtonian formalism” for postmodern-idealist, causally-open systems, whose fourfold causality—causes formal, efficient, material, and final—establishes a conceptual framework for reinterpreting the impersonal laws of nature discovered by modern science, specifically including those of Newtonian science.
Nature’s idealist reinterpretation, to explore the above, can be based on recognizing that Newtonian physics directly follows from the min-max/conservation principles of energy, virtual work, action, etc. in classical analytical mechanics—meaning that the Newtonian laws are simply “lower level,” force-based formulations of the same physics; and thus—as presently known—can be derived from classical mechanics’ conceptually higher-level analytic principles. This equivalence of physical content then suggests, to the open mind, that higher evolved, more complex levels of material organization, because these levels as well as the simpler levels found in “physical systems” are in principle governed by the same analytic principles, can be dynamically formulated in lower-level, quasi-Newtonian terms appropriately reformulated for the higher, more complex levels of material organization. Figure 1 of this essay is an example of this “postmodern idealist” approach to sociological theorization naturalistically grounded. (This paragraph may sound Sokal-like, but there is no hoax here. Figure 1 demonstrates what’s being suggested in terms of a posited “macrohistorical Demiurge” of American secularism.)
Natural science in Aristotelian terms presently addresses only nature’s “efficient causes” (nature’s laws) and “material causes” (the things governed). Aristotelian metaphysics, however, has two additional causes: “formal causes” and “final causes” currently not found in the natural sciences. Can a place be found for these causes in modern science, natural or social? What can these other, seemingly less “naturalistic” causes of Aristotelian metaphysics contribute to the advancement of science today? The reply of Weinberg and other die-hard mechanists undoubtedly would be nothing whatever. In this essay, however, I argue for a postmodern rethinking of Aristotelian naturalism in terms of an Aristo-Newtonian formalism for causally open systems whose ultimate reality is an idealist ontology of volition, purposivity, and agency. In this nouveau, postmodern idealism, the natural and the social both exist within the Aristo-Newtonian causal framework of an idealist-grounded naturalism.
The two most basic questions that can be asked of any science whether natural or social, to which it ultimately could be expected to provide answers, are: (1) how things happen, and (2) why things happen. Aristotelian science qua natural philosophy, prior to Newton’s time, answered both metaphysically: the “how things happen” being explained by causes “efficient” and “material”; and “why things happen” then explained by causes “formal” and “final.” After Newton, however, science essentially abandoned the effort to explain “why” things happen; settling instead for finding only answers to “how” they happen. In modern science, again according to Weinberg, “nature is strictly governed by impersonal laws”—meaning that nature’s laws operate completely independent of all desires, intentions and purposes, human or otherwise. There is no room for volition here.
This essay, however, considers the possibility that science, as natural philosophy did before Newton, can readdress the question of why things happen, once again within the metaphysical framework of formal and final causes; but this time also within the experimental framework of the answers given by modern science as to how things happen—i.e. the laws of nature provided. The alternative conception of nature here, then, is that nature is instrumentally—vis-à-vis strictly—governed by impersonal laws; meaning that nature’s laws, serving as “efficient causes,” are employed instrumentally by “formal causes” in the material fulfillment of purposes that are “final causes.” This is what is here called the Aristo-Newtonian formalism for causally open systems in which volition and purpose are fundamental, in both nature and society.
The efficient causes in this postmodern idealism are the impersonal laws of nature currently known, and perhaps others yet to come as well. And the material causes are then the physical, chemical and biological systems thus governed by nature’s impersonal laws, including their subsystems, components, etc. down to the elements. What are the causal powers of this purposive generalization of natural science, which will provide answers as to why things happen? They are the Aristotelian formal causes that thus employ Aristotelian efficient causes (nature’s laws) in the effort to reach Aristotelian final causes (intended goals) instantiated in Aristotelian material causes (natural processes). Each one of us is such an agent, “volitionally imbedded” in nature. As are each of the physiological systems that sustain our physical body, as are the subsystems thereof, and onward down to the elementary components.
The direction of instrumental control through nature’s laws by formal causes thus volitionally embedded in nature is not only physiologically downward, however. It also is directed sociologically/ecologically upward into the most complex systems formed by living organisms, to include even the most advanced and complex social systems of human society. And this is the direction taken in the present essay, by way of application to America’s sociopolitical macrohistory circa 1650 to the present and even beyond into the future, whose macrohistorical Demiurge of secularism is diagrammed over time in Figure 1. The how and why of American history from this standpoint is, even over the very long term on the order of centuries, explicable in terms of a primal collective unconscious qua economic and sociopolitical power; whose dynamics—employing “Aristo-Newtonian” principles instrumentally—has guided the nation through an ideologically-structured time and space. And thereby is given, as an exemplar of the Aristo-Newtonian formalism for causally open systems, in an explication of macrohistorical stasis and change over the very long term.
The “scientific materialism” touted by Steven Weinberg can be viewed both metaphysically and methodologically. Metaphysically scientific materialism holds that volition and purposivity are simply myths, a “folk psychology.” And scientific materialism methodologically viewed then encompasses the idea that volition and purposivity to the contrary are not myths, or less definitively may not be myths; but that any presumed reality thereof is nevertheless not to be construed as the proper subject of natural science.
However, is the “need not,” in the silent dictum “science as process/procedure need not go further than the methodological defense,” in truth a code word, for those who value their reputation in science, the proscription “must not”? — de facto a warning, a prohibition even, against anything that might raise questions about the culturally mandated “methodological defense” of natural science. Dispensing with the implicit proscription of “need not” (qua “must not”) in the natural sciences is precisely what this essay is about, however. This essay is not about philosophically grounding existing social science “research traditions”; but rather more about the objective formulation of natural processes on which the volition and purposivity implicit in these research traditions are grounded. Appendix 1 summarizes one such research tradition, potentially recast in Aristo-Newtonian terms and applied to American macrohistory.
Humans do have goals, reasons, and purposes; and their behavior is continually influenced thereby. But the fundamental issue raised here is what are the natural processes through which human volition and purposivity truly is made possible. Natural science in Aristotelian terms explains nature’s “efficient causes” (nature’s laws) and “material causes” (the things governed). Aristotelian metaphysics, however, has two additional causes currently not found in the natural sciences: causes “formal” and “final.” What then about these other causes, thought in Aristotelian metaphysics to explain “why things happen”? Can a place be found for these in modern science, natural or otherwise? What can these other, seemingly less “naturalistic” causes of Aristotelian metaphysics contribute to the advancement of science today? This is what the natural sciences, acting in concert with the social sciences, perhaps should be addressing now in the 21 st century; rather than hiding behind the “methodological defense,” which simply masks the reality that natural science indeed has a fundamental problem in this regard.
Figure 1. America’s Macrohistorical Demiurge
In this essay, I address these questions by arguing for a postmodern rethinking of Aristotelian naturalism, in terms of an “Aristotelian-Newtonian” grounded, “critical-realist” informed, formalism of causal powers; whose ultimate reality is an idealist ontology of natural volition, purposivity, and agency. T his rethinking of the natural has resulted in a nouveau theory of “platonium”: an “ideal” element or essence of a transcendent nature argued to be macrohistorically demonstrated in American society over some 400 years, through the “American experiment” of Figure 1—a macrohistorical Demiurge of secularism that has unified the natural and the social within the causal framework of an idealist-grounded naturalism.
Is the ideal element platonium thus posited in nature real? Say, in comparison with the transuranic element “einsteinium,” which is thermonuclear debris whose existence is tenuous at best? Which does not occur in nature in any measurable quantity, and which a total of some three milligrams has ever been produced in the laboratory, of which the isotope of longest half life is 275 days by one account (Los Alamos National Laboratories)? I think it safe to say that far more evidence can be—and indeed already has been—assembled in history for the objective existence of platonium as the ideal element of nature’s transcendence (life) than has ever been or ever will be for the ghost particle of einsteinium.
Steven Weinberg, in the aforementioned article extolling the virtues of the infamous “Sokal Hoax,” concludes:
Our civilization has been powerfully affected by the discovery [by science] that nature is strictly governed by impersonal laws [italics mine]….One of the early effects of this discovery [quoting Hugh Trevor-Roper in a bit of serious humor] was to reduce the enthusiasm for burning witches. We [academicians] will need to confirm and strengthen the [modern] vision of a rationally understandable [mechanistic] world to guard us from the irrationalities that still beset humanity [e.g. academia’s postmodernism, critical theory, etc.].
We will, however, examine more closely the thesis that nature is strictly governed by impersonal laws, and we find that in understanding this phrase—as the saying goes— the devil is in the details. The mechanistic interpretation of natural law implicit in this statement, which de facto is the conceptual foundation of “scientific materialism,” leaves absolutely no room in nature for the exercise of volition, of free choice by sentient beings. Human beings, whose physical bodies in Weinberg’s view—which also may be the view of many natural scientists—are strictly governed by nature’s impersonal laws, really have no volition worthy of the name, truly no possibility of free will.
If science is correct in its mechanistic “belief system” about natural law strictly governing everything in an impersonal fashion, there in truth is no freedom of choice in what any of us think, believe, say, or do. Every aspect of our lives from birth to death, whether personal or social, is alone determined by the impersonal laws discovered by science. Our sense of possessing volition is nothing more than an illusion. This is what Weinberg is really telling us if we but read between the lines. If what he says is true, he himself in the article “Sokal’s Hoax” could have said or believed nothing other than what he did; because everything he thinks, believes, and writes is strictly governed by nature’s impersonal laws, as these are physiologically manifested in his body independent of any volition or free will that might be supposed. The scientist’s seeming ability to seek out nature’s truths rationally, as a matter of personal volition (holding Steven Weinberg‘s magnificent work in science as an exemplar), if everything natural indeed is strictly governed by impersonal laws, is a prime example of the illusion that we possess the power of volition.
If what Weinberg has said is true is fact, then every scientist’s beliefs concerning what is true or false about nature are strictly the product of nature’s impersonal laws. Everything that every distinguished scientist has ever believed and said about nature, or not believed and not said, including Newton, Darwin, Einstein and the host of luminaries in the cosmography of science, has been strictly the product of nature’s impersonal laws physiologically manifesting themselves independent of any supposed volition or will purposefully directed toward uncovering nature’s truths. The mechanistic belief system on which natural science is based, about the strictly impersonal character of natural law, thus is clearly in fundamental conflict with the role scientists maintain that they play as nature’s objective, rational observers. Furthermore, it should be obvious that the “Theory of Everything” sought by physical theorists, if completed within the metaphysical framework of the prevailing mechanistic “belief system,” will exclude the very possibility of a scientific theory of that volition every scientist, if asked, would—at least as a matter of social necessity—claim she or he personally possesses. Indeed this felt social necessity of the scientist itself, which in Weinberg’s contorted worldview of the real is strictly determined by nature’s laws manifested in human physiology, is wholly without purpose.
The “irrationalities” still besetting humanity, those Weinberg voiced concern about, arguably have been engendered by this fundamental contradiction in the mechanistic belief system of the natural sciences. Evolutionary theory in biology, if reconsidered in light of its highly questionable mechanistic belief system, can be questioned on fundamentally physical grounds. Indeed, the irrationalities perceived in postmodern and religious thought that “hard core” science currently is combating arguably is blowback from the fundamental irrationality of mechanistic thought in science—wherein scientists would have us believe that, as individuals, they possess the power of volition and free will with regard to what they believe, do and say; while at the same time, to the contrary lecturing the world about science having proved everything in nature is strictly governed by impersonal laws. Indeed the supposed academic irrationalities of the humanities bemoaned by Weinberg (and Alan Sokal), to the extent they are thus, may very well be blowback from the scientists’ attempt to force “scientific materialism”—the fundamentally mechanistic belief system of modern science so cogently stated by Weinberg—upon the world, as the only way to view the world “objectively” and “rationally.” Indeed, any denial that that is what physicists are attempting is refuted by their never ending search for a mechanistic Theory of Everything in which volition and purpose will have absolutely no place. That which they seek to accomplish, within a mechanistic framework, will be a Theory of Everything if and only if volition is nonexistent—a thesis on which physicists de facto professionally place their bet. The Theory of Everything sought clearly reveals what is the implicit agenda of physics—a “final solution” confirming in science that volition and purposefulness are myths.
Is scientific materialism, the mechanistic interpretation of nature demanded by science, truly the only way possible to rationally understand nature’s laws, however? The answer unequivocally is in the negative. In the alternate account considered here, nature’s laws remain completely impersonal in that they objectively exist, and thus are not dependent on any subjective, personal interpretation about their existence. Having said that, however, it remains true, in this alternative account, that nature’s governance by impersonal laws leaves open a possibility that Weinberg and other ideologues in science—because of their quite irrational commitment to scientific materialism—will likely be unable to regard as being rational: the idea that there are in nature beings possessing the power of volition, exercised by employing nature’s laws instrumentally in the achievement of intended purposes. This is what the term “volitionally embedded” in this essay refers to: agents qua sentient beings embedded in nature by virtue of exercising their volition through the instrumental employment of nature’s laws. Nature’s laws are no less “impersonal” because of their nonmechanistic interpretation in this “Aristo-Newtonian formalism” for causally open systems; nor are they any less “objective”; nor is the character of science as an “empirical” enterprise in any way diminished.
The “scientific materialism” of causally closed systems, wherein nature is governed by impersonal laws strictly, is here transformed into the alternative Aristo-Newtonian formalism for causally open systems in which nature is governed by impersonal laws instrumentally; which are voluntarily employed by Aristotelian agents as needed to implement their decisions and choices. This Aristo-Newtonian formalism for causally open systems, ideally manifested in nature and society as Aristo-Newtonian formal and final causes, is here named “platonium.” The theory of platonium is the natural science of formal and final causes rethought from an idealist point of view in which volition and purposivity are reality’s ultimate ontologies. Platonium in this context also can be taken as the name given to a spiritual—yet at the same time wholly natural (non-supernatural)—substance inherent in nature, which somehow is able to manifest itself materially through nature’s laws employed instrumentally in the service of formal and final causes. In scientific materialism matter is passive so that nature’s “active agents” are the laws themselves. However, in the present essay’s theory of platonium, qua Aristo-Newtonian formalism for causally open systems, both matter and the governing laws are “passive” in character and thus do not act in and of themselves; so that nature’s diverse phenomena are then actively created by “Aristo-Newtonian agents” (formal causes) that employ these laws in the implementation of their decisions and choices (final causes). The theory/ideal substance of platonium, framed in fundamental Marxian terms, also establishes an idealist foundation for both “historical materialism” and “dialectical materialism.”
Platonium is an idealist foundation for the sciences in which the laws discovered by science, rather than forcing upon them an interpretation that denies the existence of volition and purposivity, become the instruments of sentient beings volitionally embedded in nature. This of course fundamentally contradicts the passive, materialist worldview of modern science. For contrary to what the physical sciences claim about nature’s strict governance by impersonal laws independent of all volition and purposivity, these laws serve as instruments employed by agents volitionally embedded in physical systems. Platonium thus stands opposed to what may be the dominant materialist strain in neuroscience, in which volition is simply a subjective epiphenomenon of neuropsychological processes that are strictly governed by nature’s impersonal laws. And it as well stands opposed to the current mechanistic mindset qua scientific materialism of biological evolution: for biological species in platonium are sentient macro agents in nature that, driven by an innate impulse to survive and flourish, purposefully self-evolve over macrohistorical epochs.
Platonium permits us to define, more simply and more rigorously, the “methodological naturalism” of science. Simply stated this methodology in platonium is one in which laws of nature not yet fully conceived by scientists—perhaps intuited without being clearly understood—are manipulated “voluntarily” (no law of nature forces a scientist to perform her or his research) by scientists “volitionally embedded” in nature; which manipulations are for the purpose of more clearly and accurately understanding and applying nature’s laws. Natural scientists, in doing what they do as beings volitionally embedded in nature, are indeed governed by nature’s laws; but only in the limited sense that they cannot violate these laws, because these laws are the only instruments available for the fulfillment of their free agency. The same is true of course for us all: we each are a “free agent” volitionally embedded in nature, who are governed by nature’s laws in the limited sense just given—that these laws are the only instruments we possess for achieving whatever purposes we envision. Nature’s laws thus constrain what we do by virtue of their being the only instruments available for achieving whatever “natural” purposes we have in mind. The “methodological naturalism” of platonium, to provide an example in the sphere of science and technology, is what America’s space program rests on, which NASA could not do without.
To believe otherwise—that the laws of nature strictly are constraints only, and thus never instruments of volition and purposivity—indeed is an irrationality introduced into modern thought by science. This in reality is a black mark on the name of science that must be expunged, which predictably will be accomplished in this 21 st century by the development of a more rational vision of nature in which volitionally-embedded agency is the ultimate reality of nature’s idealist ontology. Western civilization has been powerfully affected—and without doubt in important respects disastrously afflicted—by natural scientists intent on burning the “witches” of volition and purposivity, which they apparently suppose can only be supernatural powers.
The sciences theoretically dichotomize their subject matter into the “natural” and the “social,” for the reason that the mechanistic “belief system” of the natural sciences is inherently incompatible with the necessarily opposed “belief system” of the social sciences, regarding the agency of beings de facto volitionally-embedded in nature. In the natural science belief system, every molecule, macro-molecular system, organ, etc. of the human body, including the brain and all subsystems thereof, is determined solely by nature’s laws—completely without recourse to whatever an individual’s supposed “volition” and “purposefulness” might dictate. Indeed, volition and purposefulness, as these terms may be employed by some neurobiologists and philosophers of mind, are nothing more than common sense code words for high-level cognitive processes that are determined solely by nature’s laws. That is, if they exist at all, they are nothing more than psychological epiphenomena of physiological processes in which there is neither true volition nor purposivity.
In the mechanistic “belief system” of the natural sciences, physical causality is mechanistically closed under “the laws of nature” known to science. Volition, as a manifestation of intelligence is nowhere to be found; nature’s laws govern the spatio-temporal sequencing of physical events blindly and without recourse to the causality of either volition or purposivity. Human behavior in this belief system, which is regarded as wholly natural as well, therefore can in truth exhibit no powers of volition or purposivity. Whenever such appear to exist, they are apparent only and not to be seen as being real; and therefore dismissed as common-sense folk psychology. Scientists (and science aficionados) tend not to publicly discuss this aspect of natural science, for obvious social and political reasons; and individual scientists may not personally accept it, but this is the collective result of natural science theorizing regarding the mechanistic foundations of nature both nonhuman and human. This is what could be called science’s skeleton-in-the-closet or dirty-little-secret, artfully concealed by “consciousness” and “artificial intelligence” studies in which, generally speaking, neither volition nor purposivity is recognized.
In the ongoing effort of natural science to uncover nature’s diverse “mechanisms,” the continuing success of which tends to infer—to those thus conditioned by this success—that mechanisms truly are all that exist, science has conflated methodology and reality. What objective empirical evidence is there for the actual nonexistence of volition and purposivity in human behavior, and in the natural world more generally? None whatever. It is generally apparent to humankind that volition and purposivity do exist and are basic to human behavior, any and all protestations of scientists and philosophers to the contrary notwithstanding. And so, in the absence of objective, rational evidence in science regarding its nonexistence, the volition and purposivity personally observed by human beings stands as clear evidence that these in fact do exist. And in this light it can be, and indeed must be, concluded that natural science is fundamentally in error with regard to its touted mechanistic “belief system.” Ultimately, this belief system must be superseded by a more comprehensive system that includes, and rationally explains, naturally occurring powers of volition and purposivity. How to do this, however, without throwing the proverbial baby (the genuine fruit of mechanistically-grounded science) out with the bathwater (the erroneous mechanistic belief system itself reified), is perhaps the question.
The approach taken here, to accomplishing this feat as here indicated, is to theoretically develop a postmodern idealism grounded in nature through the incorporation of volitionally-imbedded beings or agents—in all their aspects including the physical, biological, psychological and social. The methodology underlying this unification would be “critical realist” in that unseen powers of nature employ, as the instruments of volitionally-embedded agency, nature’s laws in Aristo-Newtonian causes formal, efficient, material, and final. This unification keeps all of the laws discovered by science empirically intact, but metaphysically reinterprets them such that volitionally-embedded agency then becomes an essential aspect of the natural world, and thus of human behavior also. In platonium theory nature’s complex systems are higher-order, hybrid powers of volitionally-embedded agency whose agency is grounded on nature’s laws, including Newton’s laws of motion and gravitation, which are directly employed as instruments of intentional, purposeful control. Also in platonium, nature’s “forces” are formally similar to those in physics and thereby conform to the mathematics thereof; but are of a higher order than those recognized by physical theory, and are ontologically distinct from the higher-order “powers” qua ”agents” that purposefully direct these forces.
Even if volitionally-embedded agencies do exist in nature, however, the natural sciences have shown that—apparently in most instances—these can be systematically ignored in the study of the mechanisms employed thereby. Indeed, the natural sciences, because of their very success, perhaps have conflated a useful, simplifying methodology for investigating the real in nature with reality itself. It is a very different matter for the social sciences, because knowing that beings do exist which are volitionally-embedded in nature, through the instrumentality of natural law, undoubtedly would have greatly facilitated the development of social theory—an advantage that they do not now possess. This disadvantage has been perpetuated to some extent through the truculent attitude of natural scientists toward any possible “physico-social unification” of theory in science—an attitude exemplified in academia by the “Sokal Hoax” perpetrated by Alan Sokal, seemingly for the highly questionable purpose of ridiculing any such possibility.
The mechanistic belief system of the natural sciences here called scientific materialism necessitates that the social sciences, in which the volition and purposivity of volitionally-embedded agency (the free agent) is causal, stand alone without support from the natural sciences; and in principle stand in contradiction with the theoretical dictates of natural science. If scientific materialism, the fundamental belief system of the natural sciences, indeed is correct in its mechanistic worldview, then whether scientists choose to discuss the issue or not, humans are automatons whose volition and purposivity are simply a myth. On the other hand, if the opposed social science belief system is correct in its fundamentally idealist worldview in which agents are truly causal, then the mechanistic belief system of natural science is simply false and ultimately must be superseded by a very different, idealist-grounded “belief system.” However, natural scientists, content in the hegemony they presently enjoy, likely will continue obfuscating this issue through arguments that simply paper over the theoretical disconnect between the natural and social sciences; which in truth is an ontological chasm that irreconcilably divides these sciences.
Figure 1, from the International Association of Critical Realists (IACR) Conference essay “The Bhaskarian Dialectic of Capital: The Pulse of Freedom in America” (Zaman, 2007) is, implicitly, an exemplar of the explanatory power of platonium. Nature’s “powers,” grounded on Bhaskar’s “synchronic emergent powers materialism” (SEPM) (Bhaskar, 1998a; 1998b; 1998c; 1998d), are agents de facto volitionally embedded in nature. The theory of platonium implicit in and in essence exemplified by “The Bhaskarian Dialectic of Capital” suggests that “critical realist” philosophy, as an underlaborer of science, must do much more than philosophically elaborate physical theory as it now stands. Instead, it must radically transform it, so that the volitionally-embedded agents of the emerging powers in Bhaskar’s synchronic materialism are then placed in the physical world consistent with the laws of nature discovered by modern science, but which laws are then reinterpreted in Aristo-Newtonian terms.
Nature’s volitionally-embedded agents in platonium, whether of nature or society, are then Aristo-Newtonian “formal causes” that, along with their intended “final causes,” lie in the “transitive dimensions” of Bhaskar’s critical-realist metaphysics; whose Aristo-Newtonian “efficient” and “material” causes then lie in critical realism’s “intransitive dimensions.” However, the transitive and intransitive dimensions of nature and society thus understood are not independent; for the transitive dimensions (formal and final causes) are causally structured by the mechanisms, laws, and powers of the intransitive dimensions (efficient and material causes). And so the former in principle and law cannot violate or supersede the latter. And this is what the essay “The Bhaskarian Dialectic of Capital…” is implicitly an exemplar of at the highest, metaphysical level of social organization. What the present essay is about then, concerning this exemplar of platonium, is a further methodological “underlaboring” based on a “Bhaskarization” of Aristotle’s four causes.
The free agent’s volition and purposivity, in the terminology of critical realism, have been “absented” in modern science by its logical empiricism; but that this “absence” of free agents which are volitionally embedded in nature and society, is itself “absented” in platonium. This theory of free agents volitionally-embedded in both society and nature provides a basis in natural law for social agents and powers that respond freely and purposefully—within the constraints imposed by law—to events both social and natural. Critical realists, seemingly in the past, have been preoccupied with elaborating the philosophical foundations of scientific realism; but what this essay does is directly interrogate the theoretical bases of the human sciences—social and political theory especially—through an Aristo-Newtonian interpretation of Bhaskar’s critical realism. The theory of nature’s volitionally-embedded agents introduced here, however, requires that the reader forego the past “rigor” (read rigor mortis) of 20 th century positivism (blind mechanism).
The present essay, a work-in-progress, in essence argues that the social and natural sciences will both be greatly benefited by a methodological bridge that supports a mutually consistent, bilateral flow of concepts and ideas between them. It suggests that such a bridge can be constructed through an Aristo-Newtonian reframing of the logical empiricism qua scientific materialism of modern science; resulting in what is an Aristo-Newtonian formalism for causally open systems in both society and nature; whose “historical materialism” is then grounded on the laws and principles of the natural sciences utilized voluntarily as instruments of purposeful control. In the “formal causes” of nature and society thus theorized, constituted by free agents volitionally embedded in “material causes,” nature’s laws are utilized instrumentally (nonmechanistically, causally top-down) as “efficient causes” to accomplish “final causes” (intentions, purposes, goals) (Lear, 1988).
There are, in Figure 1’s macrohistorical Demiurge, five Aristo-Newtonian elements or essences—here sociologically “material causes” qua belief systems—responsible for America’s continually changing society: ideological conservatism, communitarianism, liberalism, and libertarianism. The first four respectively are, metaphorically in Aristo-Newtonian terms, the ideological “air” that society breaths, the ideological “earth” on which it stands, the ideological “fire” within that drives it forward through history, and the ideological “water” that is America’s very life. America’s fifth material “essence” is here its ideological “aether” or “quintessence” of egalitarianism; and America’s macrohistorical prime or unmoved mover is its populist communal sector.
American macrohistory’s “formal causes” in this application are macrosocial agents volitionally embedded in the natural world, and thereby causally enabled by laws of nature (“efficient causes”) utilized, largely unconsciously, as instruments in the realization of purposes and goals (“final causes”) that are social, economic, and political. The principal macro agents of American macrohistory here are a triad of classes reconceptualized for platonium theory in classical Marxist terms: the proletariat, haute bourgeoisie, and petit bourgeoisie; whose respective hegemony in the communal, private, and public sectors has evolved ideologically—over the long term in American history—through an “historical materialism” according to a formal, Aristo-Newtonian analog (and social “critical theory”) of Newtonian mechanics. The fundamental postulate of platonium is:
Aristo-Newtonian formal causes = volitionally-embedded agents.
Platonium can theoretically inform an empiricism of the human sciences reformulated in terms of Roy Bhaskar’s “Synchronic Emergent Powers Materialism” (SEPM); which critical realists regard as both a theoretical and methodological “underlaborer” of both the natural and social sciences. The volitionally-embedded powers of platonium emerge conceptually—whether in nature or society—through Bhaskar’s synchronic materialism; and thereby does platonium facilitate the development of an idealist sociology. The causal powers of nature and society, in the current materialism of the sciences stringently applied both in the natural and human sciences, exist only at the lowest level of the constituent “atoms” (whatever these may be in a given analysis); so that causality at a given level of analysis is always “bottom-up.” In contrast, however, in both critical realism’s SEPM and this essay’s platonium, the powers that are causal at a given level of analysis are not those of the individual constituent “atoms,” however these are defined; but rather—in both nature and society—are powers operating at higher levels of volitionally-embedded agency, which powers are causally manifested top-down.
Expanding upon this concept of formal cause as volitionally-embedded agency, the individual powers of the “atoms” constituting the basic elements at given level of analysis can be considered to be essentially mechanistic, because the locus of these powers is in the individual atoms thereof and thus have a recognizably “material” origin. The top-level volitionally-embedded agency derived from and emerging out of the structures formed thereby, however, exhibit an agency whose locus of control resides not in any of the constituent atoms individually, but rather in the overall, top-level structure that they collectively form. And it is out of this topmost, collective level of causation, whose powers are both volitional and purposeful, that behavior emerges.
One objective of this admittedly very much a work-in-progress is to more rigorously and objectively address the natural basis of agency, human rights, freedom, justice, and other issues; an effort that if successful clearly would greatly benefit critical theory in the social sciences. Platonium theory strives to accomplish this in social science by moving toward a naturalistic theory of volitionally-embedded agency that establishes causal connections between the above existential issues, and others more practical concerning both the material organization and corporate well-being (economic, political) of both society and the individuals thereof. Platonium in essence is a 21 st century extrapolation of Schelling’s extravagant “speculative physics” (Copleston, 1994; Grant, 2006) that summates in both theory and practice, the laws and evidences of the sciences both natural and social. It however supports a “higher physics” that’s more than just “metaphysical,” because it is in very practical ways applicable to lower-level explanatory theories in diverse disciplines of the life sciences including biology, psychology, sociology, anthropology, history, economics, and political science—all of which are implicated in Figure 1. The macrohistorical Demiurge of Figure 1 depicts a Newtonian archetype of the collective unconscious whose fourfold causality includes causes formal, efficient, material, and final; and whose critical-realist explanation thereof invokes volitionally-embedded powers that operate in accordance with laws of nature employed as instruments—thus effectively constituting nature’s efficient causes.
The Newtonian laws of motion and gravitational attraction, conventionally interpreted as a dynamical account of corporeal bodies, have been refuted by both quantum and relativity theory as “fundamental” laws of nature. These laws in essence thus constitute a modern mythos. That is, understood within the Jungian framework of the collective unconscious, they are a modern archetype of natural causation that we intuitively sense and collectively experience both consciously and unconsciously. This Newtonian archetype, constituting Aristo-Newtonian analogs of motion and attraction, directly affects both our conscious (self-aware awareness) and unconscious (self-unaware awareness) ways of understanding. Because of their archetypal character, the Newtonian laws of motion and gravitation are implicated in the unconscious as an Aristo-Newtonian mythos extending to and covering the biological, psychological, and social, and political. The Newtonian archetype of the unconscious that we intuitively sense and collectively experience thus directly extends to a causal worldview that can facilitate theoretical development in the human sciences; in much the same way that the mythos of Democritean atomism facilitated theoretical development in the natural sciences.
Platonium theory, wherein nature’s laws are the instruments of top-down control by volitionally-embedded powers/agents both social and natural, is an Aristo-Newtonian “mythos” to be further developed theoretically. Taking Newton’s laws of motion as the exemplar, humanity’s conscious and unconscious being—both of individuals and collectives—is causally grounded on volitionally-embedded agents that conform to principles of “inertia” (maintains to the degree possible an existing state of motion), “acceleration” (change the existing state of motion), “action-reaction” (structural synchronicity), along with structural powers of attraction/repulsion, are instruments of top-down control. Platonium both natural and social possess abstract “states of motion” whose tendency to persist unchanged (remain in stasis) are due to their volitionally-embedded “inertia”; the state of which—both in stasis and change—can be graphically depicted in an abstract “spacetime” (Figure 1 an exemplar).
In general over time, platonium (volitionally-embedded agents) both social and natural, as indicated above, experience certain volitionally-embedded “acceleration forces” according to an Aristo-Newtonian analogue of Newton’s second law, through which their state of motion is changed or modified in response to yet other agents with which they interact. And in a third analogue, paralleling Newtonian “action-reaction,” agents in society and nature are reciprocally synchronized, in their merged spacetime, through the contentions/harmonizations of action-reaction forces. Platonium also may experience mutual attractions or repulsions in their merged spacetime; the forces of which modify their states of motion according to Aristo-Newtonian analogues. Platonium in society include what in common discourse are called bureaucracies. Figure 1 qualitatively maps in accordance with this Aristo-Newtonian archetype of the collective unconscious, over the years 1650 to the present and predictably beyond into the future, that “bureaucracy” of the social, economic, and political called America’s Macrohistorical Demiurge.
The term mythos here refers simply to fictitious, exaggerated, or idealized cosmographies that, whether in the past or presently, were then or are now accepted as reality. Modern physics including both quantum mechanics and relativity theory has shown that the natural philosophy of classical physics, sometimes referred to as methodological naturalism, which conceptually is grounded on the hard-core materialism of Democritus, in reality is a mythic cosmography. Ultimately, when the reductive analysis of material structures is taken to its limit, no solid, spatially extended particles or structures are found to actually exist. All that’s left is space and certain constitutive powers exercised within a given domain, when then constitute the various structural manifestations called matter. Nonetheless, it is true that nature’s Democritean mythos was in the beginning extremely fruitful as a grounding metaphysics for modern science; and remains even today a common-sense, top-down, interpretive key in classically-grounded sciences. And it could be that the same fruitfulness will be demonstrated for a certain mythos about nature’s volitionally-embedded agencies (platonium) as well, when such are rationally employed as common-sense interpretive keys of nature’s higher manifestations.
In the blind materialism of the conventional, Democritean worldview, nature’s laws can be known only theoretically; meaning that these laws in principle cannot be utilized instrumentally in top-down control, because the Democritean “bottom line” is that all causation is “bottom-up.” The materialism of Democritus thus philosophically informs the set of beliefs or assumptions on which the positivist tradition of science called logical empiricism (or methodological naturalism) is based, which includes the a priori assumption that top-down causation is an illusion. On the other hand, from the perspective of platonium, nature’s laws—in which causality is top-down and control intelligent, rather than causality bottom-up and control blindly mechanistic—are always discovered and experientially known through their utilitarian character. In platonium’s opposed idealist “mythos” of free agency, it is the causally bottom-up, Democritean-inspired materialism of the natural sciences that’s illusory. Theoretical knowledge of nature’s laws in actuality is always sought because of its ultimate utility; that is in the employment of these laws as instruments in the development of experiential knowledge of one form or another, out of which all theoretical knowledge is derived.
The so-called “butterfly effect,” in which small events trigger effects that—quite amazingly—are much, much larger, is explained in principle by platonium. First detected by computer simulations of the weather, in which an unintended change of some one tenth of one percent of a simulation variable produced an unanticipated, very large change in the simulation outcome, the butterfly effect seemingly refutes the common-sense belief that small variations or changes in natural processes should produce correspondingly small changes in the outcomes thereof. As explained by platonium theory, the butterfly effect is the consequence of small differences in the Aristo-Newtonian “formal causes” (volitionally-embedded agents) of weather systems that result in exceptionally large changes in the weather’s observed “final causes” (intended purposes), attained through the instrumentality of Aristo-Newtonian “efficient causes” (nature’s laws) and “material causes” (material entities).
In the case of weather system simulations, the material causes are the computer and related hardware; the efficient causes are those laws involved in computer operation; and the formal causes are then the human-engineered “agents” aka computer programs volitionally embedded into the computer, with the final causes being the simulation results. The “butterfly effect” observed in weather simulations thus is less an indicator of weather processes blindly and mechanistically controlled by natural law, than an artifact of variations in human-engineered formal causes (volitionally embedded computational agents). That is, the cause of the butterfly effect in weather simulations in this account are small variations in the simulation’s volitionally-embedded “formal causes” (computer programs) rather than any “material causes” (computer hardware) or “efficient causes” (the natural laws governing computer hardware).
So the question that arises then, concerning the possibility of butterfly effects in real weather systems, is what small perturbations in atmospheric “formal causes” (volitionally-embedded, geophysical macro agents) might produce unusually large effects in atmospheric “final causes.” A butterfly’s wings simply do not qualify as a source of perturbations in the formal causes of real weather systems. Seemingly more likely candidates for considering the “butterfly effect” in real weather systems are small, incipit changes in the “formal causes” of weather systems, whatever these may be, that result in the atmospheric “final causes” we call tornadoes, hurricanes, El Niños, etc.. This of course raises the interesting question of how to conceptualize and understand the volitionally-embedded formal causes of weather systems—an entirely new problem not even conceivable from the perspective of scientific materialism.
Evolutionary biology, however, is certainly one place where such “butterfly effects” can be postulated to occur over long geophysical epochs, which by another name is macroevolution; which speculates that new species—new biological final causes that are dramatic mutations of earlier ones—result from small, random variations in genetic-based formal causes (DNA); the material causes of which, in platonium theory, are the earth’s continually changing ecosystems.
In her 1998 presidential address to the American Historical Association, Joyce Appleby remarked that the profession should devote its collective attention to pursuing the implications of theoretically informed, postmodernist, historical “investigations of ideologies and paradigms…[that have] plumbed the depths of society’s shaping hand in organizing human consciousness through models, discourses, and languages’ insinuating codes” (Appleby, 1998). The present essay does something similar through a theoretical modeling of the ongoing development of ideologically grounded discourse in—and resulting political theologies of—American history, circa 1650 to the present and beyond into the future. Following Michel Foucault, this essay elaborates the causal foundation of “a new theory of historical development that replaces the cherished modern mover, the autonomous man, with the postmodern specter of omniscient society exercising a diffuse and pervasive power through discourse” (Wetherell, 1999).
Charles Wetherell above, responding to Appleby’s challenge regarding postmodernist preeminence in future theoretical development in social science history (SSH), suggested that historians and social scientists, by ignoring Appleby’s challenge have become too complacent and need to repent (of their complacence). He lists four steps social science historians can take in preventing Appleby’s projected postmodern takeover of SSH theorizing. The first is to reassert the value of specifically SSH theory development for comprehending and explaining historical developments that ordinary people often fail to understand. The second is that the centrality of social theory to the larger enterprise of social science history must be reasserted against the inroads of postmodernist thinking. Third, SSH methodology must be taken to the “next level of sophistication,” which could include social network analysis and structural equation modeling that, through elaborate constructs, models latent variables which change over time. Methodological advances such as these would enable social science historians to develop better measures for testing causal models and relationships in new and more convincing ways. And lastly, supported by all of the above, renew efforts to expose graduate students to the larger agenda of social science history; which agenda SSH theoretician Charles Tilly (1999) suggests includes: “(1) documenting large structural changes, (2) reconstructing the experiences of ordinary people in the course of those changes, and (3) connecting the two.”
Wetherell intends that his prescription forestalls the postmodernist future of SSH heralded by Appleby. The present essay, however, suggests that there is no necessary opposition between Wetherell’s four steps in repenting from SSH complacency, and Appleby’s vision of an essentially postmodernist theorizing of SSH. Indeed, this essay demonstrates their compatibility in some basics. Along the lines affirmed by Appleby, platonium provides a theoretical model that, following Appleby’s postmodernist agenda for SSH, provides a foundation for conducting investigations of societal ideologies and paradigms that plumb the depths of society’s shaping hand in organizing the discourses and insinuating codes governing both consciousness and underlying unconscious processes.
However, SSH thus explained by platonium at the same time affirms Wetherell’s recommended four steps of social historian repentance: (1) It reasserts the value of SSH in comprehending historical developments (in ideological hegemony) that American citizens generally do not understand. It explains objectively and rationally the ideologically-grounded, high-level, “political theologies” that are formative in the experiences of ordinary people, at whatever point in American history; (2) platonium in SSH also reasserts the centrality of theory building to the larger enterprise of social science history. Thus employed, it joins the ranks of Bogue’s theory builders, who develop or modify social theory in the laboratory of the past; (3) It also takes SSH methodology to a much higher level of sophistication, through Aristo-Newtonian principles of structural equation modeling that qualitatively explain the causes and effects of de facto, ideologically-informed “political theologies” operating behind the scenes. Platonium theory thereby provides a macro level framework for SSH theory development through social network analyses; and (4) platonium thus in essence is an exemplar in teaching the larger agenda of social science history, which includes (IAW Tilly): (a) documenting large structural changes in SSH, (b) reconstructing in SSH the experiences of ordinary people in the course of those changes, and (c) causally connecting the two.
The Aristo-Newtonian macrohistory of American secularism in Figure 1, the patterns of which in time and space require laws of change whose dimensions are social, economic, and political, diagrams a “grand theory”—covering at a very high level of conceptualization in the terms of hegemonic belief systems—of the totality of American history. The historical power driving this totalization, viewed in a mythological framework, is in essence a capitalist Demiurge: (1) set within a macrohistorical framework of American secularism, and (2) causally grounded on an implicitly “critical realist” interpretation of natural law. In America’s capitalist Demiurge there is an unconscious source of social, economic, and political creativity that historically, at the level of the nation’s collective political unconscious, resembles the Demiurge of Greek mythology, the material world’s metatheoretical “creator deity.” Thus understood, there are two opposed, contrary aspects of American economics: one “positive” and the other “negative.” In the positive, Platonic sense the macrohistorical Demiurge of American capitalism is a benevolent creator of material wealth: an artisan, craftsman, worker in the service of humanity. This is capitalism’s Platonic side—the familiar story told by Americans, to themselves and the world throughout the nation’s history.
It can be argued, however, and indeed by some observers has been (Domhoff, 2005), that a secretive, “reverse” Gnostic side to capitalism also exists, which is diametrically opposed to its “obverse” Platonic side. Everyone of course is well aware of capitalism’s Platonic side. The previously referenced essay BDC, however, considers in more detail as a subject of theory development capitalism’s reverse Gnostic side; which is conspiratorial and operates unseen behind the scenes through collusion at many different levels: culturally, economically, and politically. The Great Seal of the United States on the dollar, possessing both an obverse side (the American Eagle with its “E Pluribus Unum”) and reverse side (the All Seeing Eye with its “Novus Ordo Seclorum”), perhaps, whether inadvertently or secretively and knowingly, symbolizes this duality of capitalism’s good and evil.
In the negative, Gnostic sense of the Demiurge, American capitalism clearly can be seen to possess a superordinate unconscious or will that is “evil,” evil in the sense that it is secretly indifferent—and seemingly generally antagonistic—to the will of the people about realizing the Common Good. Lurking beneath its more visible Platonic aspect, capitalism, in its Gnostic aspect, is secretly malevolent. It is “possessed” by the overweening desire to create, publicly unseen and without ascent by common folk, something completely apart from and opposed to the Common Good; thereby conspiring against the plebian impulse toward society’s realization of the Common Good. In this mythocentric framework, as the unseen hand of capitalism’s power elite, America’s macrohistorical Demiurge is deeply flawed morally and ethically; for it is consciously (and willfully) ignorant of that superior level of reality which was America’s birthright—the collective wisdom of common folk regarding the Common Good.
American economics then, through the creator deity of a macrohistorical Demiurge, seems to have essentially entrapped the human spirit within the material forms created by modern science and technology. Paraphrasing the Gnostic writings of the Nag Hammadi Library, the Demiurge (macrohistorical creator deity) of American capitalism today is “impious in the ignorance which is in it.” For through its actions corporate America declares, “‘I am God and there is no other God beside me.” Although reminded from time to time by a rising populist insurgency (readily observed today), America’s macrohistorical Demiurge is largely, and willfully, ignorant of the source of its strength, which is the place from which it originated as an underlaborer dedicated to the Common Good. Figure 1, post 2000, describes graphically Lou Dobb’s “War on the Middle Class,” today waged culturally, economically and politically by America’s elite upper class, and the rising plebian response thereto.
Platonium can be expounded “sociobiologically” as well, in terms of America’s ideologically grounded “DNA” (Dialectic of the Natural Attitude) shown in Table 1 below. In this sociobiological analogy, America’s macrohistorical agents, thus sociobiologically determined over some four hundred years, defines the United States of America (including colonial America) in terms of a superordinate formal cause qua “Dialectic of the Natural Attitude” (DNA) resident in the communal sector, whose final cause in the public sector is the triadic, class-based social order of Figure 1. This DNA of the communal sector is macrohistorically “read out” by private sector “Reified Natural Attitudes” (RNA)—the private sector’s ideologically-informed efficient causes. The communal sector’s DNA are a quadrumvirate of ideological conservativism, communitarianism, liberalism and libertarianism; which the private sector’s RNA read out and thereby macrohistorically construct/reconstruct the body public (public sector); wherein secularized belief systems qua “political theologies” are continually in conflict (Weber, 2006).
Table 1. American Secularism’s Genetic Code
In this sociobiological analogy America’s high-level formal causes, which are communal sector DNA macrohistorically read out by private sector RNA in the construction/ reconstruction of the body public (public sector), are the humanist source of both the egalitarian motives of populist social actors in American macrohistory, and the authoritarian structural forces macrohistorically imposed by the elite upper class. American secularism thus provides an exemplar in the social sciences, for explaining psychosocial, socioeconomic, and political macrohistories in which institutions and organizations are purposefully created and controlled “top-down,” by an elite upper class through the instrumentality of the efficient causes called natural law. Taken as an idealist-grounded sociology for understanding free agents in terms of natural law employed instrumentally, this sociobiological perspective flat rejects the mechanistically-grounded logical empiricism, aka positivism, of modern science.
Natural scientists typically hold that only that which philosophically conforms to scientific materialism, which is a mechanistic-grounded empiricism, is legitimate science. Such a stand, however, in science that is objective and rational truly, is arbitrary and without real merit. Furthermore, it rules completely out of bounds in science the possibility of addressing what are the critical issues regarding human existence: agency, human rights, freedom, justice and others. Other less restrictive belief systems, such as the nonmechanistic “sociobiology” of free agents in this section, must be allowed if science is to resolve the above issues. The value of searching for chains of seemingly mechanistic causes and effects currently sought by the natural sciences is not questioned. This effort is simply the groundwork for a larger idealist ontology wherein the fundamental issues of life are acknowledged and addressed sociobiologically.
Considered from the perspective of social science, the “sociobiology” of platonium—rather than enabling the precise prediction of results obtained under given initial conditions, which is the goal sought under the methodological qua mechanistic naturalism of science—determine the general conditions under which social agents necessarily operate in efforts to reach objectives that the laws themselves do not specifically determine; i.e. are underdetermined because of their free agency. The theory of the humanities and human sciences here sought thus instrumentally grounds agency on the “mechanistic” laws of nature discovered by modern science; but which newly interpreted within a nonmechanistic sociobiological framework then conform to the four Aristo-Newtonian causes: material, formal, efficient and final.
Social agents are “free” in this sociobiology, but their freedom is circumscribed by the laws of nature under which they necessarily operate; because it is these same laws that are the instruments these agents utilize, indeed the only instruments they can utilize, in their pursuit of objectives. Nothing is achieved that is not ultimately, in the final analysis, achieved through the causality of such laws employed instrumentality, whether the final causes are natural or social. The sociobiology of social agents thus understood, at a minimum, include the “laws of nature” formulated by the natural sciences; which necessarily include the Newtonian “laws of motion.” Everything that social agents accomplish, or can ever hope to accomplish, is constrained by such laws of nature that, at the same time, are the instruments agents necessarily utilize in reaching their objectives. The governing precept of the natural sciences, that nature’s laws are completely mechanistic and thus function absolutely independent of human intentions, is naïve and patently false.
The four Aristo-Newtonian causes—formal, efficient, final, and material—are both the logical and empiricist framework of the sociobiology here conceived. The specification of formal causes in sociobiological experiments or studies grounded on the Aristo-Newtonian formalism for causally open systems—systems that may be natural, psychosocial, political or historical—include the problem definition, experimental setup (including initial and boundary conditions), and theoretical formulation. The efficient causes of these experiments or studies, then comprise those laws that are employed causally top-down (instrumentally, non-mechanistically) in the given experiment or study. And their final causes are then the outcomes actually observed, whether predicted or not. A sociobiological experiment or study’s material cause might include related physical, social, economic, or political organization, and related technological artifacts. The theoretical development of such studies then proceed as the formal causes (free agents) and final causes (intended purposes) postulated/studied are shown to be causally linked through progress in scientifically understanding their interconnection, via the involved efficient and material causes (physical, biological, psychological, social, historical).
The sociobiology of free agents thus formulated, volitionally embedded in nature and/or society, is in principle causally imperceptible within the conventional positivistic framework of science’s methodologically mechanistic “logical empiricism.” In both a combined Aristotelian and Bhaskarian (critical realist) fashion, a sociobiology of free agents bridges the natural and social worlds by holding that nature’s laws are the instruments of free agents. The sociobiology thus formulated, in application to the macrohistorical Demiurge of Figure 1, results in the genetic code of American secularism in Table 1, whose unfolding over time has extended over four macrohistorical epochs circa 1650 to the present and beyond into the future. Table 1 provides a sociobiological framework for tracing, over time in American macrohistory, complex ideological chains that link actor intentions to continually emerging/evolving structural forces; which macrohistorians can accomplish by interpreting the motives of historical actors in the context of their perceived everyday reality about what American society is (was in their day) or should be like (in the future).
The “macrohistorical Demiurge of secularism” here defined is that powerful creative force of modern society based on economic principles, which brings social and political order out of “chaos,” or otherwise prevents the chaos that would have ensued if this creative force had not been there to prevent it. There is implicit, in the macrohistorical machinery of Figure 1, a capitalist "power elite" that, by virtue of their esoteric, conspiratorially-held knowledge of America’s “political economy,” govern society demiurgically behind the scenes; to which the macrohistorical response of the American public (Main Street America), to this capitalist hegemony, has been the perennial populist insurgency of Figure 1 and Table 1.
America’s macrohistorical Demiurge is structurally a triad of class-based Aristotelian causes—formal (communal sector), efficient (private sector), and final (public sector)—that collectively have been responsible historically for reducing the social, economic, and political “chaos” (lack of coordinated development) that, in their absence, otherwise would have existed. Figure 1 diagrams the historical evolution of America’s class-based formal, efficient, and final causes, from about 1650 to the present and predictably onward into the future. The ultimate causal basis for this class-based reduction of societal chaos is the top-down instrumentality of nature’s laws shown. America’s macrohistorical Demiurge, through Newtonian and other of nature’s “laws” utilized as the instruments of creative control, operating largely at the level of the political unconscious, has thus fashioned and shaped the nation’s development socially, economically, and politically.
American society thus is a triad of classes: an egalitarian proletariat (lower classes), elitist bourgeoisie (upper class), and petty bourgeoisie (middle class). Figure 1 diagrams the macrohistory of these macrosocial agents as they have evolved through mutual contention down through American history circa 1650 to the present, and predictably beyond into the future. American secularism thus has evolved in a quadrivalent macrohistorical spacetime.
Extracted from Figure 1, the previous Table 1 lists the macrohistorical powers of an American populist insurgency, as they have first arisen historically in the populist communal sector in response to contrarian powers in the authoritarian public sector. These powers never die out: they continually evolve, infiltrate, and insinuate as they move—slowly over long, macrohistorical periods of time—from their egalitarian gravitas in the populist communal sector (radical formal cause) to the elitist private sector (progressive efficient cause), and from there to the authoritarian public sector (authoritarian final cause), where—in the communal sector—they reflexively inspire a perennial populist insurgency.
The continually emerging/evolving, ideologically-informed, generative powers of social and political change in American history, whose roots pre 1650 reach backward into Europe, form an ideological “double helix,” shown in Table 1, that is the evolutionary source of America’s macrohistorical Demiurge. This genetic code of American secularism, its ideological DNA of the communal sector, is the “sociobiological” source of the nation’s class-based macrohistorical development; which has unfolded socially, economically, and politically over the past three hundred plus centuries as this double helix has been read off by the RNA (Reified Natural Attitudes) of America’s private sector. The first strand of this double helix is ideologically paternalistic, with bases conservative and communitarian (secularism’s “air” and “earth” in Aristotelian terms). The second strand is ideologically humanistic with bases liberal and libertarian (secularism’s “fire” and “water”). As with biological DNA, there are four bases of two different types: one type concerned with the perceived seat of sociopolitical authority—composed of opposed conservative and liberal bases (secularism’s ideological “air” and “fire”); and the other type concerned with the perceived source of human rights—composed of opposed communitarian and libertarian bases (secularism’s ideological “earth” and “water”). Also, similar to biological DNA, the historical, upward spiraling of secularism’s DNA—ideologically from the populist communal sector to the elitist private sector, and from there to the authoritarian public sector—as shown in Figure 1 is right-handed.
What Figure 1 and Table 1 both depict is the sociobiological gravitas of stasis and change in American macrohistory. They depict the nation’s macrohistorical politics of change represented in terms of evolving populist powers (egalitarian gravitas), that, originating in the communal sector (formal cause of the proletarian lower classes), continuously infiltrate and insinuate first the private sector (efficient cause of the elitist upper classes), and then from there enter the public sector (final cause of the authoritarian middle class). They explain the macrohistorical origin of America’s socio-politics today in terms of how these four Aristo-Newtonian causes have continuously operated in America, macrohistorically from colonial times down to the present, and predictably will continue doing so in the future. Radical thinkers are sometimes thought to be exceptional individuals arising out of (or others supporting the cause of) Main Street America, but the genuinely “radical thinker” here—macrohistorically over the long term—has always been America’s collective populism. America’s perennial populist insurgency of Table 1 (American secularism’s genetic code) provides a cogent macrohistorical explanation of America’s touted “exceptionalism” (Lipset, 1997).
The Aristo-Newtonian unification of American macrohistory in this essay argues that the explanatory potential of macrohistory as a distinct discipline will be best realized as critical-realist insights (generative causal powers) are applied to theories thereof. It may be that key theoretical advances in “social science history” will require that macrohistory studies are theoretically grounded on an historically-informed, critical realist, idealist ontology. Sohail Inayatullah’s “Macrohistory and the Future,” available on the internet and in book form (Inayatullah, 2008; Galtung and Inayatullah, 1997), evaluates the substance and potential of macrohistory in ways that perhaps can facilitate critical realism’s role as methodological underlaborer, or perhaps theoretical overseer.
Appendix 2 includes additional explanatory material on Figure 1 taken from the IACR essay, which is not further discussed here but highlights certain “Althusserian,” “Hegelian,” “Marxian,” and “Machiavellian” characteristics of America’s macrohistorical Demiurge.
This essay attributes to “postmodernism” the legitimate effort, however limited it’s results have been to this date, to see beyond the limitations arbitrarily imposed on science by the very negative and destructive, mechanistic “belief system” of the natural sciences. The “postmodernist” view is that science has been founded arbitrarily on a mechanistic “belief system,” whose adoption—rather than being based on objective “truth”—instead has been because of the power and authority it has given to science in the larger society. The postmodernist agenda thus has been to “put science in its place,” to dethrone science as a font of truth; which postmodernists have endeavored to accomplish by showing that science as an institution, rather than being a grand quest for truth about humankind and nature, is institutionally a modern twist on the age-old quest for power; that is, it is an institution dedicated to maintaining—and if possible increasing—its power over all opposed non-mechanistic “belief systems.”
The mechanistic belief system on which natural science is philosophically grounded can, for purposes of discussion here, be labeled Democritean materialism. In this belief system, natural causation is the result of nature’s laws operating in a universe devoid of all volition and purposivity. It so happens, however, that modern science from the very beginning in Newton’s time could have been—and indeed still can be anew—grounded on the alternative, neo-Aristotelian, “critical-realist,” idealist belief system, here called platonium in honor of Sri Aurobindo, in which nature’s powers are always purposeful. This alternative “belief system,” even though it postulates nature’s purposivity as the ultimate reality, remains in agreement with the objective evidences of natural science thus far accumulated; and, because of this agreement, indeed does the arbitrary commitment of science to the mechanistic belief system validate the postmodernist perspective of the ideological agenda of natural science.
In the alternative, idealist, postmodern-like belief system of platonium to be developed, natural causation is one in which nature’s laws operate as instruments (Aristo-Newtonian efficient causes) under the direct—but perhaps in principle nevertheless not directly observable through scientific means—“top-down” control by causal powers (Aristo-Newtonian formal causes) that are volitionally-embedded in nature; which instruments are utilized in realizing intended purposes and goals (Aristo-Newtonian final causes) regarding the world’s physical, biological, and social organization (Aristo-Newtonian material causes). This is an Aristo-Newtonian (Newtonian-informed Aristotelian) causality that rigorously conforms to the laws of nature thus far—and in the future to be—discovered by science; but which laws are causally reinterpreted in critical-realist terms (e.g. Roy Bhaskar’s “synchronic emergent powers materialism”) as the instruments of top-down control by volitionally-embedded agents.
Which belief system is best supported by the evidence? All volition and purposivity that is apparent to observers, both in nature and human behavior, provides evidentiary support for the truth of platonium. Conversely, the same evidence confirms the falsity of Democritean materialism, the mechanistic belief system of modern science. The validity of the controversial and much maligned postmodernist critique of science considered, from this critical-realist point of view, rather than being a critique of science per se, instead is really only a critique of Democritean materialism—modernity’s mechanistic belief system. Once natural science and Democritean materialism are conceptually distinguished however, here achieved through the introduction of platonium as an alternative grounding of the sciences, much of the postmodern critique of the social agenda of “science”—here referring to science grounded on Democritean materialism—is validated.
Theory in science, in which nature is viewed through the lens of Democritean materialism, sees nature as being totally mechanistic and thus devoid of all volition and purpose. Science, constantly seeking ever greater power and prestige based on its mechanistic belief system, thus de facto has been dedicatedto preventing any naturalistic grounding of an alternative, postmodern idealist belief system. The most significant work of science since the time of Isaac Newton, continually engaged in sustaining and expanding the mechanistic belief system whether intended or not, in effect promotes deception about the possibilities of a naturalistic understanding of humanity’s free agency; the theories of which in their essence, whether consciously intended or not, constitute the WMD of science—Weapons of Mass Deception.
So the question perhaps now should be asked, given the success of theory development initially founded upon the world’s hard-core (corporeal) materiality, but which modern science (physics) now understands to be mythic in fact: why it is that human science theorists do not similarly engage the mythic in a corresponding effort to successfully ground humanist studies on a diametrically opposed understanding of nature? So that a fertile mythic-based science of what it is to be human, as a free agent volitionally embedded in the physical world, perhaps then can be more fully developed in naturalist terms. In accomplishing this, the natural sciences then would possess two opposed cosmological paradigms—so to speak nature’s yin (passive character) and yang (creative character)—that ontologically are diametrically opposed, yet at the same time are empirically consistent. Nature’s “yin” here being the passive, inert materialism of modern science that conceptually remains hegemonic in the classically-grounded natural sciences today, as a matter of “common sense” despite modern physics’ demonstration of its ultimate mythic character. And nature’s “yang” then here being an active, creative materialism of volitionally-embedded agents that powerfully addresses, in purely naturalist terms, the ontologically deep issues about the connection of the human psyche with the natural world. The natural science of which perhaps is no less mythic than the above “yin”; but which at the same time ultimately may prove to be even more fruitful than the passive, Democritean materialism of modern science.
Nature’s formal causes of volition and purposivity perhaps parallel, or constitute a metaphorical extension of, the cosmological “dark energy” postulated to pervade the universe and influence its evolution; which physically exists but nevertheless is invisible and possesses no corporeal (particulate) structure. The invisible dark energy of the universe postulated by cosmologists, apparently possessing no definite corporeal structure but nevertheless comprising some ninety-plus percent plus of its mass, exists solely as a cosmic, low level energy that materially conforms to physical law even though it is incorporeal. The cosmology thus exemplified in principle, by virtue of the physical yet at the same time incorporeal character of the universe’s cosmic “dark energy,” complements the conventional, common-sense, corporeal, Democritean materialism of classical physics. In these two, opposed yet complementary cosmologies of nature’s yang (active dark energy) and yin (passive visible matter), we ultimately might be able to obtain a more complete understanding of the universe—as a duality of the living and nonliving, respectively representing nature’s active and passive principles. Indeed, it may be that the dark energy of the cosmos possesses active powers yet unknown that are demiurgic in character. And natural science, thus expanded conceptually in the mythic terms of a cosmic yang (creator), may be able to better explain diverse phenomena in the life sciences that passive mechanism to date has not been able, and arguably will never be able, to explain—volition and purposivity for example.
In this essay we consider that: (1) we each are natural, not supernatural, beings—this is an implicit assumption of the social sciences; and (2) we in addition are natural beings that create and operate causally “open systems,” with each possessing the emergent powers of both volition and purposivity—this is another implicit assumption of the social sciences.
In this regard, however, we have been informed, rather authoritatively by Nobel laureate (physicist) Steven Weinberg, that “nature is strictly governed by impersonal laws.” So that nature’s “impersonal laws,” in their strict governance of everything natural, leave no room in “human nature” for the emergent powers of personal volition and purposivity. As natural beings strictly governed by impersonal laws (i.e. mechanistically), we possess neither volition nor purposivity, and thus operate in causally closed systems. This is the de facto philosophy of “scientific materialism” in which all things natural, including human beings, are strictly governed by impersonal laws; disclaimers of individual scientists to the contrary notwithstanding.
This inference of physical theory nevertheless may be wrong, regardless of the authority with which Steven Weinberg and others presume to speak on this fundamental issue. Nature to the contrary in truth may only be instrumentally—vis-à-vis strictly—governed by the impersonal laws discovered by science; so that we each, in possessing the emergent powers of volition and purposivity, employ these impersonal laws as the personal instruments thereof, in the creation and operation of “causally open systems.” We thus have two possible accounts of nature, through: (a) the “postmodern idealism” of causally open systems in which all things natural (vis-à-vis the supernatural) are instrumentally governed by impersonal laws; which is opposed to (b) the conventional “scientific materialism” wherein causally closed systems in which all things natural (vis-à-vis the supernatural) are strictly governed by impersonal laws.
Nature’s laws in the causally open systems of postmodern idealism, systems created and operated by the emergent powers of volition and purposivity, are only “tendencies.” Such is basic to the “critical realist” philosophy of science. Critical realists, however, universally fail to explain the causal basis of such tendencies. The tendential causality of nature’s laws is nevertheless easily identified, however: the tendential nature of natural law in causally open systems is simply because these laws, rather than strictly governing such systems, are instrumentally employed therein. This is the source of their tendential character—that in causally open systems nature’s laws are the instruments by which the volition and purposivity of emergent powers are lawfully exercised, in both society and nature. In direct opposition, then, to the presumed knowledge of the physical sciences regarding the non-existence of causally open systems; proving (2) above correct—both empirically and theoretically through the assistance of critical realist underlaboring—should be the primary, top-most “mission” of the social sciences.
Why thus engage physical science in what very likely will be a contentious, bruising battle over the highly theoretical issue of natural causation in both natural and social systems: instrumentally in systems that are “causally open” vs. mechanistically in systems that are strictly “causally closed”? The answer is because there is a strong argument to be made that winning the battle on the “natural causality” of volition and purposivity in causally open systems, and thus of agency and structure in society as well, will be key to any future theoretical development of social science in the 21 st century that—in its scope and explanatory power—can rival that of natural science. And that once developed, will provide the scientific basis for sorely needed, future “emancipatory projects” in the human sciences generally—which clearly is platonium’s intended purpose.
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Aurobindo Sri (1918). Originally in Ayra; Pp. 184-195 in Essays in Philosophy and Yoga. Puducherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1998.
Bhaskar, Roy (1998a). The Possibility of Naturalism, Third ed. New York: Routledge.
——(1998b). Philosophy and Scientific Realism. Pp. 16-47 in Critical Realism: Essential Readings. Margaret Archer, Roy Bhaskar, Andrew Collier, Tony Lawson and Alan Norrie (Eds.). New York: Routledge.
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Inayatullah, Sohail (2008). Macrohistory and the Future. http://www.metafuture.org/Articles/Macrohistoryandth
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Weinberg, Steven (1996). Sokal’s Hoax. Pp. 11-15 in The New York Review of Books, Volume XLIII, No 13. Also http://www.physics.nyu.edu/faculty/sokal/Weinberg.html
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Exemplifying a Stratification “Research Tradition”
Figure 1 can be elaborated in terms of five different, yet tightly integrated ontological “stratifications.”
Additional Explanatory Material from BDC on Figure 1
Figure 2. The Althusserian “Underground Currents” of America’s Sociopolitical Unconscious
This wave diagram shows the cyclic underground currents of the four ideologies shown in Figure 1: Center-Right conservatism, Far-Right communitarianism, Center-Left liberalism, and Far-Left libertarianism. Of the four currents shown, two are in phase opposition and two are in phase quadrature. The current positive peaks depict public sector (petty bourgeoisie) hegemony, while the current negative peaks depict communal sector (proletariat) hegemony. The current midlines on ascending waves then represent private sector (haute bourgeoisie) hegemony, while the current midlines on descending waves represent the political impotence of the ideology previously hegemonic in the public sector. Considering the present time, for example, the Center-Left liberalism that was hegemonic in the public sector circa 1900, was in the public sector circa 2000 politically impotent—but now is gradually becoming increasingly influential in the communal sector.
Table 1. America’s Hegelian Master-Slave Dialectic
This is a table of the three classes/sectors showing the ideology of each in each of the four seasons in Figure 1. The table is Hegelianized in terms of society’s ongoing quest for freedom during each season of Figure 1, through a master-slave dialectic (ideological thesis, antithesis, synthesis) in which dual elitist and publican “masters” (haute and petty bourgeoisie) jointly rule over a lowly populist slave (proletariat). The ideologies of master and slave reverse in the manner of the Hegelian master-slave dialectic over a period of two hundred years, to then later obtain a synthesis thereof over the next two hundred years for a completed Hegelian triad of “thesis, antithesis, synthesis” over some four hundred years. America, according to this historiography is now moving toward the completion (circa 2100) of a four hundred year Hegelian cycle of Center-Right conservativism v. Center-Left liberalism. Also, according to the timetable of Figure 1, another four hundred year Hegelian cycle of Far-Right communitarianism v. Far-Left libertarianism (not shown in its entirely in Figure 1) is predicted to be completed circa 2200.
Table 2. America’s Machiavellian ordini and virtu
*Functionally linked through the class-based, aleatory homologues of Newtonian force and the related sources listed in this table. The net result of their interaction is the progressive impetus of the upper class (homologue of momentum), not shown in this table because it is determined by all three classes.
**The view of class dialectic as seen from outside the class. For example, the proletariat (communal sector) sees its dialectic as being radical but democratic, but which the haute bourgeoisie (the private sector) and petty bourgeoisie (public sector) view as dissident and seditious.
***Consulatus , the inertial force of the private sector’s progressive impetus, originating in the public rather than private sector, secretively facilitates and enables the private sector’s hidden agenda, by continually opposing the communal sector’s radical democratic praxis. It is the way in which the public sector, without acknowledging what it is doing, supports the private sector’s progressive, elitist agenda. There is no corresponding support in the public sector for the communal sector.
****Equites is that lower-level element of the elitist, upper-class res patricius that directly engineers the movement of the middle class res publica. Equites directly interfaces with the public sector, which the higher level senatus does not because it always works through equites in the background, unseen publicly.