A Short Philosophy of Duty

” What should I do ? Most of the philosophical texts on duty begin by citing this moral questioning of Kant. Is it a duty to quote Kant when philosophizing on duty? In a certain academic discourse, yes. Because duty is first and foremost a matter of ritual within a community of practice and belonging. If, for example, you are part of a group practicing a martial art, your duty is to go and train several times a month. But does this mean that the isolated individual has no duties towards himself? Are we just collective animals? Isn’t it contradicting the very sense of duty to make it depend on others?

What then of a duty that would contradict our labour contract or our community membership, a duty to say no, a call more compelling than that of habit and obedience? Etymologically, duty is a debt, a transfer of belonging. How can one have a debt to oneself? The answer belongs to the ideas of personal ethics, moral commitments, good resolutions, the will, self-discipline: if I set myself, via the exercise of an autonomous reason, a value that I consider universally admirable – “the moral law within me”, said Kant – I must try to conform to it, even if it costs me.

A Gorbachev in 1989, for example, may not believe in capitalism, but he does believe in social freedom, favouring the self-determination of individuals rather than the yoke of tyrannical power. He knows, as Tocqueville showed, that freedom might lead to the idiocy of many and to the greatness of a few. But this is the Enlightenment project: to establish democracy, even if we know that humans are infantile. They must eventually be able to become adults on their own and think for themselves, to emerge, Kant would still say, out of mental minority.

But a devious mind might wonder if the philosopher, as a good moralist, does not himself have the professional and somewhat mechanical duty, the obligation to advise autonomy, to speak of duty towards oneself. One does not expect a thinker to encourage the absence of responsibility, the cowardice of the blind enjoyer, slow suicide, inconsistency, immaturity. Duty is thus often associated with a form of predictability, of trust. The philosopher is expected to moralize as well as the bus driver is expected to drive her bus, respecting stations and schedules rather than suddenly taking everyone down a ravine out of anger. Duty is sometimes the courage to do what is not necessarily creative: repeat, defend, preserve. Sorry for being boring, I am driving…

But let us now consider an idea that is more taboo than the idea of duty to oneself. Imagine a tyrant emperor who considers that everyone owes something to him. Everyone would have a duty to dedicate their work and part of their life, their time, or their body to the Emperor. Such a situation takes duty out of the lyrical field (I owe it to myself) and places the concept back in the political field of domination. If this tyrant is a state, then it is an entire nation that has to abide by the rule of order. These are the two dead ends of our modernity. The individual-king most often fails to be a being of pure duty towards himself, that is to say of pure integrity, because lyricism, the I, is a position which cannot by definition erase the desire for sensuality. On the other hand, the citizen fails to be a perfect subject of the State because “voluntary servitude”, to use an expression of La Boétie, is not sustainable for an autonomous and conscious subject. But it is possible for a subjected unconscious, and this is why Big Data exploiters manage to use those who are not activelly aware of our electronic and contractual servitude. How can we escape the duality between the lyricism of duty and the sacrifice of collectivism? Perhaps thanks to a virtue that our modernism has forgotten or relegated to Hollywood fiction: epic duty.

Being epic is a co-creative middle ground between the lyricism of the ego-trip and voluntary servitude. The Greeks saw in the epic the highest degree of the human adventure, as if the epic group were a super-individual. Action begins with thinking about the forces that move us, and those are ultimately concepts, notions, ideas, values. Collective styles.

Philosophy as Embodied Vastitude and Vision

“Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the more often and steadily we reflect upon them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me. I do not seek or conjecture either of them as if they were veiled obscurities or extravagances beyond the horizon of my vision; I see them before me and connect them immediately with the consciousness of my existence.”

― Immanuel Kant, Critique of Practical Reason

Towards a Universal Science of Actualisation of Potentials

Generative science studies the complexity that emerges from the iteration of simple rules. From the point of view of crealectics, this approach is still somewhat connected to the overproduction paradigm inherited from mass capitalism. Crealectics see the world as relative simplicity emerging from infinite complexity, not the opposite. This might sound counterintuitive to our postmodern ears, since we are accustomed to perceiving our worlds as complex.

But the latter confusion has to do with the globalisation of our perception. Indeed, our world appears noisy, messy, chaotic sometimes, or diverse, and from the perspective of a single human perception this is the case, but from the perspective of the Creal, reality as we know it is always a simplification, a reduction. The philosophical question that matters for crealectics is not the General Systems Theory question of complexity (how does simplicity create complexity?), but the opposite: how does complexity create simplicity?

At the moment, whole systems theory is cognitively fashionable, and this is not a bad thing. Holism is intellectually satisfactory because the fragmentary disciplines that it attacks are not in fact scientific: most sciences today are not scientific in the sense that they do not provide a theory of everything. They are analytic practices that don’t have time to care much for the whole system and interdependencies between levels of reality.

In my view, if an analytic practice does not propose a theory of everything, it is not a science, even if it appears to be so by mobilising mathematics, statistics, and other rigorous protocols. And indeed, I am not contesting the localised rigour of these practices that call themselves sciences: medicine, psychology, zoology, biology, chemistry, the list is long. These disciplines eliminate complexity by looking at a specific region of the real and saying: we can understand this provided we isolate it from other approaches, and we do not have anything to say about the rest of the world, or if we do, it is under our own monadic worldview: for example for chemistry, everything will be chemical to a certain extent, but if we reach superstructural levels such as politics for example, atomistic and mechanical methodologies don’t really work (There must be a chemical explanation of politics out there, but I am not interested).

The complexity or whole systems approach tries to eliminate this fragmentation of practices by claiming that the same simple patterns everywhere generate worlds. In a way this is still an atomistic point of view, except that we have replaced atoms or particles with patterns, memes or laws. This is seductive, but ultimately, you can’t easily work with it, since the idea of interdependence of parts and systems leads to an exponential epistemological complexity which is practically difficult to apply. If everything is dependent on everything, how are you going to work?

That is the problem of the regenerative paradigm today, for which I have much sympathy. Say you want to build a regenerative school: you are not only going to choose sustainable materials, you are also going to interview the children, the teachers, examine the butterflies around the school, try to include in your decisions a view of the entire and global cycle of education. In practice, a holistic design is complicated or it needs to restrict its framework and therefore fall back into analytic practice, a discipline that localises its scope and intentionally restricts its perspective. Multi-disciplinarity has its spatiotemporal limits.

Crealectics does not say that the world is complex. It says that the world is simple, but not because it is made of the same atoms or bits or patterns. The world is not simple because everything is chemical, or material, or mathematical. The world is simple because it is a contraction of a primordial source of infinite possibility. And this is a process: the world is a continuous process of actualisation (simplification) of the Creal, of concretisation of the absolute creativity of the cosmic potential. Reality is always simple compared to creality, because in reality everything has a focus, a conatuseverything contracts a prehension towards compactness. Now this mysterious last element of sentence is a reference to the philosophies of Whitehead, Bergson and Spinoza, and outside the limits of this post.

What needs to be examined is not how things become complex or complicated, neither if everything is chemical or material, but how and why a potential becomes actual. This is one of the oldest questions of philosophy. I would argue this is the only question of philosophy. And the only question of politics. And the only question of psychology, chemistry, etc.

We only need one science, the universal science of actualisation of potentials. I call it crealectics.

Is Philosophy Useful in Medical Practice? The Physician and The Philosopher

A dialogue between Professor MD PhD Richard Levi, specialist of neuro-rehabilitation at Linköping University Hospital and Dr Luis De Miranda, philosophical practitioner and researcher at the Center for Medical Humanities, Uppsala University.

Artificial Intelligence: Where will the robots lead us? (video debate)

Most governments and enterprises see AI as a chance and as a positive challenge. But scientists like Stephen Hawking and authors like Karel Čapek, who introduced the word “robot” to the world in a play from 1920, warned against dangers coming with AI. So does much of the fiction written on the topic. Hear a discussion on robots in literature and technology between Michal Pěchouček, AI professor, Luis De Miranda, philosopher and Kristina Hård, novelist.

“Upon my soul we might have known that some day or other the Robots would be stronger than human beings, and that this was bound to happen, and we were doing all we could to bring it about as soon as possible.”

In his play “R.U.R.” from 1920, Czech author Karel Capek writes about robots that are used for heavy labour but eventually becomes smarter than humans, and rise up against them. The subject is maybe more relevant than ever in our time, and is discussed during the evening, both from a literary and a societal perspective.

About the panelists:

Michal Pěchouček is an AI professor, R&D executive and serial entrepreneur. He has been active in the field of cutting edge AI since the late nineties, and founded the iconic Artificial Intelligence Center at the Czech Technical University in Prague. Michal have co-founded Cognitive Security, one of the first machine learning startups for cybersecurity, AgentFly Technologies, a drone technology firm and BlindSpot Solutions, an AI/ML high-end consultancy.

Michal has got his master degree from the University of Edinburgh and his PhD from Czech Technical University. He has been working at several leading universities, such University of Calgary or University of Southern California. In 2014 he was listed in New Europe 100 list of most innovative minds in Central and Easter Europe.

Luis De Miranda is a philosopher who was born in Portugal in 1971 and has since lived in many places over the world. His philosophical essays concerns societal issues, historical methods, technological devices, and process philosophy. He has among other things written a widely reviewed and influential cultural history of digital devices and automata.

Kristina Hård is a Swedish novelist who has written several books in the science fiction and fantasy genre. Her debut novel was the book “Alba”, and since then she has written three more novels as well as books on computer science.

The discussion will be held in English and led by Patrik Schylström, librarian.

Link to the video here

Analytic, Dialectic and Crealectic Thinking in the Context of Philosophical Health

Talk by Dr Luis de Miranda at the 3rd International Conference on Philosophical Counseling & Practice, organised by The National Philosophical Counseling Association (15-16 January 2021).

The article referred to is open access here.