Organismic unity and rationalist metaphysics

It is common to say that the organism “is in some sense a unity.” This unity from the external third-person view is the total mass and intelligence of the organism. All internal motion counts. All of it plays a part in the culminating action potentials that determine the thing’s “voluntary” action.

What of the internal first-person view of the organism itself, the epistemic subject? The only actions that the epistemic subject counts as stemming from unity are the ones it executes itself. Unity from the first-person view is not the entire mass of biological activity, but merely the voluntary action stemming from the high-point synoptic beholder of experience itself. The unity of the organism is myopically reduced to the perception and appetition belonging to the epistemic subject.

The self, for the epistemic subject, is just itself. It takes itself to be the executive agent and final arbiter of all voluntary action—of voluntary movement and voluntary positing, which includes thinking. (This domain of the epistemic-voluntary, in Indian philosophy, falls under the action catch-all category of body-speech-mind). And it takes voluntary action to be the true ground of ontological unity of itself, even as an organism.

This unity is the coordinating center of perception, the coordinating command center of action; ultimately, the coordinating survival center over multiple modules in the colony of symbionts that is my body. This coordinating thing—which of course must be nothing since it yields to the interests of its component parts—is the free agent called “I.”

The unity of the epistemic-voluntary subject is the basis of various popular categories:

  •  The concept of numerical unity
  •  The rationalist “principle” that the interior of any ontological simple is unified perception and appetition (this conflation of bodily and subjective unity is the basis of Leibniz’ impossible monads)
  •  The concept of substance
  • The principle that all sense content has ways-of-variation that we grasp as one-dimensional magnitudes
  •  The notion that change never occurs in leaps

Rationalism and systematic thinking itself rest on the myopia arising from the organism’s executive center.