THE MEANING OF FEELING:
(BANISHING THE HOMUNCULUS FROM PSYCHOLOGY)
Interaction Before Identity
The Literal is Metaphoric
Consciousness As Its Own Exceeding
My Norms Are Not Your Norms
The Meaning of Feeling
Psychological theorizing today, in dialogue with the results of researches in phenomenological and pragmatist philosophy and anthropology, points to an important re-envisioning of the role of concepts such as inter-subjectivity, metaphor, the unconscious and emotion in the functioning of a psychological organization. While today’s diverse embodied approaches (Clark(1997), Damasio(2000), Galagher(2005), Lakoff & Johnson(1999), Ratcliffe(2007), Varela, Thompson, and Rosch(1991)) have made significant advances over the more traditional perspectives in psychology which they target(1st generation cognitivism, symbolic computationalism), I suggest that these newer perspectives have failed to depart sufficiently from older approaches in one important respect.
Specifically, I will argue in this paper that the capacity of contemporary psychologies to depict a meaning-making organization generating thoroughgoing affectation, interaction and novelty may be hampered by their reliance on a notion of psycho-biological and interpersonal entities as discrete states. Residing within each of the myriad temporary subagents and bits comprising a psychological system is a supposed literal, albeit near-meaningless, identity. While the role of identity in embodied approaches is less prominent than in classical cognitivist frameworks (newer approaches replace the idea of a centralized, self-present identity with that of a reciprocal system of contextually changing states distributed ecologically as psychologically embodied and socially embedded), I allege that a failure of current approaches to banish the lingering notion of a literal, if fleeting, status residing within the parts of a psycho-bio-social organization may be responsible for the covering over of a rich, profoundly intricate process of change within the assumed frozen space of each part.
What could be the basis of my claim that the diverse assortment of embodied models offered by researchers like Gallagher, Varela, Clark, Damasio and Johnson have in common the treatment of the parts of a psychological organization as ossified centers resistant to novelty, considering that the dynamical properties in many of these approaches specifically determine psychological processes as non-representational and non-decoupleable “...variables changing continuously, concurrently and interdependently over quantitative time...”(Van Gelder,1999,p.244)? And what is a ‘part’ anyway?
Interaction Before Identity:
Let me begin by suggesting the following thought experiment: What if, rather than an element of meaning (perceptual, conceptual, physiological) being juxtaposed or coinciding with what preceded and conditioned it in the manner of contact between two distinct entities, we were to imagine that the context of a prior event and the presencing of a new event indissociably belonged to the same event? I do not have in mind a simple compacting together of past and present as distinct and separable things, but a way of looking at the relation between a meaning and its background which sees not just the interaction BETWEEN things but the things, entities, parts, bodies THEMSELVES as already kinds of qualitative change, not states but passages, a non-contradictory way of intending beyond what is intended.
I want you to entertain the notion that the primordial ‘unit’ of experience is not a form that is transformed by contact with another entity, not a presence that is changed by a separate encounter with another presence, but an experience already other, more than itself in the very moment of being itself, not a form, presence or shining OCCUPYING space but already a self-exceeding, a transit, a being-otherwise. What I am suggesting is that there are no such things as discrete entities.
The irreducible basis of experience is the EVENT (many events can unfold within the supposed space of a single so-called entity). Events do not follow one another in time (or in parallel) as hermetically sealed links of a chain. Each event does not only bear the mark of influence of previous events, but carries them within it even as it transforms them. An event is a synthetic unity, a dynamic structure devoid of simply identity.
In making this claim, I am contributing to an already rich philosophical discussion on the phenomenal experience of time. This conversation has recently been joined by a number of psychologists (See Gallagher(1998) , Van Gelder(1996) and Varela(1999b)), who support the idea of the nowness of the present as differentiated within itself. They recognize that the present is not properly understood as an isolated ‘now’ point; it involves not just the current event but also the prior context framing the new entity. We don’t hear sequences of notes in a piece of music as isolated tones but recognize them as elements of an unfolding context. As James(1978) wrote:”...earlier and later are present to each other in an experience that feels either only on condition of feeling both together” ( p.77).
The key question is how this ‘both together’ is to be construed. Is the basis of change within a bodily organization, interpersonal interaction, and even the phenomenal experience of time itself, the function of a collision between a separately constituted context and present entities? Or does my dynamic ‘now’ consist of a very different form of intentionality, a strange coupling of a past and present already changed by each other, radically interbled or interaffected such that it can no longer be said that they have any separable aspects at all? I contend that, even taking into account a significant diversity of views within the contemporary scene concerning the nature of time-consciousness, including critiques of James’ and Husserl’s perspectives, current psychologies conceive the ‘both-together’ of the pairing of past and present as a conjunction of separate, adjacent phases or aspects: the past which conditions the present entity or event, and the present object which supplements that past. I am not suggesting that these phases are considered as unrelated, only that they each are presumed to carve out their own temporary identities.
(FOOTNOTE:I support Husserl’s depiction of experience as an indeterminate intersubjective movement of temporality. However, I agree with the argument, made in different ways by commentators such as such as Gallagher(1998), Derrida(1973), Merleau-Ponty and Heidegger, that Husserl’s retentional-protentional model of time-consciousnesss slighted the genetic and historical in favor of a transparent present and a historicist time.)
For instance, Zahavi(1999), following Husserl, views the internally differentiated structure of ‘now’ awareness as consisting of a retentional, primal impressional, and protentional phase. While he denies that these phases are “different and separate elements”(p.90), claiming them instead as an immediately given, ecstatic unity, their status as opposing identities is suggested by his depiction of the association between past and present as a fracturing, “... namely, the fracture between Self and Other, between immanence and transcendence”(p.134).
This Husserlian thematic, rendering past and present as an indissociable-but-fractured interaction between subject and object, inside and outside, reappears within a varied host of naturalized psychological approaches that link self-affection to an embodied neural organization of reciprocally causal relations among non-decoupleable parts or subprocesses. While these components interact constantly (Varela(1996b) says “...in brain and behavior there is never a stopping or dwelling cognitive state, but only permanent change punctuated by transient [stabilities] underlying a momentary act”(p.291) , it doesn’t seem as if one could go so far as to claim that the very SENSE of each participant in a neural organization is intrinsically and immediately dependent on the meanings of the others. I suggest it would be more accurate to claim that each affects and is affected by the others as a temporary homunculus (little man) or self perceives an object. Varela(1999a) offers "...lots of simple agents having simple properties may be brought together, even in a haphazard way, to give rise to what appears to an observer as a purposeful and integrated whole"(p.52 ). The bare existence of each of these agents may be said to PRECEDE its interaction with other agents, in that each agent occupies and inheres in its own state, presenting its own instantaneous properties for a moment, apart from, even as it is considered conjoined to, the context which conditions it and the future which is conditioned by it.
Perhaps I am misreading Varela and other enactivist proponents . Am I saying that these contemporary accounts necessarily disagree with Merleau-Ponty’s(1968) critique of the idea of the object-in-itself?
...the identity of the thing with itself, that sort of established position of its own, of rest in itself, that plenitude and that positivity that we have recognized in it already exceed the experience, are already a second interpretation of the experience...we arrive at the thing-object, at the In Itself, at the thing identical with itself, only by imposing upon experience an abstract dilemma which experience ignores(p.162).
On the contrary, as different as Merleau-Ponty’s and various enactivist accounts may be in other respects, it seems to me that they share a rejection of the idea of a constituted subjectivity encountering and representing an independent in-itself. Mark C. Taylor(2001) characterizes the enactivist ethos thusly; “Contrary to popular opinion and many philosophical epistemologies, knowledge does not involve the union or synthesis of an already existing subject and an independent object”( p.208). In a very general sense, what is articulated by Varela, Gallagher and others as the reciprocal, nondecoupleable interconnections within a dynamical system functions for Merleau-Ponty as the ‘flesh’ of the world; the site of reciprocal intertwining between an In Itself and a For Itself, subject and object, consciousness and the pre-noetic, activity and passivity, the sensible and the sentient, the touching and the touched. My point is that current accounts may also have in common with Merleau-Ponty the belief that subjective context and objective sense reciprocally determine each other as an oppositional relation or communication (Merleau-Ponty calls it an abyss, thickness or chiasm) between discrete contents. “...that difference without contradiction, that divergence between the within and without ... is not an obstacle between them, it is their means of communication(Merleau-Ponty 1968 ,p.135).”
By contrast, I assert that the ‘now’ structure of an event is not an intertwining relation between contingent, non-decoupleable identities, states, phases, but an odd kind of intersecting implicating perhaps a new understanding of intentionality; intentional object and background context are not adjacent regions(a within and a without) in space or time; they have already been contaminated by each other such that they are inseparably co-implied as a single edge (Try to imagine separating the ‘parts’ of an edge. Attempting to do so only conjures a new edge). Time itself must be seen in this way as immediately both real and ideal. Events don’t speak with their surrounds. They ARE their surrounds; the current context of an event is not a system of relations but an indivisible gesture of passage.
(FOOTNOTE: This gesture cannot be reduced to either a subjective mechanism of consciousness or to objective relations between particles. Like the idea of the inter-penetration of fact and value informing phenomenological philosophical perspectives, this is a quasi-transcendental(simultaneously subjective and empirical) claim concerning the irreducible nature of reality and time itself, and operates both as a pre-condition and a re-envisioning of subjective consciousness and empirical bodies.)
Gendlin(1997b), in his groundbreaking book 'A Process Model', offers an account of the nature of psychological organization which I consider in many respects closely compatible with my own.
In the old model something (say a particle or a body) exists, defined as filling space and time. Then it also goes through some process. Or it does not. It is defined as "it" regardless of the process "it" goes through. "It" is separate from a system of changes and relationships that are "possible" for "it."(p.50)...’In the old model one assumes that there must first be "it" as one unit, separate from how its effects in turn affect it...In the process we are looking at there is no separate "it," no linear cause-effect sequence with "it" coming before its effects determine what happens. So there is something odd here, about the time sequence. How can "it" be already affected by affecting something, if it did not do the affecting before it is in turn affected?...With the old assumption of fixed units that retain their identity, one assumes a division between it, and its effects on others. (This "it" might be a part, a process, or a difference made.) In the old model it is only later, that the difference made to other units can in turn affect "it."(p.40)
If one assumes separate events, processes, or systems, one must then add their co-ordinations as one finds them, as if unexpectedly...“Inter-affecting" and "coordination" are words that bring the old assumption of a simple multiplicity, things that exist as themselves and are only then also related. So we need a phrase that does not make sense in that old way. Let us call the pattern we have been formulating "original inter-affecting". This makes sense only if one grasps that "they" inter-affect each other before they are a they(p.22).
Gendlin’s account somewhat resembles embodied cognitive and dynamical systems approaches in its rejection of symbolic representationalism and decoupleability, but I believe there are crucial differences. For instance, in current models, interaction spreads in a reciprocally causal fashion from point to point, whereas for Gendlin, each point somehow implies each other point; each part of a meaning organization somehow “knows about”, belongs to and depends intrinsically on each other part. And this happens before a part can simply be said to exist in itself(even if just for an instant). What kind of odd understanding concerning the interface between identity and relation could justify Gendlin's insistence that the inter-affection between parts of a psychological organization precedes the existence of individual entities?
Allow me to creatively interweave Gendlin’s text with my own, and suggest that an ‘entity’ can never be understood as OCCUPYING a present state, even for a moment. Its very identity is differential not simply because its relevance is defined by its relation to its context (embodied cognitive notions of the subject-object relation), but because the essence of the event IS this intersection. What is other than, more than an event (its just-past) is built into its own center in such a way that the relation between events is never an arbitrary conditioning the way it seems to be allowed to be in current accounts( as I will discuss in more detail later). That is why an event is better conceived as a transit than a state.
The most important implication of this way of thinking about the organization of meaning and intention is that the interaction between events can be seen as maintaining a radical continuity and mutual dependency of implication. To say that an event exceeds itself , in the same moment and the same space, as both past and present, is not simply to think the now as immediately a differential between the new and a prior context. It is to envision a new event and the context out of which it arises as BELONGING to, PART OF each other’s senses in a radical way, rather than just as externally cobbled together spatially or temporally as a mutual grafting, mapping, mirroring, conditioning between little bodies. This duality within the event is not to be understood as a fracture, opposition or chiasm between an already composed past carried over from previous experience, and an arbitrary element of novelty related to this past across a divide of thickness.
As Gendlin(1997b) argues, ‘The continuity of time cannot first be made by things next to each other, because such a continuity is passive; each bit IS alone, and must depend on some other continuity to relate it to what is next to it...”(p.71).
For instance, fresh intentional experience does not simply sit alongside a prior context; it explicates the immediate past ( Gendlin characterizes this past as an an implicatory whole):
...explication is not a representation of what “was” implicit; rather explication carries the implying with it and carries it forward. An explication does not replace what it explicates. If one divided them, one could try to divide between what is new and what is from before. Then one part of the explication would be representational, and the other part would be arbitrary. An occurring that carries forward is an explicating. It is neither the same nor just different. What is the same cannot be divided from what is different (p.71).
What does it mean to say that what is the same can’t be divided from what is different? I would like to suggest that the very being of an event of meaning already is composed partly of that which it is not, that which it is no longer. The role which this ’no-longer’ plays isn’t just as a duplication of ‘what it was’ . It is a fresh, never before experienced version of my past which forms part of the essence of a new event for me. What do I mean by this? Not only does a fresh event belong to, carry forward, imply the immediate context which it transforms, but this inter-contamination between past and present operates at the same time in the opposite direction. The carried-forward past which, as I have said, inseparably belongs to a new event, is already affected by this fresh present. What does this imply? Gendlin(1997b) explains, “When the past functions to "interpret" the present, the past is changed by so functioning. This needs to be put even more strongly: The past functions not as itself, but as already changed by what it functions in”(p.37 ).
It is not as if other accounts do not recognize the transformative character of recollection. It would be pointed out by any psychologist who had digested Merleau-Ponty's lessons concerning reflection that the attempt to return repeatedly to an object of attention in order to preserve its identity hopelessly contaminates the purity of that identity with the sediments of new context.
(FOOTNOTE:Mark C. Taylor writes:”Neither complete nor finished, the past is repeatedly recast by a future that can never be anticipated in a present that cannot be fixed. Anticipation re-figures recollection as much as recollection shapes expectation.”(The Moment of Complexity,2001,p.198)).
My claim is not, however, that the past is partially or eventually affected by the present, but that its modification is globally and immediately implied by present experience. The past is inseparable from the future which is framed by it. Because all meanings are referential, they don't appear out of thin air but from a prior context. On the other hand, the past in its entirety is at the same time implied and transformed in present context. There is no past available to us to retrieve as an archive of presumably temporarily or partially preserved events of meaning. As we will see, this view may run counter to current approaches according to which habitual pre-noetic bodily, linguistic and cultural schemas are presumed to shape experiential processes(”...the body in its habitual schemas retains a [pre-noetic] past....that helps to define the present”(Gallagher,1997,p.144)), and thus to constrain and structure the experience of novelty, without themselves being immediately and globally refashioned in accord with the self-changing direction of intentional movement.
The Literal is Metaphoric:
To this point it may strike readers that the argument being made amounts to a quibble. Even if it were to be accepted as correct, what of theoretical and practical advantage is gained over dynamical, embodied approaches by reworking the relationship between an element and its context in the way I am suggesting? How does this amount to more than a shuffling around of dimensional concepts? It is important to understand that it is not just dimensional slots that are being questioned here but the central characteristics of what are considered entities (conceptual, bodily, interpersonal), their alleged power to arbitrarily and polarizingly condition each other as well as, paradoxically, to resist the advent of novelty. To criticize a system in continuous inter-relational motion for resisting novelty, merely because it is depicted as interactions among innumerable, dumb bits which may only exist for an instant of time, may seem to be a spurious accusation to make. But as I hope to show, this seemingly insignificant property of stasis built into these dumb bits of a dynamical, embodied and embedded ecological system expresses itself at a macro level as homunculi-like schemes, assemblies and narratives (sensory-motor, emotive, perceptual, conceptual and interpersonal) whose creative interplay and thematic consistency may be restricted by the presumption of a distinction between their existence and interaction.(Varela(1991) describes these bits as “...a whole army of neurallike, simple, unintelligent components, which, when appropriately connected, have interesting global properties. These global properties embody and express the cognitive capacities being sought” (p.87).
A prime example of what I mean when I allege that a separation between the existence and interaction of components of such systems polarizes their functioning can be found in the way that current embodied approaches attempt to explain the mechanism of conceptual metaphor. For instance, Lakoff and Johnson(1999) , in their effort to overturn the older view of metaphor as a secondary and inferior linguistic form in comparison with literal meaning, depict metaphor as a rich and indispensable component of abstract conceptualization.
FOOTNOTE:For related models, see Glucksberg and Keysar’s(1990) attributive categorization approach, Gentner’s(Gentner, D., Bowdle, B., Wolff, P., & Boronat, C. (2001)) structure mapping model, and Lakoff’ and Johnson’s(1980) conceptual metaphor theory.
Briefly , a metaphor is a correlation between conceptual domains, projecting patterns from the source domain onto the target domain. Neurologically, metaphor originates in a conflation between domains, a simultaneous activation of neural schemes in both the source and target.
Johnson insists that metaphors are not formal structures, but embodied and situational. The cognitive domains, or “frames,” out of which metaphors are formed “are not fixed structures or images, but rather dynamic patterns of our interactions within various evolving environments” (Johnson,1997, p.156). Even if frames are not permanently fixed schemes, they do have the ability to conserve their structure over time. It is this conservative power that allows frames to define, contain, mirror, map onto, apply to and correlate with particular new experiences. “Conceptual metaphorical mappings appear to preserve image-schematic structure, and , in so doing, they map spatial inference patterns onto abstract inference patterns”(p.156). Lakoff and Johnson(1999) explain:
Abstract concepts have two parts:1) an inherent, literal, non-metaphorical skeleton, which is simply not rich enough to serve as a full-fledged concept; and 2) a collection of stable, conventional metaphorical extensions that flesh out the conceptual skeleton in a variety of ways (often inconsistently with one another)(p.128). In general, central senses of words are arbitrary; non-central senses are motivated but rarely predictable. Since there are many more non-central senses than central senses of words, there is more motivation in a language than arbitrariness(p.465).
While Lakoff-Johnson believe everyday thought is largely metaphorical, they don’t accept that all meanings are metaphorical (“...all basic sensorimotor concepts are literal”(p.58)).
We can extract the following points from Lakoff-Johnson’s model:
1)Metaphors are not discrete concepts themselves but correlations between two pre-existing conceptual domains.
2)Metaphors preserve the structure of the source domains that they borrow from.
3) Metaphors enrich a concept’s non-central senses with motivated meaning, but a concept’s central senses are arbitrary.
4)Not all concepts are metaphorical.
We can trace the logic of these points back to the belief, maintained in different ways across a diversity of psychological perspectives, that a concept has an ‘inherent, literal, non-metaphorical skeleton’. As Lakoff and Johnson affirm, an entity which inheres as its own state is arbitrary at its core, and can relate to another meaning only in a separate move. Metaphor considered in this way is not an intrinsic property of concepts, but a secondary function that may or may not apply to a particular concept. And when it does apply, metaphor doesn’t so much transcend the semantic gap between concepts as co-opt it by grafting meaning comparisons and mirrorings onto originally arbitrary, pre-existing conceptual cores.
To re-think the notion of an intrinsic conceptual state as the differential structure of transit I have delineated in this paper is to change and enlarge the role of metaphor(and to re-define intentionality) in important ways. I have argued that an event(whether conceived as conceptual or bodily-physiological) is itself, at one time and in one gesture, the interbleeding between a prior context(source) and novel content(target). Gendlin(1995) says, in such a crossing of source and target, “each functions as already cross-affected by the other. Each is determined by, and also determines the other(p.555)”. Thus, the weak and ambivalent integrative function accomplished by Lakoff and Johnson’s model of metaphor as a correlation between conceptual domains may conceal a more fundamental integration working WITHIN and BEYOND so-called concepts. By this reckoning, all events are metaphorical in themselves, as a mutual inter-affecting of source and target escaping the binary of representation and arbitrariness.
Contrary to a long history, I have argued that a metaphor does not consist of two situations, a "source domain" and a "target domain". There is only one situation, the one in which the word is now used. What the word brings from elsewhere is not a situation; rather it brings a use-family, a great many situations. To understand an ordinary word, its use-family must cross with the present situation. This crossing has been noticed only in odd uses which are called "metaphors"...all word-use requires this metaphorical crossing(p.169).
Let’s spell out the larger implications of this argument. All events of intentional meaning in-themselves accomplish the powerful integrative function that has traditionally been attributed to metaphoric relations between concepts, not by grafting or mapping one pre-existing state onto another but by bringing the outside inside as the intimate self-transfiguration that is an event’s gesture.By contrast, current embodied psychologies appear to maintain an opposition between inside and outside, subject and object, context and novelty, which not even the operation of metaphor (or other narrative structures) can overcome. The integrative potential of conceptual-linguistic consciousness is limited from the outset by the presumption of an irreducibly arbitrary, literal core within entities. Of course, one could argue that, whether or not Lakoff-Johnson’s model explicitly indicates it, dynamical embodiment approaches imply that there could be never such a thing as a ‘strictly’ literal meaning, since a conceptual element only conveys meaning though non-decoupleable, differential relations with other elements in a process with no permanent or transcendent center of origin. As Mark Taylor(2001) explains “Each symbol within these networks is a node in a web of relations. Indeed, a symbol is nothing other than the intersection of relations knotted in nodes”(p.211). In this sense a kind of quasi-metaphoricity already obtains for so-called literal concepts. However, I have hypothesized that for current approaches this relation between a concept and its wider context is conceived as a conjoining of discrete contents, thereby preserving the primacy of a literal core at the heart of this quasi-metaphorical intersecting.
Consciousness As Its Own Exceeding:
How might my claim concerning the intrinsic metaphoricity of intentional consciousness help to shed new light on the wider realms of interactions within which intentionality is embedded, encompassing such processes as the unconscious, bodily affectivities, and interpersonal interactions?
Not surprisingly, contemporary approaches seem to view these wider interactive functions shaping intentionality in the same disjunctive terms that they apply to linguistic processes . Gallagher(1998) writes:’There are many pre-noetic [outside of awareness] limitations on intentionality: the effects of the unconscious, embodiment, language, historical traditions, political and social structures, and so on”(p.160). He refers to these as “...happenings that go beyond intentional experience and yet condition that very experience”(p.160). Descriptions from blindsight(See footnote on blindsight), split-brain, perceptual priming, hypnosis and other dissociative studies have been employed to lend support to this idea of a partial independence among processes which are otherwise claimed to be thoroughly interactive.
As was the case with metaphor, what is at stake in all these examples is the question of whether what is presumed to come at intentionality from an ‘outside’ in the form of semi-arbitrary conditionings, (whether that outside is located as the quasi-metaphoric graftings between conceptual states, the unconscious, the body, or the interpersonal world) is not better understood as arising out of hitherto undiscovered resources concealed within so-called intention itself.
Rather than originating in an invasive, displacing outside, I suggest that psychological processes seemingly unavailable to explicit consciousness are nevertheless implied by and belong to it (and vice-versa), not in the sense of a content that arbitrarily contributes to awareness in the manner of interactions between partially independent regions, but as an integral bodily background intrinsic to, but not directly articulated in, each moment of awareness. In this view, the ‘hidden hand’ of the unconscious, the body and culture conditions awareness not as a separate outside, but rather exceeds conscious control from within each experienced event, as the hidden hand of integral background context (intra-noetic rather than pre-noetic) See footnote on driving a car .Gendlin(2000) puts it this way; “The puzzle about the body knowing our decisions before we consciously know them might make us miss the fact that there is an inwardly experienced body, and that the reflective and bodily-sentient person is much wider than conscious control”(p.110).
While it is easy to identify a present experience in terms of what appears fresh and unique about it, to superficially disassociate its function and sense from a concurrent environment of activity, it is much more difficult to detect the often exceedingly subtle way in which what appears as a break from its context is always partly composed of a modified version of that outside and carries that defining coloration and thematics within itself via its metaphoric structure. This is why "...there can be no division between awareness and events that could supposely happen without it"(Gendlin,2004,p.146).(Contrast this view with Neisser's(2006) model of unconscious subjectivity). The influence of language, culture, memory and biological inheritance don’t operate behind the back of consciousness but are carried forward with it as an intricate implicatory whole; in each moment this inheritance insinuates itself into but (this is very important) is simultaneously and indissociably re-contextualized by its participation within and as the present event (thus it is always a new variation of this inheritance which participates in the event).
An experienced event carries forward, knows and modifies one's entire history, leaving nothing of the original behind. The way that each aspect of psychological functioning (including what would be called intentional, bodily-sensate and intersubjective processes) implicates and belongs inextricably to each other part, generates a dynamic network of intersections of intersections, metaphors of metaphors, guaranteeing that the person as a whole always functions as an implicatory unity at the very edge of experience. Consciousness, body and world intersect in this single gesture, co-implicating continuity and qualitative transformation in such a way that intentional experience maintains a unity which recognizes itself, at every moment, the ‘same differently’.
Simply in struggling to write a single line of text on a page, such as what I’ve written here, I find myself experiencing in oh so subtle a fashion a whole universe of moods, thoughts, sensations , distractions that intervene to interrupt the supposed thematic continuity of the writing. This I do in a shifting of attention in myriad ways from what is on a page to what is not and everything in between; in a transit from awareness of conceptualization to sensation to recollection to emotion to action to dreaming, when I seemingly lose my train of thought and, succumbing to creative fatigue, find myself observing visual textures of my surroundings, listening distractedly to ambient sounds, noting the touch of cool air blowing on my skin from a fan. But how is this bouncing from mode to mode of awareness to be understood?
Gallagher(1998), echoing sentiments of other enactive cognitive researchers, understands linguistic consciousness to be organized into separated fragments of schematized linear narratives which jostle, interrupt and transform each other via parallel interactions. He says that rather than simply being an "orderly successive flow" under conscious control, consciousness is a "hodgepodge of multiple serialities that often disrupt one another"(p.194). I suggest it is not quite either of the two.
The apparent interruptedness and randomness of the multitude of apprehensions intervening in the attempt to read the words you see on this page is not the haphazard competing, clashing or inter-conditioning among schematically organized narrative meanings. It is rather an integral temporal continuation of the already self-transforming thread which constitutes the wandering thematics of my thesis. To be distracted from the narrative text at hand is not to break with the peculiarly integral nature of moment to moment experience, whose continuity is not that of an ’orderly successive flow ’ if such an order is understood as logical derivations of an already composed scheme. It is instead a carrying-forward which re-invents its direction, sense and past every moment, beyond conscious control, without rending the intimate fabric of its anticipative continuity.
Thought has the feel of at the same time a completion and a thorough qualitative alteration not just of what immediately preceded it, but of my entire history. My most precious and defining superordinate concerns, including my core sense of myself in relation to my past and to others, my ethical and spiritual beliefs, are implied, carried into and through (as always an absolutely new version of them!) all situations and activities, an ongoing silent background which participates implicitly in (and is simultaneously completely, if subtly, reinvented by) the meaning of even my most trivial experiences. Simply to repeat a word, mark, gesture, object of sense ‘identically’ is to generate both a new sense of itself and a new philosophy of the world, of myself, in some way (installing non-propositional reflectivity and interpretation at the very heart of so-called pre-reflective self and inter-self-awareness).
(FOOTNOTE: See Gallagher(2005)Phenomenological Approaches to Self-consciousness, for a sympathetic review of the concept of pre-reflective self-awareness in psychology and philosophy.)
The otherness of culture intervenes in each supposed repetition of the `same' word, and this comes from within that event’s own resources as simultaneously empirical(introducing novelty) and subjective(carrying forward my history), embodied and embedded before any conditioning by a ‘separate’ outside, whether that outside be formulated as mind, body or world. No activity, no matter how apparently trivial, redundant or solipsistic, fails to redefine in some small but complete way my most global perspective of myself, leaving nothing left over of a would-be original pre-noetic past to schematically control the present from behind and outside of it.
FOOTNOTE ON BLINDSIGHT:
Laura Chivers writes 'Blindsight is seen clinically as a contrast between a lack of declarative knowledge about a stimulus and a high rate of correct answers to questions about the stimulus . People suffering from blindsight claim to see nothing, and are therefore unable to reach spontaneously for stimuli, cannot decide whether or not stimuli are present, and do not know what objects look like. In this sense, they are blind. However, they are able to give correct answers when asked to decide between given alternatives. Studies done with subjects who exhibit blindsight have shown that they are able to guess reliably only about certain features of stimuli having to do with motion, location and direction of stimuli. They are also able to discriminate simple forms, and can shape their hands in a way appropriate to grasping the object when asked to try. Some may show color discrimination as well . Subjects also show visual capacities, including reflexes (e.g. the pupil reacts to changes in light), implicit reactions and voluntary responses.
People suffering from blindsight are not "blind" because their eyes do not function. Rather they suffer from cortical blindness. People suffering from cortical blindness receive sensory information but do not process it correctly, usually due to damage in some part of the brain. The damage in blindsight patients has been shown to be in the striate cortex, which is part of the visual cortex. The striate cortex is often called the primary visual cortex , and is thought to be the primary locus of visual processing . Destruction or disconnection of the striate cortex produces a scotoma, or a region of blindness, in the part of the visual field that maps to the damaged area of the cortex . Depending on the extent of the lesion, vision can be absent in anywhere between a very small section of stimulus field and the entire field . The person is unable to process the sensory input to the striate cortex, and does not recognize having seen the object. '
Cognitive theorists conclude from clinical examples of blindsight that consciousness is only a part of what goes on in the brain, and that consciousness is not needed for behavior. To argue that blindsightedness is not an example of unconscious processing (experience occuring in parallel with, but independent of conscious awareness) requires a new and different sensitivity to content of experience, and to the understanding of awareness. If there is no 'feeling of seeing' in blindsightedness, as is claimed, then there is feeling of a different sort, a quality of meaning that is overlooked by contemporary approaches to cognition and affect because of its subtlety. Familiarization with Gendlin's focusing techniques is one way to develop sensitivity to what for most is a world they have never articulated. This is the important point; phenomena such as blindsightedness evince not unconscious but inarticulate experience. One would need , of course, to analyze the aspects of the experience in blindsightedness. One has before one a task involving an intention to see, which implies the involvement of a certain concept of vision that the perceiver expects to encounter.
If the claim for blindsightedness were simply that this experience involves a different aspect of what is involved in seeing than one normally expects of a visual situation, (for instance, if one expects contrast, color, perspective, one gets instead a vague or incipient meaning that is not recognizable as seeing even though it in fact is normally part of all visual experiences), then I would be in agreement. If, however, the claim is that whatever meaning or information is prompting the blindsighted behavior is independent of the conscious experience(conscious and unconscious events as independent, parallel meanings), then I disagree. My claim is that the experience mistakenly called blindsight is an incipient or intuitive feel that is consciously, intentionally-metaphorically continuous with the ongoing flow of awareness. Blindsightedness is not an illustration of the partial independence of psychological subsystems, but of the fact that the most primordial 'unit' of awareness is something other than , and more subtle, than either contentful cognitive or empty affective identities. Just because something is not articulated does not mean that it is not fully experienced.
The nature of the experience in blindsightedness would not be unlike the way that the 'same' object that one observes over the course of a few seconds or minutes continues to be the 'same' differently even though it is typically reported to be self-identical over that interval. A changing sense of a thing is not noticed until it becomes an intense affect, and then it is ossified as an abstract 'state'. From the perspective of awareness, cognitivism seems to order experiences hierarchically, privileging what is considered conceptual content over affectivity by virtue of its supposed repeatability, and valuing both of these over other events that are labeled unconscious because they are assumed to be devoid of any conscious content. Blindsight involves a barely discernable shift of sense in an ongoing experience of regularity. There would be not only blindsight, but deaf-hearing, numb-tactility and non-conceptual conceptuality. The test of consciousness of a thing:'Can one see that thing emerging from a field of perceived sameness?' is wrongheaded because it doesn't recognize that the field of supposed sameness is already a movement of changing meanings. The conscious-unconscious binary should be re-configured as a spectrum of meaningfulness).
My Norms Are Not Your Norms:
Once the radically self-transformational, already fully ‘social’ character of so-called solitary self-reflection is recognized, it becomes clear that my experiences of direct interaction with other persons are but (categorically indistinct) extensions of this primary intersubjectivity. Thus, just as in my private experience, in interacting with others in the world I do not rely on detached internal schemes, in the form of a canned ‘folk psychology’(Dennett) or theory of mind (Baron-Cohen), in order to make the actions of others intelligible to me. Instead, interpersonal understanding, like solitary reflection, is an on-the-fly, non-autonomous, contextually created process.
A number of cognitive researchers( Bruner, Gallagher, Ratcliffe, etc) may claim that their own critiques of folk psychology and theory of mind approaches, guided by their advocacy of socially embedded models of psychological processes, demonstrate their having moved beyond the essentialistic tendencies I have cited in this paper .
Gallagher writes:” a set of cultural norms is learned through practice such that these become second nature. By this means common expectations that are meant to apply to all, equally, are established. By learning how I ought to behave in such and such a circumstance, I learn how you ought to behave as well. And this supplies a ready guide to your behavior in so far as you do not behave abnormally. Such learning does not take the form of internalizing explicit rules (at least not as a set of theoretical propositions), nor does it depend on applying ones that are somehow built-in sub-personally. It involves becoming accustomed to local norms, coming to embody them, as it were, through habit and practice. “ Ratcliffe(2007) suggests that “many thoughts, interpretations and viewpoints ...belong to nobody in particular and are shared products of interaction”(Rethinking Commonsense Psychology: A Critique of Folk Psychology, Theory of Mind and Simulation, Palgrave Macmillan, p..175).
Notice that the claim by Gallagher and others that individual behavior in social situations is guided by narrative norms, reciprocities, shared practices and social constraints implies the belief that essentially the same social signs are available to all who interrelate within a particular community, that there are such things as non-person-specific meanings, originating in an impersonal expressive agency . This is not to say that these accounts deny any role to individual psychological history in the reception of social signs, only that such accounts allow for a sort of cobbling , mapping, mirroring or co-ordination between personal history and cultural signs in which the ‘joints’ of such interactive bodily-mental and social practices are treated as pre-metaphorical objects-in-themselves. That social interaction for these writers depends on a grafting of one content onto another is suggested by the argument(Gallagher and Hutto(in press), Ratcliffe(2007), Gopnick and Mettzoff(1997)) that linguistic-cultural intersubjectivity is derived from a more primary intersubjectivity , an innately structured ‘intermodal tie’ between one’s proprioceptive bodily feedback and one’s perception of another that is supposedly direct and unmediated. Gallagher cites mirror neuron studies in support of the view that “we innately map the visually perceived motions of others onto our own kinesthetic sensations”(Gopnick and Metzoff ,1997,p.129).
I maintain that what is implicated for me in an interpersonal social situation is not `the' social forms as shared homunculi, based on what Gallagher calls a ‘common body intentionality’ between perceived and perceiver, but aspects hidden within these so-called forms which one could say are unique to the implicative thrust of my own construing, belonging to me in a fashion that exceeds my own calculative grasp even as it transcends strictly shared social normativity.
For even the most apparently trivial cultural routine (getting on a plane, ordering in a restaurant), what I perceive as socially `permitted', ‘constrained’, ’regulated’ or ‘normed’ behavior and understanding of signs is already qualitatively distinctive in relation to what other participants recognize. Each individual who feels belonging to an extent in a larger ethico-political collectivity perceives that collectivity's functions in a unique, but peculiarly coherent way relative to their own history(which is itself reshaped by its participation in these situations) , even when they believe that their interpersonal interactions are guided by the constraints imposed by essentially the `same' discursive conventions as the others in their language community.
Is this resistance of my thinking to would-be interpersonal norms a retreat from a model of full social embeddedness into a person-centered solipsistic essentialism of rule-based mental modules? On the contrary, the radically inseparable interaffecting between my history and new experience exposes me to the world in an immediate, constant and thoroughgoing manner, producing every moment a global reshaping of my sense of myself and others outpacing the transformative impetus realized via a narrative conception of socialization. I am not arguing that the meaning of social cues is simply person-specific rather than located intersubjectively as an impersonal expressive agency. Before there is a pre-reflective personal ‘I’ or interpersonal ‘we’, there is already within what would be considered THE person a fully social site of simultaneously subjective-objective process overtaking attempts to understand human action based on either within-person constancies or between-person conditionings.
The Meaning of Feeling:
How can I more precisely convey the nature of this process, this world of integrally and holistically interaffecting texturizations which I say operates from within and exceeds what have been assumed as the irreducible units of bio-psycho-social meanings? I believe it is not possible to adequately grasp its dynamics without coming to terms with its central character as ‘felt’ or affective.
What do I mean here by feeling? The notion I have in mind involves bringing together in a new way traditional understandings of thought and affect. I am certainly not alone in advocating a view of affect and cognition as inseparable processes. While more traditional approaches in philosophy and psychology treated affective phenomena as at best peripheral to, and typically disruptive of, rational processes, embodied cognitive theories such as those of Panksepp(1998), Damasio(2000), Varela(1999b), Johnson(1993), Ratcliffe(2002), Colombetti and Thompson(2006) and Ellis(1995), take pains to present emotion and thought as an indissociable interaction. According to current accounts, cognitive and affective processes are closely interdependent, with affect, emotion and sensation functioning in multiple ways and at multiple levels to situate or attune the context of our conceptual dealings with the world . According to the newer thinking, affective tonality is never absent from cognition. As Ratcliffe(2002) puts it, “moods are no longer a subjective window-dressing on privileged theoretical perspectives but a background that constitutes the sense of all intentionalities, whether theoretical or practical”(p.290). In affecting reason, feeling affects itself.
I am in agreement with these sentiments, as far as they go. However, I am prevented from enlisting the aid of these ideas in support of my own position by my suspicion that the supposed inseparable relation between reason and affect functions for these writers as a polarity between cognitive states and affective activations, analogously to the treatment of the operations of metaphor I discussed earlier in this paper. In other words, I am fearful that their conceptualization of the role of affect may uphold the very idea of homucular identity that my notion of feeling is meant to undermine, thereby acting as a monumental obstacle to grasping a more radical account of affectivity. In any case, the weight of entrenched suppositions burdening the topic of feeling must be lifted in order to illuminate the delicate terrain I am aiming at. It is therefore crucial that I address commonalities among these accounts before I can mark out a route from their thinking to mine. Let me begin with Francisco Varela’s characterization of affect.
Varela(1999b) suggests that affective dynamics initiate gestalt shifts in thought and action. Unlike older views, for Varela intentionality is not assumed to rely on an outside mechanism in order to stir itself into motion. Nevertheless, cognition still relies on such intervention in order to significantly change its direction of movement. The general understanding Varela indicates of the relation between affective movement and the thinking which it affects seems to depend on the idea of emotion as the change of a temporarily persisting stance (scheme, state, dispositional attitude). Conceptual narratives are assumed to have a self-perpetuating schematic tendency about them, requiring outside intervention from time to time to produce qualitative change. The processes within a living system, including psychological functions, cannot be counted on to be intrinsically transformational in a way that is optimally adaptive, but must be channelized into changes in direction of action and conceptualization by extrinsic motivating sources.
We find a similar account of the role of emotion in Ratcliffe’s(2002) synthesis of Heidegger and neurophysiology. Ratcliffe says emotion and embodiment are “‘incorporated as essential components in cognition”, but emotion and cognition are clearly not identical; “...emotions and moods are not explicitly cognitive but neither are they independent of cognition”(p.299). They originate as bodily sensations structuring cognition from outside of it. Emotion and cognition can 'conflict' and emotion can “override cognitive judgement”(p.299). Ratcliffe cites Ramachandran’s clinical observations of individuals with anosognosia, who apparently distort environmental information which contradicts an internally generated narrative.
Ramachandran and Ratcliffe attribute this behavior to damage to connections between emotion and cognitive centers. Ratcliffe concludes from this that, in typically functioning persons, emotion signals from the body are presumed to pack a contentful punch large enough to break through a psychological narrative's resistances where weaker percepts from the environment cannot.
It seems, then, that for Ratcliffe and Varela, intention is a capacity for manipulating objects of thought, but emotion, as valuative valence, provides the criteria for such processing. They are apparenty not able to find the resources strictly within what they think of as intentional thought to de-center thinking processes, because they treat cognition as tending to form temporarily self-perpetuating narratives which can distort or keep out contradictory input from the world. So they rely on the body, in the form of emotion cues, to come to the rescue and bring the stalled cognitive apparatus back in touch with a dynamically changing world. The mechanism of emotion is assumed to intervene in order to infuse a stagnant narrative with a new direction and meaning.
(FOOTNOTE:For Ratcliffe emotions selectively organize cognition not just by prompting the interruption of a current narrative, but also by facilitating the assimilation of new events into an ongoing context. Ratcliffe(2002) cites Ramachandran’s account of individuals with Capgras syndrome as evidence that affect can serve to inform the cognitive system that a previously experienced object is similar or identical to a current one.)
Ratcliffe(2002) asserts: “Without emotional responses, one is not uprooted from a coherent interpretations of events...”(p.306). Although these emotion cues are claimed to be inseparably linked with conceptual processes, this linkage amounts to more of a concatenation between pre-existing states than a more radical indissociability. This may be due to the belief that feeling originates developmentally within the individual independently from cognition, as action readiness circuits that, Panksepp(1998) claims, are “completely biological and affective but..., through innumerable sensory-perceptual interactions with our environments, [become] inextricably mixed with learning and world events”(p.303).
For all their differences, I claim that Ratcliffe and Varela share with other contemporary accounts of affect and emotion what I call the ‘adaptationist’ presumption that meaning is shaped in a semi-arbitrary way by inputs which come to influence it from a pre-existing outside. The same assumption determining the structuration of metaphoric intentionality, the relation between consciousness and the unconscious, and even narrative intersubjectivity as arbitrary mapping, mirroring or conditioning functions between literal, schematic states, guides the relation between affect and perception-conception. Damasio(2000) puts it this way: “...as a result of powerful learning mechanisms such as conditioning, emotions of all shades eventually help connect homeostatic regulation and survival values to numerous events and objects in our autobiographical experience”(p.54). According to this thinking, physiological processes of feeling adapt and co-ordinate with a partially independent cogitative environment, authorizing adaptationism as a causal explanation of origins.
Viewed as an adaptation, emotion is linked to a milieu outside of itself (cognition) and with which the logic of the bond is indirect, partially arbitrary in the sense that it is capable of being made irrational, as is supposedly the case with nonadaptive mutations. There is a partial independence assumed between the participant aspects of reciprocally adaptive interactions. The cobbling can be uncobbled unilaterally. Emotion can aid reason, but can also be dysfunctional. Damasio(2000) summarizes:
Emotions are curious adaptations that are part and parcel of the machinery with which organisms regulate survival. In short, for certain classes of clearly dangerous or clearly valuable stimuli in the internal or external environment, evolution has assembled a matching answer in the form of emotion”(p.54).
In sum, with regard to affectivity, Ratcliffe, Varela, Panksepp and Damasio appear to treat as reified content what could be better understood as transformative process. Hypostasizing and abstracting the intricate movement of experiencing into emotion `signals' and self-perpetuating narratives, relating to each other in quasi-arbitrary brain-body interactions, misses the internal integrity of meaning processes. An emotion viewed as a schematic signal or cue originating outside of cognition can only be presumed to significantly modify and structure cognitive meaning if one profoundly under-appreciates a more primary mobility structuring (and exceeding) so-called cognitive control from within itself. Specifically, what confirms and reinforces a thinking also always alters the direction and sense of that thinking in a subtle but global way. So-called symbolic processes find their meaning reshaped well before any exposure to a separate bodily, conceptual or interpersonal outside.
By the same token, what would be considered transformational or disturbing to a particular way of thinking could only have sense relative to the orientation of that thinking itself; any modifications of thinking would have to emerge out of the resources of that thinking in a way that preserved an always ongoing integrity and implicatory self-consistency in the movement of experience. What disturbs a perspective belongs to it; the disturbance is born intimately from it. In intending, I am not simply being directed toward ‘objects’, in the sense of revisiting something that was already there. Experiences don't come at me, they unfold from me and into each other as both a carrying forward of an intentional thematic and a subtle, but global, re-defining of me(and them).
I believe what is needed is a model of recursivity uniting self-referential continuity and absolute alterity, the so-called pre-reflective and the reflective, in the same structure, the same moment. Not a model which looks for the impetus for subversive novelty in supposed effects which are grafted onto and condition states of meaning from outside of them, but as the very core of an event. Let us, then, venture the following definition of affect, applying to such terms as emotion, feeling and desire as well: Every experienced event of any kind (perceptual, conceptual, bodily-sensory) is an affect, and every affect is a change in affect. If every event of meaning is an advent of qualitative novelty, then cognition is affective not simply in the sense that a background affective tonality, mood or attunement frames the activity as a whole, as “a kind of cradle within which cognition rests”(Ratcliffe,2002,p.296), but in that each moment of engagement is an inseparable interbleeding between the continuation (not as a duplicative representation but as an already modified version) of a prior context of attunement or thematics, and a change in that atunement. This implies a rejection of two long-standing assumptions supporting the depiction of affect and cognition as distinct states. Contrary to these assumptions:
1) Intentional experience does not need to be pushed or pulled into action, or change of direction, by extrinsic (pre-noetic) forces. Every moment of experience is already intrinsically affective (self-displacing), assuring that even the most apparently non-emotive, ‘rational’, reflective type of awareness, such as supposedly characterizes affectively neutral empirical accounts, qualitatively, intuitively, hedonically transforms the meaning of what it references. Feelings belong to, operate within, carry forward, and transform what are called conceptual meanings even before any specific experience of bodily activitation. This qualitatively transformative effect in moment to moment experience is often subtle enough to go unnoticed, explaining the apparent analytical stability and inter-subjective objectivity attributed to empirical phenomena, the allegedly self-perpetuating coherence of linguistic narratives, and even the illusion of a stable ongoing pre-reflective self-awareness.
2) ‘Raw’ affect is an intrinsically (non-representational, non-propositional) reflective intentionality. So-called bodily sensations of feeling not only manifest the characteristics of metaphoricity and narrative consistency traditionally associated with conceptual thought, but in fact are not categorically distinguishable from what has been called conceptual meaning in any stable way.
Let me elaborate on my first assertion. What do I mean by my claim that what has been called symbolic, rational thought is inherently qualitatively transformational? What finer, more mobile process may be obscured by current notions of linguistic reasoning? Penetrating the veil of the homuncular permeating our language of the things within us and around us is not a matter of discovering smaller, faster, dumber, more interactive ‘bits’ within the units of current approaches, for that would simply displace the issues we’ve discussed onto a miniaturized scale. It is a matter of revealing perhaps an entirely different notion of the basis of entities than that of the freeze-frame state. This is where a finely-tuned detection of feeling-in-thought becomes crucial.
Many researchers may agree that, even apart from the specific contribution of the body as they understand it, intentional entities have a qualitative ‘feel’ in the sense of representing a meaning which is in some measure unique to the individual(‘the feeling of what it is like’). It is widely understood today (see Putnam(1990)) that objective fact and subjective valuation are inseparably intertwined such that an inter-subjective, third person science can never entirely eliminate interpretive gaps in communication.
I am trying to convey a different way of understanding the ‘feel’ of things than this idea of a supposedly ‘pre-reflective’ self-awareness of qualitative meaning. What I have in mind is a notion of feeling which combines and redetermines current understandings of thought, affect and expression.
Prior to any notion of cognition and affect as distinguishable constructs, this idea of feeling as event has its entire effect exhausted in its being just barely more than itself, as just the most insignificant and gentle whiff, feel, tinge of novelty. Within and beyond such terms as cognitive states and bodily affective signs, lies a universe of barely self-exceeding accents, modulations, aspects, variations, ways of working. Not variations or modulations of STATES but modulations of modulations.
(FOOTNOTE: This should not be confused with Husserl’s perspectival variations in the perception of an object . It is not just in ‘deliberately’ reflecting upon or changing position with respect to perceptual entities that we modify their content; I suggest that even a certain phenomenological notion of pre-reflective perceptual self-awareness may amount to an abstraction derived from, but blind to, an intricate fabric of contingent reflective change WITHIN the space of a so-called perceptual aspect.)
The subpersonal, personal and interpersonal worlds generated from (but never overtaking) this intricate process may be clumsily described via the ‘homuncular’ terminology of patterned interactions between discrete parts, but at the cost of missing the profound ongoing internal relatedness and immediacy of this underlying, overflowing movement.
Count from one to ten and discover how the intent and meaning of this supposed repetition of identical increments shifts in very subtle ways as soon as you begin . Look at the period at the end of this sentence. Notice how the feel, the sense of it (and you) changes immediately and constantly as you continue to gaze as it for a few moments. Can you sense-feel this ‘it’ undergoing change not as a series of different freeze frame states (‘what it is’) but as self-exceedings of self-exceedings(‘how it changes’), trans-formations without form? Even the most momentary identification of a so-called state conceals a whole journey of feeling transformations, colorations, hedonic tonalities, remaking each moment my entire past (bodily, linguistic, cultural) along with my whole sense of myself. Yet we name this auto-multiplication ‘a’ sign .
In doing so are we painting a whole vicinity of varying affective textures with one brush? No, the brush itself is experienced implicitly AS this multiplicity even when we are not explicitly aware that we are accessing more than a uniform state. It is precisely the way that a name, a sign continues to be the same differently (meaning that what IT is, and who WE are, is utterly and completely transformed, but in the most exquisitely subtle way, moment to moment, and WITHIN a single instantaneous moment) in our experience of it that allows us to see a name, sign, concept, percept as an apparent unity across these changes, and to communicate it to someone else the same differently as further developments of it, and they to receive the information from us the same differently as even further self-variations, and share it interpersonally, empirically, ‘objectively’, the same differently (I suggest that the precision of science, as well as the illusion of a constant, pre-reflective self-awareness, rests on this mobile continuity within, between and beyond so-called signs). To overtly RECOGNIZE what had traditionally been assumed as a unity as this ever-developing multiplicity is not to go from stasis to motion but to FURTHER ENRICH an already ongoing process.
Now my second point may become clearer . I asserted that affect is an intrinsically (non-propositional) reflective, quasi-thematically unfolding intentionality. My depiction of the little ‘I’ implied by a concept as an illusionary effect of an intricate texturizing sequence of affective variations of variations, metaphors of metaphors, gently reinventing itself and me (and undermining, from within itself, the alleged constancy of ‘pre-reflective’ self-awareness) moment to moment the same differently, establishes a gentle tapestry of feeling transformations as the hidden basis of what have been called concepts, BEFORE the participation of specific bodily sensation. And when an evolving situation brings into play the experience of bodily affects, such activations don’t add any special capacities of hedonic-aesthetic feeling not already involved in the utterly contextual structuration of thought from the start. What so-called specific bodily sensation contributes is a meaningful quasi-thematic elaboration of the already richly felt, globally self-transforming, fully embodied-embedded unfolding of intentional experience.
If feeling, understood this new way, IS the very core of so-called conceptual and perceptual thought, merging narrative-thematic consistency and global self-transformation, the pre-noetic and the noetic, in the same gesture, then the presumed partial independence of rationality and affect vanishes, and the distinction re-emerges as aspects inherent in each event. The interaffecting of context and novelty which defines an event simultaneously produces a fresh, particular modulation of change (empirical aspect) and a unique momentum (hedonic component) of self-transformation. From this vantage, the valuative, hedonic (the perceived goodness or badness of things), aesthetic aspect of experience, underlying ‘non-emotional’ appraisals as well as our sadnesses, fears and joys, simply IS our vicissitudes of momentum of sense-making through new situations, rather than arising from the content of special objects.
Affective valences are contractions and expansions, coherences and incoherences, accelerations and regressions, consonances and dissonances, expressing how effectively we are able to anticipate and relate to, and thus how densely, richly, intensely we are able to move through, new experience. If we can believe that a unique qualitative moment of momentum, ranging from the confused paralysis of unintelligibility to the exhilaration of dense transformative movement, is intrinsic to ALL events, then perhaps there is no need to attribute the origin of aesthetic pleasures and pains to the functioning of a limited class of entities like bodily affects, even if it is understandable why this kind of assumption has survived for so long in psychology .
We came to life with a preorganized mechanism to give us the experiences of pain and of pleasure. Culture and individual history may change the threshold at which it begins to be triggered, or its intensity, or provide us with means to dampen it. But the essential device is a given(p.264).
While I agree with Damasio that the capacity for physical and emotional sensation is certainly dependent upon the existence of particular physiological structures, I suggest that the actual functioning of pain and pleasure is not the production of any sort of pre-existing device or content, but is instead the purely contextual expression of the rhythms of momentum of organismic experiencing.)
From the standpoint of verbal expressivity, what has traditionally been called emotion often appears to be a minimalist art, because it is the situational momentum of experiencing slowing or accelerating so rapidly that feelings seem to distill meaning down to a bare inarticulate essence. When the momentum of our reflective thought shifts in such dramatic ways (acceleratively enriched in joyful comprehension, impoverished in grief, ambivalent in fear, alternately disappointed and confident in anger), such so-called emotional events may appear to be a species apart from conceptual reason, a blind intuitive force (surge, glow, twinge, sensation, arousal, energy) invading, conditioning and structuring perceptual and conceptual thought from without as a background field. It is said that such ‘raw’ or primitive feeling is bodily-physiological, pre-reflective and non-conceptual, contentless hedonic valuation, innate, passive, something we are overcome by. At other times, situational change may be intermediate, just modulated and gradual enough that content seems to perpetuate itself in self-cohering narratives. Such situations have been called rational, voluntary, factual, reflective, stable, conceptual, non-aesthetic. However, as I have said, these dichotomies: hedonic versus reflective, voluntary versus involuntary, conceptual versus pre-reflective bodily-affective, are not effectively understood as interacting states of being; they are relative variations in the momentum of a contextually unfolding process which is always, at the same time, within the same event, intentional-reflective and intuitive-affective.
Am I suggesting that emotion be thought as a ‘cognitive’ appraisal, cut off from bodily sensation, movement and expression? On the contrary, it is precisely the treatment of cognition, bodily sensation and expression as separately pre-existing processes(even when treated as mutually structuring each other via ‘intentional-affective’ syntheses) which I am questioning.The point isn’t that bodily responses to experience via such avenues as the endocrine, autonomic nervous system and the motor pathways are irrelevant or peripheral to the intentional experience of emotion, but that, whether we talking about the experience of so-called conceptual appraisal or bodily sensation, the phenomenological scene of emotion(or any other aspect of bio-psycho-social functioning) does not depend on an arbitrary concatenation or mutual conditioning between discrete components. Prinz(2004), Colombetti and Thompson(2006), Damasio(1999) and others deny such a thing as a totally disembodied emotion, arguing that the feeling of emotion is affected in degrees concordantly with the severity of damage to avenues of connection with the body. I support their larger claim that experiential processes, including what are called cognitive and affective, function as radically, contextually inter-relational. However, I want to turn their views around a bit. Feeling does not depend on the fact that the brain, as a spatial locale and repository of temporary states of content, always has some access to the body, as a separate locale with semi-independent contents.
I have said that feeling functions from within so-called reflective thought, and that bodily affect is intentional. But if both the former and latter are true , it is not because body sensation structures cognition(or vice-versa). Rather, it is because these stratifying abstractions are but inadequately formulated moments of a process of sense-making uniting the hedonic and the intentional prior to any distinction between, or intertwining of, mind and body. Before I could speak of the occurrence of emotion as mental appraisals structured and conditioned by a background field of physiological energetics and behavioral expressions, I would have to re-figure all of these modes, what would be referred to as the “motoric”, the “sensate”, the “cognitive”, as unstable metaphorical figures emerging contextually out of each other over the course of an indissociably reflective-affective global movement of experience which would imply the unraveling of the basis of categorical distinctions currently orienting the understanding of these terms.
When I am frightened, whether I focus on my attitude toward the world, my rapid heartbeat, my facial expression or bodily preparation for action, each of these aspects emerge out of each other as a fully reflective, metaphoric carrying forward and further transforming of the deepening implications of this tentative, confused situation. All these aspects already belong to, and in fact have their meaning ENTIRELY defined as variations-continuations of the thematic unfolding of my sense of the emerging threat, subtly remaking my entire past while always maintaining a sense, no matter how surprising, unpredictable or disturbing a new present appears, of implicatory belonging to this prior history.
Intermingled with my wandering in and out of significant shifts in experiential momentum, from doubts, terrors, and confusions to later confidences and contentments, will be more subtly self-transforming moments whose continual intuitive shifts of meaning, purpose and affective momentum are hidden so effectively that it may fool me into believing that this more plodding progress of comprhension represents the appearance of a different species from that of pronounced feeling, the realm of affectively neutral (or constant) cognitive states. However, such entities as narrative schemes and conceptual forms may in fact have no actual status other than as empty abstractions invoked by individuals who nevertheless, in their actual use of these terms, immediately and unknowingly transform the hedonically felt senses operating within (and defining) such abstractions in subtle but global ways. Feeling, the event, the interbleeding of subject and object, transformation without form: all of these terms reference the same irreducible ‘unit’ of experience, concealed by but overrunning what symbols, bits, assemblies, bodies, frames and other states are supposed to do. A ‘single’ sign (whether so-called conceptual or bodily-affective) is already a panoply of intimately changing variations and momenta of felt meanings, in(as) the instant it is accessed, infusing the allegedly conceptual with feeling (and the sensate with intentionality) from within its very core, embodied before any consultation with a separate bodily ‘outside’.
In conclusion, I suppose the coherence of this paper’s claims concerning metaphor, the relation between consciousness and the unconscious, the basis of interpersonal understanding, cognition and emotion ultimately hinges on the reader’s detection of what I have inadequately described here as a world of integrally and globally inter-affecting textures of felt sense-making hidden within, and functioning beyond, what have been assumed as the irreducible units of bio-psycho-social meaning.
FOOTNOTE: Gendlin(1991) has named this more-than-conceptual realm ‘the implicit intricacy’.
An interesting difference in our approaches is that, according to Gendlin, concepts and this wider experiential intricacy depend on each other. I suggest, instead, that what are called concepts are but an illusory effect of the more fundamental process of experiencing.
Leaving aside many other questions left unanswered by my very preliminary sketch, I anticipate that resistance on the part of readers to entertaining the possibility of a fine realm of experience alleging itself to be both more intrinsically self-transformative and implicatively self-consistent than current views allow for will be tied less to its transformative impetus than its integrative aspect.
That is, the claim for the sort of intricate order I have been making cannot fail to arouse the suspicion that, despite my protestations, a closet irealism, idealism or subjectivism must be operating behind the scenes to justify the radically implicative internal belonging I have emphasized for this perspective.
To the anticipated charge of essentialism I can only answer that, from my vantage, it is current psychologies which appear burdened with the weight of an idealism: their belief in temporary discrete states stifles the intimately interactive potential of their embodied, embedded approaches, by making the whole works dependent on irreducible units of formal resistance and polarization.
Events understood as interaffectings of interaffectings, working within and beyond relations among presumed temporary essences (conceptual, affective-bodily, interpersonal), do not achieve their gentle integrative continuity through any positive internal power. On the contrary, they simply lack the formidability of static identity necessary to impose the arbitrariness of conditioning, mapping, mirroring, grafting and cobbling, on the movement of experiential process.
(FOOTNOTE:The focus of this article being psychological texts, I have made little mention of philosophers in the phenomenological tradition such as Husserl, Merleau-Ponty and Heidegger, whose writing has been increasingly appreciated as anticipating recent trends in psychological theorizing. The case can also be made that the post-structuralist philosophies of Lyotard, Derrida and Deleuze have strong resonances with the overarching aims of current psychologies(See Gallagher(1997),(1998), Lyotard(1991)). Gendlin’s (1985), (1991) critiques of many of these philosophers supports my contention that none of these authors are immune to the homuncular critique I present in this paper.)
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FOOTNOTE ON DRIVING A CAR:
What takes place during absent-minded driving? What is the `good thing' if there is any, about what cognitivists characterize as automatic, unconscious or unattended to actions? What is the proper analogy to be used here?
First of all, we have to understand that each freshly experienced event already addresses the entirely of what came before it in the sense that the meaning of any individual awareness is nothing but the qualitative modification of what immediately preceded it in awareness. (And even speaking of something being `IN' awareness gives the wrong impression, since sensing is not a place or region alongside other regions). This being the case, an action, thought, perception carries forward and knows one's entire history.
Motor behaviors associated with driving belong to the same text as thoughts seemingly having nothing to do with the act of driving when operating a car. Whether one seemingly interrupts one's daydreaming in order to focus on one's movements at the wheel or to attend to the visual scene of road and signs up ahead, or has no memory of having paid attention to those movements or visual scene, in either case the movements and visual scene further the daydreaming and vice-versa. Cognitive theories of unconscious, automatic gestures in driving, or seeming absence of conscious awareness of the visual scene one has just driven through, rely on the notion of a schema whose meaning is a independent of whatever it is one is claiming to be attending to. In other words, if one aspect of mentation is apparently not concerning itself with the schematic processing of kinesthetic-motor aspects of driving, then another aspect of mentation is doing the job independently of the first. But what we need to understand is that the meaning of the visuo-spatial landscape in front of us, or motor schema that appears to us to be out of conscious awareness as we drive absent-mindedly, even though we obviously must have processed the details of the road at some level, is not at all processed independently of what we remember attending to. The meaning of the landscape and one's movements BECOME whatever one is daydreaming about. That is to say, they further, elaborate the day-dream , but in a form that makes it difficult for us to tease these task-related aspects of the situation apart from the absent-minded day-dreaming activity.
These visual, kinesthetic and sensory-motor events that seem hidden to us in absent-mindedness are the continuance of, belong to the conceptual, reflective, recollective thought of the day-dreaming mode of attention, and vice-versa.
When one performs a so-called well learned activity, such as rollerblading, typing or driving, it seems as though one pares down the repertoire of consciously selected choreography, that one telegraphs a whole complex of movements (which initially needed to be performed effortfully, consciously, sequentially) via a highly condensed set of intended patterns. But one need not think of these intended patterns as meta-commands, that is, as elegant scaffolding covering a complex suborganization of invisible, automated motor skills. The `well' learned' skill isn't enjoyable because of something supposedly behind or under it, but because of what it is in itself, namely, a fluid and rich unfolding of self-referential change. Generally, when one says that one has `paid attention to the driving' on one occasion and not another, he is really saying that he has paid attention to additional features of the visual scene, or his own movements, beyond that necessary for a direct contribution to the driving itself.
If one crashes as a result of daydreaming while driving, it is not necessary to conclude that this indicates a dis-coordination between a prior schematic constraint and one's cognitive processes. An accident does not represent a failure of coordination between two temporally co-present systems or realities.
The actions we think of as automatic and unconscious when we perform a well-learn task like driving a car are in fact NOT unavailable to explicit conscious attention. Like the example of blindsight, they represent a kind of TRANSFORMED awareness, wherein we only conclude that our performance has been guided by unseen processes of thought because we are looking for the sorts of separated, labored actions that characterized our behaviors when we were first learning to master the driving of a car. But the well-learned behaviors implicated in so-called 'automatic' driving are explicit awarenesses whose meaning is now oriented around, and imbedded within, the parts of a scene we have more obvious awareness of as we drive(the scenery, what's on the radio, our thoughts about work, conversation with passengers). To say that these well-learned actions are embedded within current awareness is not to imply that they are hidden. Rather, they are SUBTLE aspects of our experience that are easily missed. There are many, many behaviors like these which belong to our explicit attention which we don't recognize as such.
As I wrote about blindsight, if there is no 'feeling of attention' to the movements involved in well-learned driving, as is claimed, then there is feeling of a different sort, a quality of meaning that is overlooked by contemporary approaches to cognition and affect because of its subtlety. Familiarization with Gendlin's focusing techniques is one way to develop sensitivity to what for most is a world they have never articulated. This is the important point; phenomena such as the actions of well-learned driving evince not unconscious but inarticulate experience. One would need , of course, to analyze the aspects of the experience in driving. When a person is asked to recall their awareness of actions in driving, they have before them a task involving the expectation of a certain concept of kinesthetic experience.
If the claim for the unconsciousness of driving were simply that this experience involves a different aspect of what is involved in experiencing one's movements than one normally expects of such a situation, (for instance, if I expect to identify the flexing of muscle groups and the feedback from the steering wheel and pedals on my skin and joints, I have to settle instead for an incipient meaning that would not be recognizable as kinesthetic feedback, but rather serves as a metaphoric elaboration of whatever I AM focusing on while driving), then I would be in agreement. If, however, the claim is that whatever actions are guiding the behavior of driving is independent of the conscious experience(conscious and unconscious events as independent, parallel meanings), then I disagree.
My claim is that the experience mistakenly called unconscious driving is an incipient or intuitive feel that is consciously, intentionally-metaphorically continuous with the ongoing flow of awareness. Well-learned drving is not an illustration of the partial independence of psychological subsystems, but of the fact that the most primordial 'unit' of awareness is something other than , and more subtle, than either contentful cognitive or empty affective identities. Just because something is not articulated does not mean that it is not fully experienced.
Return to index
WHERE IS THE SOCIAL? A CRITIQUE OF LINGUISTIC RELATIVISM
Where is the Other?
The Body of Perception as Discourse
Meaning as Beyond Itself
Culture and Perceptual Embodiment
Perception as Non-Agential Relationality
Idealism and Coherence
Reconciling the Other-in-Me and the They
Those familiar with recent debates within philosophy and the biological and social sciences know that much discussion centers on how to best move beyond the "God's eye view", the idea that an external world of objects exists independently of the subject experiencing it, which can be represented by a thinking subject via formal symbols(brain in a vat). One of the most notorious and controversial challenges to the God's eye, or objectivist, view is the linguistically-centered 'radical relativism' associated with Richard Rorty's pragmatism, French poststructuralist philosophies(Foucault) and social constructionist psychologies(Gergen), which claims that it is nonsensical to assert such things as internal components of the mind or external features of the world existing independently from the processes of cultural interaction through which we construct these artifacts. Linguistic relativisms are not without their weaknesses, however.
(Rorty is one of a number of writers who rejects the relativism label others have pinned on him. He argues that "relativism, just as much as realism, assumes that one can stand within one's language and outside it at the same time." Derrida also refuses the label, associating it with vagueness and indeterminacy, while Gendlin, ironically, equates relativism with cultural determinacy).
If meanings, both personal and scientific, are generated and only have real existence through and within the languages and gestures we use to relate to and transform each other's worlds, if science is nothing but a social construction, where does the social begin? With humans and their languages? But then does this mean that the cultural ontologically precedes the biological and the physical? Is the only alternative the belief that human social interaction and meaning-making are the product of 'objective' cause-effect brain mechanisms impervious to cultural changes? We have already discussed a third avenue of approach besides objectivism and linguistic relativism: empirical psychologies(dynamical systems, second-generation cognitivism) influenced by or sharing features with phenomenological philosophies(Husserl, Merleau-Ponty, Heidegger) systematically investigate the 'embodied' nature of the social, which has been generally overlooked by social constructionists in their one-sided focus on cultural practices. If the world of human culture cannot be understood to precede the pre or non-human, then neither can we go back to the belief that there is a pre-existing reality sitting outside of our constructions of it. This paper critiques social constructionism's explanation of the basis of the social and of language, not by championing embodied cognitive psychology , but by offering a way of thinking which I believe transcends the limitations of both social constructionism and embodied cognitivism.
Social Constructionism's Claims:
Writers affiliated with the growing social constructionist movement in psychology have made powerful claims concerning its efficacy in the understanding of persons (Kenneth Gergen(1985), Harre(1986), Shotter(1993)(click here for large collection of Shotter's writings), Potter(1987)). It's purported advantages over other psychological traditions depend on it's radical treatment of the nature of the relationship between self and world. Gergen(1985) posits two poles around which much psychological theory in the 20th century has revolved:the autonomous subject or self, an originating psychological agent possessing context-resistant inner structures, and that of environmentalism, positing stimuli as univocal sources of conditioning. Both alternatives tend to reify that which they posit as the source of meaning organization. The question, then, is how we can be in touch with the world without resorting to doctrines of internal Givens (rationalism, conceptual schemes, transcendental subjects) or external Givens (empirical content, objectivity, nature, materialism) and their relations. Social constructionism offers a way out of this dilemma, not by situating itself somewhere between these poles, but rather by reconfiguring the axes `subject-world' themselves. As Gergen explains, "Although the roots of constructionist thought may be traced to long-standing debates between empiricist and rationalist schools of thought, constructionism attempts to move beyond the dualism to which both of these traditions are committed and to place knowledge within the process of social interchange(p.266)."
Shotter(1993) reiterates, "Common to all versions of social constructionism is the central assumption that-instead of the inner dynamics of the individual psyche (romanticism and subjectivism), or the already determined characteristics of the external world (modernism and objectivism)-it is the contingent, really vague (that is, lacking any completely determinate character) flow of continuous communicative activity between human beings that we must study(p.179)."
The poles of this responsive conversation are no longer objective entities encapsulated in terms like drive and stimulus, or schema and input, but in a communally enacted play between conformity and resistance, ideology and emancipation. The site of meaning is a relational horizon of collective processes, interdependencies, discursive practices and conventions, a joint-negotiation of reality.
What is the ethical-political achievement of what has been referred to as the `discursive revolution'(Potter,1987)? A constructionist rethinking of the subject-object relation generates two crucial, and paradoxical, ethical implications. On the one hand, it transforms meaning from a positive in-itself into an indeterminate border. But at the same time that it destabilizes signification, it locates larger patterns of stability in cultural practices. In sum, even as it eschews artificial orders based on mental or society mechanisms, it understands in all engagements a certain minimal relational coherence missing from more traditional psychologies. Constructionism liberates persons from the tyranny of reified schemes, but protects them from the arbitariness of the punctual self.
Gergen(1994) explains, "If one believes that the central unit of society is the individual self, then relationships are by definition artificial contrivances, unnatural and alien. For the individualist, people are bounded entities leading separate lives on independent trajectories: we can never be certain that anyone else understands us, and thus, that they can care deeply about us. By the same token, the self-contained individual can never be certain that he or she understands the mind (thoughts, needs, feelings) of others, and is thereby restrained from investing too heavily in their lives."(p.213).
For example, first generation (Chomsky, Fodor) cognitive information processing accounts are still wedded to some degree to a belief in context-independent entities or processes.
Where is the Other?
The discursive turn is indeed revolutionary for having liberated thinking from these structuralist limitations. By reifying human experience into mechanisms partially independent of ongoing culture, modernist perspectives make the world at the same moment too static and too arbitrary. By contrast, the movement in discursive interrelationality is emancipatory to the extent that it sees in human relationship a certain ongoing, fully contextual relational order missing from objectivizing psychologies.
But even if one believes that the central unit of society is the social nexus of relation, the coherence and continuity that one is allowed to perceive in day to day experience may be limited fundamentally by the way one characterizes the nature of the `social'. While Gergen's intent here is to point to the 'pathology' inherent in reifying content of experience, one can just as well apply these comments to the way that many variants of social constructionism reify and polarize the PROCESS of experience. The flavor of alienness, separateness, interpersonal polarization Gergen mentions as the legacy of intellectual Romanticism still asserts itself in a muted way in their thinking. I intend to show how, from a certain vantage, rhetorical-social constructionisms can be seen to suffer from an anthropomorphizing of the notion of the social. How so?
In the above accounts, as well as in the work of authors such as Shotter, Potter(1987) and Harre(1986), we find the essence of human meaning as emerging from a lattice defined by a circle of related terms:language, rhetoric, sociality, embodiment. We need to examine how these terms work to structure the world for these writers in order to reveal what more primary process of meaning may lie hidden within the confines of their notions of language as social embodiment.
If language, as `forms of life', is at the root of discourse, what is the fundamental requirement for language? There would seem to be agreement among a number of versions of constructionism that dialogically-structured activity requires the participation of more than one person. This would seem to be the minimal requirement of any notion of sociality. But then how do we account for communication with oneself, or with a written text?
Wittgenstein(1953) asks, `Can one think without speaking? Can one say things only to oneself?' His answer, echoed by various social constructionists: A thought is not something present somewhere in one's mind, like a picture, to be observed, translated, described or expressed without that observation changing the very nature of what it is we had `in mind'. Therefore, the idea of a thought divorced from expression, usage, application, is meaningless. Speech, for Wittgenstein, only has meaning in relation to its ongoing usage within a community of speakers. Beliefs and desires are not unobservables but are always shown by our acting. Thought In-vention only can be understood as joint activity constrained and fed by Con-vention. This does not mean that the other who says to me, `Yes, I understand what you are thinking' is sharing a supposed identical insight with me. How would either of us know on what basis our thinking is identical, without further explication? And the very necessity of responsively elaborating the supposed initial meaning of my thinking continues to change it's role in our interchange. So, as it turns out, my attempt to represent my `private' understanding identically to another reveals the concept of identity to be a fiction, or more specifically, to be a transient non-recuperable moment in the process of discursive activity.
Gergen(1985), like Wittgenstein, denies linguistic, and thus meaningful, significance to the idea of conversation-with-self independent of my rhetorical interactions with other people. He says "Languages are essentially shared activities. Indeed, until the sounds or markings come to be shared within a community, it is inappropriate to speak of language at all. In effect, we may cease inquiry into the psychological basis of language (which account would inevitable form but a subtext or miniature language) and focus on the performative use of language in human affairs(p.270)."
If the self thinking to itself only has meaning as a derived form of social speech, then the same must go for the understanding of a written text. As Shotter(1993) argues, "the essence of textual communication is its so-called intertextuality: the fact that it draws upon people's knowledge of a certain body of already formulated meanings in the making of its meanings-this is why texts can be understood without contexts, that is, independently of immediate and local contexts(p.26)." In treating the interaction with a written work as, in some cases, resistant to the immediacy of context, Shotter upholds a distinction between speech and writing that Derrida has spent a career deconstructing. Derrida uses the terms `text' and `writing' to refer to all modes of understanding, inscribed, spoken, gestured or otherwise, precisely in order to demonstrate the radically contextual process underlying all forms of communication. While it is not our intent here to show how Derrida's(1976) grammatological project destabilizes distinctions between writing and speech, we want to question why a written text should be seen, even if in only rare circumstances, as in any fundamental way less of a fully local, contextualized conversation than any face-to-face encounter. I suggest that the dialogue between oneself as artist and one's created work, whatever the medium of expression, is a fully contextual sociality not because such experiences show themselves in my actions with other people, affirming my relation to public cultural practices, but because my conversation with myself is already fully public prior to any notion of interchange with `other human beings'. Even my repetitive reading of the `same' sentences over and over is a fully contextualized and social process. In what sense can we claim that such situations are `public', and how can repetition of the same text expose us to otherness, if it excludes other voices from our definition of the social?
Who we perceive ourselves to be is indeed formed and reformed through our encounters with an other, but the question I want to raise is, does this shaping depend on the fact that the othernesses which impinge upon us are formulated as other voices, other persons? What does `person' or `other' mean? If language, as `forms of life', is at the root of discourse, what is the fundamental requirement for language? Is thinking to oneself not to be understood as a fully linguistic activity? Is solitary experience an activity which simply recycle meanings co-created in interaction with other members of a symbolizing community, or does private thought re-invent language? It seems that a social constructionism which bases its notion of the `socius' on a too-authoritative notion of speech needs to begin from the question which sparked Heidegger's project. Before we ask, what is a person, we must ask `what is a thing'.
There is a way of understanding communication, even such experiences as solitary reflection, the reading of a book, or the encounter with a work of art, as fully social and discursive events, without relying on the more obviously formulated notion of actual other speakers being present to us or even introjected by us as internalized voices. Representative constructionist articulations of between-person relationality rest on abstractions masking a more primary locus of sociality. Sensate experience is already radically relational before and beyond any notion of sociality as between-person voices-gestures, generating more intimate and mobile possibilities of interpersonal understanding than is offered via discursive readings of terms like sociality, language and embodiment. Sociality can be understood as originating at a more concrete, intricate site than that of languaged or gestured utterance, allowing each participant in conversation to maintain an ongoing thread of non-agential, anticipative consistency and immediacy missing from constructionist accounts. Derrida has analyzed this under the rubric of `iterability', and Gendlin (1991),(1992) has articulated it as `experiential intricacy'. Let us first examine the general architecture of this dynamic. We will then discuss its implications for the understanding of persons-in-culture.
The Body of Perception as Discourse:
I offer an account of the origin of language and the social which unravels speech in order to reveal working within the apparent dynamics of joint activity a less `conceptual' dynamic, consisting in an intricate process of sensate interaction. It is not as if the body has not already been a focus of discussion recently within the constructionist community (See Stam(1998)) However, I introduce a notion of embodiment which differs from the way in which the body is treated in constructionist accounts (Sampson(1996), Shotter(1993)).
The sensate body is a metaphorical boundary, an intricate site of discursive responsivity of which actual experiencing represents but the moments of its play. The body does not exist first and then interact with an outside. It is nothing but this relational fold. Language IS sensate, already to be found in the `raw' experience of what we hear and see. This is an important point, because it determines the very core of sensate experience to be double, split within itself before it ever has a chance to exist as singular moments. An element of experience is already divided within itself, not only before it enters into relation with other people, but before it is simply `itself' as singular meaning.
Derrida has said:
"The iterability of an element divides its own identity a priori, even without taking into account that this identity can only determine or delimit itself through differential relations to other elements and hence that it bears the mark of this difference. It is because this iterability is differential, within each individual "element" as well as between "elements", because it splits each element while constituting it, because it marks it with an articulatory break, that the remainder, although indispensable, is never that of a full or fulfilling presence; it is a differential structure escaping the logic of presence..(LI53)."
What Derrida is saying here is that no meaning returns to itself identically, even for an instant. One cannot repeat, copy or reproduce a particular menaing or context, even by the simple act or recollection from memory or from some other form of recorded archive, without changing the sense of that context. To attempt to do so is to retrieve this `same' meaning slightly differently, to `split' it, to alter it, to re-invent it. The process of experiencing as radically interactive captures a more subtle sort of modulation, a finer silt of the world, than that represented by the way in which sense is supposedly created in responsive dialogue. Whereas rhetoric begins in reaction, the sensate fold is a modulation which already takes place before we react to what we experience in behavioral-bodily or verbal conversation with others, or in silent reactivity. As we said earlier, interactivity is not only prior to the perception of objects by a subject, it is prior to any notion of a pre-existingly-patterned object-in-itself, whether on the scale of the physical, neural, psychological or cultural.
There is no pure, monological tone, sense, feel, form, entity. We could not even say that sense is unformed, incomplete, or vague before its participation in discourse. There simply is no such thing as a meaning, sense, tone, which is not already mobile, ahead of itself, simultaneously a relation of similarity to my previous experience and an absolute departure from my history. Each moment is both an imminence and a transcendence, a reference to something familiar and previous, and the admittance of an exceeding. As such it is double, a split unity. I can only speak of such a thing as another person because my world is already ordered as a referential transit, but now `person' loses its prior meaning as monovocal participant.
Responsivity seen in this way need not rely on the more obviously formulated notion of actual other speakers being present to us or even imagined by us, because the social world has already begun in the instant that I experience myself. One might argue that one has introjected the multiple voices of the social realm even in seeming solitary reflection, but this misses the crucial point that if we want to conceive of `solitary' experience as a social, responsive, discursive dynamic, then we need not determine it thus by reference to the artificial level of introjected formed utterances, voices, gestures of others. Instead, sociality can be understood at the more concrete, intricate site of individual intention. This is a more fundamental level than that of languaged utterance, not because it resists the otherness of community, but because it is already structured as such, but in a way which requires a more immediate, intimate and integral conceptualization of the social.
This more immediate origin of meaning is not an already constituted self, but something prior, of which the self is merely one of its effects.The irreducible basis of meaning is what Derrida calls a mere mark or trace, not yet an `I' or an `Other', but the basis of both. The mark implies both subject and object because, as Derrida's analyses show, for a mark to be a mark it must be repeatable, and the very repetition of a mark of meaning, an intention, a `meaning to say', transforms it. Repetition is altering, and this is what Derrida calls `iterability':
"Through the possibility of repeating every mark as the same, [iterability] makes way for an idealization that seems to deliver the full presence of ideal objects..., but this repeatability itself ensures that the full presence of a singularity thus repeated comports in itself the reference to something else, thus rending the full presence that it nevertheless announces"(LI29)).
...the possibility of its being repeated another time-breaches, divides, expropriates the "ideal" plenitude or self-presence of intention,...of all adequation between meaning and saying. Iterability alters...leaves us no room but to mean (to say) something that is (already, always, also) other than what we mean (to say) (Limited, Inc,p.61)." "The break intervenes from the moment that there is a mark, at once. It is iterability itself, ..passing between the re- of the repeated and the re- of the repeating, traversing and transforming repetition(p.53)."
This situation is valid not only for linguistic signs, but, Derrida says, for all of what philosophy calls experience, "even the experience of being"(Limited,Inc.,p.9). Derrida is telling us that nothing can be thought before or outside of transformation, not even movement itself taken as its own theme. No concept is ever actually stored, archived, dormant, old, existing independently of the `NOW' which marks both our recognition and our modification of its meaning for us. It is not Derrida's point to say that in the ongoing flow of experience and language, the past instants of this endless chain of changing senses of meaning are presumed to still exist somewhere, untouched by what follows them in time. For Derrida this past FOLLOWS the future which is framed by it. That is to say, there is never a question of returning to recover a `what was' untouched by what follows it temporally.
Gendlin(1997) affirms that the self-transcendence of the sensate body is already operative before and after interaction with other `persons':
"Individuals are inherently social, but that doesn't mean everything must come from society, and be imposed on us. Rather, it means that what is individual is also social. In living, our bodies generate, imply, and enact language and culture; but with and after those, our bodies imply (project, experience, sense, practice, demand...) more. What they imply is inherently interactional and social, but it is more precise and implies what has never as yet formed and happened.(p.393)"
Meaning as Beyond Itself:
In distinguishing the relationality of meaning as social constructionisms consider it from our perspective, I do not mean to suggest that a rhetorical social constructionism treats language as anything as reified as formal symbol system. Constructionists agree that language is not a closed system of signs; it is to be understood as a tool, not as a finished form. What I bring to a conversation with each word, gesture or bodily action is not a symbol whose referent is available as context-independent meaning, but is instead radically indeterminate. But notice that the utterance-gesture, even as unfinished tool in a responsive play, is still seen as an `it', a form, a unitary element in joint activity. Its definition may always be in question, but its status as singularity, however indeterminate its referent, apparently is not. Let's take Shotter's position, for instance. On the one hand, Shotter(1999) affirms that experience is a temporally unfolding, implicate order, a relationality not simply of interpersonal dialogues but of perceptual othernesses in which the event of meaning is a part of "the indivisible wholeness of the ceaseless flow of activity within which we-along with the others around us-are embedded"(p.6). In many respects this emphasis on responsivity as expectant, anticipative, implicative, captures the general flavor of my argument. I agree with Shotter's observation that we need not conceive of experience as being `shot out of a pistol at us'. But when he refers to dialogic entities as "incomplete, ongoing, on the way to being other than at the moment they already are"(1993,p.94), he makes a conversational entity, even as a moment in a responsive order, seem to exist first as itself (`what it already is', even if just for a moment) before it becomes its other through the dialectic of joint activity. Thus, responsivity is treated as an implicate order based on a meeting between utterances-gestures.
While I applaud Shotter's rhetorical-responsive version of social constructionism for stretching its reach to the limits of a thinking of culture as joint activity, I want to take a step beyond the notion of discourse as a meeting or joining of othernesses. I argue instead that an utterance is already a meeting with itself. Events don't speak with their surroundings; they ARE their surroundings. As Gendlin(1992) says,"In sensing itself the body functions as our sense of each situation(p.345). It is not a perceived object before you or even behind you. The body-sense IS the situation, inherently an interaction, not a mix of two things (p.347)." An element or `form' of language, as embodied perception, is already split in two as a sensing and being-sensed, a touching and being touched, not only before it enters into relation with other people, but before it is simply `itself'. A moment of experience is not only not monological, but it is equivocal. This internal dichotomization, this infinitesimal way in which a new experience shows itself for me, or more accurately shows myself to me, in terms both of ownness and moreness, transforms a language of rhetorical negotiation into a more sublime dance which sees the latter's forms as overstuffed. That which we `are' at any moment does not need to wait for a response (felt, gestured, spoken) from an other in order to be contested, an entity of meaning is already its own response, its own co-ordination. In this double awareness I leave myself and return to myself, I join the novel and the familiar. More accurately, the familiar and novel are joined as the permeable boundary called `I', always leaving and returning to itself differently in each moment of its instantiation, thus always meaning more than it meant. To sense, to be, is to already be beyond, more than, that which we identify with as the object of our attention.
If to be is in a single instant to be `more than', if to intend is to intend beyond what one intends, then the flow of experience is best thought of as a repetition of this movement-event, rather than as an encounter. Such an experiencing has the quality of perspectival variation, as when we see an object as modulations, fluctuations, each variation existing as a pointing to the next. Gendlin(1997) offers, "Intricacy is very orderly in response to formulations, but it IS neither this nor that formulation. It does not have a static "IS". Rather, it `is-for-carrying-forward'. Although not as yet formed, it always very demandingly and precisely IMPLIES a next step (p.385)."
The process of perception as flesh captures a more subtle sort of modulation, a finer silt of the world, than that represented by the way in which sense is created in responsive dialogue. Whereas rhetoric begins in reaction, the sensate fold is a modulation which already takes place before we react to what we experience in behavioral-bodily or verbal conversation with others, or in silent reactivity. There is no pure, monological tone, sense, feel, form, entity. We could not even say that sense is unformed, incomplete, or vague before its participation in discourse. There simply is no such thing as a meaning, sense, tone, which is not already mobile, ahead of itself, simultaneously a relation of similarity to my previous experience and an absolute departure from my history. Each moment is both an imminence and a transcendence, a reference to something familiar and previous, and the admittance of an exceeding. As such it is double, a split unity. I can only speak of such a thing as another person because my world is already ordered as an embodied dialectic, but now `person' loses its prior meaning as monovocal participant.
Culture and Perceptual Embodiment:
I mentioned that notions of embodiment have been offered from various constructionist perspectives. Language as discursive relation can be said to be embodied to the limited extent that it is contaminated by an outside, an other, formed and reformed in every repetition of its joint use. Yet, as monovocal tool, it wields too arbitrary and disruptive a power. For a constructionism of joint utterance, embodiment refers to the body politic, the between-person community. For instance, Sampson's(1998) characterization of the role of the body is that of reflecting and generating a person's position in a social field. He writes, "Not only have we been socialized to use particular words but also to employ our bodies in particular ways. Even the most mundane of our actions, including how our mouths, lips, lungs, vocal cords, and breath patterns are all socialized to form the words we speak, tell us clearly of the embodiment of discourse.(p.25)".
Similarly, Shotter(1993) speaks of ideas originating in `sensuous bodily activities'(p.30). But he seems to assign internal thinking the role of liaison, helping to shape one's behavior in conformity with the supposed constraints of cultural mores and practices. He says, "...one's task in developing into a morally autonomous adult in one's own society is not just that of learning to direct one's own mental processes with the aid of words and signs, but of doing so in a way that makes sense and is considered legitimate by others... Thus our mental life is never wholly our own. We live in a way which is both responsive, and in response to, what is both `within us' in some way, but which is also `other than' ourselves"(p.45). If Shotter's view of inner speech is in fact close to our own perspective, which it may be, then `sensuous bodily activities' need not be characterized as shaping themselves to an outer realm of social convention when that `outer' realm is already included in (but deconstructed by) an ontologically prior perceptually embodied self-world horizon. I agree that we do not direct our own mental processes. But what is `within us' is `other than ourselves' not because it is exposed to other people's responses, but simply because it is exposed to itself. As I have said, each awareness of meaning is a double movement, in which what I `am' returns to question me from beyond my own resources. The incessant way in which our self-sameness is put into question via the otherness of perceptual sociality puts us always just beyond culture defined as `between person' conventions. As Gendlin puts it(1997),"Culture elaborates and acts in something [experiential intricacy] that is much more than culture(p.391)." To say that my local coordinations of meaning are embedded within broader social processes, or `permitted forms of talk'(Shotter,1993), is putting the cart before the horse. When these broader social processes are understood via the vantage of embodied perception, they lose their legitimacy. Via thinking from the intricate process which is the only site where culture has any real existence, monovocal abstractions like genre, convention, practice make way for a changed landscape of the social, a subtler vocabulary of ongoing styles of implicit experiencing.
What use to us, then, is the idea of a cultural world? What is left of the significance of shared experience and conventions, of genres and communities, if these terms derive from a dialogic thinking that I claim is mired in overly conceptual simplifications masking a more fundamental relational process? I do not at all reject the crucial constructionist insight that human understanding is best understood as relationality fashioned and re-fashioned (and only really existing) within immediate local contexts. But I have asserted that the moment to moment history of my Being-in-relation is of an order which hides within the level of responsive between-person dialogue. This means that those larger patterns of human belonging abstracted from local joint activity, which constructionists discern in terms of cultural language games and practices, also hide within themselves a more primary patterning.
While I affirm that our experience as individuals is characterized by stable relations of relative belonging or alienation with respect to other individuals and groups, the site of this interactivity, whether we find ourselves in greater or lesser agreement with a world within which we are enmeshed, has a character of peculiar continuity of the order of an implying ahead of itself. It also has a character of relentless creative activity that undermines and overflows attempts to understand human action based on between-person determinisms. We may identity to a greater or lesser extent with various larger paradigmatic communities, delicately united by intertwining values. But the contribution of each member of a community to the whole would not originate at the level of spoken or bodily language interchange among voices; such constructs repress as much as they reveal. Even in a community of five individuals in a room, I, as participant, can perceive a locus of integrity undergirding the participation of each of the others to the responsive conversation. In my dealings with other persons, I would be able to discern a thread of continuity organizing their participation in dialogue with me, dictating the manner and extent to which I can be said to influence their thinking and they mine. My thinking can not properly be seen as `determined' by his response, and his ideas are not simply `shaped' by my contribution to our correspondence.
The extent to which I could be said to be embedded within a particular set of cultural practices would be a function of how closely other persons I encounter resonate with my own ongoing experiential process. I can only shape my action to fit socially legitimate goals or permitted institutionalized grammatical forms to the extent that those goals or forms are already implicated in my ongoing experiential movement. Even then, what is implicated for me is not `the' social forms, but aspects hidden within these so-called forms which are unique to my perceptually embodied construing; what I perceive as socially `permitted' rhetorical argumentation is already stylistically distinctive in relation to what other participants perceive as permitted. Each individual who feels belonging to an extent in a larger ethico-political collectivity perceives that collectivity's functions in a unique, but peculiarly coherent way relative to their own history, even when they believe that in moving forward in life their strategic language moves are guided by the constraints imposed by essentially the `same' discursive conventions as the others in their speech community. All that exists for me in an interchange is that which carries forward the implicate order of my embodied perceptual experiencing.
Perception as Non-Agential Relationality:
`Carries forward the implicate order of my embodied perceptual experiencing'? Isn't this just code for `interprets reality via internal representations'? Aren't we resurrecting the specter of a power-centered agent choosing her world? My perspective is no more to be thought of in essentialist terms than is the constructionist claim that our actions are guided and constrained by larger patterns of communal intelligibility. In both cases, the patterning which constrains our meaning-making is not the order of a context-independent agency, but a relational process which only really exists within the contingency of local interchange. Constructionist orders like genres, practices, conventions are not static but dynamically stable coherences, re-enforced and re-fashioned in each local social encounter. This is precisely how we need to think of the implicate order of perception, the key difference being that, instead of the dialogic space consisting of a responsive conversation between monovocal participants, it exists first and foremost as a conversation between a meaning, sense, utterance, gesture and itself. This strange idea of the instant of awareness, perception, meaning as simultaneously both itself and beyond itself turns a single moment of verbal exchange between two people into a plurality of conversations. In the instant a constructionist account would locate a single interchange of responsive language forms, I would trace a multiplicity of intertwined aspectival variations continually altering my sense of the situation, of myself and the other person. By the time a series of discursive interactions had taken place, allowing the constructionist to place them as tactics or performances within a cultural genre, that `genre' supposedly constraining the interchange would have already been subtly made and remade a number of times over in different ways for each participant.
It is an easy mistake to read perceptual intricacy via constructionist definitions of interpersonal engagement. This results in the appearance that I am claiming to be able to take away from an interpersonal encounter only those aspects that I preemptively announce as `resonant with our own implicative order', thus retreating from the full contingency of responsive being into a kind of teleological self-actualizing process. It is crucial that this implicate order not be confused with a schematic or narrative agency. I agree with Gergen(1994) when he says people "do not consult an internal script, cognitive structure, or apperceptive mass for information or guidance; they do not interpret or "read the world" through narrative lenses; they do not author their own lives. He rightly points out that such a system can never get beyond its own biases in order to truly be affected by a world outside of its own schemes. Each moment of my ongoing participation in a world, as a play of memory and otherness, destroys the unity which a monological narrative, schematic or apperceptive entity would claim to impose on my understanding. The peculiar ongoing continuity generated by sensate intricacy is not the result of the total or partial preservation of an `internal' meaning, protected from contestation. I am remade differently, but integrally, in every instant.
I am not claiming that we respond to mentally prefigured aspects of another's voice, gesture, feeling; I don't begin from constructionist premises concerning what or who it is that we respond to in interpersonal contact. It is just as much a misnomer to refer to what I do, as embodied being, as choosing or selecting from a world as it is for the constructionist to speak in these terms. It is not that our perspectival understanding is resistant to the influence of discursive communication, but that the way in which we are influenced by a world takes the peculiar form of an anticipative repetition, rather than a contamination. Experience for me is not agential, not a question of autonomous choice, assimilation or self-actualization, but of a fully contextual responsivity which happens to unfold as resonant, perspectival, anticipative, implicative because that is all there is in the fabric of a world as sensate relationality. The discursive other who surprises me as a polarization, intervention, destabilization of my history is presumed to come at me from a substantial distance. But the sensate other who intervenes in my solipsism doesn't come AT me, doesn't interrogate me. The other as variation, implication, anticipated elaboration is impossibly close to me. Far from choosing a reified notion of the individual over more relational thinking, my account of meaning as embodied perception is more radically open to history and culture. Culture is already to be found, shaped and reshaped, in each moment of this transformative process, allowing relationality and culture to intervene more aggressively, more immediately, more intimately in my ongoing history of experience than is seen in monovocal constructionist accounts.
Idealism and Coherence:
Where does the coherence of embodied perception derive from? Mustn't its philosophical justification rest on an idealism of sorts? I might note that the same accusation has been leveled against a between-person constructionism. What, after all, is to guarantee that the interactive nature of human relations expresses itself in terms of larger patterns that allow us to speak of shared genres and practices, rather than a scene of arbitrary, nihilistic freedom (as constructionism's realist detractors(Richardson(1999)) view it)? I think Gergen(1994) is on the way to an answer when he points out the inseparable roles that both novelty and memory play in the act of understanding. He says we are always confronted with novelty. "Yet our actions in each passing moment will necessarily represent some simulacrum of the past; we borrow, reformulate, and patch together various pieces of preceding relationships in order to achieve local coordination of the moment. Meaning at the moment is always a rough reconstruction of the past, a ripping of words from familiar contexts and their precarious insertion into the emerging realization of the present(p.270)."
If it is the complex interweaving of memory and novelty that allows the social world to unfold for constructionists in terms of larger patterns and stabilities, then the articulation of a more immediate and intricately woven process, wherein the future engages the past not as a ripping of words but a transformative carrying forward, can reveal at the same time a more integral and a more dynamic social order.
Reconciling the Other-in-Me and the They:
An even more central question from a constructionist point of view might be how our claim that an ongoing thread of continuity underlies my participation in interpersonal relations could possibly allow a more penetrating understanding of the Other, than a discursive account which makes no such claim. Haven't I made people into `bounded entities, leading separate lives on independent trajectories'? On the contrary, even as I discover that I am not simply my interactions with other people in the abstract and polarized way that they are represented in discursive accounts, I am able to insert myself into the process of another's thinking more effectively. Being able to relate to others via dimensions of commonality is indeed crucial to going on with life rather than being lost in a fog of chaos and confusion; as such my recognition of the other's integrity of perceptual process is not a barrier to intercourse with them, but an invitation to proceed further than the level of analysis which locates our conversation within shared rhetorical genres. This further engagement is not a retreat from the depth of social connectivity that is achieved via discursive methodology, but the move to a more thoroughgoing sociality. The fine silt of variating perspectives which is the implicative order of experience does not separate me from other persons in any fundamentally different manner than that by which one moment of my experience is `separated' from the next (that is, from itself). Whether my ongoing situational conversation intertwines me within the otherness of an `inanimate' object or a living soul, the process is the same.
Let's take a closer look at the underlying process uniting these conversational modalities, beginning with the kind of experience which finds me alone with my thoughts and my `inanimate' surroundings as I attempt to write a paper. As I write these words, it is a given that my activity arises out of a background of assumptions, concerning my competency, relation to an audience, etc. Through my acquaintance with their own writing, I enter into a conversation with a particular community, and it is important to me that, at least for the purposes of this article, what I have to say is intelligible to that group. On the other hand, I could decide to write for `myself', using a vocabulary which I fully expect will be only marginally coherent to other readers. The point is that, whether I write with an audience or `myself' in mind, the process of generating ideas for the work is not simply the elaboration of an already formed role that I am socialized to perform as discursive partner in a society, involving repositioning myself within the constraints of grammatical forms. The process of writing is itself an ongoing conversation moving subtly BEYOND the reach of those cultural constraints, during which both my view of my own position as well the arguments of my imagined audience is subject to potentially significant change. The role that I perceive to take on in relation to my imagined audience shifts as I reconstrue my own position incrementally in every word that I write, every thought, image, feeling, recollection.
I begin with a sketchy idea of what I want to say. As I jot this down, I search for the proper words to convey what it is I think I already know. The sense of a thought that I intend, even before committing it to writing, speaks back to me and surprises me. As I attempt to solidify this new sense of the word by giving it a name, it engages me now as just a bit inadequate, in need of supplement. Not just my writing, but my thinking, perceiving, has this spiral quality wherein I reach for an idea just beyond my grasp; then grasping it, find it instantly inadequate in the moment of it's capture. Even as inadequate, what I nail down as `this sense' of a thought has the feel of at the same time a completion and a qualitative alteration not just of what immediately preceded it, but of my entire history.
The dialogue between myself as artist and my created work, whatever the medium of expression, is a fully contextual sociality not because such experiences show themselves in my actions with other people, affirming my relation to public cultural practices, but because my conversation with myself is already fully public prior to any notion of interchange with `other human beings'. Even my repetitive reading of the `same' sentences over and over is a fully contextualized and social process (As Derrida 's `iterability' trope remind us, to repeat a `meaning to say' is to transform it).
The peculiar dual quality of completion and instant obsolescence that attaches itself to each moment of my thinking, wiping out and remaking my past, applies to an infinity of other modes of awareness that intervene when I seemingly lose my train of thought and, succumbing to creative fatigue, find myself observing visual textures of my surroundings, listening distractedly to ambient sounds, noting the touch of warm air blowing on my skin from the heating vent. In my immersion in these objects of attention, I am confronted with othernesses as fully interrogational as any `voice'.
They are in the most immediate sense my culture, background others which ground my situational comportment as well as subverting the self-sameness of my identity. Each of these perceptual encounters are not simply my assimilation of `objects' of perception, as if in encountering my familiar surroundings I revisit what was in some way already there. Neither are they othernesses in the sense of events which engage me (joint-action) from a distance. They don't come at me, they tumble out of me, as a redefinition of me. They (and myself) only exist in the instant of my contact with them as a touching-being touched, feeling-felt. I become myself anew in them, through them, and they are born anew as responses, interlocutors, to their own inquiry. In the same way as in interpersonal conversation, each of my utterances is contextualized as response to a question. My encounter with sensate objects represents further embodied conversations which depend on, and carry forward, the background thematics of my writing-connected thinking and vice-versa. When I find myself returning to my writerly `train of thought' and discover that an impasse has been removed, it must be recognized that the `distracted' modes of experience I was tempted to conceive as a hiatus were a continuation of the writing of the work, even in their apparent departure from it.
Lets say I now meet with a friend to discuss what I've written. The conversation will have all of the features which typified my solitary writing. Like my writerly and sensate conversations, interchange with my friend will involve measures of anticipation and surprise. But my contact with another person is not a dialogic ping pong game. As words, gestures, expressions are lobbed back and forth, my identity, as Gergen(1994) supposes, originates in my coming to perform a role, defined by and dependent on the validation of others with whom I enact that role. But my role is not fundamentally in relation to another person or persons, but in relation to the otherness of sensate experience underlying both my self-conversation and my interchange with another person. Perceptual embodiment is not a grammatical order so much as a grammatological order, as in Derrida's notion of gramme as a split singularity. Rather than being constrained by between-person social role, as implicatory being always intending-beyond-itself I stand partially ahead of the culture it presumably represents. My social role is not simply pushed and pulled via the validation of others; if I determine that my conversational partner reinterprets my argument via a predicable, too-narrow perspective, I not only will not be little affected by their critique, but in anticipating such a response will consider it an affirmation of sorts. On the other hand, my `solitary' self-conversation can lead to devastating invalidation and reformulation of my identity.
Rather than a single game, interpersonal relationality is at least two intertwining games, or, more precisely, texts, from my vantage; it is both my integrally variating senses of the other's interpretation of our encounter, and my awareness of the dynamic stability of the difference between his and my outlook. (In fact, as we have seen, it is a multiplicity of modes. For in the situation, both our perspectives will wander into many subregions and modalities, just as when I am alone.) While I am with my friend, I can move back and forth between styles of my self-conversation and the interpersonal interchange, noting an ongoing difference in the relative thematic coherence of these two threads. In attempting to share my ideas with them, I can be aware of the overlap in our understanding at the same time that I recognize incommensurabilities between our perspectives.
But my perspective and that of another are not to be understood as independent, private regions. The interpersonal relation directly remakes my sense of what my `own' perspective is, as well as what I assume to be the other's integral position. It is always a new sense of `me' and `other' that emerge in conversation, but as an intertwining iterative movement among threads of implication. When I get inside the other's head, it is simultaneously they getting inside my head, even if that other is a text I am reading or a painting I gaze at. But again, this process is no different in kind than that of `solitary' perceptive experience, in which my various activities lead me into distinct zones or situations characterized by a certain aesthetic integrity of unfolding perspectival variations. Listening to music, enjoying lunch, following my own train of thought, or conversing with others, are all modalities of experiencing having their own distinct, temporary integrities even as they blend into and carry forward previous modes. My sense of my own identity is relentlessly, but subtly, formed and reformed in moving through and between myriad modalities of experience, including my moments of self-conversation, my immersion in subjects-objects of touch, sight, as well as within interpersonal interchange.
As ethical-therapeutic instruments, both between-person constructionisms and my embodied approach emphasize movement and the ceaseless questioning of ideologies. Both constitute thoroughgoing ethical relativisms. Their differences center on the kind of intimacy and intensity of movement we allow ourselves to recognize in the incessant finding and losing of ourselves in the world as simultaneously historically grounded and emancipatory actors (See Gendlin(1981) for a well-developed therapeutic approach based on sensate embodiment.) I have faulted discursive accounts for failing to see the changing contexts of a person's thinking within a more fundamental perspective of embodied-sensate intricacy. I have argued that a process of embodied perception underlies our encounters in different contexts and gives them a peculiar sort of coherence or implicate self-consistency hidden from a variety of constructionist versions.
Inevitably, my argument will be read by some as the advocacy of an idealism, a structuralism, the old wine of individualism in new clothes. Let me make this much clear. There is no vantage point I am allowing, from which anyone might point to the process which I have described on these pages and totalize it, in even a momentary fashion. As I have said, myself, culture and convention are entirely reborn each moment of my sensate experience, which includes everything I might claim to know about myself or another, any particular privileged source of knowledge, theoretical or practical. Each new word I write down on these pages and which you read right now EX-ists as both continuation of contextual history, different for you as reader than for me as writer, and the introduction of a new world. It is both these things at the same time. Each new word is, as perspectival variation, a new sense of the word and thus a new philosophy of the world, in some small way. This is true even in rereading the same word over and over. The otherness of history, culture, intervenes in each supposed repetition of the `same' word, and this comes from within a thing's own resources as simultaneously object and subject, not from the response of a `rhetorical' outside.
There is no vantage point from which I, as theorist, can escape this transformative process such as to pre-emptively determine a particular narrative foundation for experience. If I want to assert that what I've just claimed concerning the origin of discourse as embodied intricacy remains ethically, aesthetically, scientifically true now, I have to allow my terms to be self-reflexive, so that the truth of what I write is continually being rewritten in each new mark on the page, as a new philosophy of truth, embodiment, intricacy, writing, as well as a new philosophy of me. My writing does not renew itself because it introjects or coordinates with a culture beyond it, but because it already is culture, as always a (subtly) new conventionality in every moment of its instantiation, interwoven with what preceded it in an intimate order, intending beyond what it intends. Truth, then, is this horizon which in the same instant loses and comes back to me, as `me', always a new instantiation of subject-object. Is what I offer, then, a modernism, a structuralism, a self-actualization? Such entities claim to step outside of the bounds of the repetition of difference which remakes the whole world, including my `self', anew in every awareness. This is far from what I have in mind. All that I advocate here, is that discursive thinking allow itself more aggressive and thoroughgoing exposure to the `enchanted', or the transformative, impetus renewing experience in innumerably rich and precise ways, but packed so tightly and invisibly within the abstraction that is the rhetorical social relation that what is left to be seen is a dialogic space both too plodding and too constraining.
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Shotter J.(1999). Inside dialogic realities:From an abstract-systematic to a participatory-wholistic understanding of communication. final version submitted to Southern Communication Journal. http://pubpages.unh.edu/^jds/SCJ99_fin1_pap.htm
Stam, H.J.(1998).The body and psychology.London:Sage.
Wittgenstein, L. (1953). Philosophical Investigations.Trans.G. Anscombe. New York:MacMillan.
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This is a list of contemporary writers in Psychology and Philosophy oredered by proximity to my own thinking.
1)Gendlin:1926. New York, N.Y., 10023 . In 'On Emotions in Therapy'(1990), gendlin seems to indicate that emotions are a discrete evolutionarily adaptive list, in contrast to feeling, and that they narrow the context of experience, which reminds me of Eysenck's notion of anxiety as narrowing the range of cue utilization. Furthermore, Gendlin uses many psychoanalytic concepts, such as catharsis, discharge, blocking and `depth' therapy of inner data verses outer experience, leaving the appearance of someone between neo-Freudianism and cognitive science:in a word, a form of Gestalt therapy! But his comments on Mark Johnson encourage confidence that he is post-constructivist. Then again, he seems to be totally uninterested in mentioning any of the ideas from embodied and dynamical approaches to cognition which have sprung up over the past 20 years. Is this because writers like Gallagher, Varela and Ratcliffe have developed a more precise alternative to Gendlin’s implicit intricacy that Gendlin hasn’t been able to assimilate? In this case Gendlin may be situated somewhere between husserl and heidegger, and pre-Derrida. Or does Gendlin’s work truly go beyond them?
2)Shaun Gallagher(48), University of Central Florida. Seems to have a great grasp of Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Lyotard, Deleuze, Mead, Dewey, and is even sympathetic toward Derrida. On top of this he’s an active cognitive researcher .On the other hand, some of the individuals he associates closely with, like zahavi and Strawson, hold to non-culturally relative positions concerning the self. Zahavi-like phenomenologists support a transcendental ‘I’, while evolutionary psychologists support a biologically universal ‘I’. gallagher has a strong background in religious metaphysics, but on the other hand his support of interactionism as opposed to theory-theory is promising, as is his rejection of Husserl in favor of writers like Lyotard and Merleau-Ponty, even his sympathy with Derrida is encouraging. And lets face it, who else in the ‘scientific’ community can he count on? What scientific paradigms go significantly behind Dennett’s brand of evolutionary materialism?
Jean-Luc Nancy42:close to Deleuze, University of Strasbourg, France.Address:10 rue Charles Grad, 67000 Strasbourg, France.
Matthew Ratcliffe(73). A young, prolific writer with strong background in biology, some psychology and continental philosophy. Seems at first glance to have a nice grasp of Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty . A circle of writers he is engaged with are the evolutionary psychologists, including Dennett and Pinker, and biologists such as Gould and Lewontin. But currently he is most interested in critiquing the folk-psychology crowd, which includes Dennett and I assume most of the evolutionary psychology group, including Metzinger, Strawson, etc .The big question is how close he is to Gergen and especially Shotter.
A test of my reading of ratcliffe is if his therapeutic models tend, like Zahavi’s, toward the psychiatric, and whether he is inclined toward socio-biologistic explanations.
Geoffrey Bennington,b.1956: close to Lyotard in his faith in forms, structures, norms. Its possible that he is close to Critchley, which would make him close to Sartre, Cavell, Adorno. On the other hand, there are indications that he understands the ethical as relative top to bottom, like Gergen or Rorty. email@example.com, University of Sussex, Falmer, Brighton BN1 9SH U.K. (Director Center for Modern French Thought,School of European Studies) ARTS A 50, phone extension: 011 44 (0) 1273 67 8542 or 8004 Sussex main:44 0 1273 606755, Center for french thought//Dept. of French and Italian(404-727-6431), 537 N. Kilgore Circle, 405 N. Calloway Center, Emory U, Atlanta, 30322.e-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org
Rodolphe Gasche,b.1838:Suny-Buffalo:He is against Vattimo's and Marion's religious hermeneutics, critiques Mark Taylor, likes Heidegger. gasche may be close to Bennington, Shotter /Comparative Literature, 642 Clemens Hall, North Campus,Buffalo 14260.Philosophy,607 Baldy Hall,buffalo 14260.home:93 Wesley Ave, Buffalo,14214-1651. *Derrida and poststructuralism/cover letter sent
Francisco Varela,1945-2001: Varela may be the link between Dennett-like adherence to evolutionary adaptationism and something closer to Merleau-Ponty and Heidegger. Varela seems to grasp a more full interactionism than the E.P. cognitivist crowd. He proclaims an alternative to evolutionary adaptationism;viabilty rather than survival of the fittest. He embraces Johnson’s image schema idea, praises Rorty, and has read Husserl, Merleau-Ponty, Lyotard, Heidegger, Nancy, Derrida and a range of other continentals. Even though he’s no longer living, his ideas are still contemporary and any linking to his writings by other writers will be a promising sign. varela's embrace of Binswanger, Jaspers and other existential psychiatrists as an alternative to Freud may reflect the lack of familiarity on the part of Europeans with American psychotherapy after Freud. Is it too much to hope that this explains Zahavi’s inexplicable enthusiasm for such figures? On the other hand, varela became a Tibetan Buddhist in the 1970s, initially studying with the meditation master Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, founder of Shambhala Buddhism, and later with Tulku Ugyen, a Nepalese master of higher tantras. Is this Buddhism more consistent with a Sartrean or even Schopenhauerian metaphysics than with a Dennett-like atheism?
Jan Slaby:b.1976. Slaby seems to understand the radical way in which sicentific theory is socially constituted and reconstituted. His critical approach to neuroscience is refreshingly non-scientistic. He has read Deleuze and Foucault, and seems to have assimilated their insights, praising the work of Protevi, a major Deleuzian, for instance. His advocacy of what he calls a critical neuroscience shows a preference for a vocabulary not just indebted to Foucault and to a lesser extent Frankfurt school discourse, but really BELONGS to this anthropological-political orientation. That is, while critiquing psychological science from a Foucaultian perspective, he never reveals an alternative psychological perspective in the way that Varela or Gallagher do. Nor does he offer a thoroughly philosophical framework. He writes on Heidegger, but doesn't seem to 'get' Heidegger the way he enthusiastically understands and applies Foucault. In this way his work is remarkably like that of Ken Gergen, but perhaps even Gergen is better able to open up the implications of social constructionism at a more fine-grained psychological level. What sort of fully-fledged psychological framework might be compatible with Slaby's Focaultism? I suspect it would move within the circles sketched by Protevi. There doesn't seem to be room for Lyotard, Nancy or Merleau-Ponty in Slaby's understanding. Social formations seem to impose themselves on the individual in the clumsy, block-like and uni-drectional manner described by Foucault and Gergen rather than the more nuanced and bi-directional intersubjective mechanisms of individual change described by Gallagher, Ratcliffe and Merleau-Ponty. Perhaps this is reflected in Slaby's bitchy and often outright disdainful tone seen in his critiques of authors like Metzinger. I guess advocating an embodied, enactivist psychological approach does not guarantee that one has transcended the limitations of Foucault.
Follow his future work and see what his relation is to Ratcliffe , Gallagher and Merleau-Ponty. Also determine to what extent he is, as he claims, influenced by the Frankfurt School.
Ken Gergen35:close to Foucault. Critiques Cole. Gergen’s weaknesses may be similar to what I have written about Shotter. gergen doesn’t mention embodied cognitivism, dynamical systems or self-organizing systems theories, nor phenomenology .On the other hand, he is a flat-out political and moral relativist, and I don’t think Shotter is. Who else is as radically relativist as Gergen? Not Lakoff-Johnson and apparently not Rorty.
Rorty31:post-Freudian somewhere between Dennett and Merleau-Ponty. Apparently, Rorty falls short of Lyotard’s recognition that individual points of view always represent different underlying, and incommensurable, worldviews . “Rorty believes that all disputes either are litigations or can be transformed into such. In contrast to rorty, Lyotard argues that there are disputes that cannot be regulated. Such disputes are differends rather than litigations. Further, not all differends can be transformed into litigations. To attempt to adjudicate a differend as though it were a litigation necessarily wrongs at least one of the parties.” It may be this which makes Rorty regressive with respect not to only Lyotard, but also to Gallagher(who prefers Lyotard over Rorty), Ratcliffe and Gergen. . Rorty and Dennett may represent post-Freudian post-Husserlian but pre-Lyotardian(and pre-Merleau-Pontian?) thinking.
Rorty said, in an interview with Joshua Knobe,” I don't think I have any original ideas. I think that all I do is pick up bits of Derrida and bits of Dewey and put them next to each other and bits of Davidson and bits of Wittgenstein and stuff like that. It's just a talent for bricolage, rather than any originality. If you don't have an original mind, you comment on people who do.” /Dept. Comparative Literature, Stanford,CA.94305-2031
Daniel Dennett, 1942-:An advocate of theory-theory. He believes there really are objects out there distinguishable from, and corresponding to our mental representations. He supports Popper, not Kuhn. Interestingly, Dennett puts himself in the same camp with evolutionary psychologists like E.O. Wilson, Pinker and Dawkins and opposes himself to Lewontin and Rose. Is dennett, then, pre-Marxist? No, it may seem so superficially, but Marx’s view was historicist and close to Hegel. Dennett’s is post-Nietzsche, post-Freud. Could one could say cautiously that so is Wilson’s and Pinker’s? I don’t know. They’re certainly pre-Kuhnian. gould embraced complexity theory and self-organization as an alternative mechanism to evolutionary adaptationism and Dennett disagrees. I think he disagrees because Gould’s idea of self-organizing systems comes from physics. In Gould’s hands it’s a deterministic mechanism of conservatism , whereas I believe in the hands of Varela its used differently, as a metaphor for contingent change more intimate than darwinian adaptationsim. Like Flanagan and other evolutionary psychologists, Dennett poses questions like ”Why did consciousness evolve?”, implying that something to be conceived as subjective experience is some kind of biological mechanism that is added onto already understood evolutionarily adaptive information processing functions of intelligent entities. There is an important break between the kind of philosophical assumptions motivating the question of why we are not computer-like zombies(Spock) and a perspective which transcends this latter-day dualism. Find who in the psychological community sits on the other side of this break, other than Derrida. and maybe Ratcliffe. Whereas Flanagan equates reflective seriality with consciousness, Gallagher says it is only the narrativity of language which possesses this order and not the underlying stream of consciousness itself, which is interruptive and aleatory. Still, this claim is not in itself enough to dispel the notion that consciousness is an arbitrarily evolved mechanism as Damasio describes it. On the other hand, Dennett’s good point is support of intentionality as key to the understanding of conscious experience.
Thomas Metzinger:b.1958. German philosopher of mind and cognitive scientist whose empirical approach at first seemed to lie closer to Varela than to Dennett. But then I read this in the online journal Psyche:”Furthermore, the scientific method of gathering data has the unbeatable advantage that the process of gaining knowledge never stops: when a hypothesis is falsified, it is exactly at this moment (as Karl Popper beautifully put it) that we come into contact with
reality. When disagreements surface, there is always a follow-up experiment that can be
designed to keep the process of gaining knowledge alive.” Like Dennett, he’s an objectivist Popperian.
Andy Clark: Close to Dennett; supports folk psychology-theory of mind. Anthony Chemero, in his review of Clark’s “Being There: Putting Brain, Body and World Together Again, quotes Clark::
‘Varela et al. use their reflections as evidence against realist and objectivist views of the world. I deliberately avoid this extension, which runs the risk of obscuring the scientific value of an embodied, embedded approach by linking it to the problematic idea that objects are not independent of the mind. My claim, in contrast, is simply that the aspects of real-world structure which biological brains represent will often be tightly geared to specific needs and sensorimotor capacities. (p. 173)
“This casual sweeping under the rug of such an important issue is the one place in Being There where Clark lets the reader down. The non-realist conclusions that Varela, Thompson and Rosch reach seem genuinely to follow from Clark's picture of the mind, a picture whose acknowledged historical precedents (Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty and von Uexkull) were opposed to realism. To see that the embodied, active mind leads to non-realist conclusions, consider Clark's discussion of von Uexkull's essay "A Stroll through the Worlds of Animals and Men" (1934).”
Owen Flanagan: Of the Andy Clark, Daniel Dennett school of post-Nietzschean naturalism.
Mark L. Johnson:b.1949. Philosophy dept., U. Oregon. In Johnson’s book, Moral Imagination, he critiques Rorty’s position as extreme relativism, and trashes the “poststructuralists” as well. Certainly Gallagher has more understanding of these figures and is sympathetic towards them. Does this make Johnson close to the evolutionary psychologists like Dennett? He likes Flanagan. My guess is he would support an imitation view of mirror neurons. My guess is he’s somewhere between Dennett and Varela.
Steven C. Hayes:b.1948.Hayes references the mindfulness tradition and identifies with the category of contextual psychology, opposing it to classical cognitive behaviorism. But his verbal model is very closely related to the classical, or Beckian, approach. Rather than recognizing the narrative basis of all experiencing, rendering even so-called direct non-verbal environmental perception as a narrative activity, Hayes preserves the traditional distinction between supposed direct sensation(external events) and mediated verbal symbolization(private events). He doesn't seem to see verbal meanings as gestalts,where each component is only defined by its relation to the whole, but rather as arbitrary networks of objective stimuli, where the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts. Is Hayes closer to Skinner than to Beck? I don't think so. Beck's approach treats cognitive schemes as objective rules. Hayes may be closer to Gergen in his realization that the meaning of cognitive schemes is context-relative to a greater degree than Beck allows. To Hayes cognitive constructs act as rigid, objective rules acting not as interpretive screens but as direct objective reinforcers of discrete meanings. I suppose Hayes' notion of verbal processes as having a tendency to restrict change is comparable to Ratcliffe , Gallagher and even Gendlin and Derrida's ideas about the repressive dangers of conceptual thought. The difference, though, is that with Hayes the model of verbal and non verbal meaning is unabashedly mechanistic and objectivist. For Hayes mindfulness is about noticing, accepting and embracing "the richness of our repertoire of conditioned reactions". Concepts, reflection, internal dialogue, all act as redundant repetitions, recycling old meanings and thus interfering "with the direct experience of living". For Gergen, all verbal meanings are continually being reshaped through social interaction, whereas for Hayes,
the process of reshaping verbal meanings is not so immediate.
Mark C. Taylor:b.1945. He says his view is between Hegel and Kierkegaard, who remain the most important philosophical figures for him. His book “Erring”(1983) is a derivative co-opting of Derrida as literary-theological figure. In ‘Erring’, mark taylor reads Derrida through Hegel and Kierkegaard, bypassing Husserl and Heidegger(Gasche doesn’t seem to buy this move), but in ‘The Moment of Complexity’ tries to show that systems and complexity theory are technological manifestations of Hegelianism. In this book, he praises Dennett, Varela and Hofstadter, critiques Dawkins(but not too strongly) and Wilson. His ideas are sweeping and comprehensive concerning Darwinisms and forms of structuralist theories. He seems to have succeeded in arriving at a position comparable to that of Lyotard, Merleau-Ponty and Heidegger without having been able to read these writers effectively. But is this really the case?
It is tempting to believe that he allows us to understand how a certain spirituality can remain after Gallagher and Merleau-Ponty, that was implied even in the work of such atheists as Darwin and Freud. He says self-organizing systems are directional; they evolve toward ever greater diversification and complexity. If Taylor can claim this directionality as in some sense religious, then we could charitably assume hints of the same dialectical metaphysics in Piaget, Freud, Rorty and many others. On the other hand, the most penetrating philosophies going back to Husserl and including Heidegger, Derrida , Wittgenstein and Nietzsche realized the artificiality of any developmental claim. Is this just a small weakness on Taylor’s part, or is his thinking pre-Freudian, pre-Nietzschean, pre-Husserlian? If we believe his insistence that his theology is between Hegel and Kierkegaard, then we can learn a few valuable lessons about reading dynamical systems accounts. After all, Lukacs, a Marxist, was a major figure in this area.
Still, one can’t fairly so conclude that, like Caputo, taylor cannot abide the fragmenting of affective-moral values that Nietzsche, Freud, evolutionary psychologists and post-Husserlian phenomenologists accomplish.After all, he celebrates the lack of a unified self just as Dennett and Varela do. And, unlike Dennett, Rorty and Dawkins, he recognizes the remnants of religious thematics submerged within their atheism. Does this make his account more sophisticated than any save Ratcliffe and Gallagher? Can Taylor’s views be understood as post-Freudian, post-Husserlian?
Significantly, he reveals little interest in phenomenology. Going back to Erring, we find evidence that is not available directly from ‘Moment of Complexity’ that what binds these two books together is an allegiance to a negative dialectics informed by Lacan, Adorno, Ricouer and Norman Brown. Taylor’s central critical object seems to be ‘humanistic atheism’, including radical theologies(Liberation, process, existential theology) which aren’t radical enough, that is, that still hold onto a hierarchical, teleological, developmental dialectic dependent on the idea of a centered(Cartesian) self. Taylor extensively references Norman Brown’s ‘The Psycho-analytical Meaning of History’ . Notice that Freud, Sartre, Adorno and Ricouer don’t really decenter the self in the way that Merleau-Ponty, Heidegger, or even Husserl manages. Furthermore, Taylor, while rejecting a totalistic dialectic, holds onto a dialectical historicism nonetheless in his embrace of dynamical non-linearity. In sum, it seems that a hybrid of Freud , Ricouer, Lacan and Adorno locates his earlier thinking, and his recent embrace of embodied enactivist technological language may or may not indicate that he has effectively critiqued Freudianism’s notion of the psychodynamic self. Taylor's book 'After God' defines religion in the starkly reductionistic , naturalistic language of self-organizing systems theory, leaving little doubt there is nothing left of 'God' in Taylor's religion. But the fact that he now chooses as his favored language of philosophical description the terminology of self-organization, and not only that, but a vocabulary owing more to physicalistic than to psycholoogically-informed discourses, reveals Taylor's intellectual isolation from Husserlian and post-Husserlian strands of thought, as well as an ignorance of sophisticated arguments in Philosophy of Mind from figures like Dennett that could expose Taylor's reliance on physics-inspired autopeoitic models as 'physicsistic' (that is, the physics equivalent of biologism or psychologism). This choice of termonology shows Taylor to fit better into the category of media theorist than philosopher proper, either of the philosophy of mind camp or the continental variety.
Maxine Sheets-Johnstone:b.1930:U.Oregon. Seems to share many interests with Mark Johnson. Focuses on the evolution of concepts, such as counting and language, from simple bodily kinesthetic interactions. Integrates evolutionary biology and anthropology with Husserl. I need to find out more about where she stands relative to Zahavi. Is she a Sartrean-Dialectician? Is she willing to fragment the sense of ‘I’ as are Varela and Dennett? A reviewer wrote of her book, Roots of Thinkng,”The author blames lack of progress in this field on the misleading practices and dogmas of cultural relativism and metaphysical dualism. I blame it on this odd (and a bit antiquated) mixture of Freud, Piaget and Sartre”.
Galen Strawson:b.1952. Atheist son of P.F. Strawson, famous British analytic philosopher. Galen is a pre-Kuhnian philosopher of mind in the tradition of Dennett, hostile to postmodern cultural relativists(witness this comment in his review of David Lodge’s book Consciousness And The Novel:”postmodernism seems as old as Laurence Sterne (1713-68) or Callimachus (third century BC). And Lodge is too accommodating to looney-tunes cultural relativists such as Clifford Geertz, who think - with the supreme insensitivity to human reality that one finds only in professional anthropologists - that the sense of the individual self is not a fundamental and universal feature of human existence, but a peculiar, local, recent western invention (tell that to the Buddha). Members of this academic faction use the word "humanist" as their ultimate term of abuse...” Strawson’s writing evinces the typical arrogant, insecure bitchiness of Dennett and other pre-Kuhnian materialists, concerned with who’s getting it ‘right’ or ’wrong’ in correspondence with some supposed empirical ‘facts’. He edits the Times Literary Supplement, which is quite significant to me in suggesting that literature has caught up with Nietzsche. It is not just Strawson, after all, who embraces atheistic evolutionary psychology but Tom Wolfe and Ian McEwan also. How many other writers also support E.P.? And if the leading edge of the literary community does, must one not assume that their counterparts in theatre, cinema, poetry, music and painting do also?
He doesn’t want to give up the idea of a localizable ‘self’ although he is an avowed materialist determinist, because he refuses to allow that the MEANING of this phenomenally perceived inner ‘self’ changes over history and thus puts into question the coherence, not just of empirically studying the particular reported contents of a category of object called subjective self, but the very entity that would be called first personal or ‘subjective self’. Strawson, like the evolutionary psychologists who he supports, believes that there is a universal human nature, not transcendental but genetic. This is what makes him hostile to cultural relativists, and this may make it tricky to tease out atheistic sociobiology from Zahavi’s Husserlism. What’s the difference between Zahavi’s transcendental subjective “I” and socio-biology’s universal ’I’. I guess the answer is biology’s genetically wired self is changeable and arbitrary, whereas Zahavi’s is not historically contingent. So where does Galen stand? Somewhere between Freud and Dennett, probably closer to Dennett, since he rejects Freud’s plumbing metaphors. He approves of Damasio’s account.
Mark B. Hansen:English Dept. U.of Chicago, writes on art from a vantage which emphasizes Merleau-Ponty and Varela. It may be worth following his work and that of the above writers. It’s possible that they represent a post-Husserlian and perhaps post -Dennett approach to art and politics.
John Protevi 55: believes in a Pinker-like evolutionary psychology supporting a cognitive-behavioral framework.. Biochemically mediated reflexes and socially imposed patterns organize intentional consciousness for Protevi. Would Freud approve? Probably not, but Dawkins and Pinker would. It may be that Protevi retains from Freud his objectivist materialism and abandons Freud’s structuralist innatism in favor of a socially-centered , evolutionarily grounded behaviorist cognitivism. But I don’t think Dennett would go along with Protevi’s account of the behavior of the Columbine killers in terms of biologically and socially conditioned reflexes. Dennett would would recognize the more holistic role of intentional MEANING , however socially and biologically mediated or produced, in directing personal actions. Protevia reads Deluze/Guattari in semi-Skinnerian terms, speaking of human motivation in terms of jolts, thrills and rushes, of desensitizations and disinhibitions, of emotion as physiological arousal, of reward and punishment systems in the brain, and relying on ethological constructs like “fight-flight’ and “dominance-submission”, (even though he is opposed to genetic reductionism). He approvingly cites Damasio, Panksepp and LeDoux, but is his account of affectivity as inter-relational as Damasio’s?
Protevi says his ‘body politic’ notion, using the idea of self-organizing material systems to explain and originate subjectivizing practices of bodies, is “a third-person account, a genealogy of subjectivity, rather than the mutual constraints proposed by Francisco Varela’s “neurophenomenology”. It doesn’t attempt to reduce subjectivity in the sense of accounting for its contents in a third person explanatory framework, but it does try to understand subjectivity as originating in a body shaped by political practice: a “body politic”. This approach is both post-structuralist and post-phenomenological in that it focuses on the historical formation of bodies rather than on universal unconscious structures as well as focusing on the gaps and shortfalls of consciousness.” (Columbine paper). But what about Merleau-Ponty’s reading phenomenology?
And what about the central import of language in understanding intersubjective origins of subjectivity? Could one claim that Dennett, Gergen, Merleau-Ponty , Heidegger all recognize this more effectively than Protevi? Ptotevi says he supports the idea of a ‘rage module’ in the brain, although he does not go so far as to believe in modules for all kinds of higher-order behaviors in the way that Dawkins is tempted to do. Protevi says that his account of social neuroscience is closely compatible with that of John Cacioppo, which is a revealing remark, given that Cacioppo is a cognitive neuroscientist in the classic information processing tradition of computational representationalism, who approvingly cites authors like Osgood, Shiffrin, Miller,etc. In sum, it appears that Protevi is a post-Freudian cognitive-behaviorist who falls short of the radicality of Varela, Gallagher,Gergen, Merleau-Ponty, perhaps Dennett, and Husserl.
Richard Dawkins: His evolutionary psychology is criticized in Taylor’s ‘Moment of Complexity’ as an extension of the old Neo-Darwinism, in contrast with dynamical systems theory. Certainly this same critique applies to Pinker, and possibly Dennett.
Steven Pinker:b.1954, Montreal. Pinker supports a modular, computational information-processing approach, like Fodor and Chomsky. It may be that Pinker’s nativist sociobiologistic spin on psychology is, like E.O. Wilson’s(and probably Chomsky’s and Dawkins’), in close proximity to Kierkegaard, and may illustrate the gap between Darwin and Marx. But I think it’s more likely that he hovers around the territory of Nietzsche and Freud, and is pre-Piagetian. Pinker’s cluelessness and unrelenting hostility toward postmodern humanities and art, his rejection of neural net models are almost cartoonish expressions of a pre-Husserlian understanding of culture. Pinker says “I argue that such momentous human activities as dreams, religion, art, music, written language, school math, and school science are not adaptations, but instead are by-products of adaptations.” This is what Pinker says of the postmodern arts:
PINKER: ” In the 20th century, modernism and post-modernism took over, and their practitioners disdained beauty as bourgeois, saccharine, and lightweight. Art was deliberately made incomprehensible or ugly or shocking—again, on the assumption that people's tastes for attractive faces, landscapes, colors, and so on were reversible social constructions. This also led to an exaggeration of the dynamic of social status that has always been part of the arts. The elite arts used to be aligned with the economic and political aristocracy. They involved displays of sumptuosity and the flaunting of rare and precious skills that only the idle rich could cultivate. But now that any now that any schmo can afford a Mozart CD or can go to a free museum, artists had to figure out new ways to differentiate themselves from the rabble. And so art became baffling and uninterpretable without acquaintance with arcane theory.
By their own admission, the humanities programs in universities, and institutions that promote new works of elite art, are in crisis. People are staying away in droves. I don't think it takes an Einstein to figure out why. By denying people's sense of visual beauty in painting and sculpture, melody in music, meter and rhyme in poetry, plot and narrative and character in fiction, the elite arts wrote off the vast majority of their audience—the people who approach art in part for pleasure and edification rather than social one-upmanship. Today there are movements in the arts to reintroduce beauty and narrative and melody and other basic human pleasures. And they are considered radical extremists!
EDGE: Why do people still treat art and literary critics as the wisest and most relevant intellectuals? In terms of literature, why is it that in the leading cultural magazines, you can still find a lot more of Virginia Woolf, Lytton Strachey, and Bloomsbury, than discussions about the issues you and other scientists are raising?
PINKER: One reason for the canonization of artists is a quirk of our moral sense. Many studies show that that people hallucinate moral virtue in other people who are high in status—people who are good-looking, or powerful, or well-connected, or artistically or athletically talented. Status and virtue are cross-wired in the human brain. We see it in language, where words like "noble" and "ugly" have two meanings. "Noble" can mean high in status or morally virtuous; "ugly" can mean physically unattractive or morally despicable. The deification of Princess Diana and John F. Kennedy Jr. are obvious examples. I think this confusion leads intellectuals and artists themselves to believe that the elite arts and humanities are a kind of higher, exalted form of human endeavor. Anyone else having some claim to insights into the human condition is seen as a philistine, and possibly as immoral if they are seen as debunking the pretensions of those in the arts and the humanities.
Richard Lewontin:b.1929. Renowned geneticist who seems to effectively critique E.O. Wilson, Pinker, Dawkins and even Dennett based on self-organizing systems. The only troubling issue is his supposed Marxism. He seems to recognise, and reject, Marx’s belief in a universal human nature. On the other hand, maybe Lewontin’s embrace of self-organizing systems theory is related to Gould’s, which seems to depend on a physics definition fo self-organization, a cause-effect determinism bypassing evolutionary adaptationism. If this is true then it is Dennett (and Dawkins and Pinker) who has the upper hand here.
E.O. Wilson:The following interview with Wilson is very revealing in its implications for the relation between a phase of evolutionary theorizing(sociobiology) and metaphysics. Here Wilson sonunds like a Kierkegaardian without realizing it.But is this fair?He may be just pre-Nietzchean, pre-Freudian but post Sartrean, and the same may be said for Pinker and Dawkins.
Let me follow up on this because I've heard you call yourself a deist.
Yeah, I don't want to be called an atheist.
You know, being a good scientist, and having been drawn up short so many times on my own theories and speculations -- as all honest scientists are -- I don't want to exclude the possibility of a creative force or deity. I think that would be a mistake to say there is no God or supernatural force. As the theologian Hans Kung once said, how are we to explain there is something and not nothing? Well, that's a question I'm happy to leave to the astrophysicist -- where the laws of the universe came from and what is the meaning of the origin of existence. But I do feel confident that there is no intervention of a deity in the origin of life and humanity.
That is the distinction between theism and deism.
That is the distinction. So I am not a theist, but I'll be a provisional deist.
To be a deist, you're saying maybe there was some creator, some presence, that set in motion the laws of the universe.
Maybe. That has not yet been discounted as a hypothesis. That's why I use the word provisional.
It's fascinating because everything you've said up until now suggests that you should be an atheist. Why hold out the specter that maybe there was some divine presence that got the whole thing going?
Well, because there's a possibility that a god or gods -- I don't think it would resemble anything of the Judeo-Christian variety -- or a super-intelligent force came along and started the universe with a big bang and moved on to the next universe. I can't discount that.
Let's just play this out for a minute. If there was this creative ... whatever you want to call it...
This intelligence that got our universe going, what happened to that intelligence? Did it go off to the next universe?
That's what I mean. That's exactly what I said. (Laughs)
Thirteen billion years ago, it left and went somewhere else?
Well, they are now either lurking on the outer reaches of the universe, watching with some amusement as the eons passed, to see how the experiment worked out, or they moved on. Who can say?
I think this is actually of great importance when we're talking about science and religion. There are a lot of people who discount the literal interpretation of the Bible because it does not square with modern science. And even God is such a loaded word. What if we put that word aside? Can we talk about energy or some sort of cosmic force?
That's why I say, I leave this to the astrophysicist.
Not the religious scholars?
Oh, of course not. They don't know enough. Literally. I hope I'm not being insulting. But you can't talk about these subjects now without knowing a great deal of theoretical physics, particularly astrophysics and developments in astronomy concerning the origins and evolution of the universe. But one thing we may very well be able to understand from start to finish -- we haven't done it yet -- is the origin of life on this planet. And that's what counts for human beings. Where we came from. And it's beginning to look -- it's looking pretty persuasively -- that we are in fact ultimately physical and chemical in nature, and that we evolved autonomously on this planet by ourselves. There's no evidence whatsoever that we're being overseen or directed in our evolution and actions by a supernatural force.
But this raises another question. I know evolutionary biologists disagree on this point -- whether there is some inevitable progress in the course of evolution. In other words, once the simplest forms of life appeared on Earth, was it inevitable that eons down the road, some highly intelligent creature would evolve -- like humans?
Yeah, philosophers love this question, and scientists like to stay away from philosophers. To get involved is like a bird landing on tangled foot. Let me see if I can square away the idea of progress. If you define progress as an increase in complexity -- say, going from a simple bacterium-like organism up to an advanced animal or human society -- there's no question that evolution has progressed. But if you see it as some kind of teleological force that is moving evolution along, that there will be progress in the universe from A to Z, you cannot see that in evolution. Progress is basically a human concept.
On the other hand, if you subscribe to the evolutionary viewpoint, but you also want to find some larger purpose, it would seem to be comforting that evolution moves toward greater complexity. It will keep evolving into something that's bigger and greater.
Well, I'm an existential conservative. I take the view that the human species has evolved to be a biological part of this biosphere. We belong in this biosphere. We are intimately connected to it. Our physiology, our psychology. This planet can actually be a paradise if we use our intelligence to make it so. That, to me, would be progress.
You're saying humans have purpose here.
Yeah, they have purpose to live long and be happy.
More than that. They have purpose to be good stewards of this Earth.
I believe so, yes. When you unpack happiness into satisfaction, fulfillment, vision, awe, a sense of higher purpose and quality, we have that ability. And I think it will be reached not by traditional religious faith but by knowledge and human self-understanding.
There are some people who talk about evolution as a kind of secular religion. The philosopher Michael Ruse has made this argument. He talks about "evolutionism." If you want to identify the characteristics of a religion -- a complete, all-encompassing worldview, with an origin story, you can find that in the theory of evolution.
Maybe Michael, who is a friend of mine, was talking about me. I often write in a spiritual tone, particularly on issues like biophilia -- our relationship to the natural world, which is now a well-founded psychological principle. But let me say something about scientists, including those who work on evolution. Basically, they don't worry about things like this. They're not uplifted in this manner. They are journeymen doing this. They realize that the commerce of science is original discovery. That's our silver and gold. When you talk with them, they won't have a conversation like the one we're having now. They'll talk about the latest findings on ecosystems or the organization of California tidal pools. They go home, and watch television, and maybe go fishing. But basically, they are journeymen. There are relatively few people who are doing anything like a spiritual search.
You're saying scientists, for the most part, don't have existential crises?
That's correct. Most are not religious. They're quite happy with what they have. Therefore, scientism -- or science as an alternative religion -- is not in my opinion a valid comparison. I don't see it as having the qualities of a religion, in terms of obeisance to a supreme being or of an urge to proselytize.
Suppose, miraculously, there was proof of a transcendental plane out there. Would you find that comforting?
Sure. Let me take this opportunity to dispel the notion, the canard, that scientists are against transcendentalism, that they want to block any talk of it, particularly intelligent design. If any positive evidence could be found of a supernatural guiding force, there would be a land rush of scientists into it. What scientist would not want to participate in what would be one of the greatest discoveries of all time? Scientists are simply saying -- particularly in reference to intelligent design -- that it's not science and it's garbage until some evidence or working theory is produced. And they are suspicious because they see it coming from people who have a religious agenda.
I guess I'm asking a slightly different question of you personally. Would you like there to be evidence of God? Forget about this as a great scientific discovery. Just personally, given your background, would that be thrilling? Would that be comforting?
Well, it would certainly give you a lot of material to study and think about the rest of your time. But you didn't ask me the right question.
What's the right question?
Would I be happy if I discovered that I could go to heaven forever? And the answer is no. Consider this argument. Think about what is forever. And think about the fact that the human mind, the entire human being, is built to last a certain period of time. Our programmed hormonal systems, the way we learn, the way we settle upon beliefs, and the way we love are all temporary. Because we go through a life's cycle. Now, if we were to be plucked out at the age of 12 or 56 or whenever, and taken up and told, now you will continue your existence as you are. We're not going to blot out your memories. We're not going to diminish your desires. You will exist in a state of bliss -- whatever that is -- forever. And those who didn't make it are going to be consigned to darkness or hell. Now think, a trillion times a trillion years. Enough time for universes like this one to be born, explode, form countless star systems and planets, then fade away to entropy. You will sit there watching this happen millions and millions of times and that will just be the beginning of the eternity that you've been consigned to bliss in this existence.
This heaven would be your hell.
Yes. If we were able to evolve into something else, then maybe not. But we are not something else.”
Joshua Knobe:b.1974.Integrates Philosophy of Mind and Moral Philosophy from a fundamentalist socio-biological position. Supports Theory theory and the functional separation of affect from cognition. Interestingly, recognizes Nietzsche’s strong contribution to socio-biology.
John Russon:b.1960. Contintental Philosopher, therapist and jazz musisian who claims to be a big fan of Merleau-Ponty and phenomenology in geneal, but whose work seems to be most effectively categorized as Freudian or neo-Freudian, filtered through Winnicott, Lacan and Marx. I see none of the radicality of either Husserl, Mereau-Ponty or Heidegger here, just Sartre’s influence.
Lee Smolin:b.1955.Atheist Physicist who believes physics evolves in a Darwinian way and that laws of physics also evolve.
Jack Reynolds:University of Tasmania. Seems to have a good understanding of Merleau-Ponty and reads Derrida through him, which is an improvement over most readings of Derrida.
Daniel Hutto:He belongs to the group of analytically trained ‘philosophers of mind’ which includes Chalmers, Churchland, Dennett, Flanagan, Searle, Bermudez and McGinn. Hutto supports Gallagher and Ratcliffe in opposing theory theory and simulation theory in favor of interactionism, but I don’t see his reasons as having much to do with theirs. He relies on Bruner’s narrative approach here, which sees narratives as conditioned habits that are normally used automatically rather than actively construed and reconstrued moment to moment. He says we normally only actively theorize when a narrative doesn’t quite fit a situation. Gallagher has said something similar in speaking about narratives as habits that we are trained with. Nevertheless, Hutto seems to come from more of a Bergsonian perspective than anything Husserlian or post-Nietzschean Hutto considers himself an absolute idealist in the Bradleyan tradition. He believes the only alternative to a Fodor-type nativist account of the origin of concepts is one which argues that concepts arise from non-conceptual experience. He uses Wittgenstein to critique Dennett, but applauds Paul Johnston’s reading of Wittgenstein and Johnston is a moral philosopher in the MacIntyre-Taylor Kierkegaardian camp(alarm bells here). Hutto believes in the idea that a so-called objective or third-person reality and subjective consciousness are separate realms and then proceeds to offer a metaphysical explanation of how to reconcile these two realms. He offers a revised version of Bradley’s absolute idealism, which states that the experience of consciousness and that of objective space-time are contextual events which are only pieces of a larger reality, a complete unity which must be assumed to underlie all of these pieces but which can never be attained. This sounds like Putnam’s Kierkeggardianism and in fact Hutto quotes Putnam approvingly .Lippit and Hutto wrote about Kierkegaard:“The term 'paradox' is also used in a way which stops short of nonsense. The absolute paradox is indeed identified with 'the absurd', and the absurd is said to be that 'God has come into existence in time...as an individual human being' (CUP 210). But this is said not to be absurd per se, but absurd from the standpoint of 'objective reflection' (cf. CUP 210). And a major point of the Postscript is to explain why we should not approach ethical and religious issues by means of 'objective reflection'.God is without sin; humanity is sinful, and requires God's intervention. What the interlocutor has failed to take on board is this dimension of the 'absolute' difference between God and man. It is one which imports both epistemic and practical standards which are - from the point of view of 'immanence' - new. Revelation radically challenges our view of ourselves and our capabilities, and as such is 'the strangest thing of all' (PF 101).”Is this more Lippit’s view than Hutto’s? Hutto e-mailed me this response:“My tendencies are non-theistic - though I find my inspiration in writers who often have a more theological bent - e.g. Bradley and Wittgenstein (who at least claimed to see everything from a religious point of view). If you are interested in the Kierkegaard in this regard you might speak with my colleague, Dr. John Lippitt. We once co-authored a paper on Wittgenstein and Kierkegaard, but have not joined up our thinking with respect to K and embodied cognition, as yet.”
Dan Zahavi67:University of Copenhagen. I accept that Zahavi’s reading of Husserl is likely accurate, at least regarding Husserl’s earlier period. Zahavi insists on holding onto the idea of the subjective side of intentional experience as perfectly self-conscious in a history-transcending fashion. He, like Nagel and Searle, believes in the non-relative intrinsicality of first-person experience, the feeling of “what it is like” to experience a thing. Unlike Searle and Nagel, he rejects theory-theory. Zahavi embraces Sass’ theory of schizophrenia as an excess of self-reflection! I can’t imagine a Freudian or post-Nietzschean view of any sort believing this crap. It smacks, if not of overt theologism, then certainly of a pre-Freudian reluctance to see the psyche as thoroughly contingent. Zahavi loves Sartre and embraces Michel Henry, whose phenomenology is unabashedly Christian, although I have no evidence (yet) that Zahavi is religious. Zahavi also holds there is a close overlap between analytic approaches like that of Searle, Nagel and Jose Luiz Bermudez and phenomenology, with the main difference being that the analytics hold consciousness of the self as an object whereas phenomenology sees self-consciousness as awareness of Subject. I know that Shaun Gallagher disagrees with Husserl’s distinction between perception and language, and between subject and object, but Zahavi embraces it. It may be that one can reconcile this reading of Husserl with Freud(As Merleau-Ponty seems to suggest), minus the biologisms. Or else Zahavi may be just pre-Freudian.
John Shotter:1938.Superficially, his arguments sound consistent with Ratcliffe and Gallagher, but he never ventures into territory concerning the sub-personal or the biological. Most significantly, he never mentions self-organizing or dynamical systems research, embodied cognitive work, Dennett, Rorty, Damasio. Instead, other than Merelau-Ponty, who he may be poorly reading, he emphasizes names like Wittgenstein, Russian writers like Bakhtin and Volusinov, and Dreyfus, Searle, Charles Taylor and Nagel. He may very well be not only pre-Dennett but pre-Husserlian. He wrote, in a 2007 article on George Kelly (Re-visiting George Kelly: Social constructionism, social ecology, and social justice – all unfinished projects. Personal Construct Theory& Practice, 4, pp.68-82), “socialism – as some of us GOFS (or Good Old Fashhioned Socialists) conceive it – is an impossible project at the moment.” It would be interesting to investigate the connections between his socialist leanings and his relation to Habermas, Sartre and Marx.
Vicki Kirby: Critiques Judith Butler’s attempt at a Freudian/Lacanian/Foucaultian synthesis as not understanding the embodied nature of culture and the semiological basis of matter.
Judith Butler:b.1956. I need to do more reading on Butler, but from what I’ve gathered so far, she attempts to stake a position somewhere between Freud/Lacan and Focucault, managing to remain closer to the former than the latter, as a result maintaining a duality between nature/culture, body/language, as critics like Jack Reynolds and Vici Kirby have argued.
Thomas Nagel:b.1937.Atheistic analytic philosopher sympathetic to Sartre and Nietzsche, seems to want to locate a non-religious teleology closer to Sartre than to Nietzsche, which would place his critiques of Dennett and Dawkins as misguided.
Joseph Margolis:b.May 16, 1924. Effectively exposes the metaphysical presuppositions preventing writers such as Putnam, Hegel, Habermas, Dilthey and Marx from attaining a radically historical vision of meaning. . He says, in The Flux of History and the Flux of Science(1993):
”...the continuity of understanding the "discontinuities" of different historical ages (construed so differently, for instance, by Hegel, Gadamer, Habermas, and Foucault) is not equivalent to (does not entail) the universality of the norms or concepts or forms of rationality by which that understanding obtains. No, that continuity is no more than an artifact of historical life reviewing, from its own horizoned vantage, the discontinuities it there discerns. To assume the validity of the universalist thesis on the strength of the formal inclusiveness of discourse (speaking ambigiously of the "whole of mankind") is to "Kantianize" discourse illicitly and prematurely. It's a natural enough mistake: one that is surely implicated in Hegel, Marx, Gadamer, Habermas, and possibly Foucault, as well as in standard views of history affected by these thinkers. But it is a mistake nonetheless—a complete non sequitur”.
He appears to embrace Foucault but his critiques of Husserl, Ricouer, Heidegger, Rorty and various postmodern writers seems to indicate his inability to make the phenomenological (and beyond that, deconstructive) move into a thoroughly relational model of being. Instead, he insists on mantaining a split between the methods of human and natural science, based on his belief in a certain notion of an ‘objective’ physical reality. He says cultural time is reversible but physical time is irreversible.
”Their[cultural world's] narrative structure—their past, for instance—is, as we have said again and again, always subject to further change by way of further interpretation. Nothing like this obtains in the physical world...The human world is significantly different from the physical—in possessing Intentional structures; it is conceptually richer and more complex in virtue of incorporating the other—and more. The physical world must be older, we say, than human life, and independent of human inquiry; otherwise, all our conjectures make no sense.”
Margolis cannot accept a view of the physical and the cultural as united by an inseparable mutual dependence of the subjective and the objective, and so he misreads Husserl as trying to subordinate the physical to a transcendent, Kantian intentionality:
”Persons and the artifacts of their world are inextricably symbiotized (between themselves) in a deeper consensual way than the physical world appears to require of its own observers. The symbiosis of nature functions holistically only. It was Kant's and Husserl's error to suppose that it could be construed distributively and criterially—constitutively, in that sense.”
If Husserl’s error was in formalizing history via its origination in conscious self-awareness, Margolis makes an even more traditionalist error, by not only accepting the idea of a non-embodied self-conscious intentionality, but failing to move with Husserl in at least construing this intentionality as prior to any formal distinction between the physical and the mental.
Thus, he attacks the following quote from Dennett:
“Intentional objects are not any kind of objects at all. This characteristic is the dependence of Intentional objects on particular descriptions. [On the Intentionalist view,] to change the description is to change the object. What sort of thing is a different thing under different descriptions? Not any object. Can we not do without the objects altogether and talk just of descriptions. [For, it would be enough to say that] Intentional sentences are intensional (non-extensional) sentences.”
Margolis responds:”Dennett goes on to link this completely unsupported proposal with another (that is equally undefended) baldly intended to eliminate all talk
of persons altogether. But the linkage is gratuitous. The trouble is simply this: no champion of the reality of intentional or intensionally complex structures ever held that a change in the description of physical or natural objects entails a change in such "objects." The only question they ever (and properly) raised in that regard concerns the logical bearing of such complexities on the actual management of truth-claims about such (physical) objects. (The possibility of altering, as by interpretation, Intentionally qualified entities is another matter that Dennett never discusses.)”
In conclusion, Margolis seems stuck in a Freudian-Nietzschean (or perhaps Sartrean) era.
Bruno Latour47:His `constructivism' sees itself as escaping an idealist literary deconstructionism (he doesn't seem to recognize any other kind) and a pre-Kantian realism. This seems to place him somewhere between Kierkegaard and Piaget. I'm guessing he's closer to Sartre than to Piaget. Has much in common with Ihde, Hacking, says Michel Serres is one of the greatest French philosophers.
8)Michael Cole38:post-Bruner cognitive anthropology shaped by Vygotsky, Bakhtin. One of most influential cog.sci. people who communicates with all the key figures in the field, but who is more radically interactional.
Giorgio Agamben:1942. Marxist-Frankfurt school ranter whose emotionalism far exceeds his philosophical depth; an Italian Chomsky.
Simon Glendinning64, could be close to either Gergen or Merleau-Ponty, clearly hasn't read much continental lit.:Reading University(Routledge99)
Robert C. Solomon:1942, Detroit. Somewhat of an enigma so far. Favors the work of philosophers like Hegel, Sartre and especially Nietzsche, but conspicuously avoids for the most part Dewey, Meade, Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Wittgenstein, Rorty. Does seem more familiar with Freud and James and their supporters. Has extensive familiarity with and writes frequently about empirical theorists of emotion from Schacter and Plutchik to Izard, Ekman , Ortony, Damasio and Panksepp. I’m not sure whether this places Solomon as a pre-Freudian in the Sartrean mode or as a post-Freudian in a Gallagher-Rorty mode. He disavows religion, so he is not Kierkegaardian. His support of a ‘cognitive’ theory of emotion may be either justified by a Gallagher-like holism or a Sartrean reluctance to split up consciousness. Not sure which yet. His style of writing tends very much toward literary vagueness, and is not as precise even as Rorty’s. Would a post-Nietzschean, post-Freudian need to write in this style?
Judeo-Christian Theists-Deists and Schopenahuerian Buddhists:
Darwin: In an 1860 letter to Asa Gray, Darwin wrote that he could not see "evidence of design and beneficence on all sides of us." At the same time, he wrote,
"I cannot anyhow be contented to view this wonderful universe & especially the nature of man, & to conclude that everything is the result of brute force. I am inclined to look at everything as resulting from designed laws, with the details, whether good or bad, left to the working out of what we may call chance. Not that this notion at all satisfies me. I feel most deeply that the whole subject is too profound for the human intellect. A dog might as well speculate on the mind of Newton. -- Let each man hope & believe what he can.--"
Vincent Descombes:(1948). French philosopher of mind who critiques the representationalist view of cognition. He seems close to Brandom and Haugeland. I get the strong sense that he is closest to Dreyfus and Taylor and shares their Kierkegaardianism.. He certainly grossly misinterprets Heidegger, poststructuralism(hates it and relativism) and Derrida like Dreyfus does. Find out more about his relation to Rorty, Dennett, etc.
Ed Sampson:Cal.State Northridge. In April 2003 issue of Theory and Psychology, argues for a Levinasian, Buberian, Kierkegaardian psychology based on obligation and responsibility for the other. It seems to be an unabashedly religious argument for sociality, very different from (regressive relative to) Gergen or even Lakoff-Johnson.
Don Polkinghorne36,U.S.C.(Suny83,88)/Dept. Counseling Psychology, 503G,L.A.,90089-0031.His background was in religious studies. His recent association with the philopsychy website suggests he is a Kierkegaardian.
Donn Welton; . Welton’s The Other Husserl initially impressed me with what seemed a Merleau-Ponty-like rereading of Husserl. But conspicuously absent from the index is any mention of Merleau-Ponty, Freud or psychoanalysis, Darwin, Nietzsche, Dewey, Mead, James, or any other post-Nietzschean writer. And he heaps praise on Habermas of all people for his understanding and incorporation of the later Husserl. Most of Welton’s references, in fact, are to analytic thinkers like Dreyfus, Charles Taylor whose analytic theory of natural language Welton is particularly interested in, and Follesdal, or Critical Theoreticians like Apel and Adorno.
Simon Critchley60:confines himself to a political-literary language attempting to be parasitic on Derrida, but in fact being much closer to Sartre. Says he likes Freud, Lacan, but is clearly close to Cavell and Adorno. Situated in a post-Marx, Gramsciesque niche, using Levinas to justify his need for an `ethical' pull to experience. His emphasis on the need for a universalistic, quasi-metaphysical basis for `encipatipatory' behavior suggests strongly to me that he is probably closest to Sartre, and if so, only a little progress from Dreyfus and Caputo! See Martin Hagglund’s “Radical Atheism:Derrida’s Notion of Desire” for a critique of Critchley’s theistic attempt to equate Derrida’s and Levinas’ notions of justice and messianism.
Critchely's email response to me:"Dear josh,
thanks so much for you message and for reading my book.
I wrote,"Caputo has argued that Rorty's (and Mark Taylor's) mistake is to read
Derrida through the radical relativism and immanentism of Nietzsche and
Foucault instead of through Kierkegaard." Critchely wrote
"caputo is right here, but i would emphasize reading derrida through
I wrote "At the risk of generalizing, would it be fair to suggest that your
sympathies lie substantially with Caputo here, and with regard to the
idea that he lays out in such works as Radical Hermeneutics and On
Religion of a nonformalizable 'religion after religion' originating in a
radical Hospitality toward the Other?"
Critchely wrote "yes, on hospitality towards the other; no, to religion. my position is
what i call (in very little...almost nothing) 'atheist transcendence',
and i find that caputo and others leave open too much space for religion
to creep back in."
I wrote "And if so, do you see your
thinking on the ethical as in reasonable agreement with Geoffrey
Bennington's articulation of the quasi-transcendental? That is, that
Bennington lies closer to your outlook than do either Rorty,Taylor or
others who would defend a notion of the ethical as being contingent 'all
the way down'?"
Critchely wrote "absolutely, mine and geoff's positions are pretty close. he's an old
friend. all the best
Brent Dean Robbins:Editor of Janus Head Journal; quotes Heidegger, Husserl and Merleau-Ponty but is much closer to Hegel than to Husserl. Believes one can transcend the influence of cultural, narrative constraints through an act of ‘madness’. Seems to identify most closely with a Schopenhauer-like self-transcendence, praising ‘peak experiences’ of joy. The subject experiences:
“joy as a profound feeling of presence in the moment. And the subject is able to do this when the instrumental aim of everydayness is allowed to drop to the side -- the subject is no longer instrumentally geared toward future accomplishments, but is affirmed, wholly, in the present moment.Yet, this is not a freedom to do whatever one pleases. Rather, it is a freedom in the moment; a moment, which, for the time, takes on the feeling of completeness and wholeness. The freedom is a connection to one possibility offered by a welcoming and benevolent world, which affirms the subject.In contrast, it seems, Sartre's freedom is a freedom to be miserable by constantly seeking future gratification -- seems like another kind of "bad faith" to me.”
Notice that for Robbins this ‘joy’ is non-contingent, transcendending context in a way that neither Sartre, Husserl or Nietzsche would allow for. For these others, the moment is never ‘pure’ but is always a particular context of past-present-future in which joy could be guaranteed no priority over any other mood. Is equally enamored of Buddhism filtered though Joseph Campbell, extolling the sense of ego-less unity and centeredness. This coupled with his critiques of Sartre suggests to me that he belongs somewhere on a spectrum between Schopenhauer and Kierkegaard, pre-Marxist, pre-Freudian, pre-Husserlian.
R Bernasconi, maybe close to Althusser, loves Levinas, absolutely no originality, like Critchley, uses Levinas to justify what is probably a Sartrean thrust.yech!!*Heiddeger and Levinas.
John Sallis38:Penn State,Humanities Press. *hermeneutics.
Hubert Dreyfus29,Existential Christian apologist:loves McIntire, Taylor, and especially Kierkegaard. He’s pre-Critical Theory:(MIT Press82,91,92,U Chicago83, Free Press86, Harper & Row)/office:303 Moses Hall, MC2390 U.of Cal. Berkeley, CA.94720-2390
John J. Drummond:b.1943. So-called Husserl scholar interested in ethics and the emotions, but apparently writing from a religious position reducing Husserl to Kierkegaard or worse. Comes from the Dreyfus-Taylor reading of Husserl.
Don Ihde34:Stony Brook (Duquesne-Humanities73, Ohio76, Suny86, Indiana90,91, Northwestern93) /221a Harriman Hall,11794-37508 *hermeneutics and philosophy of science. Seems to understand his 'phenomenology-hermeneutics' of science as Kierkegaardian-Sartrean-Ricouerian literary phenomenology applied to natural science rather than literary texts.
J. Hillis Miller28:U.Cal.Irvine.Believes that communication technologies impose ideologies, and supports Althusserian Marxism and writers like Jameson.
Martin C Dillon38, Habermasian structuralism: Dept. of philosophy, Birmingham, N.Y. 13902-6000
Adriaan Peperzak29:Loyola. Catholic philosopher supporting Levinas.
Krell:DePaul, probably closest to Sartre, writes on Derrida when he admits he hasn't read the work
Richard J. Bernstein:likes Habermas
David Michael Levin39, turns critical theory into Kierkegaard, loves Sallis: Northwestern (Routledge85,89, MIT97, U.Cal99), Philosophy Dept., 1818 Hinman Ave., Evanston, 60208 disclosive hermeneutical philosophy
Kockelmans23:Christian(Duquesne67,University Press series `current continental research'????85,Purdue94)home:903 Willard Cir. State College, PA.16803-3549
Guignon44:U. Vermont, Jack Martin says he's Christian, close to Kierkegaard, Taylor, MacIntire. (Hackett83, Jossey-Bass99)
)Robert Scharff:U. of Vermont, close to Habermas (no pomo publications)
Andrew Cutrofello61,Kierkegaardian liberation theology, awful writing style:Loyola
*Anthony Steinbock:.He favors Max Scheler’s religious phenomenology, also praising Jean-Luc Marion and Michel Henry.
*Richard Zaner: Vanderbilt,Nashville,Husserlian Phenomenology
Caputo40:Villanova, close to Gadamer and Kierkegaard./Villanova U.,radical hermeneutics
Ed Casey39:Stony Brook
Schalow56:U. of New Orleans.Dept. of philosophy, LA 397, Lakefront, 70148
**Charles Taylor, close to Kierkegaard, pre-Freud, Descartes:Northwestern U., Philosophy Dept., 1818 Hinman Ave., Evanston, 60208
**Alphonso Lingis33:Penn State, between Freud and Jung, style close to a very poetic, very Nietzschean Bataille
**Calvin Schrag, likes Ricoeur:Purdue
**Theodore J. Kisiel:Northern Illinois.*Heidegger and hermneutics of science.
**Gerald Bruns:Notre Dame,IN.
**David C. Wood46:Vanderbilt,between Habermas and Gadamer.*a posthumanistic ethics
**James Risser46, Christian writer, close to Gadamer:Seattle U.
**Charles Scott, somewhere between Kierkegaard and Adorno:Penn State
**Hugh Silverman:Stony Brook, probably not beyond Sartre. *the space between hermeneutics and deconstruction.
Rychlak28, likes Kierkegaard(Wiley77, Oxford79,Krieger81, Columbia91, U.Nebraska94, APA97)
Rudolf Bernet: Christian philosopher supporting an attempted synthesis of Levinas, Husserl and psychoanalysis.
Bernhard Waldenfels:Christian writer integrating Gadamer and Levinas.
Miguel de Beistegui:b.1966:Supposed Heidegger and Deleuze scholar who claims to be in the French post-Heideggerian camp but seems to be another Christian Kierkegaardian-Levinasian.
*David Pellauer:DePaul(no books but could be useful as he is journal editor)/ Byrne Hall ,2219 N. Kenmore Ave., 60614
Tina Chanter:U. Memphis(
Paul Davies:U. of Sussex, close to Rorty(no publications)
Fred Dallmayr28:Into Habermasian politics.
Jacques Taminiaux28:Chiristian philosophy(humanities85,Suny93,97)
Spirituality and Religious Faith in a Hermeneutic
Psychology Brent D. Slife, Brigham Young University
"Hermeneutics is one
of those conceptions that has a short past but a long history. Perhaps
all important conceptions share this feature, but the notion of
hermeneutics is peculiar in this regard. In one sense, it is as old as
those who have attempted to interpret and make sense of texts, whether
oral or written. In another sense, it is a relatively recent entry onto
the historical scene. The particular species under discussion here,
ontological hermeneutics, is mainly a twentieth century phenomenon –
even the latter half of the twentieth century. Certainly, it is
relatively new to the discipline of psychology; philosophers and
psychologists are still attempting to understand its properties and its
parameters. This is not to say that we do not already know a lot about
it. Nevertheless, its limits and its liabilities for psychology are
still being explored – hence our symposium today. The purpose of my
part of this symposium is to explore the relation of hermeneutics to
spirituality and religious faith. This is not an easy task, because the
literature on this relation is scant. Indeed, it is so scant that one
might infer that there is no such relation. I will argue here, however,
that this inference is false. I will contend that spirituality and
religious faith are not only related to hermeneutics but also may be
necessary to understand its full promise. Why, then, is this aspect of
hermeneutics not more widely discussed? This is the first of my tasks
today: to clear the obstructions that have prevented a productive
dialogue between religion and hermeneutics.
However, I do not wish to
stop with this clearing. My second task is to show how such a dialogue
will enrich the parties in the dialogue. Obstructions to the Dialogue
Let me first concede that few hermeneuticists over the years have made
explicit connections to religion and spirituality. Of course, this
depends to some extent on whom one considers hermeneutical. Clearly,
there are hermeneutically inclined theologians, such as Rudolf Bultmann,
Soren Kierkegaard, and Martin Buber who have drawn explicit connections.
However, like any mode of thought, there is a core of scholars – in
this case, a core of philosophers – who have a special status in
defining and delineating the issues of hermeneutics. Perhaps
surprisingly, many of these core philosophers are themselves religious.
Heidegger, for example, is probably the most controversial and ambiguous
in this regard, yet he asked for communion, confession, and mass before
he died.1 Gadamer, as another instance, is frankly Protestant (Lutheran,
to be precise), whereas Taylor and Ricoeur are Catholic and French
Calvinist respectively. Yet, few of even these core hermeneutic thinkers
have discussed the relation between their personal religious beliefs and
their hermeneutics. Why?
I believe the answer to this question entails cultural as well as
intellectual factors. First, it is simply "understood" in our Western
academic culture that sophisticated scholars do not express their
religious convictions in scholastic forums. Religion is considered too
personal and private to be addressed in conventions such as these. Many
scholars also fear that they will be perceived as proselytizing their
audiences. Although a case could be made that all scholars, even those
reporting supposedly objective facts, are attempting to persuade and
thus proselytize their audiences, religious proselytizing is viewed as
impolite in academic venues. Religion is considered to involve
passionate persuasion, whereas academic scholarship involves
dispassionate inquiry. Therefore, one is not allowed to discuss what one
knows best or considers the most truthful – such as one's own
religious beliefs – because this would be seen as violating the
culture of dispassionate inquiry.
As important as this culture is, I believe that intellectual concerns
play a greater role in obstructing formal religious inquiry among
hermeneuticists. Perhaps most pertinent (or impertinent to many
hermeneuticists) is the way in which many people view religious truth.
Here I do not mean to refer to a specific theology or a comparative
religion lesson; I am more interested in how religious truth has come to
be regarded in Western culture generally. Foremost in this regard is the
notion that religious truth is unchangeable and metaphysical. Truth can
never change – being eternal, universal, and complete – and truth
can never be a physical or contextual thing, because physical things and
contexts constantly change.
This is not to say that all religious people claim to know this truth
completely. Humans are mutable and physical, so we are not set up well
to grasp metaphysical and unchangeable entities. For many, only the
divine has this complete knowledge. This is the reason that many divine
or supreme beings are thought to be omniscient; their knowledge of the
complete, universal, and immutable truth means they know everything of
consequence, forevermore. This is also the reason that such beings are
endowed with supreme authority; they know the truth for anyone at
anytime. This authority implies that their commandments should be obeyed
>From the previous presentations today, it should be easy to see why some
hermeneuticists have problems with this view of religious truth and this
understanding of divine beings. Dialogue, for example, would seem to be
precluded. Religious truth is already set, so why discuss it? Indeed,
divine beings would presumably cut through any dialogue and state
authoritatively what is correct and true, for now and for evermore. This
type of divine monologue would not only prevent hermeneutic dialogue but
also remove the open-endedness and changeability of truth that is the
hallmark of the hermeneutic position. No wonder there is such scant
literature on religion in hermeneutics. Even if hermeneutic scholars
wanted to establish a rapprochement between their personal religion and
their professional scholarship, there would seem to be significant
obstructions to doing so.
The Possibility of Dialogue
But how real are these obstructions? How have religious truth and divine
beings come to be conceptualized in this way? The religious answer is
revelation; these qualities of truth and divinity stem from what has
been revealed in scripture and prayer. However, this answer begs a
distinctly hermeneutical question: How is it that religious people have
come to understand and interpret the information of revelation in this
manner? Revelation is like any other type of information in that it is
always underdetermined. That is, no information in itself completely
determines its own meaning. The receiver of information is always in the
position of providing a necessary context for communication to occur.
This underdetermination has been most rigorously demonstrated in the
philosophy of science, where the data of science have been shown to
underdetermine the results of science. Data provide important
information, to be sure, but they are not completely meaningful as
results without a cultural and theoretical context in which to situate
them. Indeed, we now know that data can have different meanings,
depending on the context in which they are interpreted. Likewise,
revelation "data" can have different meanings depending on the context
in which they are interpreted. Revelation is important, to be sure, but
the cultural framework used to interpret revelation is also important to
its ultimate meaning.
It is my contention that this interpretive framework is the source of
the obstruction between the religious and the hermeneutical. As I shall
show in due course, it is not the revelation itself, in most cases, that
obstructs this rapprochement; it is the Hellenistic interpretation of
that revelation – the "philosophy of men," as one scripture writer put
it2 -- that is the problem. Hellenism, as I use it here, concerns those
aspects of Greek culture and philosophy that have endured into our
present culture. As a respected philosopher once said, "All of Western
philosophy is but a series of footnotes to Plato." My contention is that
our Western understanding of religious truth and supreme divinity is
also part of that series.
As it happens, the main points at issue between hermeneutics and
religion are two of the main points of Hellenism. As Thorleif Boman
(1960) and James Faulconer (1999) have shown, Hellenists have a peculiar
understanding of change. Because the Hellenist's root metaphor is space
and space does not change, other fundamental aspects of reality, such as
truth, are considered not to change. Moreover, truth is universal and
encompassing of all things like space, and truth is nonphysical like
space, because neither can be held or seen.
If this sounds at all familiar, it is because it is the intellectual
root of our Western understanding of truth, which has formed the
cultural framework for our understanding of religious truth. Indeed,
both Boman and Faulconer contrast this Greek understanding with a Hebrew
understanding. The root metaphor for the Hebrews is time rather than
space, mutability rather than immutability. This means that what is
fundamental and thus what is truthful from the Hebrew perspective is not
the unchangeable, the universal, and the final; what is truthful is the
temporal, the becoming, and the contextual, including the contextual
dialogue between believer and divinity. Consequently, the Hebrew
worldview is dramatically closer to that of the hermeneuticists than
that of the Greeks. If we further realize that the Hebrew worldview is
the crucible for several important world religions, including
Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, then it is easy to envision a
fascinating dialogue, absent Hellenistic obstructions, between religion
What would such a dialogue be like? I believe that there is an
intriguing tension or "play," as Gadamer would put it, between these
previously unrelated and yet powerful modes of thinking. Let us begin
the conversation with what I believe is the best book on hermeneutics in
psychology, entitled Re-envisioning Psychology, by two of our panelists,
Frank Richardson and Blaine Fowers, and one of our audience members,
Charles Guignon. One of the many strengths of this book is its repeated
demonstration that no system of thought can escape morality. Objectivist
systems and relativist systems alike are founded upon and ultimately
promote hidden moral agendas. Yet, many of these agendas in psychology,
particularly in method systems, are unarticulated and unexamined. This
means that psychologists are routinely purveying values in the name of
Interestingly, when the authors of this book offer their own
hermeneutical approach to psychology, they stop short of articulating
their own moral agenda for the discipline. I think I understand this. If
they did prescribe a specific morality, they would risk appearing
moralistic, and a hermeneutic morality is complex and nontraditional.
For these reasons, Richardson and his comrades offer instead a
fascinating, dialogical methodology for identifying and resolving moral
issues. The problem is, as these authors know all too well, even this
hermeneutic method is founded upon specific moral values. Although I saw
no explicit rendering of these values in the book, a hermeneutic of
their hermeneutic easily reveals values like respect, humility,
openness, and caring in their dialogical method. But why select these
particular values? This question seems important, because these are the
values the authors are tacitly proffering for guiding our disciplinary
dialogue about values.
Sources of Values
At this point, many hermeneuticists would immediately point to tradition
and/or history. One of the key contentions of hermeneutics is that we
begin with the familiar, the "always/already," a pre-understanding of
morality. Undoubtedly, these authors, in their selection of these
particular values, came upon what had been "hammered out" over time. I
have no problem with this. My problem is that this explanation seems
incomplete: Why this particular hammering out and not some other? Yes,
morality is hammered out in the relations among people across history,
but why these relations?
I submit that there are three possible answers to this type of question:
natural laws, arbitrary relations, and spiritual explanations. The
first, natural laws, encompasses all the explanations that rely on
natural mechanisms such pleasure/pain as well as supposedly self-evident
propositions and principles for deriving morality. In all cases, nature
is counted on to provide our morality. Some evolution of values occurs,
or some innate "voice" of morality is discerned. In either case,
hermeneuticists have long been aware that one cannot derive the moral
from natural processes that are amoral. Part of the problem is that
natural processes are typically understood Hellenistically – as being
governed by unchangeable laws and principles. This implies that the
moral and the valuable are derived from close-ended truths, monological
natural authorities, and metaphysical reductions, to name but a few
problems for the hermeneuticist.
The second of these value selection processes – arbitrary relations
– is, I believe, equally problematic. Arbitrary relations entail all
those explanations of morality that boil down to happenstance or chance.
Included are all those subjective and projective explanations, such as
social and existential constructivisms, that assume that the reason
certain things are valued is because of some chance event of human
history – usually some invention of the human mind. That is, things do
not matter in themselves; they matter only because of some arbitrary
construction of the mind -- somewhere, somehow -- that just happened to
become reified or institutionalized by an individual or a society. To
those of you who know the leading hermeneutical thinkers, such as
Charles Taylor, nothing could be further from their positions. Values
are not merely invented or projected; they have a real existence as
meanings in the world. When a child is brutalized, this is a morally
reprehensible action, not just an arbitrary construction of a particular
society. My question is: How do we know this brutality is morally
reprehensible, when we do not inherit this sense from our nature and do
not arbitrarily construct this value?
Here, I believe that a third source of morality has been overlooked –
spirituality and religion. In one sense, this claim is not especially
provocative, because the influence of religion in human history has long
been recognized. However, this influence is frequently misunderstood as
a variation on naturalist or constructionist forces. Hellenism is a good
example of this misunderstanding, where religion is considered an
aggregation of God's immutable principles. What if we took religion
seriously and considered spirituality as a separate source of morality
and values? Even here, the meaning of spirituality in our culture is so
broad that this consideration is next to meaningless. I have a
California friend who would count his pyramid as a source of
However, I believe that a hermeneutic ontology could provide the
independence from naturalism and constructivism that is needed to
conceptualize a thoroughly spiritual source of morality. Ruling out
naturalistic and arbitrary approaches to spirituality would also take
care of many "pyramid" type options, because these rely on either
naturalistic metaphysical entities or constructivist "mind over matter"
powers. A hermeneutic source of spirituality would require some sort of:
a) agency and thus possibility, b) irreducibility and thus otherness
than "me," 3) nonarbitrariness and thus access to a contextual truth,
and 4) ability to communicate and thus carry on a dialogue. We could
perhaps include other requirements, but a spiritual agent that could
understand particular contexts and yet provide an irreducible other for
instructive moral dialogue would clearly begin to fill the hermeneutic
But where are such spiritual agents to be found? I submit that they are
to be found in many of the world's religions. When a Hellenistic
framework for interpreting truth, authority, and change is removed, the
revelation that remains in these religions is easily understandable in
hermeneutic terms. Am I just remaking religion and revelation in my own
hermeneutical image? I do not think so, though this is always a
possibility – a possibility, I would add, made apparent by
hermeneutics rather than concealed by it.
Still, even a quick overview of a few religions reveals the spiritual
qualities that fit a hermeneutic account of spirituality. C. S. Lewis,
for example, sees Christianity as the ultimate contextual truth when
Christ said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life." Notice that Christ
did not say that he brought the propositions of truth with him, or even
that he exemplified the natural laws of truth. He states quite plainly
that he, as a physical and fully contextual agent, is the truth.
Christianity, then, is primarily about a relationship or a hermeneutic
dialogue with this truth, not an incorporation of Hellenistic
propositions and commandments.
Interestingly, Islam and Judaism are also primarily about relationship
– Allah and God respectively. As Rabbi Wylen (1989) makes clear in his
Introduction to Judaism, "We do not know about God. Rather, God is known
through direct and intimate relationship" (p. 34). Similarly, The
Essential Teachings of Islam extols the relationship that mortals can
have with Allah and the dialogue that is available with this spiritual
agency. Of course, dialogue is the essential function of prayer in these
traditions. Prayer is not merely tuning into the monologue of Allah,
God, or Christ; it is a true conversation and fellowship. But what type
of dialogue can one really have with a spiritual agent of this sort?
Here Hellenism rears its ugly head with the assumption that authority
must be monological or it is not authoritative. From a hermeneutical
standpoint, a true dialogue requires real give and take, and a
willingness to be transformed, both on the believer's part and on the
part of the spiritual agent. Clearly, this is a deeper, more complex
issue in the realm of comparative religion: Can a spiritual agent really
change in response to a dialogue with a mortal? Nevertheless, as I
mentioned earlier, many scholars already see such change as inherent in
the Hebrew tradition. If anything, divine beings are expected to move
and change with the movements and changes of the times and the
Buddhists are explicit about such change. In the Teachings of the
Buddha, for example, the Buddha makes clear that "All existing things
are impermanent [and] uncertain (p. 54) . . . . To Buddha every
definitive thing is illusion" (p. 59). With change and temporality so
central to these spiritual traditions, nothing stands in the way of true
hermeneutic dialogue. In this sense, Tevye's dialogue with God in
Fiddler on the Roof is a truer depiction of a spiritual relationship
than some monological reception of God's principles. Interestingly, when
we see religion in this fashion (absent the usual Hellenistic lens),
hermeneuticists seem to be pointing continually to spiritual sources in
their writings. Gadamer, for example, makes clear in his book
Philosophical Hermeneutics that "in every dialogue a spirit rules" (p.
66). This is his famous concept of game, where there is a form of play
or spirit that governs the dialogue. But what type of spirit is involved
in this play? Gadamer elaborates in another passage that "neither
partner [in a dialogue] constitutes the real determining factor; rather,
it is the unified form of movement . . . [which] is taken up into a
higher determination that is the really decisive factor" (emphasis
added, p. 54). But again, what does Gadamer mean by "higher
determination"? In still another passage, the religious connotations of
his meaning are hard to escape when he uses terms like "I and Thou"
(with a capital "T;" p. 66), and the "gracious act of God" (p. 54).
In conclusion, I set for myself two basic tasks in this presentation.
Given the paucity of literature on hermeneutics and religion, I first
wanted to begin an earnest dialogue between these two parties. Although
many hermeneuticists are themselves religious, there is still a
prevalent lunacy that says scholars should not discuss, let alone
advocate, what they personally believe and consider the truth. I would
think that this fear of the passionate and personal would be minimized
in hermeneutical approaches, since the emphasis on the dispassionate and
impersonal is a clear legacy of objectivism. Perhaps if the intellectual
barriers of Hellenism can be overcome, we can begin to see what role
religion might play in a hermeneutic psychology. Certainly, as my second
task, I have speculated that this role could be substantial.
Hermeneuticists have successfully argued, I believe, that all systems of
thought must start with a set of values. However, this implies that no
system of thought – whether naturalist, constructivist, or even
hermeneutical – can produce the set of values that ground it. Similar
to logic itself, an initial premise or value must be in place before
logic, rationality, or any system can begin. What then is the nature of
this beginning set of values? Kierkegaard coined the term "leap of
faith" to capture the essence of these beginning values. He used the
term "leap" to indicate their nonsystemic and nonrational nature, but he
also knew that a mere leap would leave the values arbitrary and without
any real meaning. No, the leap had to be guided by "faith,"
Kierkegaard's name for the spiritual presence that transcends all human
made systems, but guides us, if we are open to it, to the values that
are truly valuable. The virtue of hermeneutics is that its ontology can
help us get us beyond the Hellenistic obstructions to a true
relationship with this spiritual presence.
1 Whether Heidegger was religious is difficult. He was a devout Catholic
who left the Catholic Church because he had become, intellectually, a
Protestant. Later he declared himself an atheist, but this declaration
must be understood in context: he did not believe in the God of the
philosophers. For most of his life, he said next to nothing about his
personal religious beliefs, though Gadamer has personally told James
Faulconer (Personal Communication, 2000) that Heidegger remained a
religious man. To support this, we know that Heidegger received
communion and made confession before he died and that he asked that mass
be said for his funeral.
2For example, the Apostle Paul – Colossians 2:8
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