«RECONCILING SEARLE AND DREYFUS Closing the Gap: Phenomenology and Logical Analysis By Sean Dorrance Kelly I I AGREED TO WRITE THIS ARTICLE ON T IS ...»
The first time I saw non-American money, for instance, it looked like it was not worth anything more than the paper it was printed on. I knew, of course, that this was false. I knew that the French franc went at 5.5 to the dollar, and I could do the conversion perfectly well in my head. So not only did I know that the franc was valuable, I knew exactly how much it was worth. Still, it looked worthless. As I became familiar with the franc, of course, as I used it to buy crepes and café crèmes and glasses of wine, it eventually came to look valuable as well. But when I first saw it the franc did not afford buying anything; I was not immediately drawn to use it in my everyday transactions. Rather, it looked like a worthless bit of paper.
Of course it was a bit of paper—Searle has got that right. And the only reason it counted as money at all is because we had collectively imposed a status function on it. I am perfectly happy to grant that part as well. But what is it, exactly, to impose a status function on something, and what do we have to do in order to succeed in this task? In particular, could we impose the function of being valuable on a colored bit of paper if, for instance, it always looked to all of us the way the French franc looked to me when I first encountered it? I take it that this question is analogous to the question of whether we could succeed in promising to do something while consciously and sincerely thinking, “Like heck I will!” It is not properly speaking a part of the analysis of what money is. But it does figure in the performance conditions that must be met in order for us to impose the status function on money in the first place.
Well, what of it then? Could we collectively impose a status function on a bit of paper—that status function in virtue of which it counts as money—if we did not ever experience value affordances? If, in other words, the bits of paper always looked like mere bits of paper? Well, there are a few issues to consider.
First, let us suppose there is some pathological condition, call it the value-insensitivity condition, that you can get from a certain kind of brain damage. When you are value-insensitive, money looks like it is lacking value; it looks, in other words, the way the French franc looked to me when I first saw it.15 Now suppose that one person suffers from the value-insensitivity condition.
Surely if that were the case, there would be no effect whatsoever on society’s ability collectively to impose the status function of being money on what are otherwise mere bits of paper. After all, I was value-insensitive when I first saw the French franc, and the French franc, value-wise, did just fine.
Let us imagine, then, a more extreme case. Suppose that a whole society of people is value-insensitive. Could that society, under those conditions, collectively impose the appropriate status function on bits of paper? Well, again, there seems to be empirical evidence that they can. After all, presumably when THE HARVARD REVIEW OF PHILOSOPHY vol.XIII no.2 2005 Closing the Gap: Phenomenology and Logical Analysis 13 the euro was introduced in France, most native French people had valueinsensitive experiences of it. Nevertheless, it does seem right to say that the euro, on the day it was introduced, was valuable despite the fact that it did not look that way to anyone. At the time, if I remember correctly, it was worth exactly one dollar (ah, memories!).
Now, it is true, I suppose, that when the euro was first introduced, most French people understood its value in terms of the value of the franc. Even today, several years later, French credit card receipts give the price in both euros and francs. So perhaps we need to imagine a more extreme scenario still. Suppose that a whole society is value-insensitive with respect to the euro, and also with respect to all other forms of currency. In such a situation, could society collectively impose a status function on bits of paper in virtue of which they count as money? Well, I suppose the answer, again, is yes. After all, there was a time in the history of humankind when money was invented, and the system of currency exchange took the place of barter. At some time in the past, in other words, society collectively imposed on bits of paper, or perhaps on chunks of metal, the function of being as valuable as, say, two pounds of rice.16 What we are learning by this exercise, of course, is that the collective imposition of the status function “is worth a certain amount” always seems to take place against the background understanding that cultures already have of the value of certain kinds of things. At the most basic level, which can change from culture to culture, this already understood value of something is experienced as an immediately felt value affordance.
Well, then the final, and obvious, question arises. Suppose that a whole society is value-insensitive not only to all forms of currency but to all forms of stuff. In such a society no person prefers, in an immediately felt way, any one thing to any other. Perhaps it is impossible even to imagine such a society. How would they organize their activities? How would they form institutions? How could they even manage to get enough food to eat? I agree it is very difficult to imagine. But let us suppose for a moment that such a society could exist. And let us suppose further that despite never experiencing any immediate pull to value one thing over any other, they nevertheless come to agree—cognitively, so to speak, though not on the basis of anything else—that certain things stand in certain value relations to one another. They fill out the forms; they keep the books: two pounds of rice are worth twelve bales of hay. And so forth. Could the people of a completely value-insensitive society like this use such a formal system of agreed-upon relations alone as the basis for their barter or money system?
Would the rules themselves, in other words, be sufficient for the society collectively to impose value on stuff?
It seems to me there are two kinds of claim one can make in response to such a question; one of them is empirical and the other a priori. First, as a matter of empirical fact I believe it is extremely unlikely that such a society would end up developing anything like the practices of barter or exchange. Put yourself in their situation. Perhaps you already know the feeling of going for the first time to a place with a foreign currency and finding you have spent far more, or maybe far less, but in any case far differently than you normally do. It is much harder to keep track of the value of what you are spending when you constantly vol.XIII no.2 2005 THE HARVARD REVIEW OF PHILOSOPHY 14 Sean Dorrance Kelly have to do the conversion, instead of seeing the value immediately. Now imagine there is nothing to which you can convert it. You know that two pounds of rice are “worth” twelve bales of hay, but it is just the same to you, really, if the guy gives you twenty bales or even none. In the absence of immediately felt value affordances, what reason do you have to stick to the rules? So it seems very unlikely as a matter of empirical fact that a totally value-insensitive society would end up having consistent practices of exchange.17 But whatever the empirical facts, there is an a priori issue as well. And this a priori issue brings us right back to terrain that is very familiar to Searle.
For the people of the value-insensitive society are not at all unlike Searle himself when he is stuck inside the Chinese Room. Recall that in the Chinese Room JS, who knows no Chinese, is busy using enormous rule books to determine which output of apparently meaningless squiggles and squoggles he should send out of the room having received a certain input of squoggles and squiggles. (The squiggles and squoggles, unbeknownst to him, are actually Chinese sentences.) By putting ourselves into the position of JS we can see, according to Searle, that moving the meaningless squiggles and squoggles about in accordance with elaborate rules is not by itself enough to understand the meanings of the Chinese words. Syntax, as Searle famously said, is not sufficient for semantics. But the denizens of the value-insensitive society are stuck within their own version of the Chinese Room. That is because their practices of exchange are performed in accordance with a formal set of rules that operate on what is for them an equally meaningless domain. Not having any immediate sense whatsoever of the value of stuff, the rule that two pounds of rice is exchangeable for twelve bales of hay is just as meaningless and ungrounded as the rule that when the input tray offers squiggle squoggle you put squoggle squiggle in the output tray. Acting in accordance with some pre-set rules about the “value” of things, in other words, is not by itself enough to have an immediately felt, first-personal sense of something’s being valuable.18 The comparison with the Chinese Room is therefore complete: just as syntax is not sufficient for semantics, status functions are not sufficient for value.
The upshot of all this is that in order collectively to impose a function on bits of paper in virtue of which they count as money we must live in a society in which people are already value-sensitive. This value-sensitivity takes the form of people responding immediately to what I have called value affordances. The phenomenology of value affordances is their central defining feature: responding immediately to the value of the dollar bill was essentially different for me than knowing, but not immediately being solicited by, the value of the French franc.
Because value-sensitivity is phenomenologically characterized, in other words, and because the presence of value-sensitivity is a pre-requisite for collectively imposing the kinds of status functions that characterize money, the phenomenological facts play an essential role in giving the logical analysis of this aspect of social reality. Therefore, far from being irrelevant—as Searle suggests—phenomenology provides constraints on the circumstances in which the collective imposition of the relevant status functions can occur.
THE HARVARD REVIEW OF PHILOSOPHY vol.XIII no.2 2005 Closing the Gap: Phenomenology and Logical Analysis 15 So far I have argued for two general claims about the relationship between phenomenology and logical analysis. First, although I disagree with Searle about the details, I agree with him that there are things logical analysis can do that phenomenology cannot (like give the causal conditions on something’s being a perception). Nevertheless, I have claimed, phenomenology plays an essential role in the logical analysis of the content of perceptual states, and various other intentional states as well; Searle’s own Connection Principle ought to be sufficient to make this point. But second, I disagree with Searle’s strong claim that phenomenology is irrelevant to the logical analysis of social reality, indeed that phenomenologists “can’t even hear the question” that Searle is interested in. This is not because phenomenology by itself reveals the logical structure of social reality, but rather because it provides a constraint on the conditions in which a whole society can collectively impose various kinds of status functions.
Having established that phenomenology is one of the essential methods for analyzing intentionality and social reality, however, the question remains what the right phenomenological story about these domains is. Here I turn to Dreyfus’s important work.
§3. The Phenomenology of Everyday Engaged Activity
AS WITH MY INTRODUCTION TO SEARLE, ONE OF THE FIRST THINGS THAT ATTRACTED MEto Dreyfus’s work was his criticism of artificial intelligence and cognitivism.
Because of Dreyfus’s historical and hermeneutic approach to philosophy, however, learning the motivations behind his critique involved mastering his interpretation of the central texts of two extremely difficult and obscure philosophers—Martin Heidegger and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Although he probably does not know it, I spent four full years as a graduate student working almost daily with Dreyfus on these texts before I felt I understood them well enough to form the belief that they were worth studying seriously. Because of Dreyfus’s expert tutelage, I finally learned enough to decide they were.
Dreyfus’s approach to phenomenology has always focused on the firstperson phenomenon of everyday absorbed activity—activity in which we find ourselves engaged even though we are not noticing that we are engaged in it.
His important project has been to retrieve from the difficult and obscure work of Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty a rich and detailed story about the everyday skillful coping practices that form the basic level of our being-in-the-world. It is no exaggeration to say that the Heidegger who has entered twenty-first-century Anglo-American philosophy is really Dreyfus’s Heidegger, or Dreidegger, as he has come to be known. Among other important innovations, Dreyfus is the first to have seen the important connection between Heidegger’s analysis of the “ready-to-hand” mode of being and Gibson’s notion of affordances. Furthermore, Dreyfus’s account of Merleau-Ponty’s notion of “conditions of existence,” which he discusses in his interview with The Harvard Review of Philosophy on pages 142–3, is very similar to the account of the performance conditions for social facts that I was arguing for in the previous section.19 Despite his essential contributions to phenomenology, however, it seems to me that Dreyfus has both missed an important aspect of the phenomenon of vol.XIII no.2 2005 THE HARVARD REVIEW OF PHILOSOPHY 16 Sean Dorrance Kelly everyday engaged activity and also, and related to this, overstated the problem with logical analysis. In what follows I will try to spell out these claims.
In counterbalance to Searle’s claim that phenomenology is an impoverished methodology, Dreyfus often claims that logical analysis covers up essential phenomenological facts. As Dreyfus says in the interview, “logical analysis... turns out to cover up the... structure of the phenomena” (p. 135).