«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 main claim I am making, therefore, is that there is no room for slippage between affordance and activity. There are two kinds of problem cases for this claim that it is important to deal with appropriately. First, you might think that affordance and activity can come apart in cases in which the activity misfires. For example, consider the case of a touch-typist who accidentally types a g instead of an f in the word food. Surely, one might think, this happens sometimes even when the situation solicits the activity of typing an f. Have not the affordance and the activity therefore come apart? It is easy to think they have come apart since in this situation the typist might say explicitly, after the fact, “Darn, I intended to type the word food instead of the word good!” Certainly it is true that the typist can recognize that her activity has misfired in this way.
But why should we think, just because she can recognize after the fact that she has done something wrong, that when she was engaged in the actual activity of typing the g she was intending or trying or hoping to type an f? To say this would be to read back into the unreflective, absorbed activity an intention that she has only after the activity has been performed. If the activity is really absorbed, if it is genuinely unreflective, then there is no room in the subject’s experience for such an intention. For in genuinely absorbed activity there is no space between what I am doing and what the world solicits me to do.
There is a strong temptation, of course, to read back into the absorbed activity this intention, but I believe that one must resist the temptation. The motivating principle behind this temptation, I believe, is that whenever a subject can recognize that his activity has misfired, then the subject must have had the intention to perform a different activity all along. This motivating principle is an application of what might well be called “The Refrigerator Light Hypothesis.” For just as the child assumes that the refrigerator light must always be on, since it is on every time he looks, so too our proposed analyst has claimed that since the intention to type an f is explicit when the subject is paying attention to his activity, so too it must have been among the conditions that characterized the content of the activity even when he was not paying attention to it. This is a bad principle in the case of absorbed activity, just as in the case of refrigerator lights.
A second kind of problem case arises when the affordance comes apart from the way the world really is. For example, when standing in front of a trompe l’oeil painting I might genuinely be solicited to walk through a door, even though there is nothing in front of me but a painted wall. In this case it is once again true that the activity is not satisfied. When I bump into the wall instead of going through a door I notice immediately that something has gone wrong. Indeed, I might very well say, “Darn, I thought there was a door there!” But once again one must be careful not to read into the engaged activity the conditions of satisfaction on the activity that are understood only once one is THE HARVARD REVIEW OF PHILOSOPHY vol.XIII no.2 2005 Closing the Gap: Phenomenology and Logical Analysis 21 detached from it. One must beware of the Refrigerator Light Hypothesis. In general, it is not part of the affordance that the activity I am motivated to perform has to be appropriate to objective reality. For once inside the engaged activity there is no position from which to say that what your body is doing might not work.
The upshot of all this is that it is in principle impossible to be solicited to act in one way while actually doing something else. The reason is that in order to do something other than what I am solicited to do, I have to step outside of my engagement with the world in order to notice what I am doing and bring about a change; once I disengage myself from my activity, however, I am no longer solicited by the affordance to act. To bring the story back to akrasia, it would be as if the very act of smoking a cigarette were itself sufficient to undermine my knowledge that smoking is bad. If this were the case then akrasia would indeed be incoherent: I could not both know that smoking is bad and at the same time smoke a cigarette. And so it is in the case of engaged activity. The very act of noticing what I am doing is sufficient to undermine the affordance to do it. For this reason there is no possibility of slippage; the world’s directive cannot go unheeded, or if it does then it is no longer the world’s directive. As a result the notion of direction of fit has no place at all in the analysis of engaged activity.
The central idea here is that engaged activity is normative in a special sense: it involves a kind of solicitation in which the world is intrinsically motivating for the agent, an agent who is unreflectively engaged with it. This idea seems to me absolutely essential to any account of everyday engaged activity. In emphasizing vagueness or lack of clarity, as Dreyfus does, it seems to me that he has missed this essential aspect of the phenomena. And although he is right to say that which activity a given situation affords will differ depending upon the particularities of the situation, this dependence on the situation is not their central feature either. Dreyfus has understood the deep importance of absorbed activity, and he understood it early on. But in missing out on the essentially normative structure of absorbed coping, he has failed to recognize how different things look from within the engaged attitude than from without it. When I am engaged with the world, background phenomena like affordances gear me directly into the environment by motivating me immediately to act in certain ways.21 It seems to me that Dreyfus is also wrong to claim that logical analysis by its very nature covers up the phenomena of engaged activity. It may be true as a matter of fact that the standard categories available to the logical analyst are inadequate to account for the phenomena. I have tried to give a start on this claim, and one could certainly go further here. For instance, although I have not argued for it, I believe that the phenomena of engaged activity are not assimilable to any other kind of intentional act either, including various speech acts like exclamations, which have no direction of fit, and promises, which bring about the fit between the world and the utterance by their very successful performance. But even if none of the existing categories is sufficient to characterize engaged activity, there is nothing in principle that keeps the firstperson logical analyst from uncovering their essential structure. Indeed, the
very act of differentiating engaged activity from other kinds of intentionality is itself an application of the method of logical analysis. It is logical analysis, however, that is applied to the phenomenological facts.
THE ABILITY TO BE GEARED DIRECTLY INTO THE WORLD, TO FIND ONESELF MOTIVATEDimmediately to act in response to its solicitations, seems to me one of our most fundamental abilities. Indeed, focusing on this ability seems to me the most promising way to close the puzzling gap between us and the world, a gap that makes the intentional directedness of higher level cognitive states like belief and desire seem to be almost magical. Searle, whose Chinese Room Argument shows so cleverly how difficult it is to close this gap, ought to recognize the need for such a grounding capacity. And Dreyfus, whose arguments against AI depend on the idea that our basic bodily engagement with the world is essential for closing the gap, ought to recognize that there is more to this engagement than vagueness and lack of clarity. Still, by paying attention to the importance of the first-person perspective it seems to me that Searle and Dreyfus both have made deep and important strides in bringing these issues to the fore. All further work in this area will have to build on the progress they have made.
I have sometimes heard Searle say that the right philosophical methodology is to use whatever methodology works. That seems to me a sane and sensible principle. In the areas of intentionality and social reality, of course, special considerations apply. For all right-thinking people recognize that sensitivity to the first-person perspective is essential to any full and proper account of these domains. It is because Searlean analysis and Dreyfusian phenomenology have this sensitivity built firmly into their motivating principles that they have both turned out to be philosophical methods that work. Whatever more can be said about these important issues will be the result of a profitable engagement between the methods that Searle and Dreyfus have pioneered. ϕ Notes See, for example, his comments in his recent interview with The Harvard Review of Philosophy.
John Searle, “Toward a Unified Theory of Reality,” interview by Zoë Sachs-Arellano, The Harvard Review of Philosophy 12 (Spring 2004): pp. 93–135, here p. 115.
See ch. 2 of Intentionality: An Essay in the Philosophy of Mind (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983).
Searle claims that he has long made use of the following argument, though it was new to me and I cannot find any place in the literature where he has developed it. This is not to say that there is no such place, just that I have not been able to find it.
Searle pursues a line like this with respect to memory and its causal self-referentiality condition in his interview with The Harvard Review of Philosophy, cited in footnote 1. Searle, “Toward a Unified Theory of Reality,” p. 114. All subsequent citations to this interview will be made in-text.
John Searle, Rediscovery of the Mind (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1992), p. 156. The original targets of this criticism were theorists like Noam Chomsky and David Marr, each of whom posited a level of mental content that was not, even in principle, accessible to consciousness.
THE HARVARD REVIEW OF PHILOSOPHY vol.XIII no.2 2005 Closing the Gap: Phenomenology and Logical Analysis 23 The interviewer seems to be onto this internal tension in Searle’s account when she suggests, on p. 121, that there is a tension between Searle’s claim that his own logical analysis goes beyond phenomenology and his criticism of the “deep unconscious” views. In response Searle says that the two cases are different, but does not explain how.
What counts as phenomenology, of course, is also a potentially contentious issue. I have said that phenomenology is the study of what is in principle accessible to consciousness, and I think this is, generically speaking, a good start. But ought phenomenology to include, for instance, Husserl’s method of eidetic variation? (Eidetic variation, roughly, is the method of holding onto a phenomenological essence of, for example, the noema for a particular perceptual experience, and then imaginatively varying all sorts of its features to see whether the noema remains the same.) If the technique of eidetic variation is already a part of phenomenology, then the gap between phenomenology and logical analysis may be narrower still.
Strictly speaking, of course, “modes of presentation” are restricted to conceptually articulable ways of understanding an object. Christopher Peacocke introduces the phrase “manners of presentation” to broaden this Fregean idea to non-conceptually articulated ways such as, one might think, are characteristic of non-linguistic intentional states like perception.
For the sake of brevity, I will use the original Fregean terminology, but will assume that it applies in Peacocke’s broader sense.
My own view is that the Connection Principle may be a good start for a story about the relation between phenomenology and content in the case of non-linguistic intentional states such as perception, memory, and action, but it is probably not as appropriate in the case of language. Searle’s actual formulation of the principle suggests that it applies to all intentional states, and therefore may be overly broad. It is probably not a coincidence, however, that when he is invoking the Russellian methodology he tends to use linguistic examples.
As Searle says in the interview: “Phenomenologists typically cannot hear that question and they cannot hear the answer, because they have an impoverished philosophical apparatus.
They think I am asking a phenomenological question, because they have no other apparatus to deal with the question. They think I am asking, How does it seem to us? But typically how it seems to us does not reveal the underlying logical structure” (p. 116).
John Searle, The Construction of Social Reality (New York: Free Press, 1995), p. 41.
One might argue that I nevertheless incur a social obligation in such a circumstance. After all, no matter what internal dialogue I am having with myself when I utter the words “I promise to have lunch with you on Tuesday,” you will certainly have a right to be angry at me if, for no good reason, I fail to show up.
Better: the rabbit’s experience of the hole consists entirely of being drawn to escape into it.
Indeed, it would be informative to learn any fact about it.
I do not actually know whether there is a condition that has this kind of phenomenology.
There are various kinds of social deficits that occur from damage to the pre-frontal cortex, however, and patients with these kinds of deficits are often peculiarly bad at betting games.
One possibility is that the money they are betting with does not look valuable to them.
When I say this happened at some time in the past, of course, I do not mean to indicate that it happened at some particular moment. No doubt the transition from the barter system to the currency system was gradual.
Perhaps it will turn out that acting in accordance with the rules, if done long enough, will by itself make people sensitive to the value affordances. This is like Pascal’s idea that simply by acting like a Christian, by performing all the Christian rites and rituals, a person may thereby be able to attain the phenomenology of faith. Maybe that is right. It would be no criticism of my view, however, if a society like that could develop the practices for barter or exchange. After all, my claim was about the value-insensitive society, and we are now imagining a society that has become value-sensitive.