Sunday, January 23, 2011

Husserlian Encounter with General Pragmatism

Pragmatists eschew metaphysical debates. They avoid the type of debates that do not any practical consequences. We might say that how free-will debate occurs in early analytic philosophy between compatibilists, determinists and libertarians has no consequences other than the simple fact that it can be contemplated on its own. In fact, it might be thought that we should only consider philosophical problems as they pertain to human action. Accordingly, it is a common theme in American pragmatism to think of truth as contextual to such an extent that the truth of an idea is how it relates to action within concrete consequences the idea generates in context. Ideas do not correspond to reality. Instead, pragmatists embrace that our ideas must be tested in our experience. The reason for this favoring of experience over ideas, action over theory, is simple. For the pragmatist, human beings are first and foremost practical beings. Theory derives itself out of practice (through the consequences of the idea itself) and not vice versa. You can contemplate Platonic Forms all you want, but if the idea has no consequences to bear on human life (experience), then you should be talking about something else. As such, you might find many pragmatists somewhat dismissive about the conceptual problems faced in what might be called rationalist philosophies.

Rationalist philosophies in my use of the term have two things in common: A) they think philosophical problems often involve a priori elements to them that can be reasoned about on a purely conceptual level, B) there is at least enough common intelligibility to how subjectivity experiences its contact with the world that experiences can be articulated in a manner common to one subject, and there is a basis for communicating universal truths that have their origin in a priori elements also to other subjects. A and B are in direct conflict with the tenets of basic pragmatism. For the truth of these rational ideas is accessed by the same subjective structure as someone else. There is a transcendence to how it is that subjectivity works on this account.

Now, pragmatism would react fundamentally to any conceptual claim if it did not have its relation to experience/practical action. For instance, Kant engages in a transcendental argument to show that if one accepts moral requirements as a fundamental, then the form of those moral requirements would take the form in such a way that one could only deduce that the moral law requires us to never make an exception of ourselves. This follows from the idea of moral requirements itself, or so it would seem. However, the pragmatist might claim that such an abstract conceptual analysis leads away from how the truth of an idea is revealed within experience. The often cited phrase to me is pragmatism is a “fidelity to experience” since it is only within experience that ideas arise, and only in experience can ideas be tested.

Phenomenology has the same dedication to experience. It is a return to things themselves. By this, the Husserlian phenomenologist implies that we pay attention to the manner in which phenomena appear to consciousness. For this is how phenomena are lived through. Experiences are lived-though in our conscious life since consciousness is thoroughly a structural intentionality. We are conscious of our consciousness. Consciousness is a consciousness of the phenomena in question. In this way, consciousness always takes an object where the object of experience is a correlate of a conscious act. Intentionality is a philosophical truth in which human life consists, and is a layer pragmatism does not explain.

In pragmatism, ideas happen within experience. They are causa suis. Ideas just happen within experience, and pragmatism in its dedication to lived-experience has no mechanism to suggest why this ideality happens. In truth, the commitment to lived-experience is very phenomenological. Yet, in Husserl, there the same commitment to described lived-experience but Husserl also gives us the cognitive architecture of an intentional consciousness that constitutes the meaning of its intentional contact with the world. In this way, Husserlian phenomenology can explain better the how and what of how things are experienced. He has a better grasp to offer a philosophy committed to describing how it is that ideas affect our lives practically. In other words, he can describe

The problem observed of pragmatism’s causa suis and the ideality of experiences comes from assuming a rich conception of experience. For this account of pragmatism to work, the discursivity of experience must be readily assumed. If it is to be assumed simpliciter, many pragmatists run the risk of conflating their experience with everyone else’s. Experiences run together then not because of the consequences of an idea. Instead, they run together and like consequences only because the thorough conceptuality experience possesses. A transcendental phenomenologist has no problem with this level of either generality or what we might call the transcendence of a subject’s immanence. But, pragmatists want to avoid metaphysics for the fear that it succumb to dogmas of past philosophies like what I pointed out as A and B of rational philosophy. However, the conceptual-laden nature of experience remains unexplained. It is so in that pragmatists do not have the doctrines of either intentionality and constitution at work within experience. In trying to remain so true to the level of pragmatic experience they ignore providing a thorough account as to how meaning actually arises. This is also what no other phenomenologist after Husserl can explain neither.

It is therefore my contention that we should abandon pragmatism for its implicit inability to make sense of how it is that we truly do experience of the world and embrace Husserl’s procedure in order to maintain that we experience the world in the first-personal dimension of intentional consciousness and can pay attention to how something is given with respect to how consciousness constitutes in evidential insight the manner of a phenomena’s givenness. We should keep the pragmatic insight of remaining truthful to experience. Yet, the problems for pragmatism only arise when we highlight the assessability of an idea’s truth lies in consequences. Instead, they should have pointed to the intentionality of consciousness as a point of convergence and then proceed from there.  


Canadian Pragmatist said...

You wrote, that if we accept pragmatism over phenomenology, "...the conceptual-laden nature of experience remains unexplained."

So? Why do we need or want to 'explain' experience?

"Ideas just happen within experience, and pragmatism in its dedication to lived-experience has no mechanism to suggest why this ideality happens. In truth, the commitment to lived-experience is very phenomenological. Yet, in Husserl, [we have] the same commitment to describ[ing] lived-experience[,] but Husserl also gives us the cognitive architecture of an intentional consciousness that constitutes the meaning of its intentional contact with the world. In this way, Husserlian phenomenology can [better explain] the how and what of how things are experienced."

You don't explain at any point why explaining the 'how' and 'what' of lived experience is important. You certainly don't explain why it would have any effect on practice.

Carbondale Chasmite said...

For a fuller conception of reality, I propose that explaining features of our experience is wiser than not doing so. Phenomenology provides what structures are present in our experience by putting us in contact with the world in the right type of way.

Next, I don't think I need to mention why the what and how of experience are necessary to know about. This level of analysis is an interest shared between both the phenomenologist and the pragmatist since both describe lived-experience. It's just that the pragmatic conception does not go deep enough into experience to reveal its true character.

Canadian Pragmatist said...

"Next, I don't think I need to mention why the what and how of experience are necessary to know about."

That's convenient because your lack of "mentioning why" is at the heart of my criticism. I obviously do think you "need to mention why the what and how of experience are necessary to know about." Although, my demand is even weaker. Even if unnecessary, why is this anything but a complete waste of time?

"This level of analysis is an interest shared between both the phenomenologist and the pragmatist since both describe lived-experience."

Can you give an example of any pragmatist interested in describing lived-experience? Or, better yet, can who quote them doing this?

"It's just that the pragmatic conception does not go deep enough into experience to reveal its true character."

Even if it is true that phenomenology reveals the true nature of reality, how will this help with practice? Will knowing the true nature of reality or experience do anything but make us feel warm and fuzzy inside?

Carbondale Chasmite said...

Well, frankly when I say something like I don't need to explain why the what and how of a phenomena's givenness are important to know, I'm assuming my target audience reflectively inclined to the point that philosophy is not simply done for the sake of "feeling warm and fuzzy inside." I'd think people might want to know how it is they live through their experiences since much of how we live conceals over what is truly present in our experiences.

I mean I could go up to some artist on Commercial Drive and ask him why he paints. If he said "I want to share my vision with the world", then he has assumed that he has 1) something to contribute to others and 2) others might want to see what he sees through his painting. We could just tell him to go away. It's a waste of time to be an artist, or to even philosophize. However, I think that move is a bit superficial.

Dewey's aesthetics are a description of lived-experience. Hell, even the treatment of ideas in any of the major authors is a description of how ideas arise and relate to overall practice.

To quote a colleague from long ago, being wise consists in being on rapport with reality. If you really believed that everyday when you threw your shoe at the wall it would rain, then by doing this everyday for 9 months out of the year in the Lower Mainland, I'd be right. Yet, if you had beliefs that were on rapport with reality, you'd know that throwing shoes at walls has nothing to do with if it is going to rain or not.

So, I'll let you be judge whether or not ontological reflection should be a part of philosophy. Clearly, I think it is and I favor one way to get there in particular.

Canadian Pragmatist said...

I guess we just fundamentally disagree on this point. I don't think philosophy should be done.

Also, the painter, if he/she is any good, paints what might otherwise be a bit of the world we glance over and pay no attention to in such a way that we see, most commonly, the beauty of that bit of the world.

Artists can capture the wonder of the world, inspire new imaginative possibilities and even make people hopeful of humanity that there are people who are able to see the world as the artist does. That's not to mention their ability to draw our attention to how some institutions are unfair or any of the other wonderful things artists often do.

I don't know if the same can be said of the philosopher. If it can, why not just be an artist?

Also, the belief that throwing shoes up against the wall causes rain will lead to bad decisions. For instance, if I plant a seed that needs to be watered everyday and instead of investing in a hose or water container (or whatever they call those things used to water plants) I decide I'll just make it rain everyday, my plant will not grow.

Is that because the belief that throwing my shoes up against the walls causes rain is false? Sure, but the conception of truth used to get around the world is far less robust than I believe you're imagining to be.

It doesn't have to map onto the world. It just has to be close enough for human concerns, which I think is farther from mapping on exactly than most people think.

True beliefs are the ones that don't lead to trouble, false beliefs often do.

Carbondale Chasmite said...

If the same can be said for the philosopher, why be an artist? I think it goes both ways. Inevitably, however, you're gonna run into a deep trap. You often have repeated that you don't think philosophy should be done. I heard this during the Eagleton university post, and understand your position more and more. Yet, think of how trapped you truly are.

In order to argue that we shouldn't do philosophy, you'll have to grapple with the reasons underscoring that belief. If you then want to do a type of wisdom (let's not call it philosophy just yet) in which you want wisdom to lead to better decisions and you opt for pragmatism, then the initial rejection of what you found philosophy to be is itself philosophical such that even your argument for its very avoidance for pragmatism cannot help but be philosophical. In the end, you'll always be reflective, and like the artist, you will have thoughts you want to share with others. You can do this by simply chilling at Earls with your best buds, or you can go on to graduate school. Either way, you've been affected in a deep way, and I think it is Sartrean bad faith not to see it as philosophical. You're a inverted Platonist in the sense that Plato wrote many dialogues to show sophistry as the wrong way of life and to glorify the new way of life, the philosopher.

Carbondale Chasmite said...

And being an inverted Platonist as such, you think the life of the philosopher dangerous.

But let me ask another question?

If we remove the goal of human knowledge to be concerned with truth, then we need to replace the goal with something else. A pragmatist might insist we opt to think of beliefs as relating more to human concerns. If this is your point, then another classical opposition between Dewey and the whole of epistemology. Much like Heidegger, he insists on collapsing the inner/outer distinction of the Cartesianism inherent in any epistemological endeavor. That itself, again, is very philosophical. Again, it is bad faith to think you're not being philosophical or that it shouldn't be done when you can only refuse to do it by arguing against it.

Canadian Pragmatist said...

Well, first off, I don't have to argue against philosophy (which would be philosophical). Philosophy shows itself time and time again to be almost entirely irrelevant and not part of the intellectual discourse in general. You might think the continental tradition is some sort of saving grace, but I just don't see this tradition as so much better than the mainstream.

I am going to be doing an MA in the history and philosophy of education at Toronto's OISE. Thus, I'll admit that even I have still got some ties to philosophy, but I really don't care about gaining knowledge. I care about growth in the Emersonian and Deweyan sense of the term.

Which means that I care about being able to walk through life with more and more ease. Challenging myself and overcoming those challenges. So, I guess that's what I'd replace philosophy with, i.e. growth.

Carbondale Chasmite said...

I'm not that skeptical about philosophy. I've found teaching it very rewarding, and my students have been nothing but understanding. I think they pick up on my passion, and I always tie philosophy to lived-experience.

I mean there's a wisdom to it, and while your reservations about continuing in philosophy offer a tone of indifference or irrelevance as if it were a fact--a highly contested one in my honest opinion--I've never found that to be the case at all. I've had classes and met leading thinkers. What we do as professional philosophers really does matter, and while you live on a continent in which that is not the case, it is not entirely the case elsewhere. But I think you miss something, something that had long been a problem in other areas of philosophy outside what I do, someone like Heidegger criticized the sort of reified deadness to the language and formalism of positivism and subsequent developments of philosophy. If philosophy is dead to practice or how we ought to live, if drawing distinctions and narrowing defining the activity of philosophy through argumentation is all that wisdom is, then something is amiss. This is not entirely missed out in philosophies that sustain the wonder of life with an emphasis of concrete experience.

Canadian Pragmatist said...

I just don't know what concrete 'experience' has to do with anything. Presumably concrete results or concrete ideas which apply to real-world problems, these are to be hoped for. Examining 'experience'??? What are you hoping to get out of that?

Sustaining wonder is fine, although I think novelists do it better.

I don't disagree that attending a philosophy class or two isn't completely useless. It will help you see the world in a new way (I know it did for me). My objection is to the (positive) research projects. They're nothing but a waste of time.

Carbondale Chasmite said...

Look. I'm not going to rehearse my love and passion. I'm not going to sit here and type what has been said by others. If you think that there is no wisdom to be obtained by sustaining wonder in which philosophy is somehow different in kind to the creative expression in literature, then I don't have anything to offer you. I just think on the contrary. You can always post elsewhere. I'm rather excited about getting to the dissertation phase of my degree and joining the ranks of many jr. scholars.

If you are always looking to get something out of everything, then you'll never experience the intrinsic value of things in general. Wisdom consists in appreciating the past and the history that connects us to have the conversations we do. It means sharing in the wisdom of the past to enrich human life in general. If this doesn't have hold over you in any way, then I would think you haven't learned to really listen to those philosophical mysteries that continually repeat in our shared philosophical history.

Steve Patterson said...

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Came across this and thought you might find it interesting, even if it isn't *exactly* germane to the post. ;-)