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It is a way of avoiding the temptation to commit the Intellectualist Fallacy. Truth is important, but it cannot claim the whole field of meaning any more than cognitive experience could be taken to characterize all experience. Human existence is mainly lived in the world of meaning, of imagination. It is what gives definition to the idea of living not merely biologically but as member of a culture in a moment of its history, something that may shape not only what one thinks and believes but how one engages such physical basics as sexuality.
The question is whether a philosopher acknowledges or represses this ground.
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The philosopher should be thinking less about speaking a language even more removed from primary experience and more about how well his or her thinking has remembered that primary world of embodied cultural existence. With this comes a different form of philosophical praxis than that esteemed by the Anglophone tradition.
All debates will be pointless misunderstandings until this is recognized. I suppose one other way of looking at it is that classical pragmatism had other concerns in addition to that and had not come to the narrow thought that all problems in philosophy were linguistic ones or that philosophy itself might be a product of the misuse of language. Of course what has been gotten backwards is how pragmatists think of the means-end relation, Brandom confusing it with the dualistic, utilitarian view pervasively critiqued in the works of Peirce, James, and especially Dewey.
It is not about an antecedently given subjective desire.
Thus a tool is anything that exists in the present but is used as a relation to something that is not present. It orients our existence toward possibility and that is what action is. It is by means of this orientation toward possibility that human experience begins to take on meaning through relations so the contours of nature begin to show themselves. This is the birth of imagination as well as of intelligence.
Tools indicate possibilities in the present so that those possibilities can be operative meanings in the present. Through making possibilities immanent, values can present themselves and choices be made. A door may be physically present and so abstractly be a possibility of leaving a room. But if it is not known to be present — if it is hidden in some way — that possibility is not operative as a meaning in the present.
The primary problem of intelligence is making possibilities present. Imaginative intelligence, in other words, enlarges the present situation to include some of its possibilities as meanings. This is the theme of the fourth Chapter of Experience and Nature. He goes on:. But at every point appliances and application, utensil and uses, are bound up with directions, suggestions, and records made possible by speech; what has been said about the role of tools is subject to condition by language, the tool of tools.
The opposite is the case. What Dewey is saying is that language is the condition of tool-using behavior in the more mundane sense. In other words, Dewey is once again pointing to culture. It transforms the kind of being we are ; it allows us to participate in a shared life of meaning and value; it is the basis for our having a sense of self and sense of other.
Dewey makes this explicit, repeating the very phrase:. As to be a tool, or to be used as a means for consequences, is to have and to endow with meaning, language, being the tool of tools, is the cherishing mother of all significance. For other instrumentalities and agencies, the things usually thought of as appliances, agencies, and furnishings can originate and develop only is social groups made possible by language.
Dewey tells a humble story of A making a request of B to bring her a flower. He must see the situation in terms of its relations of possibilities and imagine which of those are at play. This is a sort of imaginative experimentation to try to predict how another might interpret our own actions; it is crucial in determining how we understand our own meaning. This is what is involved: a mutual imaginative understanding of the situation from the standpoint of the other to come to a meaningful form of conduct for oneself; one realizes one is in a social communicative situation because of the mutual meaning of the symbols or gestures.
There is, as it were, shared imaginative space. Parts of it may be so analyzable: these may be functional distinctions of use in inquiry into language. But the first and foremost aspect of language is that it involves hearers as well as speakers.
I find it more than curious that our century of linguistic philosophy has produced very little on the subject of listening. And listening of course involves attentiveness, acknowledgement of an other, emotional resonance, reflective insight and an awareness of the unsaid, and perhaps of the unsayable. Brandom even quotes a passage from Logic: The Theory of Inquiry that makes this explicit, without, as far as I can tell, realizing it. In other words, education is a fundamental feature of human existence, a feature of our way of being-in-the-world.
Education and learning are also involved with our basic human existence: it tells us something basic about what we are existentially, teachers and learners. Education is the cultural dialogue of death and life.
In dealing with the problem of meaning it would try to understand it not in terms of propositional units and modes of inference, but in terms of the human need or eros for meaning and the ways that need is met in existence. This question of meaning is not about propositions and has everything to do with understanding life primarily from the relation of meaning to the welfare of human existence. Psychotherapist Viktor Frankl has left us a testimony of his first-hand experience as a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp and what happens to people when all sense of value and meaning is stripped away.
We do not exist merely as biological — much less as neurological — beings; we exist through culture. Different cultures have found different ways to weave a spiritual ecology of meaning and value around those who live within it. How shall we live? Possibilities would be operative as immanently present.
Cultural pragmatism would take up the critical question of how the Human Eros might best be served — what sort of world would it be in which human existence found its greatest fulfillment? How should cultures seek to enrich the possibilities for meaningful existence?
Related Pragmatic Naturalism: An Introduction
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