Non-Articulable Content and the Realm of Reasons

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Non-Articulable Content and the Realm of Reasons
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     teorema Vol. XXV/1, 2006, pp. 121-131 121 Non-Articulable Content and the Realm of Reasons Stella González Arnal R  ESUMEN  En este artículo, exploro el concepto de experiencia en la obra de John McDowell y muestro cómo no puede acomodar la dimensión tácita (que no puede ser articulada) que está presente en nuestra aprehensión del mundo como agentes. Aunque este ele-mento tácito está fuera de nuestra atención focal, está regulado normativamente. Para McDowell, éste no contaría como conceptual y no pertenecería al ámbito de la razón. Yo argumento que este elemento está regulado normativamente y pertenece al ámbito de la razón. A BSTRACT   In this article, I explore John McDowell’s concept of experience and show how it cannot accommodate a tacit dimension, which is present in our apprehension of the world as agents, and which cannot be articulated. Although this tacit dimension re-mains out of our focal awareness, it is nevertheless normatively constrained. Within McDowell’s theory, this would not count as conceptual and would not belong to the realm of reasons.  Pace  McDowell, I argue that, as it is normatively constrained, it be-longs to the realm of reasons.   I John McDowell argues for the conceptual character of experience and considers that in experience, both receptivity and spontaneity are in operation. He preserves a traditional element within the realm of experience: he claims that it is, in a sense, passive, which allows us to have a “glimpse” of the world, and affords us the security that how things are  exerts a control on our thinking. At the same time, as our spontaneity is in action, experience is also the product of an active engagement with the world. He says that “in exper  i- ence, one finds oneself saddled with content” [(1994), p. 10], but we are also allowed enough freedom to decide whether or not to take the deliverances of experience as they appear to us. In the conception that I am recommending, the need for external constraint is met by the fact that experiences are receptivity in operation. But that does not disqualify experiences from playing a role in justification, as the counterpart thought in the Myth of the Given does, because the claim is that experiences  Stella González Arnal 122 themselves are already equipped with conceptual content. This joint involvement of receptivity and spontaneity allows us to say that in experience one can take in how things are [(1994), p. 25]. An important characteristic of experience is that “[i]n experience one  takes in, for instance sees, that things are thus and so . That is the sort of thing one can also, for instance, judg e” [(1994), p. 9]. In this view, there is a close link between experiences as conceptual and their linguistic articulation (it has often been said that for McDowell experiences are propositionally contentful) 1 . But it can be claimed that our conceptual apparatus is not adequate to capture the richness of our experiences and that there are aspects of it that escape conceptualisation. McDowell argues against the idea that there is a content of experience that is unmediated by our conceptual capacities that is able to ground our judgements. According to him, experiences can be fully appre-hended by our conceptual abilities and, furthermore, if experiences were non-conceptual they would not be able to enter into justificatory, rational rela-tions. We would not be  justified, but only “exculpated to believe”. The rel a-tionship between our experiences and our judgements is not purely causal,  but normative. According to McDowell, it is by learning a language that we become aware of the structure of the space of reasons, that we can see the relation be-tween concepts and that we become aware of asking for reasons and of giv-ing reasons. By learning a language we acquire a second nature, we become rational. Human rationality is therefore very closely linked with the fact that we are linguistic beings. Can we think of human subjects as embodied agents acting in the world within this schema? In our “relation” to the world, in our living in the world, we apprehend aspects of it that do not seem to be the sort of things that are conceptual. First, because we are not focally aware of them, and second, be-cause they cannot be linguistically articulated. I will argue that these unarticu-lable aspects play a central role in our exchanges with the world and yet are normatively constrained. It is important to notice that they should not be con- sidered to be “building blocks” that are conceptualised at a later cognitive stage, but rather, it is their non-articulable, non-focally perceived character that makes them so central in our engagement with the world. The following quotation, which is an example offered by Michael Polanyi, illustrates the type of content to which I am referring: When we use a hammer to drive in a nail, we attend to both nail and hammer, but in a different way . We watch  the effect of our strokes on the nail and try to wield the hammer so as to hit the nail most effectively. When we bring down the hammer we do not feel that its handle has struck our palm but that its head has struck the nail. Yet in a sense, we are certainly alert to the feelings in our   Non-Articulable Content and the Realm of Reasons 123  palm and the fingers that hold the hammer. They guide us in handling it effec-tively, and the degree of attention that we give to the nail is given to the same ex-tent but in a different way to these feelings. The difference may be stated by saying that the latter are not, like the nail, objects of our attention, but instruments of it. They are not watched in themselves; we watch something else while keeping intensely aware of them. I have a  subsidiary awareness  of the feeling in the palm of my hand which is merged into my  focal awareness  of my driving the nail [(1998), p. 55]. In the next section I will show why this content cannot be linguistically articulated and cannot appear in our focal awareness. I will also explain why, despite this, it is normatively constrained. II The above example shows that there are different types of awareness (subsidiary and focal), which function simultaneously in our engagement with the world, but cannot be attended to at the same time. If we want to hit the nail we have to be focally aware of it, but also, subsidiarily aware of the hammer. Our focal attention allows us to direct our efforts towards the reali-sation of the task in hand, by giving us a general feeling for the situation, but this entails that the subsidiary awareness, an awareness of the particulars, re-mains in the background. If we switch our attention from one to the other, if we become self-conscious of particular movements within a performance, then we lose sight of the whole, which frequently means that we have to stop our performance, or that it is disrupted by going wrong. Therefore, in order to  be able to act, those elements of which we are subsidiarily aware have to re-main in the background. Furthermore, even if it were possible to direct our focal attention to them, by doing so we would not be able to capture why they are relevant to the performance. The particulars are not significant on their own, they lose their meaning when they are not observed within the back-ground of the whole performance. 2  There are aspects of our embodied rela-tion with the world, which remain tacitly known, upon which we cannot reflect, that are as important in guiding our actions as these other aspects up-on which we can reflect and which can be made linguistically explicit. The action of going from what we are subsidiarily aware of to what is in our focal attention is an act of integration , which itself remains tacit. It is not a process which can be reflected upon, but it is not passive either. 3  It has  been argued that making integrations is a similar process to making infer-ences, but one that cannot be characterized as such. 4  Integration has been characterized as an inference that is made “within the body”, because linking the focal target and the subsidiary clues is not simply a mental exercise, but  Stella González Arnal 124 rather, a process in which the whole person is involved [Gelwick (1977), p. 64]. In order to understand the difference between making inferences and integra- tions, it is useful to review Polanyi’s  concept of knowledge as indwelling. Becoming able to grasp new patterns, to understand new practices, to make new integrations, is a process of acquiring skills. Once we have acquired them, they become second nature. Polanyi describes this process of acquiring a second nature as dwelling in the knowledge, and compares it with the way in which, by using tools, we perceive the world through them as if they were an extension of our body. By using them we indwell in them, we accept them existentially (which does not imply that we have done so mechanically). In the same way in which we assimilate actual tools existentially, we also assimilate intellectual tools, such as languages, scientific theories, or even moral teachings. We do so by participating in social practices, first without really being able to understand them, but later, being able to participate fully. It is then that we see the world as mediated by them, as if they were part of our  perceptual apparatus. Once we have mastered a language then we have com-mitted ourselves to mediating our relations with the world and others by it, and we have been intellectually shaped by it. There is a clear parallel with the work of McDowell here. Polanyi stresses the embodied character of our expe-riential relation with the world. As Jerry Gill points out, in accordance with Polanyi, we can see how “the body is the bridge or the axis that makes  knowledge possible, even conceptual knowledge such as lan guage” [(2000), p. 46]. There are several reasons why this tacit dimension cannot be articu-lated. First, Polanyi points out that within perception, we are only subsidiarily aware of our bodies. Perceived objects always include information about their relation to our bodies that remains unnoticed by us [(1966), pp. 13-4],  but we do have knowledge of our bodies (mainly) only in relation to other things. Therefore, in all instances of knowledge, there is always an element that remains tacit, which is captured in our focal awareness of what is known, but which remains unarticulated. What remains tacit is the way in which our em-bodiment influences our relationship with the world  , and in which it mediates all our knowledge. Polanyi expresses this relationship in the following way: The way the body participates in the act of perception can be generalized fur-ther to include the bodily roots of all knowledge and thought. Our body is the only assembly of things known almost exclusively by relying on our awareness of them for attending to something else. Parts of our body serve as tools for ob-serving objects outside and for manipulating them. Every time we make sense of the world, we rely on our tacit knowledge of impacts made by the world on our body and the complex responses of our body to these impacts. Such is the exceptional position of our body in the universe [(1969), pp. 147-8].   Non-Articulable Content and the Realm of Reasons 125 To say that we have tacit knowledge of the impacts made by the world on our body could be taken to mean that we are passive recipients of it, but we should not forget that we are able to ascertain what aspects of our experi-ence (although tacit) are relevant in guiding our interventions with the world. Some aspects of the world become salient to us when we engage with the world, they are significant, even if we cannot either articulate them or be fo-cally aware of them. This type of content is also part of our integrations, so we are able to relate it to explicit aspects of our experience. The way in which we are induced into epistemic practices, their social aspect, adds a further reason as to why there is a non-articulable content in our experiences. We are induced in practices, we learn, by imitation, by copying the ways of those who have already mastered the practice. We are able to tacitly pick up rules in the behaviour of our masters that are not reduc-ible to a knowing-that form and that more often than not also remain tacit to them. They show the rules in their practices but do not “tell” them. Even when these rules are made explicit, their use in guiding our performance is limited. For instance, a theory of how to ride a bike, is only of limited use to a cyclist who wants to improve his performance, because the elements that act as clues in his subsidiary awareness when he is riding a bicycle and the theory are diverse . These elements are of a different kind. They are partly giv-en by his embodied nature and therefore, they have to be existentially appre-hended. The type of content that remains in our subsidiary awareness is useful because it remains there, unarticulated but meaningful in relation to the whole. Furthermore, there is an interpretative element in making integra-tions that cannot be captured by making an analysis of the different elements that are subsidiarily known. In making a destructive analysis of the elements  present in the from-to relationship, we cannot capture either the relationship itself, or the dynamic elements present in our integrations. This is the case not only in examples of “practical” knowledge such as riding a bike, or hammering, but also in the case of “intellectual” types of knowledge such as mathematics. Polanyi insists that we can only learn mathe-matical theory by practicing, by learning to recognize that a particular puzzle is just an instance of a more general type. Mathematicians have to undergo a certain training allowing them to develop skills that enable them to see things that would not be meaningful to a less trained eye. They are able to make an integration of knowledge that remains tacit and a conclusion that becomes explicit. For instance, they become able to see aspects of a new problem that make it similar to one that they already know how to solve. In summary: what acts as clues in our subsidiary awareness must be ex-istentially apprehended. The clues are different from the “objective” descri  p-tion offered in the form of rules. They are meaningful within a context, relationally, and become unusable if we apply the method of analysis to them. We cannot become aware of the many ways in which our embodied nature
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