Dewey on Experience: Foundation or Reconstruction
Dewey is rightly hailed as America's major prophet of antifoundationalism, the view that philosophy should break with its traditional project of trying to guarantee our knowledge by grounding it on fixed, unquestionable foundations. These were long sought in self-evident first principles, primal essences, necessary categories, and privileged primary certainties: in notions like the cogito, the Kantian categories, sense-data, and the a priori laws of thought. Such indubitable, incorrigible foundations, Dewey argued, are neither available nor required for human knowledge and social practices.
Richard Rorty, who has done the most to champion Dewey's value for con- temporary philosophy, shows how Dewey shares this attack on foundationalism ~3- with Wittgenstein and Heidegger. But in contrast to these later thinkers, Dewey's aim in freeing philosophy from its search for foundations was to employ it for concrete practical reform. Post-foundationalist philosophy, for Dewey, was neither mere Wittgensteinian therapy to relieve linguistic cramps and itches nor was it a Heideggerean attempt to recapture a pre-Socratic experience of Being or attain a higher realm of Thinking. The aim was rather to transfer and apply philosophy's critical acumen and imaginative energy to the resolution of concrete socio-cultural problems. Some of these, however, can be so deeply entrenched and structured by the ideology of past philosophies that new philosophical thinking is needed to resolve them; for instance, by making room for new solutions that do not fit with our current presumptions by revising those presumptions. Philosophy should be transformational instead of foundational. Rather than a meta-science for grounding and justifying our current cognitive and cultural activities, it should be a form of cultural criticism which aims to redescribe our experienced world and reconstruct our practices and institutions so as to improve
Dewey's naturalistic thesis of continuity and emergence answered both these questions. Inspired by Darwin, it argued that the higher human expressions of life emerge naturally from more simple organic forms through increasingly greater organization and more discriminating behavior. Mind was not an outside observer of the natural world but an emergent part of it; knowledge and value were not transcendental imports but emerging products (and tools) of natural interactions. Experience, Dewey thought, was the best general notion to bridge these different but continuous dimensions of nature. Since "experience" could cover both what was experienced and the specific how of experiencing, it could span the object/subject split which spurs epistemology; and since it could also be attributed to lower animals, it could bridge the gap between human thought and cruder forms of existence. To affirm such continuity is surely one (but not, in my view, the best) reason why Dewey insists that experience be conceived more widely than its standard philosophical construal as conscious, intellectual experience:
When intellectual experience and its material are taken to be primary, the cord that binds experience and nature is cut. That the physiological organism with its structures, whether in man or in the lower animals, is concerned with making adaptations and uses of material in the interest of life process, cannot be denied. The brain and nervous system are primarily organs of action undergoing; biologically, it can be asserted without contravention that primary experience is of a corresponding type. Hence, unless there is breach of historic and natural continuity, cognitive experience must originate within that of a non-cognitive sort. And unless we start from knowing as a factor in action and undergoing we are inevitably committed to the intrusion of an extranatural, if not supernatural, agency and principle.
Rorty cites this passage in repudiating its notion of experience. Though sympathetic to Dewey's naturalism and critique of dualisms, he argues that experience is not only unnecessary for realizing Dewey's aims, but also renders these aims suspect by contamination with foundationalist confusions and myths: confusions of justifying knowledge through appeal to original causes, and myths of an immediate given. Experience is unnecessary because its target of dualism can be overcome through other means:
Dewey . . . confuses two ways of revolting against philosophical dualisms. The first way is to point out that the dualism is imposed by a tradition for specific cultural reasons, but has now F~ outlived its usefulness. This is the Hegelian way--the way Dewey adopts in "An Empirical Study of Empiricisms." The second is to describe the phenomenon in a nondualistic way which emphasizes "continuity between lower and higher processes." This is the Lockean way--the _ way which led Locke to assimilate all mental acts to raw feels, thus paving the way for Humean skepticism.4
Rorty sees Dewey's notion of experience as representing the second way and misleading us back into Lockean foundationalist epistemology, blurring the line between cognitive and non-cognitive existence so that the latter can ground the former. Rather than eliminating "epistemological problems by eliminating the assumption that justification must repose on something other than social practices and human needs," Dewey tries "to solve" them by finding " 'continuities' between nervous systems and people, or between 'experience and nature'." But "one does not need to justify our claim to know that, say, a given action was the best we could take by noting that the brain is an organ of action-undergoing "(DM 82).
Certainly we should not try to justify specific knowledge claims by mere appeal to the causal conditions of knowing. But Rorty never really shows that Dewey commits this confusion in asserting the continuity of cognitive and noncognitive experience. To make his case Rorty cites Dewey's view that language gives meaning to more primitive qualities of organic experience, thus rendering them conscious, definite feelings.
This "objectification" is not a miraculous ejection from the organism or soul into external things, nor an illusory attribution of psychical entities to physical things. The qualities never were "in" the organism; they always were qualities of interactions in which both extra-organic things and organisms partake (EN 211-212).
Rorty then rightly critiques this notion of experience's "qualities of interaction" for simply dodging the standard questions of dualistic epistemology, e.g. "Is my interaction with this table brown, rather than, as I had previously thought, the table being brown" (DM 83). But this ambiguous use of experience and its failure to resolve the debate between idealism and realism surely do not amount to using non-cognitive experience as justificational evidence for our conscious cognitive claims. In asserting the general continuity of cognitive and non cognitive experience, Dewey is not claiming that the latter functions cognitively as a criterion for the truth of the former. In fact, on the very page Rorty cites, Dewey effectively denies this by asserting that primitive non-cognitive experience is simply had but not known.5 And since not even known as "had," it is unavailable for use as evidence to support specific knowledge claims. Moreover, in insisting that only language constitutes feelings or sensations as objects of meaning and knowledge, Dewey has already taken the linguistic turn which ?xxx? requires that the realm of cognitive justification (what Rorty, after Sellars, calls "the logical space of reasons") be entirely linguistic. This should suggest that Dewey's claims for noncognitive, nonlinguistic experience in Experience and Nature are ultimately motivated by something other than the quest for epistemological foundations, a suggestion I later develop in terms of aesthetic and practical uses of such experience.
The closest Dewey comes to foundationalism here is to suggest that though any particular knowledge claim may be questioned, we can't take global scepticism seriously because we are linked to the world in a primal way before the question of knowledge claims can even arise. For even the formulation of sceptical doubts presupposes a behavioral background and use of world materials, organs and language. There can be no total, unbridgeable gulf between subject and object (or mind and world) since both are only constituted as distinct terms through experiential interaction. Rorty himself often employs the same kind of anti-sceptical strategy through his preferred notion of language. Rather than a continuum of experience (extending from the pre-cognitive hence pre-sceptical), we have a continuum of linguistic behavior ranging from merely practical, precognitive use to the making and justification of knowledge claims. Since we can have no sense of the world apart from how it is used, determined, and known through language, there is no wedge for a radical scepticism that language is completely out of touch with the world. Here the subject/object dualism is dissolved not in the common solvent of experience but in the network of language as a social practice through which particular minds and particular objects are constituted as individuals.
Rorty is right that language works much better than experience for such epistemological purposes; not only because language is a much clearer notion but because epistemology is a distinctively linguistic enterprise. But this does not mean that non-cognitive experience is intrinsically a foundational notion, while language is intrinsically immune to such uses. Protocol sentences have been used foundationally, and even the Wittgensteinian linguistic line which I share with Rorty is open to such misconstrual.
Consider Wittgenstein's claim that justifications must come to an end and the way he typically ends them by invoking the fact that "this language game is played," that this is how we were taught to use words and to live our "forms of life."6 While Wittgenstein was seeking therapy from philosophy's quest for ultimate foundations, his remarks are easily read instead as substituting empiricism's myth of the given with an allegedly non-mythical linguistic given. The huge project of analytic metaphysics through philosophy of language constitutes such a foundational reading.
However, even if pre-cognitive, non-linguistic experience does not entail foundationalism, philosophy has most often used it for precisely this purpose. Dewey himself does not always resist such temptations. Let us see precisely where he succumbs and whether immediate experience can be stripped also of Dewey's foundationalist use and still be philosophically important. For if not, Rorty is essentially right that contemporary pragmatism must renounce it.
Dewey's most thorough accounts of how immediate experience relates to knowledge occur in his essay "Qualitative Thought" (1930) and in his culminating treatise Logic: The Theory of Inquiry (1938).7 Here, as elsewhere, he firmly eschews the standard foundationalist strategy of using the qualities of immediate experience as indubitable, incorrigible evidence for particular claims of knowledge. They could not possibly have such a role since they are simply had rather than known and would have to be reconstructed and formulated in order to serve as a justificational foundation of truth.
But Dewey courts a different, more subtle variety of foundationalism when he argues that experience of immediate, non-discursive quality not only underlies but must guide all discursive thought. Here immediate experience is invoked not to justify particular truth claims but to ground the coherence of any thinking from which such claims emerge. Dewey claims that even if such experience is unknowable and ineffable, its existence and functioning can be recognized by introspection and, moreover, can be inferred as necessary in all our thinking. For it performs five logical functions needed for thought which, Dewey maintains, are otherwise not provided.
In sharp contrast to the atomism of traditional empiricism, Dewey's argument for experiential foundations rests on good holist premises:
we never experience nor form judgements about objects and events in isolation, but only in connection with a contextual whole. This latter is called a "situation" . . . ; an object or event is always a special part, phase or aspect of an environing experienced world . . . [and] stands out conspicuously because . . . of some problem of use or enjoyment which the total complex of environment presents. (L 72)
1. All thinking, then, is contextual, but what determines the relevant context or situation? What constitutes it as the single context it is, and gives it the unity, structure, and limits necessary for providing thought with an effective framework? Dewey's answer is immediately experienced quality: "a situation is a whole in virtue of its immediately pervasive quality" (L 73). It is "held together, in spite of its internal complexity, by the fact that it is dominated by a single quality," "constituted by a pervasive and internally integrative quality" (Q 97). "The pervasively qualitative is not only that which binds all constituents into a whole but it is also unique; it constitutes in each situation an individual situation, indivisible and undupiicable" (L 74).
2. In constituting the situation, this immediate quality also controls the distinctions and relations of objects which reflective thought will identify and employ as parts of the situation (e.g. whether we notice a sound as a message or disregard it as background noise).
Confusion and incoherence are always marks of lack of control by a single pervasive quality. The latter alone enables a person to keep track of what he is doing, saying, hearing, reading, in whatever explicitly appears. The underlying unity of qualitativeness regulates pertinence or relevancy and force of every distinction and relation; it guides selection and rejection and the manner of utilization of all explicit terms. . . . For the latter are its distinctions and relations. (Q 98-9)
Hence, for Dewey, "A universe of experience is a precondition of a universe of discourse. Without its controlling presence, there is no way to determine the relevancy, weight, or coherence of any designated distinction or relation" (L 74). Yet this controlling immediate quality lies below the level of thematized consciousness and language. It "surrounds and regulates the universe of discourse but never appears as such within the latter" (L 74X and when we bring it into speech and awareness we are transforming it into an object of a new situation defined by its own immediate and ineffable unifying quality.
3. Apart from unifying the context of judgment and determining the relations of its terms, immediate quality provides a sense of what is adequate in judgment, what level of detail, complexity, or precision is sufficient to render the contextual judgment valid. Is the earth really round? Is running good for your health? Does water boil at 100 degrees centigrade regardless of other factors? We can always make our judgments more detailed and precise. "But enough," as Dewey says, "is always enough, and the underlying quality is itself the test of the 'enough' for any particular case" (Q 108).
4. A fourth function of immediate quality is to determine the basic sense or direction of the situation and to sustain it over time, despite the confusing general flood of experience. Although the quality is non-discursively "dumb," it has "a movement or transition in some direction" which provides the needed sense of unity and continuity in ongoing inquiry (Q 107).
This quality enables us to keep thinking about one problem without our having constantly to stop to ask ourselves what is it after all that we are thinking about. We are aware of it not by itself but as the background, the thread, and the directive clue in what we do expressly think of (Q 99).
It is this unique quality that not only evokes the particular inquiry engaged in but that exercises control over its special procedures. Otherwise, one procedure in inquiry would be as likely to occur and to be as effective as any other . . . . Were not the sequence determined by an inclusive situation, whose qualitative nature pervades and holds together each successive step, activity would be a meaningless hop-skip-jump affair (L 109, 126).
5. Finally, Dewey argues that immediate experience's integrative quality is the only adequate way to explain the association of ideas. The standard explanations of physical contiguity and similarity are insufficient to make the link, because "there is an indefinite number of particulars contiguous to one another in space and time" and because everything in some respect is similar to everything else. Mere spatio-temporal proximity cannot explain, for example, why I associate an empty nest with a bird I never saw rather than with "the multitudinous leaves and twigs which are more frequently and more obviously juxtaposed" to the nest. And why should mere similarity lead my thought from this hammer to a nail rather than to another nearly identical hammer in the store? Something else is a needed to make the connections of associative thinking, and Dewey's answer is that it can only be the ineffable quality of immediate experience which binds through its sense of relevance: "What alternative remains save that the quality of a situation as a whole operates to produce a functional connection?". Association must be "an intellectual connection" produced through "an underlying quality which operates to control the connection of objects thought of"; "there must be relevancy of both ideas to a situation defined by unity of quality" (Q 111).
For a non-foundational philosopher like Dewey, this account of immediate quality as the underlying guide of all thought and discourse seems very much out of character. Had he simply argued that immediate quality can sometimes effectively ground or direct our thinking, his position would be convincing. Unfortunately, however, such quality is affirmed as what determines, in every particular situation, the coherence of our thinking, the structure of discourse, and the measure of adequacy in judgment. Moreover, it does all this without being a distinct object of awareness or term of discourse. We can never really analyse it, because doing so transforms it into something else. Yet, Dewey argues, we know it must exist and function as described, since otherwise coherent thought would be impossible. Here Dewey's radical empiricism forsakes him for a foundational metaphysics of presence justified by transcendental argument, a qualitative presence which, though mute, is the logically efficacious factor directing all thought.
There is good reason not to follow Dewey in embracing this ineffable experiential foundationalism, particularly since he elsewhere provides the means to avoid it. His pragmatism typically emphasizes how thought and action are governed by habit, purpose, needs of the organism, and the specific saliency's of the situation (as shaped by the organism's habits, purposes, and needs). Such factors, which typically function, can perform all the necessary tasks for which immediate qualitative experience was invoked as thought's indispensable foundational guide.
The basic structural unity of situation which thought requires is provided by the practical unity of purpose and the continuity and direction of habit. It need not be a qualitatively determinate presence of unity but simply a vague, presumptive unity of purposive behavior toward a particular end.8 A pursued purpose binds together the situational elements enlisted in its pursuit, and a habit already implies an internal organization of activity which projects itself on further organization. Habit and purpose can also provide the basis for our distinctions of objects and relations within the situation and our judgments of their relevance and importance. For Dewey, "habits are abilities" that are "conditions of intellectual efficiency," not only by focusing perception and thought within productive limits and patterns but by refining and developing it through repeated but varied practice. They provide the initial, prereflective structure for "all the perceiving, recognizing, imagining, recalling, judging" we performing If our habits of perception and classification initially structure a 'this' as a subject are always selective-restrictive of something from out of a larger field," the constituting of a situational focus from an indefinite experienced background. But, Dewey continues, this " selective-restriction [is always] made for a definite purpose" (L 131). So given the structuring of habit and purpose, there is no need to appeal to a special unifying quality, a felt presence, to organize the situation as an organized whole.
The function of giving the situation a definite, sustained direction is similarly met by habit and purpose. Since "all habit has continuity," is "projective" by its very nature, our thinking habits naturally continue their directional course (without needing to reflect to do so) and tend to resist interruption or distraction (HN 31, 168). Purpose also clearly provides direction and stimulates continuity of action for its realization, its desired end calling forth a series of coordinated means to reach it. These factors, rather than a mysterious qualitative presence, are what bind and control the successive steps of inquiry.
Purpose is also a better explanation of what is deemed adequate in judgment. Indeed, after advancing immediate quality as the criterion of adequacy, when it comes to clarifying his idea, Dewey reverts to purpose: "Any proposition that serves the purpose for which it is made is logically adequate" (Q 108). Finally, habit and purpose can explain our association of ideas without invoking a mysterious ineffable quality to link them. "When I think of a hammer," Dewey asks, "why is the idea of nail so likely to follow" (Q 111). The obvious answer is not the qualitative glue of immediate experience, but the entrenched habit of their functional association for practical purposes of construction. Dewey's argument for the necessity of immediate experience as the guiding ground for all BB thinking is thus as unconvincing as it is inimical to his antifoundationalist agenda.
Why then does Dewey affirm non-discursive experience as an epistemological foundation? His real aim, I believe, was not to provide such foundations but to celebrate the importance of non-discursive immediacy. Its importance was first of all aesthetic, central to the realm of experienced value. He always insisted that ~ our most intense and vivid values are those of on-the-pulse experienced quality and affect, not the abstractions of discursive truth. For Dewey, aesthetic satisfaction takes privilege over science, which is simply "a handmaiden" providing the conditions for achieving such satisfaction more frequently, stably, and fully (EN 290). Yet he further saw that non-discursive somatic experience also played an important role in cognition and action. Proprioceptive discriminations beneath the level of thematized consciousness structure our perceptual field, just as unformulated feelings Expansions, elations, and dejections") influence our behavior and orient our thinking.'0 Wanting to celebrate the importance of this nondiscursive experience, Dewey did so in the way philosophers have habitually emphasized factors they thought primary and essential--by erecting it as a theoretical foundation. This was a bad confusion of what was (or should have been) his true aim--to establish and improve the quality of immediate experience as a practical end and useful tool. Dewey wanted philosophers to see that nondiscursive experience could be used to improve knowledge as well as the felt quality of living. Even if philosophers were trained to dwell instead on discursive reason, their task of giving an account of human reality required recognition of the role of nondiscursive experience." Moreover, given pragmatism's aim of not merely explaining reality but improving it, the value of nondiscursive experience seemed still more important as a project to be realized, and its crucial but much neglected locus was the body." A major inspiration here was F. Matthias Alexander, the renowned body therapist and founder of "Alexander Technique," whose influence on Dewey has not been adequately recognized.'3 A long-devoted student of Alexander, not simply of his texts but of his somatic exercises, Dewey wrote encomiastic introductions to three of his books, defending Alexander's work against sceptical reviewers and praising it as having "demonstrated a new scientific principle with respect to the control of human behavior, as important as any principle which has ever been discovered in the domain of external nature."'4 Alexander argued that many of the physical and mental ills that we suffer in the modern world result from disharmony between our more advanced intellectual behavior and our more basic bodily functions. While the efforts of millennia have been devoted to developing the intellect, bodily functioning--long scorned as belonging to the base realm of sense or unchangeable instinct--has been left to entrenched habits and instincts inherited from ancient times when the body worked in different conditions. Contemporary civilized conditions are unsuited to the inherited forms of somatic expression and moreover subject us unconsciously to new customs and regimes of body control (like Foucauldian disciplines of biopower). The result "is the larger number of physical disorders which inflict themselves exclusively upon civilized man [e.g. the modern form of back trouble], and the large number of neuroses which express themselves in intellectual and moral maladies."'5 Yet no serious inquiry had been devoted to develop somatic functioning so as to make it not only better coordinated and more suited to the contemporary world, but to render it an effective stimulus for improving that world to answer human needs of psycho-somatic fulfilment. Alexander therefore urged a reeducation of our somatic functioning which required a reeducation for somatic awareness, a new attention to bodily experiences. More importantly, he offered a concrete method of such reeducation, one which worked by extending conscious control over bodily actions formerly abandoned to unconscious habit, by bringing into conscious focus experiences previously unnoticed and unattended. This insistence on thinking through the body, to achieve more conscious control and more acute perception of its condition, clearly distinguishes Alexander's approach from standard physical culture and body building. In fact, he vehemently attacked them for dealing only with externals by means of brute drill rather than bringing greater sensitivity and quality to inner experience by means of heightened consciousness (SI 13-28). Dewey's emphasis on immediate nondiscursive experience and its continuity with higher intellectual activity is most fruitfully understood in this Alexandrian context: not as foundational epistemology but as a panegyric to the somatic in the face of centuries of denigrating philosophical scorn. In his 1918 introduction to Alexander's Man's Supreme Inheritance, seven years before advancing his theory of experiential and mind-body continuity in Experience and Nature (in which Alexander's work is twice invoked and his terminology appropriated), Dewey writes:
Men are afraid, without even being aware of their fear, to recognize the most wonderful of all the structures of the vast universe--the human body. They have been led to think that a serious notice and regard would somehow involve disloyalty to man's higher life. The discussions of Mr. Alexander breathe reverence for this wonderful instrument of our life, life mental and moral as well as that life which somewhat meaninglessly we call bodily. When such a religious attitude toward the body becomes more general, we shall have an atmosphere favorable to securing the conscious control which is urged. (SI 351)
Recognizing that body-functioning influences the mind, Alexander likewise grasped the mind's potential for the body. His project was to improve somatic (and consequently mental) functioning by using the mind, employing a method of "constructive conscious control" directed by the individual on his body.'6 Our bad bodily habits (e.g. bad posture or poorly coordinated movement) are usually performed without thinking and are taken for granted. Moreover, when we do focus on them, they seem right because they are familiar as our habits. When asked to stand or move differently we may be unable to, not because we are anatomically impaired but simply because we cannot yet feel ourselves into an alternative way.
To improve our bodily habits and psycho-somatic integration we need to bring our somatic functioning and its attendant feelings into greater consciousness, so we can learn both to detect subtly different modalities of posture and movement and to assess the quality of their coordination and their attendant affectivity. Without detecting these modalities we could never learn how to perform different somatic actions which could be developed into better habits; without qualitative appreciation we would not learn which somatic behavior should be rendered habitual so as to provide a better background of unconscious psycho-somatic functioning. For example, we need to become conscious both of how to hold the head in different positions and of which position gives us the best felt quality and ease of breathing in order to select this position over others for a new habituation. Once the habit has been reconstructed through this concentrated attention, the now improved habit can well be returned to its unreflective character in order to allow consciousness to concentrate on other tasks.
Such an improved habit, even if it functions unconsciously, can also enhance our conscious thought, since better breathing can mean better awareness and more steady concentration. We must recall, however, that conscious attention was required to improve this unconscious functioning; and so, by the way, is language--as the means for designating body parts, movements, and feelings on which we are instructed to concentrate. The interdependent continuity of mind and body can be seen as reflected in the similar continuity of conscious thinking and the nondiscursive background which orients thought, an often unconscious somatic background which can however be brought into consciousness.'7 We can now understand what Dewey's experiential foundationalism was concerned with, and how it erred. He was wrong to think that an unconscious, non-discursive immediate quality was the necessary grounding guide or regulatory criterion of all our thinking, though he was right to insist that nondiscursive background experience influences our conscious thought. Rather than such unnoticed quality being the guide for conscious thought--the controlling criterion which binds thought together--it is instead the noticing of experiential quality, the bringing of it into consciousness, which can help us give greater unity and richness to our thought, better coordination and affect to thought's nondiscursive experiential background, and greater integration of the psycho-somatic and the intellectual. Dewey's mistake is not in emphasizing the unifying quality of experience, but only in positing it as an antecedent foundational fact rather than regarding it as an end and means of reconstruction.
Through the Alexandrian perspective we can also see the limits of Rorty's critique. Pace Rorty, the dominant pragmatist aim of Dewey's philosophy of experience is not the metaphysical goal "of obtaining continuity between us and the brutes" by our "sharing something called 'experience'-something not the same as consciousness or thought but something of which consciousness or thought are more developed forms." Nor is it the epistemological goal of ensuring that our perceptions are not " 'out of touch' with nature" since both belong to the unity of experience (DHD 10).'8 Instead, Dewey's prime purpose was the aesthetic and practical one of improving experience by making it the focus of our inquiry, of enriching and harmonizing our experience, for example, by affirming and enhancing the continuity between soma and psyche, between nondiscursive experience and conscious thought. The aim, as he presents it in advocating Alexander's technique, is "to integrate into harmonious coordination our animal inheritance and our distinctively human capacities of intelligence" (RR 355).
So even if Rorty is right that experience cannot solve the theoretical problems of metaphysical and epistemological continuity, this does not nullify the point of Dewey's philosophy of experience. For his philosophy is not so much directed at proving theoretical continuity but instead at enhancing continuity in practice, at healing the painfully (though often unconsciously) experienced fragmentation of human life. This, he believed, could be achieved only by recognizing the crucial somatic dimension of experience, a recognition which he occasionally misconstrued in foundational terms.
But what does it mean for philosophy to recognize this somatic dimension? Simply to say that it exists, even as a necessary feature of human existence, seems an empty gesture that goes nowhere. The importance of nondiscursive experience in actual living does not entail that it is philosophically important. And how could it be, since philosophy, as traditionally practiced, can apparently do nothing with it except misuse it discursively for foundationalist fantasies? The somatic, so central to the pragmatist thought of Dewey and James, is therefore rejected by Rorty as a philosophically outdated and troublesome notion which contemporary pragmatism (not only his own but Davidson's and Putnam's) has justly jettisoned. Endorsing the linguistic turn, pragmatism should eschew the Deweyan-Jamesian stress on experience as a useless vestige of turn-of-the-century panpsychism. Instead it should insist that language exhausts the realm of philosophy, following Peirce's cue that "my language is the sum total of myself" (DHD 3).'9 Though appreciative of the linguistic turn, I am also wary of its totalizing tendencies and reluctant to abandon pragmatism's traditional concern with the somatic and nondiscursive (which even Peirce recognized in his notion of Firstness). Before burying the body, we need to assess more critically philosophy's resistance to nondiscursive experience. Such resistance is based not only on arguments but on deeply entrenched biases and agendas which work, most effectively, beneath the level of conscious thought.
The reason Rorty most frequently gives for banishing nondiscursive experience from the domain of philosophy is that it involves us in the foundationalist g myth of the given. In our search to base knowledge on something immune to ,, error, we retreat to a brute experiential immediacy whose nondiscursivity makes a it immune even to linguistic error. But this appeal to a nondiscursive given is , mythical, because for such experience to function as justificational evidence it ,s must be conceptualized or rendered discursive.
The case against the myth of the given is impeccable; but it does not follow i~ that philosophy should never concern itself with the nondiscursive. Drawing this conclusion means assuming that philosophy's only possible use for nondiscursive experience is in justificational epistemology, and that assumption is neither self-evident nor argued for. To find more fruitful ways for philosophy to treat the , nondiscursive presents a vital task for pragmatism. Prefigured in Dewey's con- , fused advocacy of immediate experience, it is today more urgently demanded by t our culture's increasing devotion to techniques of somatic transformation yet continuing failure to give them sympathetic philosophical study.20
This somatic option is implicitly denied by Rorty's second argument for banishing the nonlinguistic: that introducing somatic experience into our philosophical concerns undermines philosophy's distinctive role and logical space by confusing between causes and reasons. This argument forms part of his attack on the myth of the given. For in this myth, nondiscursive physical sensation--which I, may be the antecedent cause of knowing something (e.g. a burning sensation , resulting in awareness that the plate is hot is falsely taken for a reason that , justifies such knowledge, a reason that seems evident and irrefutable by its brute I, immediacy. But, as we saw, nondiscursive experience cannot, as such, play a role in the language game of epistemological justification, whose regimentation has always been philosophy's distinctive task. Such experience may be "a causal condition for knowledge but not a ground for knowledge."21 Since philosophy is concerned with the rational justification of our beliefs, not their psychological or physiological causes, it should therefore resist trafficking with things like somatic experience which belong to the nondiscursive domain of causes; it p should remain within "the logical space of reasons." For "nothing is to be ,, gained . . . by running together the vocabularies in which we describe the causal ,, antecedents of knowledge with those in which we offer justifications of our claims to knowledge" (PMN 182, DM 81).
Nothing gained, that is, for epistemology, from whose standpoint Rorty attacks the nondiscursive. But why should philosophy be confined to its standard role of justifying by reasons rather than modifying through causes, of merely , legitimating beliefs and practices rather than creating or transforming them? . Such justificational restriction seems particularly foreign to pragmatism, and ,, Rorty himself boldly rejects it when he comes to his own central philosophical topic--language. Here Rorty advocates a philosophy of causation rather than legitimation. The aim is to create new vocabularies and transform our ways of speaking, not to ground those already in place.22 He even insists on blunting the very distinction he elsewhere strictly defended: "once we raise the question of how we get from one vocabulary to another, from one dominant metaphoric to another, the distinction between reasons and causes begins to lose utility," for there is insufficient common ground to provide decisive reasons for change (CIS 48).
Building on Rorty's own example, we can argue as follows: if philosophy takes for its pragmatist goal not the grounding of knowledge but the production of better lived experience, then it need not be confined to the realm of discursive truth and the language-games of their justification. Philosophy can aim more directly at the practical end of improving experience by advocating and embodying practices which achieve this. And if the practice of linguistic invention provides one such tool, why can't the practice of somatic disciplines focusing on the nondiscursive provide a complementary other?
This option is never admitted, however, because the dominant philosophical ideology of textualism represses the nonlinguistic. This ideology, common to analytic and continental philosophy, insists that language exhausts the scope of experience, since whatever lies outside of language cannot be thought or given content, and so cannot function as a term for us. Hence Sellars claims that "all awareness is a linguistic affair4 Gadamer stresses "the essential linguisticality of all human experience of the world" Rorty asserts that we humans are "nothing more than sentential attitudes and Derrida declares that there cannot be a "hors-texte," "a reality . . . whose content could take place, could have taken place outside of language."23 Textualist ideology has been extremely helpful in dissuading philosophy from misguided quests for absolute foundations outside of our contingent, changing linguistic and social practices. But in making this therapeutic point by stressing what Rorty terms the "the ubiquity of language,"24 textualism also encourages an unhealthy idealism that identifies human being-in-the world with linguistic activity and so tends to neglect, minimize, or over-textualize other somatic experience. As "the contemporary counterpart of [nineteenth century] idealism," textualism not only inherited idealism's rejection of the supremacy of natural science, but also idealism's disdain for nondiscursive materiality, hence for the corporeal. Idealism, we should remember, was an attempt to secure, through consciousness, a realm of spirituality after natural science had displaced religion's authority and secularized the world; and it inherited, by and large, the Christian impulse to depreciate the body.25 After Freud's disenchantment of consciousness, language has become the new representative of soul in contrast to corporeal nondiscursivity. The whole project of policing the borders between "the logical space of reasons" and the realm of physical causes so as to confine philosophy to the former can be seen as just one more assertion of the old dualism of separating the concerns of the superior soul from the corruption of the material body, whose study is consigned not to the human but the natural sciences.
Textualism's resistance to the nondiscursive soma goes far beyond its recent idealist heritage. Such resistance is built into the very project of philosophy as a saliently linguistic discipline devoted to the logos. Ever since the Greeks, the alogon was at once the nonlinguistic and the irrational. Two factors thus tend to repress philosophy's treatment of the nondiscursive. The first is simply structural censorship by the philosophical field through disciplinary inertia. Despite a fine heritage of materialist thinkers, philosophy's long dominant tradition of spiritual logocentrism and its entrenched practice as a linguistic form have structured the discipline in a way that automatically tends to exclude serious focus on the nondiscursive.26 There is no allocation for it in Western philosophical space, no sub-discipline of 'philosophy of body" to complement philosophy of mind (as hatha yoga serves the more spiritual raja yoga in Indian thought). The result is that nondiscursive somatic experience is either ignored, relegated to other fields like psychology or neuroscience, or instead subsumed under clearly discursive projects like that of epistemological justification or genealogical accounts of reading the body as a social text on which a society's practices of subjugating power are inscribed.
A second reason for ignoring the nondiscursive involves what might be called the disciplinary fallacy: the idea that what a discipline does not treat (or treat seriously) cannot be important for that discipline. Such reasoning precludes disciplinary growth and would have denied chemistry's importance for botany or the central role of the unconscious for psychology. This fallacy is especially dangerous in philosophy which sees itself both as a specialized profession (with a technical literature and strictly regimented questions) and also as a basic, time-honored human enterprise of universal significance and scope. Through the former self-conception it materially reproduces itself as a professional institution, while the latter affords it a charismatic aura of deep relevance and wisdom (painfully lacking in its actual institutional expression) which helps legitimate its institutional reproduction. By the professional conception (especially as understood through textualism), nondiscursive somatic experience has no place in philosophy. But by the latter, if it has no place, it cannot be important for understanding human experience and so no new place should be made for it. The upshot of this equivocation is that philosophy is right to shirk the nondiscursive as unimportant because its very doing so proves this unimportance. The disciplinary fallacy seems so persuasive because it expresses a compelling pragmatic point. An individual discipline can't do everything, and should therefore concentrate on doing what it does best and avoid doing what it can't do. Since philosophy is strongly centered on language and seems ill-equipped to handle the somatic and nondiscursive, it should not try to treat them. For what, after all, can philosophy do here except embroil itself, as Dewey did, in foundationalist regressions? This question presents a major task for somatic philosophy, and I cannot pretend to give a full answer. But I shall conclude by briefly suggesting three ways that philosophy can productively engage nondiscursive somatic experience.
First and most simply, philosophy can argue for the importance of such experience (as Merleau-Ponty did far better than Dewey) so that it will not be merely acknowledged to exist but will be more vigorously explored as a legitimate object of research and of personal cultivation. Overcoming its parti pris against the nonlinguistic, philosophy can lend support and analytic skills to scientific inquiries into the nondiscursive features of human experience (e.g., Daniel Stern's groundbreaking work on the prelinguistic understanding of infants).27 And it might launch its own inquiries into the role of nonverbal experience in aesthetics and ethics as well as in cognition.
Secondly, contemporary popular culture displays an intense preoccupation with the body. Apart from the proliferation of gyms and centers for aerobics, massage, and body building, there is a growing number of somatic therapies which promise not merely relief from physical ailments but improved psychosomatic integration, or, more simply, better harmony of lived experience. Since the work of Alexander, we have been offered Rolfing, Bioenergetics, Eutony, Feldenkrais Method, Somatics, Ideokinesis, to name just a few. There is also the greatly heightened interest in older practices like yoga and T'ai chi. We philosophers are prone to dismiss these things as New Age quackery or simply ignore them as none of our business. (Are you not quick, dear reader, to condemn this part of my paper as irrelevant bunkum?) But Dewey's attention to Alexander should give us pause. If philosophy sees itself most broadly as culture criticism, then somatics is an increasingly significant dimension of our culture that is ripe for philosophical critique. Philosophy here can have the role of critically examining such body practices and their attendant ideologies to see what sense or nonsense they make, what good or harm they do, and whether they could profit from a better formulation of aims and methods.28 It might helpfully disentangle useful technique from misguided theory so as to make these practices more convincing and effective. Finally, the most radical and interesting way for philosophy to engage somatics is to integrate such bodily disciplines into the very practice of philosophy. This means practicing philosophy not simply as a discursive genre, a form of writing, but as a discipline of embodied life. One's philosophical work, one's search for truth and wisdom, would not be pursued only through texts but also through somatic exploration and experiment. By acute attention to the body and its nonverbal messages, by the practice of body disciplines which heighten somatic awareness and transform how one feels and functions, one discovers and expands self-knowledge by remaking one's self. This quest for self-knowledge and self-transformation can constitute a philosophical life of increasing embodied enrichment that has irresistible aesthetic appeal, for one's life becomes a developing work of art.
Such a vision of philosophy as a thoughtfully disciplined, somatically centered way of life was powerfully revived by Foucault in his very last lectures at the College de France (1984), inspired in large part by the example of Diogenes the Cynic. However alien it seems to today's academy, the idea of philosophy as a way of life, an embodied practice, was important to the logos-loving Greeks. It was also central to the American thought of Emerson and Thoreau, from which Dewey and pragmatism derive inspiration. Scorning the academic philosophy of his day, Thoreau wrote in Walden, "There are nowadays professors of philosophy, but not philosophers. Yet it is admirable to profess because it was once admirable to live."29
"The bios philosophicos," Foucault explains of Diogenes, "is the animality of being human, renewed as a challenge, practiced as an exercise-- and thrown in the face of others as a scandal."30 But the somatically-focussed, aesthetically engaging philosophical life need not be as scandalous as Foucault preferred to see and practice it. Thoreau's exercises in simple living, labor, and purity of diet. Dewey's explorations through Alexander method (to which he attributed his improved capacities for attention and awareness, and even his longevity)--present alternative models of embodied philosophical life that seem equally informative, transformative, and aesthetically enriching, though of course less dramatic and spectacular than Foucault's violent experiments in drugs and sadomasochistic sex.
His dazzling, but also daunting, example reaffirms the need for critical attention to the variety of somatic practices through which we can pursue our quest for self-knowledge and self-creation, for wisdom and beauty, for the reconstruction of immediate experience into improved living. Experience, in at least this sense, remains the vital heart of philosophy.