3-5 June 2014
From the sign-theoretical approach of C. S. Peirce to the pragmatic analyses of Robert Brandom, matters of communication have figured prominently in pragmatist thought. Beginning with John Dewey and Robert Park, pragmatism has also directly influenced communication scholarship; and interest in pragmatist ideas is currently on the rise in media and communication studies. But what roles does ‘communication’ actually play in pragmatisms of various stripes? What are the distinctive contributions of pragmatism to our understanding and study of communication? This three-day interdisciplinary conference aims to explore these and closely connected questions.
The conference takes place at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies (Fabianinkatu 24, room 136) in 3-5 June 2014. The organisers have made reservations for the accommodation of visiting speakers.
Confirmed speakers include: Robert T. Craig (University of Colorado, Boulder), Eli Dresner (Tel Aviv University), Klaus Bruhn Jensen (University of Copenhagen), John Durham Peters (University of Iowa), Stephen J. A. Ward (University of Oregon), Merja Bauters (Aalto University), Ahti-Veikko Pietarinen (University of Helsinki / Tallinn University of Technology), and Sami Pihlström (University of Helsinki / University of Jyväskylä).
- The research project Pragmatic Objectivity, with funding from the Helsingin Sanomat Foundation and the University of Helsinki
- Philosophy of Communication Section of the European Communication Research and Education Association
- Nordic Pragmatism Network
- Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies
The organising committee:
- Mats Bergman
- Aki Petteri Lehtinen
- Henrik Rydenfelt
The organisers welcome proposals for papers discussing any aspect of the relationship between pragmatism and communication, ranging from philosophical discussions of the nature and scope of communication to applications of pragmatist ideas in communication studies. Suitable topics include (but are not restricted to):
- Different pragmatist perspectives on communication
- The historical/contemporary contribution of pragmatist thought to the development of communication theory
- The relationship between inquiry and communication in pragmatist philosophy
- Limitations of symbolic communication
- Pragmatism and scientific communication
- Pragmatism and deliberative communication
- Pragmatist philosophy of the media
- Pragmatic grounds for the possibility or impossibility of objective communication
- Pragmatist ethics of communication and media
- The role of communication in democracy
- Criticisms of pragmatist approaches in communication studies
Please send an extended abstract of 500−1000 words to email@example.com by 1 March 2014. The submitters of the selected proposals will be informed of acceptance by 15 March 2014. A time slot of 30 minutes will be allotted for each accepted paper.
Tuesday, 3 June
|John Durham Peters & Benjamin Peters
Norbert Wiener as Pragmatist
|Sami Pihlström (University of Helsinki / University of Jyväskylä)
Ultrapragmatist Media PhilosophyChair: Mats Bergman
|Jocelyne Arquembourg (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle)
What Do Emotions Do? A Pragmatist Approach to the Role of Emotions in Media Events
|Aki Petteri Lehtinen (University of Helsinki)
Pragmatic Objectivity: Journalism as Communicative Activity
|Henrik Rydenfelt (University of Helsinki):
A Pragmatic Method for Media EthicsChair: Jason Hannah
Wednesday, 4 June
|Kathleen A. Wallace (Hofstra University)
Communication as Signifying Activity
|Roman Madzia (University of Koblenz-Landau)
Communication and Self-Awareness: An Embodied Challenge to Radically Intersubjectivist Theories of the Self
|Lenart Skof (University of Primorska)
Ethical Temporality and Interiority in G.H. Mead’s PhilosophyChair: Aki Petteri Lehtinen
|Ignacio Redondo (International University of La Rioja)
Mediation, History, and Ethics: A Transcendentalist View of Communicative Pragmatism through the Works of Peirce, Royce, and James
|Mats Bergman (University of Helsinki)
Critical Common-sensism in Communication Inquiry
|Michael L. Raposa (Lehigh University)
Pragmatism, Empiricism, and the Ideal of a Communicative RationalityChair: John Durham Peters
|Javier Gonzáles de Prado Salas (University of Southampton)
Defeasibility, Inferentialism and Communication
|Meredith Plug (Trinity College Dublin):
Autistic Speakers’ Score-Keeping Practices: A Challenge of Brandom’s Inferential Role SemanticsChair: Eli Dresner
Thursday, 5 June
|Robert T. Craig (University of Colorado, Boulder)
Practical Disciplines: Praxis, Inquiry, Metadiscourse
|Eli Dresner (Tel Aviv University)
“Habermas comes later”: Davidson and BuberChair: Klaus Bruhn Jensen
|Klaus Bruhn Jensen (University of Copenhagen)
Two Pragmatisms: Habermas and Rawls on Justice
|Jason Hannan (University of Winnipeg)
Justice Implicit: The Pragmatism of Amartya Sen
|Maria Hegbloom (Bridgewater State University)
Dewey, Contingency and the Problem of DemocracyChair: Robert T. Craig
|Ahti-Veikko Pietarinen (University of Helsinki / Tallinn University of Technology)
Icons in Scientific Discovery and Communication
|Merja Bauters (Aalto University)
Physical Artefacts, Indices and Experience in CommunicationChair: Henrik Rydenfelt
What do emotions do? A pragmatist approach of the role of emotions in media events
Jocelyne Arquembourg (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle)
Manifestations of public emotions in the case of international events such as human or natural catastrophes, wars, Olympic games, important ceremonies etc, are often criticized as irrational and somehow artificial as if they were part of a show aiming at gathering wide audiences. On the contrary, I would like to develop a pragmatist approach to this kind of public expressions of emotions based on Peirce’s as well as John Dewey’s theories of emotions. My question would be: what do emotions actually do? To which extent can we say that they actually take part in the constitution of public events and situations?
Following Charles Sanders Peirce, I would consider emotions as signs and focus my analyses on the role and the dynamic of interpretants. As David Savan wrote: ”Emotions do recur. My revulsion at torture is the same today as it was yesterday. To compare two temporally distinct occurrences they must be brought together set side by side, and this can happen only if the two occurrences are represented. An emotion is there, a representamen, a sign”. Also, the main point of discussion between Charles S. Peirce and William James was whether emotions had interpretants. Following Peirce, to feel happy or anxious conveys a mediation, a concept of happiness or anxiety, such as to say that the stove is black conveys a concept of blackness. Emotions arise when individuals are affected by some situation or some event and individuals affect each other through emotions. As Paul Kockelman said: “Most so-called emotions may be decomposed into a bouquet of more basic and varied interpretants, and the seemingly most subjective forms of experience maybe reframed in terms of their intersubjective effects”. To this extent, emotions play a very peculiar part in communication.
But the role of emotions is always embedded in situations or events. An emotion is never given a priori but is completed through its different manifestations. I will give some examples to show how emotions develop differently regarding various types of mediatic narratives. These examples will compare different reports of the resignation of Egyptian President Mubarak on several TV channels and on videos posted on Youtube. The result of the analyze is that in the case of the TV narratives, the resignation of Mubarak appears as the cause of the collective happiness place Tahrir, whether on the videos posted on the Internet it appears as an aim. Also, the manifestations of happiness transform a moment of expectation, anxiety and disappointment (Mubarak has refused to resign several times) into a proper victory. The video document on Youtube shows the different stages of this development as a process rather than a result from confusion to shouts of joy. It seems also that the sharing of the same interpretants transforms the variety of individual feelings into a collective entity, a Public, in the sense of John Dewey to whom the media provide a form of reflexivity. From this point of view, it has been interesting to analyze the comments posted on Youtube in this circumstances and how they question the shape and the identity of this Public.
The most peculiar aspect in the theory of emotions of Charles S. Peirce is that emotions are hypotheses. I shall develop also this question and show how from praying to victory, (the resignation happens a Friday and a part of the activists gathered place Tahrir were actually praying when they got the news), the expressions of joy and happiness on the 11th feb. 2011, were actually hypothesis.
As a conclusion I shall summarize the different types of action performed by emotions such as interpreting a situation or an event, communicating a valuation on a situation or an event, unifying a situation and a collective entity through a process of transformation. Far from being irrational, it seems on the contrary that the sharing of common interpretants plays a cognitive role in communication.
Physical artefacts, indices and experience in communication
Merja, Bauters (Aalto University)
Informal learning is increasingly investigated and discussed in traditional education and workplace learning research areas. The issues that are investigated focus on the technological solutions, which support formal instructions to work (Kraiger, 2008), the passing on of skills and knowledge (Attwell et al. 2008), scaling as an interaction with artefacts, networks (peer groups) in a socio-technical systems (Puntambekar and Hubscher, 2005). However, the main issues that allow informal learning to occur, or learning in general – be it defined as informal or formal, is experience and extending the common ground in joint practices. Especially in work life, learning can be seen to occur when reflection happens within work. This might change the practices but it does not necessarily have to go that far, it may need just a pause, reflection and sharing of that experience. The pausing that emerges from the work itself is important because it provides motivation to reflect and consciously take notice what is experienced. Most often these kinds of moments are hoped to be shared with others. However, it may not be easy to share an experience. To be able to share an experience and the make sense of the experience, communication comes into picture, namely communication embedded in context, physical artefacts and pointing abilities to the shared “things”.
My attempt is to try to explain some potential ideas how Dewey’s understanding of experience could complement Peirce’s Sign Theory. Dewey’s experience is dynamic, where the “inside and outside” are not really separate but form a unified whole, without it no meaning/sense is created (LW 12 [LTI]: 73-74.) It deepens Peirce’s ideas of communication by bringing the context and feelings tighter into the reflective processes of communication. Common ground with its (physical) artefacts enables communication, or sign-processes (Clark and Brennan 1991; Peirce 1931-1958, 3.621). Most often people have some kind of a common ground. They have shared history, shared knowledge, shared practices, etc. In communication these shares “issues” are used and the common ground is extended. Therefore, the common ground is not static. (Bauters and Paavola 2009). The communication of the shared experiences is enabled by using indexical signs (e.g. actual parts of the shared artefacts in the context/surrounding) participants attempt to find, map, modify and develop the joint ground they have. They point to the environment, to the physical artefacts of it to allow the other one to grasp what is meant. Especially abstract/conceptual issues are communicated by pointing to concrete items for directing the attention through the concrete hints and clues (affordances) towards the shared experience, which is about or related to the abstract/conceptual issue discussed. It is not only about interpreting symbolic signs; the material part and embodied aspects are involved. The materiality is a fundamental aspect of meaning making and reflection. Furthermore, the ways of manipulating “things” affects thinking and practices and in collaborative development it is one of the essential issues to enable meaning making, understanding and practice development/change – learning.
Practical Disciplines: Praxis, Inquiry, Metadiscourse
Robert T. Craig (University of Colorado, Boulder)
The concept of practical discipline was originally proposed as a methodological rationale for a certain kind of disciplinary coherence in communication studies, the central purpose of which, in all its topical and methodological diversity, I argued, is “to cultivate communicative praxis, or practical art, through critical study” (Craig, 1989, p. 98). My purpose in this paper is to reintroduce this pragmatist concept at a somewhat higher level of generality, thereby to suggest that it might serve as a normative model for a broad class of disciplines that are all centrally engaged, like communication, in cultivating particular fields of social practice. In this model, practical discipline itself, broadly conceived, is a metadiscursive communication practice.
The original formulation of practical discipline (Craig, 1989) began with a neo-Aristotelian analysis of practical arts exemplified by the classical art of rhetoric and transformed by incorporating a pragmatist methodology along the lines of Dewey’s (1938) theory of inquiry. The classical art of rhetoric cultivated forms of interplay between theory and practice such that traditional speech practices were abstracted, systematized, and reformed on rational principles in a codified art (Kennedy, 1980). Over time this process of theorization produced not only elaborate technical schemes but also a range of normative philosophical views on rhetoric that collectively illuminated fundamental problems of the practice, for example with regard to problematic binaries such as appearance vs. reality, emotion vs. reason, and form vs. substance. A modern practical discipline of communication would engage in a similar process of empirical observation, theoretical codification and rational critique, but now applied to the full array of modern communicative practices and on the basis of an explicit methodology for inquiry, which the traditional art of rhetoric lacked.
This paper will advance three main points corresponding to components of the idea of practical discipline as well as rough phases through which that idea has developed, that I hope will suffice to open a productive discussion of the idea’s pragmatist bona fides, its applicability to range of disciplines, and its further implications. The first point is that Aristotle’s division of human knowledge and activity into theoretical, practical, and productive spheres, while perhaps outdated in a pragmatist view, has considerable heuristic value for distinguishing the practical disciplines from other forms of knowledge and knowledge-generating enterprises. A methodology for the practical disciplines requires more than categorical distinctions among forms of knowledge, however; it also must situate forms of knowledge within a process-logic of inquiry. My second point, then, is that theory in a practical discipline is best understood as a (provisional) rational reconstruction of practices within an ongoing process of action and reflective thought; and my third point is that this reflective process of theorizing social practices is mediated by metadiscourse. Implications for the practical disciplines, and for the problem of theory and practice in general, will be discussed.
“Habermas comes later”: Davidson and Buber
Eli Dresner (Tel Aviv University)
The wide variety of outlooks on communication that oppose the still well-entrenched transmission view is often labeled as the constitutive camp. According to members of this camp, meaning does not preexist prior to communicative interaction, but is rather constituted through such interaction. Typically, notions from the social sphere are appealed to in order to account for the constitution of meaning: Philosophers and linguists of diverse orientations and backgrounds maintain that concepts such as social convention and shared culture are required for a constructivist perspective on meaning and communication.
The American philosopher Donald Davidson diverges from this way of thinking. According to his view of communication and meaning, as encapsulated by his concept of radical interpretation, inter-subjective contact is both necessary and sufficient for linguistic meaning and mental content to arise, and this in a way that does not presuppose social convention. From early on in his career he maintains that those who explain communication in terms of convention have things upside down: communicative interaction is more fundamental, and “Habermas (i.e., socially -governed communicative intercourse) comes later”. This perspective has evolved in his later writings into the more radical (some would say too radical) position that language, as a conventional structure, does not exist at all.
Although Davidson’s voice is distinctive, his inter-subjectivist (as opposed to socially oriented) outlook on communicative (and, more broadly, human) interaction is by no means unique. There are other philosophers and communication theorists that share with him this middle-ground between individualistic and social views of man, and it is arguably of value to relate and compare their ideas. One such philosopher, who is seldom associated with Davidson, is Martin Buber: Like Davidson’s circle that encompasses interpreter and interpreted, Buber’s I-you relation arises inter-subjectively, it does not lean on social structure, and it is what makes us human. Clearly there are great differences between Davidson and Buber, but charting both these differences and the affinities between them should be of interest and value for those who take seriously the inter-subjectivist stance that they share.
Following this trajectory, the first section of this paper consists in a concise overview of Davidson’s general outlook on linguistic communication. In the second section of the paper I discuss in greater detail Davidson’s non-conventional approach to language and thought, and I argue for its special significance for communication scholars. In the third section of the paper I begin pursuing a comparison of Davidson’s system of ideas and some themes that can be found in Buber.
Justice Implicit: The Pragmatism of Amartya Sen
Jason Hannan (University of Winnipeg)
This paper provides a pragmatist reading of the political thought of the philosopher and economist Amartya Sen. In his recent book, The Idea of Justice (2009), Sen argues against transcendental theories of justice (e.g. Rawls) in favour of a comparativist approach that differentiates what is “more” from what is “less” just. Sen’s project bears a certain affinity to pragmatism in its movement beyond objectivism and relativism toward communication and public reasoning. Reading Sen in a pragmatist light helps us better appreciate the nature, strengths, and limitations of his alternative approach to justice. First, relying on the thought of Robert Brandom, this paper argues that the ongoing and indeterminate process of working out the details of an imperfect and evolving idea of justice through public reason is an example of what Brandom calls “making explicit in principle what is implicit in practice.” The paper then proposes a model of comparative reasoning for rational choice between incommensurable conceptions of justice.
Dewey, Contingency and the Problem of Democracy
Maria Hegbloom (Bridgewater State University)
In Post-Foundational Political Thought, Oliver Marchart seeks to describe a post-foundational understanding of ‘the political’ useful for our contemporary moment. Pulling from a variety of thinkers he seeks to ascertain “figures of contingency” that contribute to a “post-foundational tropology of groundlessness.” This tropology of groundlessness defines the political moment as a moment of “decision” that is taken within a field of “endless play between ground and abyss.” Marchart’s project can be understood as an attempt to articulate possibilities for political action that do not require some impossible stable grounding but which also do not succumb to an untethered, individualist, voluntarism.
In this work Marchart draws primarily upon contemporary post-structuralist thinkers. However, he acknowledges the possibility of arriving at a similar post-foundational position from different routes. Here he identifies pragmatism as one of these untraveled pathways. While Marchart invokes Rorty in this project, the emphasis on contingency and decision that he forwards fits well within a much broader tradition of pragmatism that can be called upon to offer important contributions to thinking through political and democratic, post-foundational possibilities.
The play of ground and abyss discussed by Marchart has important commonalities with what Peters’s describes as the “problem of communication.” Highlighting the work of early pragmatists such as James and Dewey, Peters addresses the issue of groundlessness as not only a problem of the political, but as a problem of communication more generally. Here he defines communication as “at once bridge and chasm” emphasizing the grounding of communication as coordination or similarity that is nevertheless haunted by an incommensurability of difference. In this view the play between understanding and misunderstanding, similarity and difference, defines the contemporary problem of communication.
For both Marchart and Peters the emphasis on groundlessness describes the interplay between an impossible closure and a vast openness. The ground or bridge designates an attempt to fix society or communication as total or complete. But the impossibility of this fixing is to be understood in the abyss or chasm of difference and misunderstanding. The problem of communication thus is similar to the problem of the political, it is the problem of an impossible, but endless attempt at closure. Significant here is that for both Marchart and Peters it is the abyss or chasm, defined by difference and misunderstanding, where the indeterminacy of this project, its contingent nature, is located.
Dewey, however, offers an interesting possibility for thinking through the problem of the political and the problem of communication that retains the groundlessness of Marchart and Peters without requiring a conceptualization of the vastness of difference as the limiting case. While Dewey’s emphasis on uncertainty and indeterminacy shares much with Marchart’s description of contingency, it differs in significant ways. Marchart defines contingency as a “dislocation in the process of signification itself.” This suggests that contingency is a product of signifying practice. However, for Dewey, contingency is a product of our living in the world. Uncertainty is a quality of experience, not fully accounted for by our meaning-making practices. Instead, indeterminacy is the result of an uncertain existence which includes interactions with others but also with an objective reality that cannot be fully known, predicted or controlled. This understanding of contingency locates indeterminacy within our encounters in the world and not only within moments of signification. As such, the possibility for ‘the political’ is not dependent upon our linguistic engagement with others in the realm of intersubjective meaning-making, but can be understood as a larger existential encounter with problems in the world. What this suggests is that the political moment can occur outside of a definition of difference that is dependent upon intersubjective incommensurability.
Similarly, with respect to Peters, Dewey’s emphasis on the contingent nature of reality suggests that problems of communication are not defined primarily in the vast haunting of difference that renders understanding impossible. Rather, for Dewey, problems of communication are as likely to be problems with the bridge as much as problems with the chasm. Understanding or coordination can be as problematic as misunderstanding and point to the requirement for further communication and inquiry.
The consequence of this location of contingency has important implications for our understandings of democracy. Locating contingency in signification, for Marchart it is the impossibility of totality which makes the political possible. It defines the space for action and transformation. This suggests that democratic possibilities, which are always defined by possibilities for action and transformation, should be recognized within the openness, the abyss, of an impossible signification. In a similar way, Peters’s emphasis upon the chasm of difference, which he develops through his revitalization of a notion of dissemination, makes a similar point. Here it is the open chasm of dissemination that provides possibilities for transformation and with it democracy. It is the chasm and the abyss that make democracy possible.
However, for Dewey, it is not only the abyss or chasm that spark possibilities for action and transformation. The precarious nature of the world suggests that the ground or bridge is also a potential site for an opening to democratic possibilities. Even entrenched understandings, habits, traditions, and meanings are vulnerable to the existential challenges of an indeterminate and unpredictable reality. We need not reside within or even recognize the vastness of difference, or the impossibility of complete meaning to be forced to rethink our present politics. This offers a view of democracy that is at once both more pervasive and challenging. Democratic possibilities present themselves whenever a problematic situation arises. However, much more than a recognition of contingency is needed to cash in on such possibilities. For Dewey, the encounter with contingency is the beginning of the work of democracy, not its product. It is when we recognize contingency that the work of communication and inquiry begin.
Two pragmatisms: Habermas and Rawls on justice
Klaus Bruhn Jensen (University of Copenhagen)
Despite its many practical applications and implications, the field of media and communication research has traditionally conceived itself as a scientific or academic enterprise, and has mostly shied away from the normative implications of communication, even though this is what most people – from the public commentator to the everyday communicator – care most deeply about. As noted by Craig and Tracy (1995: 249), the field “has given little serious attention to the development of normative theory,” a state of affairs that seriously “limits the practical usefulness of communication studies.” This paper proposes a return to an understanding of communication research as a practical discipline (Craig, 1989), and a reinvigoration of normative communication theory (Christians et al., 2009), with specific reference to the definition and practice of justice in and through communication.
Pragmatism represents an important, but under-defined resource for a reinvigoration of normative communication theory. Classic pragmatism had highlighted the problems that humans encounter in practice, and the communities of knowers who communicate among themselves about the difference that various conceived and anticipated solutions may make for the problem at hand. These and other pragmatist premises can be seen to inform additional philosophies and theories, as noted in recent histories of pragmatism (Bernstein, 2010; Misak, 2013). In communication research, one may identify at least two pragmatisms, one strand extending classic positions to examine contemporary communications, the other approaching communication as a general medium through which the relationship between subjects and objects, and between theory and practice, is articulated and enacted. This second pragmatism is of particular interest for examining the actual and potential place of communication in interdisciplinary solutions to practical problems, including contested public issues.
When communication becomes contestation, it typically revolves around certain central and shared concepts that, nevertheless, generate recurring disagreements (Gallie, 1956). Justice is one such essentially contested and contestable concept, from Aristotle’s account of the good life of individual human beings (eudaimonia), via modern conceptions of social equality through democracy, to contemporary considerations of justice at the global level of the planet and the species. In communication theory, the most influential account of the relationship between justice and communication has undoubtedly been the work of Jürgen Habermas (1981, 1992). Much less attention has been given to the work of another towering figure of twentieth-century political philosophy, John Rawls (1971, 1993), or to their contestation of each other’s work in a mid-1990s encounter.
The present paper compares and contrasts the positions of Rawls and Habermas on justice, and explores the position of each in a pragmatist perspective. Whereas Habermas’ explicit, if ambiguous orientation toward pragmatism is well-known (Aboulafia et al., 2002), Rawls has not normally been associated with pragmatism, except perhaps for Richard Rorty’s (1988) attempt to recruit Rawls for his brand of neopragmatism. This paper characterizes Rawls, in Misak’s (2013) words, as a “fellow traveler” down the pragmatist road of inquiry, and as a guide in explicating key normative implications of the common practice of communication.
Communication and Self-awareness: An Embodied Challenge to Radically Intersubjectivist Theories of the Self
Roman Madzia (University of Koblenz-Landau, Germany)
The central aim of the proposed talk will be to critically examine the radically intersubjectivist concepts of the self, which tend to conceive of self-awareness as a property which emerges out of the process of communication. In the talk, the primary object of such an analysis will be Geroge H. Mead, a pragmatist philosopher and one of the best-known theorists of the self in the 20th century, who based his theory of selfhood entirely on the process of symbolic communication. Mead’s theory of the self was not only the conceptual foundation of the tradition of symbolic interactionism (H. Blumer) but also inspired prominent European thinkers (J. Habermas, H. Joas) in the second half of the 20th century. Despite significant differences between the theories of the self by these philosophers, they all proceed from Mead’s radically externalist position according to which self-awareness (our ability to be an object of our own perception) is entirely socially constructed, i.e., that it is an outcome of the process of significant communication. According to Mead, the self (as well as self-consciousness) is a product of communicative bodily interaction between social agents who are capable of ‘taking the attitude of the other’ in the process of ‘conversation of gestures’. In the conversation of gestures, two individuals are interacting with each other in such a manner that their movements call out a response in the other, which, in turn becomes a stimulus to another response, etc. In the conversation of gestures, the interacting organisms are not aware of the sort of response which their own movement will call out. For Mead, only when the organism becomes aware of the sort of response which its gesture is going to produce (that is, only when it is able to take the attitude of the other), does it become self-conscious. Hence, for Mead, just like for other pragmatists like Ch. S. Peirce or J. Dewey, self-consciousness and selfhood are products of inference. From their perspective, we only become self-aware (or self-conscious), if there is an ‘other’, the presence of whom enables us to correlate our own actions with his/her responses on the basis of which we realize the meaning of those actions and become aware of ourselves. On the basis of critical analyses of Mead’s key texts, the proposed paper will venture to show that his social-constructionist conception of the self presupposes a primitive level of intransitive bodily self-awareness which cannot be a product of symbolic social interaction but, in fact, makes it possible in the first place. In the talk, this originary, embodied self-awareness will be referred to as primal self-awareness and will be defined as an affective attitude towards one’s own body or a specific feeling of body-ownership which enables the actor to realize that it is his/her movements to which the others respond. The paper will, therefore, argue that only insofar as the organism is endowed with this specific feeling of body-ownership, can it associate its own movements with the responses of others towards them. By the same token – only when this condition is met, can significant (contentful) communication take place. In the next step, the presenter will elaborate on his key notion of primal self-awareness and demonstrate in what ways such an approach towards self-awareness enables us not to undermine the radically intersubjectivist theories of the self, but, in fact, makes them more complete. The presenter will conclude his talk by enumerating and disproving the most likely objections to his proposed theory, the most obvious of them being the accusation of disguised Cartesianism.
Norbert Wiener as Pragmatist
John Durham Peters and Benjamin Peters (University of Iowa)
Intellectual historians have sketched a variety of lineages of pragmatism, each with its own twist and cast of characters. Louis Menand’s The Metaphysical Club somewhat unusually classes the jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes among the founding figures of pragmatism, while Cornell West’s The American Evasion of Philosophy sketches a branching family tree that includes W. E. B. Du Bois, C. Wright Mills, Lionel Trilling, Reinhold Niebuhr, and the Brazilian legal and social theorist (and his subsequent co-author) Roberto Mangabeira Unger. Richard Poirier sketches a less social-theoretic more literary lineage in Poetry and Pragmatism, focusing on William James and his students, the major poets Gertrude Stein, Wallace Stevens, and Robert Frost. A vital strain of feminist pragmatism looks to Jane Addams and Charlotte Perkins Gilman as founding mothers. Many other candidates from diverse nations, kindreds, tongues, and peoples beg plausibly for inclusion–we are thinking of France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Uruguay, Argentina, and Finland–and we aim to contribute to the family search, as genealogical exercises can help reveal the implicit markers of an intellectual tradition.
Despite the ramifying and exotic lineages, we are not aware that anyone has nominated Norbert Wiener to this illustrious company. Wiener (1894-1964), a philosophically-inclined mathematician, child prodigy, social critic, and founder of the field of cybernetics, was one of the mid-century’s most original and influential theorists of communication. Often dismissed by later constitutive or critical theorists of communication as a mere theorist of communication as transmission, he is actually much more interesting than that; more precisely, he shows us why a transmission model, despite its debasement in popular use, can be challengingly powerful.
The case for Wiener’s pragmatism is strong thanks both to his intellectual lineage and key positions that he takes. As to lineage, Josiah Royce (1855-1916) was, for a period, Wiener’s doctoral advisor at Harvard. In his last years, Royce called himself an “absolute pragmatist,” which is not as oxymoronic as it sounds, a position elaborated in his two-volume The Problem of Christianity (1913). Through his conversations with James and critical exchanges with Peirce, Royce was unquestionably a key influence on and developer of classical pragmatism. For his part, Wiener was explicit about Royce’s influence. In his autobiography Wiener states that Royce introduced him to mathematical logic, the field in which Wiener was to make his first contributions. Wiener attended Royce’s seminar on scientific method for two years, and said it was “some of the most valuable training I have ever had.”
As to position, Wiener’s epistemology owes a great deal to pragmatism, and his Human Use of Human Beings (1950, 1954) concludes on the Peircean (Roycean) note that “Science is a way of life which can only flourish when men are free to have faith.” If his philosophy of science and epistemology point toward Peirce and Royce, his metaphysics points toward James. Wiener was fascinated by the basic question of evil, and started his analysis from the Jamesian “idea of a contingent universe,” the title to the preface of Human Use. In his last book, God and Golem, Inc. (1964), Wiener offers an original theodicy that builds on Human Use and fits with what he calls his ”Augustinian” world-view: God does not prevent evil because he is bound to play by the rules of the game he has set. The resemblance of his theodicy to that of James is clear. Here Wiener not only explains the possibility of evil but also grounds the intelligibility of the universe, so his theodicy and epistemology are closely tied.
Ultrapragmatist Media Philosophy
Sami Pihlström (University of Helsinki, University of Jyväskylä)
There is a certain ambiguity in the concept of “media philosophy”, as this can mean either philosophy of media or philosophy in the media. Pragmatism obviously offers an important framework for philosophy of media and communication (from Peirce to Peters). However, some pragmatists have also emphasized the importance of philosophizing in and through the media (traditional and non-traditional). This paper will discuss an example of media philosophy in the latter sense (”philosophy in the media”) from the 1990s: Esa Saarinen’s and Mark C. Taylor’s Imagologies: Media Philosophy (Routledge, 1994). This is a book (or, more precisely, an “anti-book”) dealing with the postmodern high-tech information society and media culture. Saarinen’s and Taylor’s media philosophy can be fruitfully interpreted as a radical version of pragmatism (”ultrapragmatism”). As such, it faces similar problems as some other extreme pragmatisms (e.g., Rorty’s): How to distinguish pragmatism from relativism? How to rationally legitimate any commitments (e.g., political ones), given that there are no general criteria of rationality? How to avoid falling into extreme antirealism?
Autistic Speakers’ Score-keeping Practices: a Challenge for Brandom’s Inferential Role Semantics
Meredith Plug (Trinity College Dublin)
Brandom (1994, 2000) explicates the meaning of linguistic expressions as their inferential roles: their inferential relations with other linguistic expressions. These inferential relations he says are grounded in the (normative) social practices that people engage in: it is people who take some inferences as warranted, and others as unwarranted. For instance, when someone makes a certain linguistic claim, the speaker and her listeners take the speaker to be entitled to make other linguistic claims, given this earlier linguistic claim. Brandom maintains that linguistic practices are such that speakers and listeners constantly ‘keep score’ of their own and others’ commitments and entitlements, and so it is ultimately in this score-keeping that meaning is grounded. However, there is a group of speakers, a subset of autistic children, who do not seem to be keeping score of their own and others’ entitlements and commitments: because this seems to involve, amongst other things, thinking about other people’s reasoning; and this is something these children are unable to do.
Careful analysis of the empirical data on autistic children’s ability and development in attributing intentional states to other people and on their linguistic abilities and development, show that there is a group of autistic children who combine an inability to think about other people’s thinking and reasoning, both with a grammatical ability that is not qualitatively very different from that of a typical mature speaker, and with an ability to decode ‘literal’ meaning – a vocabulary – that is not qualitatively very different from that of a typical mature speaker. These children also seem to understand the representational nature of language: the fact that sentences represent and can be true or false. These children do, however, have difficulties with certain aspects of pragmatics and with linguistic communication. They do not understand that sentences can be used to assert: if what we mean by “assert” is the expression of belief or knowledge, or the representing oneself as believing or having knowledge of that which the sentence expresses, or (as Brandom supposes) if “assert” means to authorize oneself or others to making further assertions and commitments, and to take on the responsibility of showing entitlement to the commitment expressed by the assertion (if challenged). This is because, although it is understood by these children that certain inferences follow from a sentence and others do not, it is not the case that they see a person asserting the sentence as committed to certain things. Or so I shall argue.
Brandom’s account as it stands, then, faces an empirical counterexample. But it seems possible to reformulate his account so as to avoid this counterexample. This will be possible because the autistic children in question are able to follow rules, and seem to be able to respond appropriately to linguistic corrections. I will argue that the main issue is that these children do not understand rules and corrections interpersonally. If the social practice that is proposed to ground the meaning of our words need not to be understood by the speakers themselves as social, than it can ground the meaning of the words they utter.
Defeasibility, inferentialism and communication
Javier Gonzáles de Prado Salas (University of Southampton)
In this paper I will explore the consequences of inferential defeasibility for pragmatist accounts of communication. In particular, I will focus on inferentialist views of linguistic communication (Brandom, 1994), which characterize communicative practices as games of giving and asking for reasons. According to inferentialism, the ability of engaging in such practices is – mainly – a matter of mastering norms of inference. I will argue that an interesting sort of context-sensitivity arises in inferentialist theories that make use of defeasible (nonmonotonic) inferences. I will discuss whether this context-sensitivity makes inferentialist accounts of communication problematic.
Inferentialist approaches propose to see the content of a claim as (at least partly) determined by its inferential connections with other claims. Among these content-determining relations, many inferentialist theories (e.g. Brandom, 1994) include nonmonotonic inferential connections – that is, inferences that can be defeated by the introduction of additional premises. I will argue that, as a consequence of nonmonotonicity, the inferential role of a claim (what follows from it, when joined by suitable collateral premises) becomes a context-sensitive matter. The inferential entailments of a given claim (plus collateral premises) will depend on underlying background circumstances – including typical environmental conditions and pragmatic factors such as the interests and purposes of the relevant agents.
I begin by discussing a first sort of context-sensitivity, related to the fact that the inferential significance of a claim depends on the collateral premises available. I argue that such context-dependence does not pose any threat to the possibility of communication or of shared contents – in particular, it does not mean that the content of a claim changes with the addition of new collateral premises. This consequence may be avoided by defining the content of a claim as a function from collateral premises available (inferential setting) to inferential significance.
In the rest of the paper, I discuss a further kind of context-sensitivity, resulting from some interesting features of nonmonotonic inferences. A good nonmonotonic inference can be defeated by the introduction of some additional premise (i.e., defeater). For instance, the inference from “Tweetie is a bird” to “Tweetie can fly” becomes bad if the defeating premise “Tweetie is a penguin” is added. In most cases, there seems to be an indefinitely large number of possible defeaters (e.g., “Tweetie has a broken wing”, “There is no atmosphere”). Therefore, it is not possible to add a complete list of anti-defeater premises, so as to make the inference monotonic. Some anti-defeater considerations will, in general, have to remain unstated in the background – although this should not make us see the inference as an enthymeme. This background of unstated conditions underlies the goodness of the corresponding nonmonotonic inference.
I argue that contextual factors are crucial in determining which considerations may remain in this background, without making the inference enthymematic. In relation to some given inference, the same consideration that in some context could be relegated to this background of unstated conditions – as something considered expectable –, in a different context may need to be included as a premise of the inference, on pains of making it enthymematic. For instance, the inference from “The water is boiling” to “The water is very hot” is generally taken as good in a standard Earth context, without needing to add the additional premise “The pressure is around 1 atm.” – this condition may remain in the unstated background. However, in an environment where pressures are typically very low, such a claim would have to be added as a collateral premise so as not to make the inference enthymematic (boiling temperature drops if the pressure is very low). In a similar way, what premises count as providing enough evidence for accepting some conclusion depends on contextual features – for instance, on what is at stake in the conversation or on the salient possible defeaters (MacFarlane, 2005). The very same premises that in an epistemically relaxed context count as providing enough reason for inferring certain conclusions, may not count as doing so in more stringent contexts (e.g., contexts where costs are higher).
If this discussion is on the right track, one would find that contextual factors – such as typical environmental conditions, or the interests of the relevant agents –determine whether some conclusions follows (in a non-enthymematic way) from some given premises. The inferential significance of a claim, therefore, would depend on such contextual factors. It may be argued that this puts the possibility of communication at risk – or at least the possibility of communication across different contexts. Again, I try to avoid these undesirable consequences by preserving a notion of content invariant across contexts. In order to do so, I propose to characterize the content of a claim as a function from collateral premises (inferential setting) and background of anti-defeater conditions (inferential background) to inferential significance. I relate this characterization of content to MacFarlane’s non-indexical contextualism (McFarlane, 2009).
I will conclude by arguing that a suitable inferentialist picture of communication may be developed on the basis of such a notion of content. In this inferentialist picture, individuals taking part in communicative practices would need to be able to coordinate their appreciation of contextual features (for instance, their appreciation of what possibilities are salient or expectable in the context). Communicative skills, therefore, would amount to something more than the grasp of context-detached inferential rules.
Pragmatism, Empiricism, and the Ideal of a Communicative Rationality
Michael L. Raposa (Lehigh University, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania)
Robert Brandom has admitted to having some limited use in his philosophy for a properly rehabilitated concept of “representation,” but none at all for the concept of “experience,” the latter being a word that he proudly reports does not even appear once in his magnum opus, Making it Explicit. (See Brandom’s comments in Perspectives on Pragmatism, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011, p. 197.) This sort of contemporary neo-pragmatism contrasts sharply with the classical pragmatic perspective of William James, who identified his most mature philosophical perspective as a form of”radical empiricism.” For Charles Peirce, as well, there is an important role for experience to play in human reasoning, in contrast to Brandom’s claim that there is no need or room for such a concept in his philosophy. Moreover, Peirce was disinclined to reduce semiosis to its manifestation as language, our meaningful discursive practices extending for him far beyond the game of giving and asking for reasons.
Peirce’s view is especially salient for the purposes of this paper. On that view, experience is always already interpreted experience, always semiosis. Even our most straightforward sense perceptions, for Peirce, take the form of abductive inferences or hypothetical judgments, albeit often unconscious ones and so indubitable as they occur. Peirce was an “inferentialist” of sorts, then, long before Robert Brandom made such a philosophical position popular. This is not an altogether surprising fact, given both the importance of Wilfrid Sellars’ ideas for the development of Brandom’s thought and the clear resonance between Peirce’s early attack on Cartesianism and Sellars’ critique of the “myth of the given.”
Peirce’s theory of experience-as-semiosis is organized then around this basic observation concerning the unbiquity of inference (i.e., all perception and all thinking is a continuous process of sign interpretation). Such experience is also ongoing, taking the form of a running “dialogue” (albeit not one conducted exclusively in language), of communication between one’s present and future self, as one thought-sign follows another in time. The relation between thought-signs is inferential; Peirce regarded illation as the primary semiotic relation. Moreover, these inferences are not private phenomena occurring within isolated human minds, but thoroughly social in origin and purpose. The conversation between present and future selves both mirrors and intersects with the greater conversation among selves-in-community; rationality is essentially communicative.
The priority of semiosis in Peirce’s view is to be carefully distinguished, however, from certain arguments for the “ontological priority of the social” that some neo-pragmatists have recently articulated. Signs can have real (Peirce called them “dynamic”) objects that exist independently of their being signified; these objects “determine” their signs in a manner that Peirce sometimes struggled to clarify but always carefully insisted upon. The encounter with such objects in experience has a brute, primordial quality for Peirce, what he called “secondness” and characterized, at least in some instances, as producing a feeling of “shock” or “surprise.” On this view, reports of or appeals made to experience, while always inevitably shaped by some community’s norms and expectations, cannot be reduced to a function of “cultural politics,” that is, simply to being a “matter of what a community will let you get away with” (as Rorty argued provocatively). Even if what we come to know is best understood as always being a product of some interpretation and not simply “given” in experience, nevertheless, “all that we can anyway know relates to experience” (as Peirce insisted).
When he argued that every logical concept must enter through the gate of perception and exit through the gate of purposive action, Peirce intended not only to circumscribe or indicate the “constraints” on our discursive practices, but more generally to locate the roots of semiosis in sense experience and its fruits in deliberate behavior. In doing so he supplied the sketch of a theory of “communicative rationality” that was further developed early on by Josiah Royce, much later also by philosophers like Karl-OttoApel and Jurgen Habermas. The goal of this paper is to explain why such a theory is both more capacious and productive, even if not entirely discontinuous with, the recent neo-pragmatic deliberations of philosophers like Robert Brandom and Richard Rorty.
Mediation, History, and Ethics: A Transcendentalist View of Communicative Pragmatism through the Works of Peirce, Royce, and James
Ignacio Redondo (International University of La Rioja)
It is not news to say that there are strong affinities between American pragmatism and communication theory. If the work of the classical pragmatists —with its stress on the communal side of human experience, and its emphatic, though not universal, endorsement of the intersubjective interpenetration of both self and society— was not eloquent enough to speak for itself, a “new wave of pragmatism” has recently emerged in order to recover the distinctive voice of pragmatists and neopragmatists alike in communication studies. Thanks to the efforts of scholars like James Carey, John Durham Peters, Peter Simonson or Robert Craig, the names of Dewey, James, and Peirce have been finally granted a deserved role in the conversation that had been partially neglected in mainstream communication studies for decades.
To be sure, communication was arguably a central concern for the thinkers of the Progressive Era. However, in the development of American public philosophy, the concept of “communication” evolved less as a exultant celebration of democratic optimism than as a pervasive impasse ingrained in the very depths of the American mind, as it is clearly spelled out in the perennial tension between individualism, on the one hand, and the communitarian hopes for social closeness, mutual understanding and public empathy on the other. As a matter of fact, “the problem of communication” appears by and large at the very core of the American tradition. A truly operative, yet unresolved tension between the demands of individual self-reliance and the need for authentic connection with other minds, dramatically runs throughout the works of the American transcendentalists, which acquire almost prophetical overtones in their respective literary, philosophical, and existential struggles with the subject of friendship.
On the one hand, there is a clear-cut awareness that other people’s minds must be beyond our powers of direct perception. As Hocking said, “Souls, by their own nature, cannot touch each other.” On the other hand, it is also plain that we have no life alone, for we live, as Royce said, in our coherence with other people, in our relationships. If Self and Other are to be reconciled at all, it is not in the intimate meeting of the minds, for there is no privileged access to the inner workings of consciousness, but, rather, in the radically public realm of the “in-betweenness.” As it shall shown, some of these recurrent themes—the phantom character of all communication, the denial of any immediate soul-to-soul connection, or the “porcupine impossibility of contact with men”—reappear once and again in the pragmatist tradition of thinking about communication, most notably, in William James, Josiah Royce, and Charles Sanders Peirce.
There is, I would like to argue, a family resemblance in the voice of some classic American pragmatists, especially prominent in the case of James’ struggle with the problem of solipsism, but also traceable in Peirce’s semiotic view of the cosmos and Royce’s late turn to a certain form of objective pragmatism, which delineate a particularly eccentric problematization of communication as a “neighboring experience.” That is to say, as a “fringe” phenomenon neither reducible to mere soul-blending nor to relations of contiguity, but better described in terms of continuous vicinities among different selves, with no real boundary line between them. It is this “immediate neighborhood,” the very notion of “betweenness”—as Royce would put it, the triad of “My fellow and Myself, with Nature between us”—that I would like to explore in this paper. In particular, I shall address the social, ethical, and metaphysical implications that lie behind these transcendentalist tones of classical pragmatism, as exemplified in the works of James, Royce, and Peirce.
Ethical Temporality and Interiority in G. H. Mead’s Philosophy
Lenart Škof (University of Primorska)
In The Way to Language Heidegger elaborated on the relation between science and method. Here he criticised the domination of the scientific mode of thought over any other topic under consideration – and thereby over the human being in its various existential modes (language and communication being among them). By describing the way of language, Heidegger brings us to the question, which determines to an essential degree our question regarding the constitution of an ethical gesture and the space of intersubjectivity in any process of communication. Throughout the history of philosophy and ethics, philosophers had not asked themselves from where a hand was brought out or a body moved out in order that it may exhibit an ethical gesture, or, where does a language originate that one may address the other in an ethical or respectful way. Philosophers took it to be metaphysics or ontology in which the subject was the creator of the World, and the secret of the World remained concealed to them. Also the question of time and temporality was not posited in this context. In order to understand these interrelations, it is necessary to take a step back in philosophy and stop at G. H. Mead’s anatomy of the gesture, which represents one of the key exceptions in a set of attempts to express relations between subjects and their life-worlds.
In its effort to criticize metaphysics or to position itself regarding to the new sciences, philosophy should not distance itself from the space which is closest to it: this is the space of gestures: initially bodily ones including the linguistic gestures and communication originating in the body. All efforts to find a new way, whether through criticism or the domination of metaphysics, or by transition to rendering the philosophical method scientific, as is done in Positivism (and also in Husserl’s method, or the philosophy of language), must result in attempts, which in a fundamental way do not enter into the dialectical relation with the other qua other. Mead arrived at answers to questions posed by thinkers in the framework of Lebensphilosophie and related traditions in Europe in his own and original way. For the sociologist Hans Joas, Mead is the most important theoretician of inter-subjectivity between Feuerbach and Habermas. He is often listed and used among sociological classics and compared to various communicative and psychological methods.
In my paper, I want to reintroduce Mead’s thought into the very core of the philosophy of intersubjectivity and offer a new view of Mead’s relevance for the communication within pragmatism. I will first reflect upon Mead’s anatomy of the ethical gesture. By focusing on the problem of ethical temporality qua interiority, I will critically approach the more classical approaches – i.e. those of symbolic interactionism, sociology, and psychology. I will critically approach the constitution of the ‘exteriority’ in the sense of positing the social Other without previously analyzing and distinguishing the plane of ‘interiority’ of the ethical subject. Here I will compare Mead and Kierkegaard in order to trace the inner logic of the interiority/exteriority divide and relate it to the question of ethical gesture and its inner logic of ethical temporality. This step is necessary, since it is precisely on the horizon of ethically- and existentially- radicalized subjectivity that it is possible to seek answers to questions concerning intersubjectivity, which various social theories (symbolic interactionism, communication, and various modes of the so-called Kampf um Annerkenung theory) might obscure. Ethical temporality will thus be conceivable only on the horizon of unbreached (and, in the same time, not successive) continuity between various forms of responses to changes in interiority. Finally, temporality in this activity will be understood as an incessant directedness of the self (i.e., in the Deweyan sense as a body-mind in its sensory-motor capacity) toward the inception of new gestures.
Communication as Signifying Activity
Kathleen A. Wallace (Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY)
In this paper, I explore the theory of communication as developed by Justus Buchler, whose theory of communication was influenced by Mead’s theory of the social self, Peirce’s theory of signs and Royce’s theory of interpretation. I then use the theory to develop the notion of reflexive activity (communication) within a self.
The basic theory is that communication presupposes community (stripped of honorific associations). Community is experiential parallelism that prompts signifying activity. What distinguishes experiential parallelism as community (rather than simply physical, biological or social coincidence) is that the parallelism prompts signifying activity for each of the members in relation to a common object or condition for parallelism (even when selves are not in communication with one another). For example, consider the community of opera lovers. They do not necessarily know or communicate with one another (although most probably do communicate with some other opera lover[s]), but they have experiential parallelism with respect to a common object, opera. By way of contrast, even though breathing oxygen is necessary for our continued existence, it is doubtful that there is an “oxygen breathing community” because breathing oxygen does not typically prompt signifying activity. (Those who experience respiratory compromise — such as, asthmatics or emphysema patients — may, on the other hand, constitute a community in the sense in which I am using the term.)
Inspired by Peirce and Royce, communication is then characterized as sign generating activity. This is quite generic, of course, and specific kinds of communication, linguistic, gestural, indirect, and so on would all involve further specification. But, whatever the specific type of communication, communication more generally can be either asymmetrical (non-reciprocal) or symmetrical (reciprocal). More informally, these might be characterized as communication to or from (asymmetrical) and communication with (symmetrical). In symmetrical communication, the communicating members are both generating signs in relation to a common object and are objects for one another. By “object for one another” I just mean that they are sign or interpretation generating objects for one another (such terminology not committing to or intending anything like “objectification” in the denigrating or depersonalizing sense).
Communication could involve transmission of information or influence on belief formation, both of which involve signifying activity. But, it need not. An artist could communicate an interpretation, for instance, or a person could communicate a feeling (unidirectionally or reciprocally). Thus, the theory of communication being developed suggests that communication be conceived more broadly than in primarily linguistic or informational terms.
After developing the general theory of communication, I will also show how my interest in the theory of communication is part of a larger project on conceptualizing the self as relationally and plurally constituted, as what I call a cumulative network. Most accounts of communication take it to be social, that is, as between individuals or groups of individuals. And, of course, it is social. But, I am also interested in this theory of communication as a basis for understanding reflexive communication, that is, the ways in which a self, internally differentiated into perspectives, communicates with itself. The self, I suggest, is a community of perspectives, e.g., I as spouse, I as feminist, I as philosopher. Reflexive communication is a way of conceptualizing how such a plurally constituted self engages in first-personal reflexive activity. There is experiential parallelism between perspectives of the self, and thus community. In reflexive communication the self from one perspective engages in signifying activity with respect to an object in common with another perspective of the self. Such communication is symmetrical or reciprocal when each perspective also takes the other perspective as an object for itself. For example, I as spouse and I as feminist have experiential parallelism with respect to marriage and at the same time as feminist reflect on myself as spouse and vice versa. That process of “reflecting on myself”, I suggest, can be understood as a form of (reflexive) symmetrical communication.