re: the nature of "construct"

W Ramsay (
Wed, 12 Jun 1996 16:31:37 +0100


This is a holding reply. More later if you're very unlucky.

On Friday 7 June you wrote


>...I did wonder about the following:
>>I have no problem with wired-in behaviour as a concept, only with the
>>idea that the cat, which has no choice in the matter of responding to
>>(from its point of view) aggressive behaviour, thereby makes no distinction
>>in an active sense. Of course it responds differently to the two
>>situations, but its the _behaviour_ that makes the distinction, not the cat,
>>in the 'aggression' situation.
>What I was doing in my last posting was to suggest that construing isn't
>necessarily a function of deliberate choice. I'm not too clear about that,
>which is why I dressed it all up in moggy-lover sensibility; but I'm
>attracted to the idea, first pointed out to me by Helen Jones and, if I
>remember correctly, Beverly Walker, that it makes sense to apply the notion
>of construing to pre-verbal, nondeliberate, preconscious processes as well
>as to the situations of more conscious and deliberate choosing, symbolised
>by verbal label, in which we're used to applying the term. Perhaps
>colleagues could comment further on this issue?

Makes sense in what terms? What kind of 'sense'? With due respect to Helen
Jones and Beverly Walker, this doesn't pass what I've come to call the
'Winnie-the-Pooh' test, i.e. you can add the negative without making a
contradiction, as in "They might, and then again they might not" (A.A.
Milne, passim). It might make sense, and then again it might not.

>I mean, just look at your last sentence, Bill, in the above extract. You
>say that the cat makes no active distinction, and is therefore not
>construing. You go on to say that it's the behaviour that makes the
>distinction, so you're prepared to admit that _distinction_ is possible
>without agency.
>Now, clearly (sorry: nasty bit of rhetoric there; start again).
>Now, _it seems to me_ that it would make no sense to assert that the
>"behaviour" construes just because it compels a distinction; but could we
>agree that any organism or process which makes a distinction _and has
>agency_ does in fact construe?

Yes, well, sorry, nasty bit of rhetoric there! However, it's not just
rhetoric. In the case of many such behaviours it's the internal, but still
objective, behaviour, even if wired in, that makes the distinction - indeed,
that _is_ the distinction. What may be at issue is the _level_ at which
agency operates. Does a frog, that's will starve surrounded by dead flies,
construe? Does a smoke detector? Is there agency in either of these? If
so, is it the same kind of agency? If not, what's the difference?

>In short, and in opposition to your comments on the "language and non
>verbal constructs" thread, _of course_ it's possible to have constructs
>without words. (See Ana Catina's most recent response to John Fisher.)
>Verbal labels are simply one way of expressing constructs; they aren't _in
>themselves_ constructs. IMHO.
>Kind regards
>PS To anticipate your next posting:
>What's "agency"?
>An attribute of an organism or process in which the organism/process acts
>on something else.

See above!

>And I can't think of a way in which "behaviour" acts on something else,
>without reifying the notion of "behaviour". Which seems to be a bit

(Really nasty bit of rhetoric coming). It seems to me that behaviour is
less in danger of reification than constructs, but more than a brick.

Keep 'em coming. You're keeping the juices flowing.



Bill Ramsay,
Dept. of Educational Studies,
University of Strathclyde,
Jordanhill Campus,
G13 1PP,

'phone: +44 (0)141 950 3364
'fax: +44 (0)141 950 3367