Re: intersubjectivity

Tim A. Connor (
Fri, 18 Apr 1997 21:07:37 -0700 (PDT)

On Thu, 17 Apr 1997 wrote:

> Tim Connor writes:
> >
> >When I think of dialectic in PCP, I'm thinking principally of a dialectic
> >between construction and action. I must construe the world in order to
> >act, and I must act in order to construe
> Very interesting stuff. When I read this, my response was: But isn't
> construing a type of activity? Or at least a part of activity? What would
> construing be if it were not a type of activity?


> But to say that construing itself is presybolic almost invokes a kind of
> shadow mind that exists behind symbols -- and symbols are just kind of
> an addition, a medium, but something beyond symbols does the real work.
> But we think through our symbols, we construe through our symbols, and
> our symbolic transformations are often socially constituted.
> I think that Kelly's theory has a hard time dealing with symbolic and
> cultural aspects of functioning; there is a tendency to priviledge
> some more "internal" or "presymbolic" process. I think all thinking
> and constructing is a form of activity; symbols transform that activity.
> This is a wonderful line of discussion; I hope it continues...
> Mike Mascolo


Thanks for your clarifying observations. I don't think I meant a shadow
mind (at least I don't mean that now)--rather a reflexive one, cf. my
post on the missing self.

Let me try it this way....

My cat construes--by which I mean she makes distinctions and varies her
behavior accordingly. She can make some quite fine distinctions and
adapt to fairly subtle differences in situations. But her construing
lacks breadth, complexity, and flexibility (a tight construct system with
a narrow range of convenience). She cannot (I rashly assume) construe
the architecture of the cathedral of Notre Dame as an expression of her
relationship to God, or make a distinction between it and the Great
Pagoda, let alone try out the behavioral implications of those
alternative constructions of spirituality.

This, I take it, is because she cannot symbolize her constructions, or
construe symbols. So in that sense, construing is presymbolic--but not
just *pre*symbolic. It is symbolism that makes reflexive construing
possible: we are able to construe our own construing because we are able
to build symbolic models of it, and in turn construe those symbols.
Symbolic mediation is essential to that reflexive self-awareness (or I
suppose I should say self-construction). It's a thoroughly circular
process, but I would still say that constructs are the primitives that
give rise to symbols (I doubt that unmediated awareness of one's own
construing is possible, except maybe after years of meditation practice).

As for the unity between construction (imagination?) and action, I
consider it a complementarity, not an identity. Each implies the other,
but they are not the same thing. By action, I suppose I mean aggression,
in Kelly's sense, action-in-the-world, a reaching out. But symbolism
makes it possible for action to be something other than direct
"action-in-the-world." I can model my constructions symbolically and
manipulate the models to test them symbolically before committing myself
to more direct action, something else my cat can't do.

For example: my daughter, at about 18 months, construed an electrical
outlet as "safe" and "interesting." She set out to elaborate and test
this construction by inserting a hairpin into the hole. I saw her from
the other side of the room and yelled "No!" She looked up at me briefly,
then went back to her experiment. I ran across the room and snatched her
away from the socket and took the hairpin. She cried.

When she was about seven, she asked permission to ride her bicycle to a
friend's house, about a mile away and across two major streets. "No," I
said, "it's not safe." She argued, explaining just how careful she would
be crossing the streets, etc. I stood my ground. She argued at length,
explaining just how unfair, unreasonable, and downright irrational I was
being, then stomped off to her room.

I see the two incidents as parallel, but in the first, a toddler's limited
capacity to symbolize meant that all constructs (hers and mine) had to be
expressed in direct action, while in the second a similar interaction was
carried out in symbolic (verbal in this case) terms.

Does this hang together any better?