Re: intersubjectivity

Tim A. Connor (
Sat, 19 Apr 1997 11:07:29 -0700 (PDT)

On Sat, 19 Apr 1997, Gary F. Blanchard wrote:

> Dear Tim-
> May I enter the fray on this conversation, for just one observation?
> I believe it reveals how powerfully we are enmeshed in language, and so
> do not even realize it when the speak with certainty of matters we
> cannot possibly know about.
> Here's what I mean:
> > Tim A. Connor wrote:
> >
> > My cat construes--by which I mean she makes distinctions and varies her
> > behavior accordingly. She can make some quite fine distinctions and
> >
> How do you know what your cat is 'doing'? Or is this, really, just
> fanciful mind-reading?
> Perhaps I'm wrong. Perhaps there is some data/grounding/evidence to
> support your claim. I would love to see it.
> Comments?
> Gary


Bearing in mind that "construe" (in PCP) means "make a distinction," it's
well-established that animals do--the behaviorists call it "stimulus
discrimination," and there's a vast research literature on it. Most
relevant to PCP is Edward Tolman's work (mainly with rats) on the role of
expectancy and purpose in animal behavior. I haven't time to look up
references, or to describe the studies here, but you'll find Tolman
mentioned in most introductory psychology texts. The behaviorists, of
course, don't refer to what animals do as "construing," but then they
don't use that word for humans either. Looking at the research from a
constructivist rather than a behaviorist perspective, it doesn't seem to
me like a major leap to call my cat's discrimination between another
cat's friendly or hostile behavior "construing" of an elementary sort.

Obviously, my comments on what my cat *can't* do were fanciful (for all I
know, when my cat is stretching she may be doing yoga, and when she sits
there purring she may be meditating, chanting "Om"--there's an Indian
story to that effect). The point was to illustrate (not to prove) that
animal construing is limited by biology, and the capacity to symbolize
(itself a result of biological evolution) is a critical feature of humans
that allows us to make distinctions that animals can't, and to construe in
much more subtle and elaborated ways.