Re: Intersubjectivity

Robert Parks (
Mon, 28 Apr 1997 23:06:54 -0500

Tim, I like your distinction between "model of" and "model for".
Interesting how such small words operate in the background, shaping our

>The more I think about it, the less satisfying I find the "live in
>language" formulation (even taking "language" in a broad sense). I think
>it points to something important, but is too restrictive in its view of
>human experience. It seems to suggest that thought is fundamentally
>verbal/symbolic, which does not seem to be supported by any evidence I
>know of. Aphasics can function quite adequately in most areas of life,
>and their conceptual and problem-solving skills can be relatively intact
>(sometimes there's some difficulty with sequencing) even though they can't
>produce and/or comprehend language

I'd like to add to the discussion of the possible meaning of "living in
language", but since it seems to be a phrase from Maturana and Varela, and
since I haven't read enough of Maturana and Varela to give them their due,
I'll limit myself to a comment on my own interpretation of the role of

Surely there is pre-verbal experience. Everytime I awake in the morning,
there are sounds in my experience that I can't immediately interpret -
alarm clock, radio, birds, cat...etc. And there are experiences that I
might never interpret without bringing them to attention - for example, the
crinkly feeling of the skin on the back of my knee when I stretch out. But
I think there are three claims that might be defended. (1) language is
essential to sharing experiences as "human" experiences; and (2) this
sharing is crucial to the creation of a self with conscious awareness; and
(3) the community that effectively nurtures this sharing of experiences
also effectively nurtures the fullest development of selves. The creation
of this community is the core of politics, according to Aristotle.

>I don't think I've read enough of Gergen and the other social
>constructionists to have a good grasp of their view of language/culture
>as a psychological system. What I've read seems rather vague--language
>is invoked without any real analysis of the process by which it
>structures construing. Also, they seem to me to reify society as much as
>more individualistic theorists have reified the self. It seems to me
>that it's here that we really need the dialectical perspective--to look
>at the tension between the socially constructed meaning systems that
>individuals internalize, and the personal meaning systems that they enact
>socially. Without that dialectic, one seems to fall into social
>determinism on the one hand or solipsism on the other, and both seem to
>foreclose on the possibility of what I see as the most distinctive
>quality of human beings--our boundless inventiveness and creativity.
>Individually and collectively, we constantly come up with new responses
>to old situations, something other animals do infrequently, and usually
>through genetic mutation. How do we do it?

In this note on dialectic you have put your finger on the problem. Well said,