Re: Intersubjectivity

Gary F. Blanchard (
Wed, 30 Apr 1997 11:08:57 -0700

Dear Bob-

Thank you very much for your thoughtful and stimulating post. I'm afraid
you have me in the scholar department, and I congratulate you for it.
My reading of some of those books (your post, below) was painful, slow,
and often uncomprehending. That you have read them, and more, stamps
you as quite diligent and aware, as far as I am concerned.

As you know, however, passing our eyes over a text -- reading --- is
only part of the game. The rest is hermeneutics, or how to
appropriately interpret/construe a text. This ancient practice is, for
me, part of what is at the heart of this whole language thing. As I'm
sure you would agree, the fact that one has 'read' does not insure that
one has 'interpreted' approriately/accurately. After all, some people
read only to find fault; theirs is not a 'fair' evaluation. Ask Normal

Part of the argument which the 'Language/Action' approach that I know
about -- as you suggest, there may be other varieties -- makes, is that:

Often we, as speakers/readers (languagers), create our lives, without
realizing it, such that we believe we are 'free' to interpret/ critique
fairly and accurately whatever our attention lights upon: ourselves,
others, objects, events.

However, to a skilled observer it is possible to discern evidence that
a person is in fact interpreting/construing in ways which are:

...preordained by their ontology, or characteristic 'way of being', and their ontology's caracteristic way of thinking/communicating').

And yet, the person is totally blind to that fact, and probably will
react with a feeling of insult if any such suggestion is made to them.

In my opinion, such is the dilemma of all of us, to some extent, until
we unlearn that ontology for a more flexible, comprehensive one. It is
especially true, however, for the 'true believer,' the authoritarian,
indeed anyone who feels really strongly about anything.

They literally become what I call 'not talk-tooable' in the matter. They
do not so much possess a point of view, as they are possessed BY one. In
this case, my school of thought says, their paradigm of language has
them. They only SEEM to have language -- the form, but not the content.
And they probably will be the last to know...especially if they are
distrustful, and cannot heed the reactions and counsel of their
colleagues, friends and family.

I was caught in just such a trap for years, and have to watch out for it
now all the time. My enthusiasm can be my unseen social enemy, as you
and others on this list may have experienced. Perhaps that is another
definition of what it means to be human; perhaps it is the dark side of
what we sometimes call 'free will.'

All this is by way of saying that I assess your comments to be of
concern, in these ways:

-First, in a world in which certainty is so difficult or impossible to
attain, I assess you to speak(write) here with certainty, rather than
being tentative, and open to the possility of being wrong. In the words
of my paradim of Language/Action, what you evoke in me is a demand for
agreement, rather than an invitation to seek the truth of the matter. I
would be glad to document this for you, with your own words, if you are

-Second, you make claims for which you supply no convincing evidence,

> I have read "Computers and Cognition" and Searle's "Speech Acts" as > well as other work on language, and I would like to let you know that > Maturana and Varela are not the creators of the "language as action" > viewpoint; nor are Winograd and Varela.

Bob, for me to see your point here, you first need to show --- not
merely claim --- that you possess an operational grasp of the
Langage/Action approach. I, as the person who has brought it to this
list to the best of my knowledge, then need to verify your claim. After
all, it is me you are seeking to convince. Failure to do this, for me,
constitutes simply an example of the favorite linguistic mechanism of
television, 'Proof by Claim,'which as I'm sure you agree is the absence
of scholarship.

Then, secondly, you need to provide convincing evidence that this same
approach, by whatever name, was indeed developed / invented / discovered
by someone other than whom I said.

(And you need to take account of the historical fact that manytimes
inventions of almost the same nature and type are produced by different
people at nearly the same time, at different places (meaning someone
could have invented something but not be recognized as THE inventor, due
to the vagaries of historical acknowledgement; in which case the
difference in their claim to authorship might well be trivial.)

Just for the record, and to subject myself to the same scholarly rigor,
let me cite the source of my claim that Winograd and Flores had come up
with a specific name for the approach we are discussing. (Maturana is, I
believe, famous not for this but for the term 'languaging.' A summary
citation is as follows:
I Benutzer: www-anonymous

A Language/Action Perspective on the Design of Cooperative Work

Title:A Language/Action Perspective on the Design of Cooperative Work
Journal: HCI; Human-Computer Interaction
Author: Terry Winograd
Series Title: Articles
Volume: 3
Pages: 3-30
Date: 1987-1988
Copyright: Copyright 1987-1988 Lawrence Erlbaum Associates

In creating computer-based systems, we work within a perspective that
shapes the design questions that will be asked and the kinds of
solutions that are sought.

This article introduces a perspective based on language as action, and
explores its consequences for system design. We describe a communication
tool called The Coordinator, which was designed from a language / action
perspective; and we suggest how further aspects of coordinated work
might be addressed in a similar style.

The language/action perspective is illustrated with an example based on
studies of nursing work in a hospital ward and contrasted to other
currently prominent perspectives.

[Human-Computer Interaction (Volume 3, 1987-88)]

As to your comments about Kuhn's paradigm, 'paradigm,' I am no expert.
But it seems to me that it has been shown to be fruitful (one of the
major criteria of science, I understand) to generalize his notion. As I
understand it, this need not alter the essential meaning of the notion
as being "a significant change of beliefs," the less significant, the
more trivial; the more significant, the more radical. For example, I am
perfectly comfortable saying that Marx propounded a radical paradigm
shift to the world of 1917. Would you agree?

My question is: don't we run the risk of succumbing to a kind of
'functional fixity' when we arbitrarily restrict the usefulness of a
linguistic distinction, in order to accomodate somebody's idea of what
is 'correct'? Might this not, itself, be an example of one being in the
grip of a covert Objectivism, in that they are unwittingly likening a
purely linguistic entity, such as 'word,' to a physical object, like a
hammer, and then saying you can only pound with it, not pry, or stand on
it to look out of a high window, or do all the other things one can do
with a hammer if one is creative?

Bob, please don't get me wrong. I'm glad you have read what you have
read, and know what you know. And I would like to learn from you. But i
find an element of undocumented righteousness in what you say, and the
way you say it, that causes me the concerns I have indicated.

Perhaps I am off-base, so I will stop here, and see what you think,
conversation being a co-creation. I look forward to your response -- and
that of any others on this list whoi would like to join us.

Best, Gary
Robert Parks wrote:
> Gary,
> I have read "Computers and Cognition" and Searle's "Speech Acts" as well as
> other work on language, and I would like to let you know that Maturana and
> Varela are not the creators of the "language as action" viewpoint; nor are
> Winograd and Varela. I appreciate their work, perhaps as much as you do.
> But it seems to me important to see our intellectual work in historical
> perspective. The central figure in this intellectual "movement" (or
> paradigm) is Ludwig Wittgenstein. Wittgenstein wrote the central work in
> the logical positivist literature - "Tractus Logico Philosophicus" (which
> is quite clearly representational, arguing that logical form mirrors the
> natural world). But then, in a very interesting intellectual transformation
> (triggered, it is said, by an Italian friend's question about the logical
> form of a meaningful gesture] he began to develop the view that to
> understand language we must understand how it is "used"; and this langauge
> use is best understood in the context of "ways of life". This has been
> characterized as the beginning of the "linguistic turn" in philosophy
> (though it follows also on some of the more abstruse work of Heidegger).
> This "linguistic turn" has taken several forms in philosophy, and has begun
> to influence both theoretical and empirical work in nearly all the
> disciplines concerned with the study of humans. One development that I have
> followed with interest is the work of Jurgen Habermas, who has a theory of
> social life built on "communicative action". In my grad school days, it was
> Berger and Luckman's "Social Construction of Reality" that was much talked
> about. Other threads are to be discerned in the "postmodern" movement in
> literature and other theoretical pursuits. All of these take language to be
> in some way central to a "constructivist" view.
> >AND, whatever one may think of the notion, one must recognize that IF,
> >as I and others maintain, it is indeed a radical new paradigm (or change
> >in beliefs), then it is likely to be resisted by, and/or
> >incomprehensible to, persons who hold a different paradigm. (See Kuhn,
> >
> >I don't 'know' why. But I believe it is due primarily to the fact that
> >the 'Language/Action' distinction is a radical (i.e., discontinuous),
> >new (novel), paradigm (or discourse), of the nature of human action and
> >being. That is, it does not follow logically or sequentially from
> >existing paradigms, such as the paradigm (discourse) of Psychology. Thus
> >its legitimacy and soundness, as measured by the established paradigm,
> >is not apparent, or lacks 'high face validity.'
> >
> >This is nothing more than every new idea has encountered. (See THE
> >BUSINESS OF PARADIGMS training video, by futurist Joel Barker.)But,
> >ultimately, we can change if we will to. As the old saw holds: When
> >the student is ready, the teacher will appear. And then what was
> >incomprehensible, silly, or downright nutso, may make sense. And we
> >must ask: did the world change. Or did we?
> One of the things I would like to stress is that the "paradigm" you refer
> to is not in its infancy. But I also think that the idea of a "paradigm"
> doesn't well fit in human studies. Kuhn developed the notion from studies
> of the natural sciences (as you know from your reading of "Structure of
> Scientific Revolutions"), and attempts to apply it to the social sciences
> have met mostly controversy. The main reason is that everyone tries to USE
> the notion of a "paradigm" (since they have learned that language is
> defined in use), and then define THEIR paradigm as the NEW one, which is
> most certain to supplant the OLD one. And in every case, there are groups
> of commited adherents who often give the impression of being "true
> believers" who cannot be reasoned with. I wonder if I am conversing with
> someone who cannot be reasoned with when I find them saying that any
> disagreement is a sign that I have not yet seen the TRUTH of their new
> paradigm (which is sure to replace the old one) because I am in the grip of
> the OLD paradigm. That sort of reasoning was once common in the dogmatic
> left; and I have to be careful to avoid it myself, since I am much
> influenced by Marx. Let me suggest that you have been commendably open with
> the fact that Maturana and Varela have had a great deal of influence on
> your thinking. I trust it is a positive influence. But I do hope that we
> all accept influences on our thinking, rather than substitutes for our
> thinking. I am puzzled, and a bit troubled, by your apparent insistence
> on defining yourself as in possession of a "paradigm" (if not a truth) that
> others haven't (yet) accepted. So, in any case, I find myself repeating,
> Gary, that you are not alone in accepting a "langauge as action"
> perspective. I am myself exploring these views in several directions. And I
> find Tim and others on this list willing to explore these ideas with open
> minds. I trust the dialogue will continue.
> Best regards.
> Bob