- Unreflective action. A philosophical contribution to integrative neuroscience
- Award date
- 25 June 2008
- Number of pages
- Amsterdam: Institute for Logic, Language and Computation
- Document type
- PhD thesis
- Interfacultary Research Institutes
- Institute for Logic, Language and Computation (ILLC)
In many situations in our daily lives we act adequately, yet unreflectively. With certainty and fluency we turn the pages of a book, maintain an appropriate distance from the other people in an elevator, and without deliberation we stop the pedestrian next to us, who, while about to cross the street, does not notice an oncoming car. Often we just act, and normally this immediate action is appropriate. The aim of this dissertation is to contribute to a better understanding of such adequate unreflective action. Using works by Aristotle, Wittgenstein, Merleau-Ponty, Dreyfus, and McDowell, this complex phenomenon is approached primarily from a philosophical perspective, but one that is open to insights from affective science and neuroscience. Such an integrative approach is important because it is only through integration of the findings of various disciplines that we can achieve a thorough understanding of adequate unreflective action.
In the first chapter I investigate the normative aspect of unreflective action, or 'situated normativity'. The notion of normativity implied when we, for instance, 'instinctively' obtain and maintain an appropriate distance from others in an elevator, is a very basic one, namely distinguishing correct from incorrect, adequate from inadequate, or better from worse in the context of a particular situation. I use the term 'instinctive' in a Wittgensteinian sense, which will be introduced in chapter 1 (section 2). On my interpretation, using this term was not Wittgenstein's way of stressing innateness, but of the role of the body and of unreflectiveness. Instinctive behavior, in this Wittgensteinian sense, can be acquired in a socio-cultural context. In the first part of the chapter I use Wittgenstein's examples of craftsmen (tailors and architects) absorbed in action, to introduce situated normativity. I develop Wittgenstein's insight that a peculiar type of affective behavior, directed discontent, is essential for getting things right without reflection. Directed discontent is a reaction of appreciation in action and is introduced as a paradigmatic expression of situated normativity. In the second part of the chapter I investigate the normative aspect of Merleau-Ponty's examples of unreflective action. I suggest that both Wittgenstein and Merleau-Ponty describe the phenomenon of responsiveness to relevant affordances. I further investigate the complex relationships between unreflective action, perception, emotion, and normativity. Part of this entails an account of the link between normativity at the level of the craftsman's socio-cultural practice and the individual's situated and lived normativity.
If we want to understand a complex phenomenon such as directed discontent well, we need to engage other complementary perspectives. In chapter 2 I make a first attempt to open up such perspectives, so other than purely philosophical, on directed discontent. I ask the question of what happens when a skilled individual acts correctly with instinctive ease. This question invites contributions from various disciplines, including neuroscience, psychology and phenomenology. I propose a strategy to make this complex question better accessible to empirical research, thereby hopefully preparing the ground for accumulation of understanding across disciplines. At the basis of directed discontent lies the affective behavior that is called 'valence', which embodies the individual's earliest normative orientation in an event-related episode of unreflective action. I briefly introduce some core ideas of neurophenomenology and neurodynamics in discussing this. Using some tools of the former, both neurophysiological and experiential features of valence can be investigated.
Currently, within philosophy there is no integrative account of unreflective action. As a starting point, contributions would be required from both analytic philosophers and philosophers with roots in the cont
- Research conducted at: Universiteit van Amsterdam
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