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  • Commentary on “Non-Cartesian Frameworks”
  • Rom Harré (bio)

There are three points in Dr. Berger’s paper that seem to me to call for immediate comment:

  • 1. There is the familiar (but in Berger’s case, only a partial) misunderstanding of the upshot of the third phase of Wittgenstein’s private-language argument. Having shown that expressive and descriptive discourse are radically different, and that expressive discourse can be learned only in contexts of action in which there are natural expressions of personal feeling, experience, and so on, Wittgenstein goes on to show that whatever furnishes the mind, it is not thing-like. He does this by showing that “sameness” of thoughts and feelings cannot be spelled out in the same terms as sameness of things, that is, in terms of numerical and qualitative identity. Yet there is a proper use for the concept of sameness of thoughts and feelings. It is to be found in the role that expressions of feelings and declarations of thoughts play in the language games that constitute a form of life. There is no “unresolved tension,” as Berger seems to think. Although pains are not thing-like, they do have a location, do endure, and do differ from one another.

    The introduction of the powerful expressive/descriptive distinction is the key to the fallacies of representationalism. Expressive acts do not represent but descriptive acts might. But we can draw on the demonstration that mental “somethings” are not thing-like to eliminate that possibility. The root of representationalism is the seventeenth-century conception of the mind as a container of mental entities: ideas. Ideas are to psychology what atoms are to physics. According to Hume, ideas are copies of impressions. In that disastrous thesis, representationalism was born, as a generalization of Locke’s grounding principle that the ideas of primary qualities resembled primary qualities. The cure for this complex mesh of mistakes must be deeply philosophical. It must not be confined to easy criticisms of Locke’s resemblance doctrine, not yet to more subtle Berkleyan strictures on the supposed distinction between ideas and qualities. It must cut at the very deepest assumption of representationalism—that there are mental entities. And on that matter, Wittgenstein’s analysis will, one hopes, prove to be final.

  • 2. With representationalism cast onto the midden of history, what account are we to give of mentation? In a sense, Wittgenstein’s insights abolish the inner/outer distinction, an offshoot of the concept of the container-mind. But they leave standing the distinction between what is done privately and what is done publicly. Yet these domains must be of the same nature, since in the expressive use of signs, we find a holism encompassing what we feel and our disposition to express it. Linguistic substitutes for natural forms [End Page 185] of expression must share that holism. But there are no natural expressions of propositional thoughts. Why? Because we are capable of private propositional thinking just insofar as we have mastered public uses of the instruments of propositional thought. These instruments are cultural products.

    The practice of psychotherapy can be nothing other than discursive. The quotations concerning praxis that Berger offers are disconcertingly vague. To add, as Berger does, that we must take theory into account does not cure the vagueness. We do not know what Berger takes theory to be, only that it is not theory as physicists have it; i.e., systems of hypotheses about hidden processes which bring about that which can be observed. Following Wittgenstein one step farther, we can say that the only thing that could be theory-like in the enterprises of psychotherapists would be grammars. Grammars express the often unformulated norms of discourses. Psychoanalytic theories could then be addressed as expressions of the norms of certain kinds of discourses. Incorporating a “theory” would then be nothing but determining to adopt a certain grammar in one’s therapeutic discourses. Freed of the idea that one of some set of theories must be true and preferred to all others, one is free to adopt and adapt grammars to occasions. Some grammars are tied to natural expressions and so to the ethology of the human form of life...

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pp. 185-186
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