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  • Bringing Relations to Life
  • Rom Harré (bio)


In Deeley’s commentary on the development of “ecological understandings” of illness, we find a subtle appreciation of the way locally valid points of view are taken up as resources by the members of a society. How far do the insights he offers fit with other contemporary views of the constitutive power of discourse? And how far does the he convince us of the value of the use of Samuel’s multimodal framework as the main analytical tool? I address these questions in what follows.

As far back as our knowledge of the way people have reflected on their own form of life goes, we encounter two main styles of thought. There is that style in which a duality between our way of being as conscious, thoughtful creatures is emphasized, and our way of being as animals is also recognized. Then there is another style in which this generic duality is denied. The opinion that all there is, is “spirit” has been as popular in the longer reaches of history as has the current claim that all there is, is “matter.” There have been compatibilists, and there have been reductionists. Currently compatibilism is back, with the idea of irreducibly multiple discourses around the species homo sapiens emphasizing both symbolic and organic capacities, while reductionism is also back, with the idea of genetically driven constraints on the means of cognition, emotion, social relations, and so on. Deeley’s appropriation of Bateson’s “ecology of mind” metaphor as realized in Samuel’s multimodal framework seems to be right in the current compatibilist style, since it suggests the necessity of employing a number of discourse modes (“grammars”) in dealing with at least some of the complaints and predicaments with which people bother their doctors and subsequently the psychiatrists to whom they are referred. In paying attention to lay narratives concerning troublesome behavior, Deeley picks up another current theme, namely the place of local commonsense descriptions and explanations of the way people behave in our general psychological resources. In the central case he describes, it is the brother’s narrative, not the narrative of the person whose life troubles are the center of the scene, that is analyzed.

However, in looking more closely at Samuel’s “multimodal framework,” one finds that there are some aspects of it that are a cause for concern.

What is the “Modal States Framework”?

The first of these problems appears when Deeley introduces the details of the Samuel scheme. Deeley remarks that “Samuel assumes mind-brain identity, and the individual modal states correspond to specific states of the brain and CNS as a whole; they are, therefore, simultaneously states of “mind and body.” Just how something can correspond to something else and yet be identical to it is not at all clear to me. It looks as if Samuel holds to [End Page 129] both a compatibilist and a reductionist ontology, or at least tries to. So the starting point for the explication of an MSi (an individual modal state) is disturbingly fuzzy.

The second problem emerges in Samuel’s exposition of MSi, the concept of individual modal state. Each MSi seems to be a small-scale conceptual system or “grammar,” since an MSi has a cognitive function, rather like a Wittgensteinian grammar. It seems to be similar to the idea of a set of tacit rules and conventions that is involved in how a person interprets his or her experience, by making some states of affairs perceptible and others not available to that person with that mind set. And, importantly, each MSi provides the wherewithal for making decisions as to what one should do in the circumstances as they are perceived. But an MSi also seems to be rather like a Durkheimian social representation, since it is associated with a set of images or symbols. And so on.

It looks as if an MSi is a kind of resource by which a person manages his or her life, or at least a stretch of it. Yet in the presentation of the notion of an MSi, Samuel, as quoted by Deeley, offers the MSi as the active element in his or...

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pp. 129-131
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