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Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology 7.2 (2000) 139-140



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Broken Language and Broken Lives: A Response to the Commentary

Markus Heinimaa


Rom Harré recognizes the oddities in the lexicon of Davidson and Strauss's article and proposes they could be rephrased without any loss of meaning. The basic questions in my paper are, however, whether we should take at face value the fact that these words are used in just these ways and how to understand these uses. Why are these transgressions made? And the conclusion of the paper is that clinical reality is pretty much constituted by these "oddities": though the expression (A4) "Betty came to believe that there was a self who was capable of being more active and efficacious" is clearly redundant from the point of view of everyday language use, it might be a perfectly sensible thing to say in a clinical environment. Consequently, my suggestion is that we should look closely at the grammar of these concepts to get a clearer idea about what their meaningfulness might imply.

In a similar vein, though agreeing with Harré in his doubt about presenting a concept like "sense of self" as a key theoretical concept in scientific psychiatry, I nevertheless think that this concept may have valid uses within clinical practice. In this respect, I find it helpful to distinguish between the realms of scientific investigation in psychiatry and psychiatry as a practice. One could roughly say that scientific research produces instruments for psychiatrists to use, while psychiatry itself as a professional practice has a role in dealing with certain types of marginal events in lives of individual human beings with whatever means it may conceive as useful. As I see it, psychiatry and related professions have conceptual primacy here, and the questions that emerge in the clinical environment are what scientific investigation tries to work out in a generalizable, but simplifying way. Thus the concept "sense of self" may have an important role in psychiatric discourse, though its role in scientific psychiatric research might be more marginal.

As to Harré's comments on my discussion of the grammar of "person," I am willing to concur with him that it is conceptually the vaguest part for the paper. Yet, contrary to Harré's contention, I do not think that the grammar of "I" and "you" is described in sufficient depth by solely pointing out that they are "indexicals." That is, accounting for their role in the elucidation of the philosophical grammar of "the person" by simply referring to their linguistic status as indexicals relies on an oversimplified conception of the role of deixis in linguistics. Here I find helpful Pär Segerdahl's recent book Language Use: A Philosophical Investigation into the Basic Notions of Pragmatics, where he shows how in linguistic [End Page 139] theory the concept of deixis has the obscure role of bridging "calculus conception of language" with real-world language use and points out how

The pragmatic account of deixis is not so much a description of the use of indexicals, as it is an attempt to make deixis fit into the picture of language as a system that is conceptually independent of its use. (Segerdahl 1996, 36)

So it seems the linguistic concept indexical rather fits to the role of an object of philosophical investigation than to that of a taken-for-granted tool for proceeding with such an investigation.

Second, in describing "I" and "you" as "reciprocally defining each other," I rely on Emile Benveniste's account of personal pronouns, where he quite explicitly points out the reciprocal connectedness of the first- and second-person personal pronouns and distinguishes sharply between their grammar (characterized as involving "correlation of personality") and that of the "non-personal" third-person personal pronouns: "A second characteristic [of the persons 'I' and 'you'] is that 'I' and 'you' are reversible: the one whom 'I' defines by 'you' thinks of himself as 'I' and can be inverted into 'I', and 'I' becomes 'you'" (Benveniste 1971, 199).

Third, as to Harré's criticism on "the word 'person' reflecting an...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3303
Print ISSN
1071-6076
Pages
pp. 139-140
Launched on MUSE
2000-06-01
Open Access
No
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