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On the first page of Ludwig Wittgenstein's
key text, The Philosophical Investigations,
he presents a rather strange imaginary story about five
red apples. To my mind, much of the Philosophical
Investigations is meant to show us what is wrong with this story, or stories
like it. Here in Wittgenstein's words, is the story of five red apples:
A little later, Wittgenstein comments about the picture portrayed in
the five red apples story by
What is wrong with the five red apple story?
What is wrong with the story is that language doesn't generally work like this. Would a clerk such as Wittgenstein imagined have approached the task as Wittgenstein described? First, going to a drawer marked "apples"? Then, looking up the color red on a chart to make sure he got the color right? And then, when he had found the right red apples, would the clerk have actually have had to count them out one by one? Or would he have been more likely to have simply grabbed three red apples with one hand and two with the other and never gave the whole task another moment of reflection?
The next question is: Why did Wittgenstein present us with such an unlikely story?
He did so because he thinks this story shows us what is wrong with our
cultural picture of how we operate with language. Wittgenstein thinks
there are certain myths about language in our culture and he wants to expose
them. He said:
He hopes that the story of the five red apples helps us pass from disguised nonsense (that is in the form of technical theories about language) to patent nonsense. In its disguised form we may ignore the fact that people do not look up everything on charts and maps, by imagining that they have maps and tables in their minds. This, temptation to put physical mechanisms in the mind when they do not otherwise seem credible is, Wittgenstein would say is part of the illusion (see aphorism #36).
Wittgenstein suggests that the nonsense picture our culture has embaraced
is that we operate in language according to precise rules, and he wants
to guide us through a deconstruction of that picture. But before
we can see through the disguised nonsense he says:
What gets in the way is this picture that language works like a calculus,
according to precise rules, He says:
What precise rules do we imagine? Precise definitions, precise rules of logical reasoning, precise rules of grammar, even precise rules of of ethics. The illusion is that that our reasoning and talking works like a calculus based on axioms that can be learned, and once learned, will provide us with a faithful guide.
But these rules, he makes clear, never work perfectly, as a calculus would. Even a rule like "Don't kill" finds exceptions (such as kill during war, kill someone about to slaughter your daughter). Logical rules don't work precisely either. They depend always on our assumptions and on ability to notice and judge equivocations.
Instead of "rules" Wittgenstein suggests that what guides our thinking
How do we make judgments without rules? We can learn to do it, he says, by a observing others make judgments, and by experience.
The best example I can think of for learning to make judgments without being given strict rules is learning to pick out a watermelon. I think I'm getting much better at this lately. In the past, all the watermelons I picked out seemed to be crummy. But now they tend to sweet and crunchy, the way watermelons should be.
And I have developed this theory that a good watermelon has a certain sound when you thump it, not too high, not too low, and with a bit of an echo, but not too much. Now, that's the kind of criteria that you can't present as a rule, is it not? And I can't give you the rule. You can only learn it if you hear it, try it, and experience the success or failure of your judgment.
Wittgenstein tells us that correct prognoses (including about things
like good watermelons).
And then he explains why it can't be cast in "rules" and turned into
a calculus: He says:
The point is that the art of making "judgments" of all kinds is vastly underrated in our culture because we are overconcerned with the rules of judgment. We don't use charts and tables to pick out five red apples, nor do we look up any other rules. We use judgments, and judgments that are not necessarily reflected by being put in words.
I think this whole idea that we need to learn to make better judgments and be less focused on rules of judgment is central to our study of therapy. The therapist, too, can be bound by rules, thinking there is always one way to speak, one way to approach each kind of problem. Modernity bound us theoreticians in that idea, whether it was psychoanalysis saying that the analyst should be quiet and neutral, never showing an once of individuality or heart, or the behaviorist showing how we should foster behaviors various schedules of reinforement.
In place of a calculus of precise rules, the Wittgensteinian postmodern
is likely to consider the importance oflearning better "judgment" without
being given precise rules.
To understand Wittgenstein's critique of our rule-bound way of thinking it helps to consider the distinction between "following a rule" and "conforming to a rule." I follow a rule if I look the rule up in a table or chart and then do as the rule instructs me. But I can also just "conform to rule."
Suppose I am casually walking along the street talking to you. We stop at red lights and walk around obstacles without thinking much about what we're doing (because what you are saying is fascinating). That means, we are conforming to rules of conduct, in ways that help us navigate the streets, but without maps or charts. Some of this might be learned. We walk around obstacles now, perhaps, because we once fell over them. But did we have to have rules do learn these simple things?
Of course, some philosophers think there must be rules guiding everything we do, hidden in the background if not conscious in our heads. To me, that way of thinking is as unconvincing as the idea that a bird in the back of the overhead flock, flying across the skies with such amazing regularity, is following anything like a rule. There are many ways to understand the sources of conformity, from mimicry, to hardwired conformity, and also with more postmodern ideas we are just beginning to imagine.
But to make sense of it all, it helps to begin with the distinction
between "following a rule" and "conforming to a rule," a distinction that
many of us on PMTH think is very important. For example, on Jerry
And Nick Drury said:
What Drury meant, I believe, is that after conforming to a rule, we notice the rule, and then imagine that it existed independently of our performance. It would be like a philosophical bird imagining that there was a rule that all birds fly in a particular configuration, and also imagining that each other bird was following that heavenly rule.
After Drury spoke, our conversation took a turn and we were discussing
whether rules guide us in ethical situations. We talked and
talked. Ideas and misunderstandings flew back and forth, but when I glance
over our discussion I can see a general questioning on PMTH of the rule-bound
picture of how our ethics work. I like the way George
Spears said it when he told us:
Spears' remarks remind me of postmodern author, Zygmunt
Tom Strong, A PMTH scholar who has
been studying Bauman said about his work:
Perhaps Scott Cole was thinking similarly
when he said:
At any rate, the speakers in the postmodern therapies community seem very aware that traditional rule bound theories that tell us we do things best simply by following rules are inclined to question it. Maybe this is a measure of our postmodern incredulity.
I said to the PMTH group at one point that that postmodern incredulity
seems quite different from Kierkegaärd's
"leap of faith", that is "belief without evidence just because it seems
true." And , Lynn Hoffman added:
Hoffman always seems to be saying memorable things like that:
Because I live near San Francisco, I decided to go to the APA Convention which was in S.F. from the 24th to the 28th of August. My conference materials got lost in the mail, so I often didn't know from hour to hour where I was going next, but enjoyed the experience nonetheless even though I missed some lectures I would have liked to attend.
Given the short PMTH deadline, I'm going to share with you my confusion about HIPAA. If your eyes are already glazing over, let me tell you that I learned on Saturday at a Townhall meeting put on by Russ Newman, Executive Director for Professional Practice, that we better pay attention. In addition, there were seven panelists who were moderated by Bernard Kalb of CNN.
HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) is concerned with privacy rules. The Townhall meeting had as title: Safequarding Privacy and Confidentiality in the Digital Age: What All Practitioners Need to Understand. The initial deadline for compliance with these privacy rules is set for April 14, 2003.
HIPAA was the result of a bill sponsored by Senators Kassebaum and Kennedy which was signed into law in 1996. Originally, the act was designed to protect Americans who were previously ill from losing their health insurance when they changed jobs or residences. It provided for standardized electronic data interchange in the healthcare industry. As one of the panelists stated, "The public knows very little about how little privacy exists."
In the months to come APA is going to provide information about the resources and tools we will need to become HIPAA-compliant. I am confused as to what will be needed, but as a handout stated: "Simply putting your patient records under lock and key or creating a password-protected area on your computer will not assure compliance." We will need to put administrative, technical and physical safeguards in place to protect the privacy of identifiable patient information beyond what most of us have at this time.
What will they be? I don't know, but I think it would be prudent to read whatever materials we're going to get from APA in the coming year about HIPAA. For example, a question asked by Eric Harris, lawyer with the APA Insurance Trust, was whether the average mom and pop psychologist would need a risk-management department.
Another question was whether if a spouse writes e-mail to a therapist, and the other spouse accesses it and doesn't like what s/he reads, can the therapist be liable for the breach of privacy? I have no answers for you as answers won't be known until we have the first case laws.
Now, maybe you're sorry I went to the APA Convention, but as a handout
stated: "The Place to Start: Awareness."
During our recent conversations on PMTH it occurred to me that it might be useful to codify the ethical theories we were discussing into three main types. This is just a temporary codification. There are many other ways to carve up all the ethical theories. But these are the three types we have been comparing, and perhaps you'd like to compare them, too.
These three main types are::
1) Ethical Principles theory ł▒ This contains the core idea that
there exists somewhere (perhaps in a spiritual universe) a set of true
principles for ethical action and that we are each obligated (or commanded)
to follow these principles.
2) The moral compass theory - Perhaps, the moral compass
theory is best represented by Socrates theory
of knowledge as presented in the Platonic dialogue Meno. In this
dialogue Socrates leads an uneducated "barbarian" to the "truth" about
what is virtue by a dialogue that allows the barbarian to "remember" the
truth in his soul.
3) Moral impulse theory - In his book, Postmodern Ethics,
Now, let's compare these three theories:
The theory of ethical principles requires that the courses of action be defined for all time, in a unified theory, but it doesn't mean that human beings find these principles emotionally compelling. Moreover, there is a big question as to what universal theory we want to embrace. People disagree.
That's where moral compass theory comes in. The moral compass theory , is based on the metaphor of a compass that keeps us pointed to the good, helping us feel the good as well as detect it. But do we have a moral compass? If so, then why do we have such different judgments about what is the right course of action?
That brings us to the moral impulse theory, as I am thinking of it. The moral impulse does not necessarily point to the "true good". It is an impulse to be good, but the impulse can be naive. Still, I believe, that in paralogical conversation we can learn to have a less naive moral impulse.
But moral impulse theory has its problems, too. Like ethical principle theory, and moral compass theory, with moral impulse theory we still have no way of knowing if we have got it right. Come to think of it, we don't have that with moral principle theory, either. We never know with any finality if we "have it right."
What PMTHers Think about These Three Theories
Lynn Hoffman, in discussing the moral compass concept, told us about article she had just read that suggested that far from our having a moral compass pointing to something true like a "true north" we are all in a continual process of "trying to agree on where North is."
I believe that this continuous searching for the good is exactly what generates the moral impulse in our hearts.
At one point in our conversation Scott Cole and I were in agreement
and he elaborated on a thought of mine saying
Something Michael Coffee said
is relevant here, as well. People sometimes criticize theories like
moral impulse theory as just an "anything-goes-relativism." About
that, Coffee said:
Still, maybe the majority on PMTH are echoing the sentiments of Nick Drury who told us, "I don't want to be the defender here of the 'moral compass' idea, nor of the idea of universal moral principles. My position is one of not knowing about these things, and to date the arguments presented against either of these has not compelled me to close my mind to these ideas."
What could be more postmodern than that?
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The editors of the Journal of Family Therapy were kind enough to invite me (Lois Shawver) to write an article on postmodernism as it relates to family therapy. What I wrote was largely a script of an imaginary conversation between Lyotard, later Wittgenstein and other postmodern luminaries, including a few who are living. In this conversation, they are sitting around a patio table having tea with their host and hostess, Jack and Jill. Jack and Jill are trainees in family therapy and they are asking questions of these postmodern thinkers that I feel most therapists new to postmodernism would ask.
In October we will have a kind of internet party around this paper. That is, there will be an internet event to discuss the postmodern vision of family therapy as inspired by these thinkers. I will join the event and answer at least some of the posts that are a response to the paper and the ideas in the papers. The details of this event, how to join and participate, will be described in an updated version of this article on PMTH NEWS, hopefully, over the next few days.
How can you read the paper in the meantime? It is available in print if you can find a copy of the most recent issue of the Journal of Family Therapy (vol. 23 issue 3, 2001).
And, it will be made available by that journal on the World Wide Web. I will try to update the information in this article to keep you posted.
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Last month, you will recall that there was an article in PMTH about content analysis (or perhaps "non-content analysis) and Conversation Analysis. Priscilla Hill introduced content analysis to us and John Lawless explained conversation analysis.
I invited both of them to return and Priscilla Hill said to tell you,
""I'll try to do it in October," and Lawless said:
So, look for follow up on this topic before very long.
Here's a conference that promises to be intense fun. It is a conference on the performing arts as therapy. Remember, folks, Shakespeare says that all the world's a stage. I think this group takes this seriously. Lots of big names at this conference and lots of practitioners of performative therapy.
This conference has got to be the bargain of the year. It is unique, too. Instead of listening to the scholarly stars, people will gather together in what seems to be a vacation atmosphere and let the conversation develop among themselves.
A fresh newsletter providing a positive view of agining in our increasingly
aged world. The newsletter from Ken and Mary Gergen. click
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