PostmodernTherapies NEWS                 09/01/01
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"You're all at sea!" -- 
We say this when someone doubts what we recognize as clearly genuine -- 
but we cannot prove anything.
Ludwig Wittgenstein
Philosophical Investigations, p.227


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What About
Five Red Apples?
Lois Shawver

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:

Now think of the following use of language: I send someone shopping. I give him a slip marked five red apples. He takes the slip to the shopkeeper, who opens the drawer marked "apples"; then he looks up the word "red" in a table and finds a colour sample opposite it; then he says the series of cardinal numbers---I assume that he knows them by heart---up to the word "five" and for each number he takes an apple of the same colour as the sample out of the drawerł˝

A little later, Wittgenstein comments about the picture portrayed in the five red apples story by saying:

That philosophical concept of meaning has its place in a primitive idea of the way language functions. But one can also say that it is the idea of a language more primitive than ours.

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:

464 My aim is: to teach you to pass from a piece of disguised nonsense to something that is patent nonsense. 

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:

52ł˝We must learn to understand what it is that opposes such an examination of detailsł˝

What gets in the way is this picture that language works like a calculus, according to precise rules,  He says:

81 All this, however, can only appear in the right light when one has attained greater clarity about the concepts of understanding, meaning, and thinking. For it will then also become clear what can lead us (and did lead me) to think that if anyone utters a sentence and means or understands it he is operating a calculus according to definite rules. 

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 are "judgments". 

242 If language is to be a means of communication there must be agreement not only in definitions but also (queer as this may sound) in judgments.

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).

(bk2, p.227) will generally issue from the judgments of those with better knowledge of mankind.

He continues:

Can one learn this knowledge? Yes; some can. Not, however, by taking a course in it, but through 'experience'.-Can someone else be a man's teacher in this? Certainly. From time to time he gives him the right tip.-This is what 'learning' and 'teaching' are like here.-What one acquires here is not a technique; one learns correct judgments. There are also rules, but they do not form a system, and only experienced people can apply them right. Unlike calculating-rules. 

And then he explains why it can't be cast in "rules" and turned into a calculus:  He says:

What is most difficult here is to put this indefiniteness, correctly and unfalsified, into words. 

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.

What we said about those
Five Red Apples
Lois Shawver

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 Shaffer said:

And then there is the relation between learning to conform to patterns in language games and following stated rules.

And Nick Drury said:

we are not obeying a rule so much as conforming to a rule we later 'project' onto the situation.

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:

ł˝the illusion is that there is a single set of "values" that always holds, and that it is merely a matter of having the moral character that insists that one adhere to those values, as if those values were never in conflict. 

Spears' remarks remind me of postmodern author, Zygmunt Bauman saying:

Human reality is messy and ambiguous ł▒ and so moral decisions, unlike abstract ethical principles, are ambivalent.  It is in this sort of world that we must live; and yet, as if defying the worried philosophers who cannot conceive of an 'unprincipled' morality, a morality without foundations, we demonstrate day by day that we can live, or learn to live, or manage to live, in such a world, though few of us would be ready to spell out, if asked, what the principles that guide us are, and fewer still would have heard about 'foundations' which we allegedly cannot do without  being good and kind to each other.

Tom Strong, A PMTH scholar who has been studying Bauman said about his work:

[Bauman's] problem with modern ethics is their codification, through communal efforts to legislate them into hard and fast [rules] that require no thought or human interaction. He says that [it is] in that interaction one finds the human impulse to be helpful that must be worked out between the parties, otherwise there is no customizing of moral/
ethical action to the particulars of the situation and people involved. 

Perhaps Scott Cole was thinking similarly when he said:

I am not for a single moral principle, but perhaps an overview that provides guidance. I am against any "closed" system because it
can't grow. I am for diversity.

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: 

[I]n regard to postmodernism, it's maybe more accurate to say one has to take a 
leap of doubt. 

Hoffman always seems to be saying memorable things like that:

Client-Therapist Privacy
Riet Samuels

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."



Three Ethical Theories
and What We Think of Them

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. 
   Thus Kant, in his "Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals" instructs us that any moral maxim must be completely divorced from human reason and human nature. (pp.92-93) 
    This is, perhaps, to this postmodern thinker, a vestige of the age of credulity, reminiscent of the time that people were not skeptical about the truths handed down to them,.    Another problem with ethical principles theory is how to decide which principles are the right ones. 

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. 
   Do we have such a moral compass?  Or is this marketed fiction?  After all, many people disagree about what is the right course of moral action.

3) Moral impulse theory - In his book, Postmodern Ethics, 
Zygmunt Bauman speaks of the moral impulse The impulse becomes moral when it is attached to our emotional desire to do good.  Maybe such an impulse also needs us to think that we could make a difference.
    I think Arlene Giodano was pointing  to the same thing. That is, she, too,  seemed to be noticing that we must feel our acts would make a difference before we have the moral impulse to help, and she pointed out that we can all "become hardened ł˝ by the sheer number of poor people". 
   But the main difficulty with moral impulse theory is surely how an impulse of idle compassion is tutored to the point that it can a guide us in moral understanding.

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

Lois, I think I see what you are getting at regarding the problem with the moral compass. A compass always points to North ł˝  So by inference, a moral compass would always point to true. Not so, I think, for people. Each person's idea of morality might be different, or be underdeveloped. From what I know of people, I doubt that there is any inherent or even learned moral standard that would qualify as a compass. A few short minutes of playing the board game, "Scruples," can knock out this myth.

Tom Strong prefers Bauman's notion of moral impulse over the concept of a moral compass. I liked what Strong said when he told us:

My problem (Bauman's too) with [with a moral compass] is that it presumably exists outside of relationships.
Bauman's moral impulse is
something that must be dialogically worked out - but it is grounded and evoked
in proximity to Other-ness. A moral compass sounds, to me, like something we
genetically or educationally acquire in a pre-cast, prescriptive way that
universally fits.

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:

[T]he term 'relativist' implicates a "truth" or "real"  to be relativist to... which if you engage Lyotard's incredulity towards truth then the term 'relativist' has no impact. So who cares about that criticism?"

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?

Expect the next issue of 
Postmodern Therapies NEWS
on or about
October 1,  2001
Read the next article to learn how to receive an announcement of each issue.


How to Keep Track of
Lois Shawver

In the future, the date of publication for PMTH NEWS will be approximately the first of the month. If you would like to receive an announcement that the most recent edition has been published, then you need to join either join PMTH (for which there are some restrictions, see below) or you need to join a listserv that will allow you to receive PMTH announcements, including the announcement of PMTH NEWS. There are no restrictions as to who may join the PMTH announcement listserv.   Anyone can join, but that listserv has no conversation potential.  It is only a way of receiving announcements.

If you want to receive these announcements just click on the word 

and use the mail form that appears on your computer screen to mail in your request.  No need to send in your name and email address. Or if you prefer to subscribe anonymously, that will be permitted.  Just send in your email address.

An Invitation to a Postmodern Teaparty
Lois Shawver

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.

Also, you can learn about this event with an annonucement if you join the PMTH_NEWS announcement list.  How to do that is described in the article above called "How to Keep Track of PMTH NEWS "

What Happened to the Conversation about 
Non-Content Analysis and 
Conversation Analysis

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:

I am sorry that I am unable to continue my conversation about conversation analysis with PMTH News this month.  I am hoping to re-engage the list and continue this discussion soon.  One area of conversation is to explore how conversation analysis and discourse analysis can be utilized together.  Look
forward to discussing these soon. 

So, look for follow up on this topic before very long.

Performing the World Conference

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.

Check it out


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.

Check it out

Postmodern Geriatrics

A fresh newsletter providing a positive view of agining in our increasingly aged world.  The newsletter from Ken and Mary Gergen. click here

Want to Join Us?

Lois Shawver

PMTH is a closed community for professional therapists, as well as scholars,professors and graduate students with specialities related to therapy. We keep our list reserved this way in order to have a special place for people who are concerned with doing good therapy to discuss their personal issues about therapy in some depth.  We go to other lists to discuss things with people who don't fit this profile.  If you want to invite one of us to a list you're on, there is a way to do that.  Or, if you fit the profile for membership to PMTH, you can consider joining us.  Whichever you want, you can write me, by clicking


This will send a post to me, Lois Shawver.  Tell me of your interest. If you are looking to join us, also give me a little information about yourself that tells me how you fit the profile for joining the PMTH online community.  And, in either case, .tell me that you got the idea to write by reading PMTH NEWS.

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Lois Shawver

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