A REBUTTAL OF MEDIATIONAL EPISTEMOLOGY PART III: THE INTENTIONAL ARC: PRIMORDIAL INTENTIONALITY

Intentionality is not merely deliberate and conscious, but equally found in the body-subject’s concrete, spatial and pre-reflective directedness towards the lived world. Merleau-Ponty observed; ‘My flat is, for me, not a set of closely associated images. It remains a familiar domain round about me only as long as I still have ‘in my hands’ or ‘in my legs’ the main distances and directions involved, and as long as from my body intentional threads run out towards it’.[1] My identity is still my identity whilst my world remains around me. It is nevertheless fragile in its dependence  upon continued reception of worldly stimuli.

The lived body though intentional, does not function like the transcendental ego of Kant or Husserl, as the sole foundation of meaning. It has a meaning-bestowing function, grounded in its motility and perceptual synthesis, but there is more to the constituting process. The world is also questioning the body-subject, and motility is a response to the questions of the world. Matters of fact become provocative matters of meaning precisely because I and others imbue them with potential significance and purpose. Consequently, the ‘active, constituting, centrifugal role of the body, its transcendental operation, is inconceivable apart

The world is questioning the body-subject, and motility is a response to the questions of the world

The world is questioning the body-subject, and motility is a response to the questions of the world

from its receptive, responsive, centripetal role before the givenness of the world’[2]

My embodied identity inhabits space and time without being contained as part of it. Bodily space and external space combine practically and this composite space is the background against which objects may stand out, or the backdrop in front of which I come to light. This means that bodily being in space makes directed projects possible. Directed or intentional spatiality is essentially motility or movement.

As I have intimated, Merleau-Ponty appeals to pathological case studies in rejecting the significance of stimuli and reaction for understanding bodily movement. He analyses Schneider, a war veteran wounded by a shell splinter in the back of the head resulting in what traditional psychiatry termed ‘psychic blindness’.[3] Abstract movements, such as pointing at his nose when requested, frustrated Schneider, though he could execute speedily and with precision everyday movements of a habitual nature. He could re-enact for example, taking his handkerchief from his pocket and blowing his nose, taking a match from a box and lighting a lamp. Merleau-Ponty was dissatisfied with neurophysiological accounts of the complex differences between abstract and concrete capabilities such as these. Schneider’s lived world was impaired leaving him unable to engage in hypothetical actions. Concrete situations seemed to provide a guiding template but he could not ‘project’ a situation for himself or perform smooth abstract movement.

Motility is not sufficiently explain when reduced to causal physiological reactions, as empiricists construe, or as movement directed by conscious intentions, as proposed by cognitivist psychology.[4] Consciousness is not the hand in the glove of motility. Even combining cognitivist and physiological explanations will not do nor does the distinction between concrete and abstract movement correlate with the distinction between physiology and consciousness. It ‘finds its place only in the behavioural dimension’.[5] In an inability to project a situation for one’s actions the intentional arc is disclosed: inseparable motion, vision and comprehension prior to the enumeration of discrete abilities. Thus is one’s person situated in personal relation to space, time, and the physical, ideological and moral environment. One’s identity is the accretion of meaning one attributes to this situatedness and one’s identity-sense is an ongoing audit of its success against one’s own criteria. The intentional arc undergirds discrete functions such as movement or perception, unifying the senses, of intelligence, sensibility and motility and the expression of this singularity.

Kyokoshinkai: the strength of this ‘strongest Karate’ lies in harnessing ‘knowledge in the hands, which is only forthcoming when effort is made, and cannot be formulated in detachment from that effort.’

Kyokoshinkai: the strength of this ‘strongest Karate’ lies in harnessing ‘knowledge in the hands, which is only forthcoming when effort is made, and cannot be formulated in detachment from that effort.’

In particular the intentional arc incorporates habitual skills. Indeed, as a student of Kyokoshinkai Karate I discovered in repetitious training, that the Karateka does not train to overcome through superior knowledge or superhuman strength, though this martial art aspires to both. Habit, as Merleau-Ponty tells us, is neither a form of knowledge nor an involuntary action; the strength of this ‘strongest Karate’ lies in harnessing ‘knowledge in the hands, which is only forthcoming when effort is made, and cannot be formulated in detachment from that effort’.[6] The body’s primordial operational capacity reveals its ability to provide a preliminary orientation toward the world which underpins the reflective, calculative life of reason and science.[7] ‘Self’-realisation requires ‘that the subject bring into action powers which are a closed book to him’.[8]

Summary conclusion

“The rose is without why; it blooms because it blooms.” Angelus Silesius; inCherubinischer Wandersmann of Angelus Silesius

Is the rose without a why?

Is the rose without a why?

In this the second chapter of my thesis I have explored the relationship between the Lifeworld and the empirical world. I have considered the role of this human reality in the context of the  ‘basic reality’ of empirical matters of fact. Whilst it is probable that the elements science describes exist independent of intersubjective human life such a certainty cannot be part of human experience. I have considered Husserl’s objection that scientific abstraction has obscured our indebtedness to the primordial Lifeworld and have argued that for all their foundational and structural necessity, the theorems of the natural sciences are rendered significant by human experience.

This discussion has led into a consideration of epistemic questions and I have shown how Merleau-Ponty’s reinstatement of the body and its intentional arc has described an embeddedness in the world which negates both mediational theories of reality and their mutations. The habitual nature of the body illustrates the temporal status of incarnate being; the facticity of a past, available to a present which is interpreted with regards to the future in an ongoing pursuit of significance expressed purposively, that is abstractly and concretely. Because competence is attained in the world through a ‘pre-reflective’ comprehension of tasks and paraphernalia incorporated into the sphere of one’s intentional arc, this engagement means that one can be assured of having a certain world of variable determinedness .

[1] Merleau-Ponty, PP, 150

[2] Martin Dillon, 1988, Merleau-Ponty’s Ontology, in Martina Reuter, Merleau-Ponty’s Notion of Pre-Reflective Intentionality Synthese, Vol. 118, No. 1, Intentionality (Jan., 1999), 72

[3] Merleau-Ponty, PP, 118

[4] Reuter, 1999, 6

[5] PP, 143

[6] PP, 1945/2006, 166

[7] Carey, 2000, 30

[8] PP, 470

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