Posted by: Edward | November 30, 2007

Pragmatic Phenomenology

I call my worldview Pragmatic Phenomenology. Phenomenology is a scientific or analytic approach to reality as embedded in subjective consciousness. A pragmatic philosophy is one that endeavours after functionality or affect rather than truth. Pragmatic Phenomenology then is a self rigorously pursuing subjective functionality. Pragmatic Phenomenology does not seek merely to observe reality from the subjective lens but to adjust and change the subjective experience of reality to ends decided upon by the individual. This approach is justified by its usefulness. That is to say we aren’t looking to see if some believe or approach is ultimately true but rather looking to see if it is justified by its use.

As a Pragmatic philosophy we don’t build a theory and then find the practice. Instead we start in action and refine the practice through what we call theory. Theory arises out of action and informs it. We start our acts of theorizing already engaged in actions to maintain and improve the conditions of our experienced existence. For this purpose the test we apply to information is not whether it is ultimately true but rather are we justified to believe it by its usefulness. If we assume a particular belief are our actions in relation to it successful?

Reality is the result of a process of perception and interpretation. We can never know from our subjectively embedded position what exists as really true. We only know what we perceive, how this affects us and how what we perceive is affected by us. We are only ever in contact with the noemata or targets of mentation. In this context it can be just as useful to alter the noematic contents of our awareness or the noetic process of our awareness as it is to attempt to alter what is normally considered external reality. External reality is experienced as a special sort of mental content.

We have through a process of pragmatic exploration formed a distinction between the physical and the mental but we only ever experience either as mental content. The distinction between external reality and internal experience can not be concluded to be true from this fact but rather that this distinction is useful. The usefulness of this assumption is not necessarily absolute but rather is useful in some applications. A noetic process that does not assume a distinction between internal and external sensations could still be useful and therefore justified for certain situations.

A primary part of this process of exploration is the formation of distinctions. Language is predicated on the formation of distinctions. If you have two different words you are forming a distinction between what those words are used with. Generally this is an indication that you mean the two words refer to different objects in the physical world. Sometimes the two worlds refer to the same object but what has shifted is the connotation. In the case of connotation the distinction is not between the objects but between how you think about the objects.

Connotative differences denote a distinction between different noetic processes. For an example consider the difference between a ‘slut’ and a ‘sexually liberated woman’, both words can be used to refer to the same woman but the distinction is in how we are thinking about or judging that woman. This formation of distinctions in response to experience is theory emerging out of action.

This matter of connotative distinctions crosses over into another meaning of pragmatic, the linguistics subcategory of pragmatics. Pragmatics investigates language’s ability to communicate through implicature and the speaker’s ability to use language to get things done rather than strictly looking at communication as communication. Pragmatics looks at what language is used to accomplish rather than assuming it is always pure communication.

The Phenomenological concept of intentionality is that the processes of mind are pointed at or acting on some mental object. This mental object could be a thought, feeling or sensation that we normally distinguish as external to ourselves. There is no reason to conclude that we can’t point a noetic process at another noetic process. This meta-cognition is a powerful tool of Pragmatic Phenomenology.

The system of distinctions that you have formed in the process of exploration and through education is what Kenneth Burke calls the terministic screen. The terministic screen forms the assumptions that guide our mental processes. Placing the distinctions that form our terministic screen as the target of our intentionality would be a way to quickly and powerfully affect our experiences. Some things are divided only because we think they are and by changing the distinctions you have shifted your ability to act on things. Other times making a distinction allows you to increase your options for dealing with them.

On thing to realize while you examine the distinctions that your terministic screen is made of is that every distinction represents a choice. Every distinction was a choice made for a purpose, a solution to a particular existential challenge. The conditions of that particular choice may no longer be in effect. There may be more sophisticated distinctions that you could use now given your greater experience to pull from in navigating your existence.

Pragmatic Phenomenology is the study of the subjective, the intersubjective and the experiential world from a perspective embedded in subjectivity and in terms of functionality and goal achieving. While the mental frame work of Pragmatic Phenomenology is relatively easy to establish, the actual practice would be a highly personal unfolding. This process of exploration is such that the act of exploration opens up further territory to explore. That is, the start is well known but the end point is individual and possibly unknowable.

References:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pragmatism
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phenomenology
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pragmatics
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenneth_Burke

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