RE: [xmca] Zo-peds, roads, and Senseis

From: Michael Glassman (
Date: Sun Dec 24 2006 - 08:55:04 PST

I think Matt really has Dewey here. I wonder if there might be some understanding of Dewey's stance against at least what I would call teleology in his book "Quest for Certainty" is which he talked about the human need for certainty both in belief systems, but also in science. My interpretation is the the need for certainty - and he suggests that humans really crave certainty in a precarious world, leads too many "scientists" to create a patina of certainty for their explorations. They see an intrinsic finality to the object of study, and by positing such a finality they are determining end points before actually engaging in experiments (helped along by the modern fact that if you do not reach those end points you can't get studied). I think it is not a matter of scale (that we must posit this level of intrinsic finality on the ontogenetic level, but it is harder on the sociogenetic level) but a matter of approach. Just to take one short section of Quest for Certainty and unpack it,
>From Chapter 5
"The test of ideas, of thinking generally, is found in the consequences of the acts to which the ideas lead, that is in the new arrangements of things which are brought into existence. Such is the unequivocal evidence as to the worth of ideas which is derived from observing their position and rule in experimental knowing. But tradition makes the tests of ideas to be their agreement with some antecedent [i.e. already existing] state of things. This change of outlook and standard from what precedes to what comes after, from the retrospective to the prospective, from antecedents to consequences, is extremely hard to accomplish. Hence when the physical sciences describe objects and the world as being such and such, it is thought that the description is of reality as it exists in itself."
I think that what Dewey is saying here is that if you have a teleology, you have a belief, or a "knowledge" of the way things are going to develop. When you do develop them, are you basing your experimentation then on knowledge you already have about the way the universe is. If so, then you are controlling the outcomes of whatever study you are engaging in. Of course your outcomes are going to match your antecedents, they have to, even if it is what Gould would call a "just so story", because without the matching you are losing certaintly. But the problem is maybe left untouched. You are so busy proving your antecedents that you forget the goal, the end-in-view as Matt says is a practical solution to your problem that makes the situation better. So teleology on even the ontogenetic level is not necessarily wrong (maybe there is a design to the universe - but pretty much the only thing I can be certain of is I don't know it), but instead it is dangerous. I see this so much in educational researcher. Researchers start from the position of antecedents, and attempt to solve the problem based on the antecedents - but then the focus on intrinsic finality becomes the focus and they forget the problem is trying to get kids to read.
On the affordances issue I think an important problem is where do the affordances exist? Is it in the spoon you are using to eat ice cream? Is it in the person who has knowledge of how a spoon should be used? Is it in the problem of eating ice creame and variable according the transactional position of getting ice cream in to the mouth (or perhaps the problem is actually losing weight, so it would be better to eat the ice cream with a fork).


From: on behalf of Matt Brown
Sent: Sun 12/24/2006 12:58 AM
To:; eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: Re: [xmca] Zo-peds, roads, and Senseis

> I cannot agree that teleological thinkins is always wrong, as I interpret
> the local concensus to be. It is hard to avoid the conclusion
> that all culturally mediated action is teleological, which does not mean it
> is not misguided!!


I think that for many people, "teleological" has theological
implications. Not only is it going somewhere, but there is only one
place to go, it's the Good place to go, everything not going there is
lacking, and the whole journey gets its value because of the End.

Dewey tried to correct our understanding of the concept in places like
Chapter 3 of Experience and Nature. The alternative notion(s) of ends
as conclusions, culminations, or ends-in-view are quite inescapable,
helpful, and free of all the nasty baggage. At least, that's what
Dewey tries to show.


Matt Brown
Philosophy Graduate Student, UCSD
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