Open peer commentary on the target article “From Objects to Processes: A Proposal to Rewrite Radical Constructivism” by Siegfried J. Schmidt. Upshot: Schmidt’s “philosophical argumentation” in favor of an action orientation for communication rewrites constructivism in terms of process. Though in support of his proposal, a philosophical argumentation about process works best for illuminating the writer’s own process and orienting readers to his own argument. I propose that arguments about the communication of social actors should make visible the social processes about which they argue.
In this article, the author provides a brief introduction to a completely new theory in Semantics, Operational Semantics (OS), which concerns the meaning of the basic linguistic elements that are indispensable for any linguistic expression, i.e., the fundamental “grammatical” words and morphemes. Even if in the text there is no explicit reference to constructivism, OS could be relevant for constructivist approaches, since its fundamental presupposition is that the meanings of these linguistic elements are mainly sequences of elemental mental operations (amongst which those of attention play a key role) that are actively carried out by the subject.
Context: The constructivist approach to the definition (or analysis) of the fundamental meanings of language in Ernst von Glasersfeld’s work. Problem: Has this approach achieved better results than other approaches? Method: Review of a book chapter by von Glasersfeld that is devoted to the analysis of the concepts of “unity,” “plurality” and “number.” Results: The constructivist approach to the semantics of the fundamental elements of language (some of which are fundamental for sciences too) seems to have produced positive results; moreover these are in a field where other approaches have produced results that do not objectively seem satisfactory.
Functional and pragmatic approaches to grammar, and to language more broadly, are well known. All of these approaches, however, accept a core aspect of sentences, or utterances, as consisting of encodings of propositions. They proceed on their functional and pragmatic explorations with this much, at least, taken for granted. I wish to argue, to the contrary, that the functional characteristics of utterances penetrate even to the level of the structure – the grammar – of supposed propositional encodings. More specifically, I argue that the structure that is taken as a structure of propositional encodings is not that at all, but is instead a structure of functionally organized action. Constraints on such structures, in turn – constraints on grammars – emerge as intrinsic constraints on that functional organization. My point will of necessity be made programmatically, since to fill it out completely would be to complete a functional version of universal grammar. The mere logical possibility of intrinsic constraints on the grammatical possibilities of language refutes attempts to construe grammatical constraints as logically arbitrary. Typically, because grammatical constraints are construed as being (logically) arbitrary, some additional explanation of the constraints is required should those constraints be shown or argued to be universal. That additional explanation is usually some equally logically arbitrary innateness postulate. I will show that the possibility of intrinsic grammatical constraints invalidates standard arguments for such innateness – specifically, that such a possibility invalidates the poverty of the stimulus argument. Grammatical constraints are not the only characteristics of language that are intrinsic to its nature. I also show how phenomena of implicature, the hermeneutic circle, and forms of creative language can be understood as being naturally emergent in the functional nature of language. Most broadly, then, intrinsic constraints constitute a rich realm for exploration in attempting to understand language.
Excerpt: The concept of constraints enabling action is not at all new. Games have rules that enable the play. Focus on any one thing enables effective action through excluding what we might consider distractions or irrelevancies. Creating a computer simulation model enabled us to consider the implications of some relations by explicitly choosing them and not others. However, on thinking about uceps as enabling constraints I came to see them as a way of pointing at something fundamental to us as biological beings living in language and embedded in a culture. I wish to address the idea of constraints that serve as possibilities in this paper. I will discuss how cognition, language, and culture all serve as constraints that enable action in given contexts, while at the same time obscuring other possibilities that we could be dancing with.
Open peer commentary on the target article “From Objects to Processes: A Proposal to Rewrite Radical Constructivism” by Siegfried J. Schmidt. Upshot: We largely agree with Siegfried J. Schmidt’s focus on process and his call to look at how the “heavy words” of philosophy – “reality,” “knowledge,” “truth,” and like – are used in our everyday life-world. As communication researchers, we examine two transcripts of conversation to sketch empirically how “the real” is reported in giving directions or used in an account to undermine another’s blame narrative. By this discursive turn we attempt to let the ontological wind of out such terms as “real” and look at its indexical situated uses and how it works in constituting our life-world.
The ubiquitous human practice of spontaneously gesturing while speaking demonstrates the embodiment, embeddedness, and sociality of cognition. Spontaneous co-speech gesture confirms embodied aspects of linguistic meaning-making that formalist and linguistic turn-type philosophical approaches fail to appreciate, while also forefronting intersubjectivity as an inherent and normative dimension of communicative action. Co-speech hand gestures, as linguistically meaningful speech acts, demonstrate sedimentation and spontaneity (in the sense of Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s dialectic of linguistic expression), or features of convention and nonconvention in a Gricean sense. Yet neither pragmatic nor classic phenomenological approaches to communication can accommodate the practice of co-speech hand gesturing without some rehabilitation and reorientation. Pragmatic criteria of intersubjectivity, normativity, and rationality need to confront the nonpropositional and nonverbal meaning-making of embodied encounters. Phenomenological treatments of expression and intersubjectivity must consider the normative nature of high-order social practices like language use. Reciprocally critical exchanges between these traditions and gesture studies yield an improved philosophy that treats language as a multi-modal medium for collaborative meaning achievement. The proper paradigm for these discussions is found in enactive approaches to social cognition. Relevance: The view in this paper is constructivist as it argues for a middle-way understanding of meaning co-construction as neither internal nor external, but rather as multimodal and multi-body enacting.
The enactive approach to cognition distinctively emphasizes autonomy, adaptivity, agency, meaning, experience, and interaction. Taken together, these principles can provide the new sciences of language with a comprehensive philosophical framework: languaging as adaptive social sense-making. This is a refinement and advancement on Maturana’s idea of languaging as a manner of living. Overcoming limitations in Maturana’s initial formulation of languaging is one of three motivations for this paper. Another is to give a response to skeptics who challenge enactivism to connect “lower-level” sense-making with “higher-order” sophisticated moves like those commonly ascribed to language. Our primary goal is to contribute a positive story developed from the enactive account of social cognition, participatory sense-making. This concept is put into play in two different philosophical models, which respectively chronicle the logical and ontogenetic development of languaging as a particular form of social agency. Languaging emerges from the interplay of coordination and exploration inherent in the primordial tensions of participatory sense-making between individual and interactive norms; it is a practice that transcends the self-other boundary and enables agents to regulate self and other as well as interaction couplings. Linguistic sense-makers are those who negotiate interactive and internalized ways of meta-regulating the moment-to-moment activities of living and cognizing. Sense-makers in enlanguaged environments incorporate sensitivities, roles, and powers into their unique yet intelligible linguistic bodies. We dissolve the problematic dichotomies of high/low, online/offline, and linguistic/nonlinguistic cognition, and we provide new boundary criteria for specifying languaging as a prevalent kind of human social sense-making.