Wednesday 22 July 2015

Tâtonnement and failing to 'find' a paper

I spent yesterday trying to start a paper on John Campbell’s noughties papers [Campbell 2007, 2008, 2009] on causation in psychiatry and psychology but failed to get anywhere. Having recently read Peter Goldie’s book The Mess Inside, I wonder whether the word for the day’s activities is ‘tâtonnement’, which he suggests is a kind of feeling one’s way to a narrative: ‘a tentative, groping procedure: one might begin with an idea of how the narrative should be shaped, and, once one has developed it somewhat, one might be able to see saliences that one could not see before, and then find it appropriate to go back and reshape the narrative in this new light.' [Goldie 2012: 11]

The basic plot idea I was struggling with has the following vague elements.

1) Campbell argues that the idea of levels of explanation is the result of a pre-Humean assumption about that causation that the world must have an intelligible causal structure. (He suggests that this is a standard philosophical synthetic a priori claim.) But Hume teaches us that it need not. Causation is brute and Campbell suggests that the best approach to causation is interventionism. Whilst such ideas are sometimes fruitful we should neither assume that physical causation must be mediated by mechanisms nor that mental causation must be mediated by rational connections. It may be, for example, that all that can be said to explain a particular delusion is that intervening on whether someone is seen by the subject to be scratching his beard changes whether the subject forms and holds the delusion. There may be neither rational nor mechanical intermediaries.

2) Campbell’s illustration of how the facts about causation may eschew mechanisms resembles some unpopular remarks by Wittgenstein in Zettel. They include: ‘Why should there not be a natural law connecting a starting and a finishing state of a system, but not covering the intermediary state? (Only one must not think of causal efficacy.)’ [Wittgenstein 1981: §613] Of the underlying thought of these comments, Wittgenstein says: ‘If this upsets our concepts of causality then it is high time they were upset.’ [§610]

3) Wittgenstein’s remarks seem, however, to be aimed at removing the tension of reconciling a connection made at the mental level in mental and, according to him, non-causal terms with assumptions about underlying causal mechanisms at a physiological level. Campbell’s, by contrast, suggest that the top level is causal. This suggests that there is still a motivation (available to us, untouched by Campbell’s argument and distinct from the one Hume criticises) for adopting a particular synthetic a priori (rendering unto Caesar in accord with a distinct obligation). The claim that something is a delusion itself requires some synthetic a prioris. Campbell himself acknowledges this in a quite different seeming paper on the interpretation of Capgras [Campbell 2001]. To grasp the content of the expression of a delusion requires fitting it into a rational pattern of canonical testing.

4) So the explanation of delusions does require something more than brute interventionism. It requires the prior recognition of the effect of whatever putative causes as an instance of a delusion. That requires the kind of mental-level normative patterns that Wittgenstein stresses.

Well, as can be seen from the summary, this doesn’t really hang together. That I think it ought suggests something like the paradox of analysis for the activity of tâtonnement. The confidence that there is a narrative structure to be reached for suggests no need for tricky reaching activity. But where there is such activity, there’s no obvious goal for the reaching so how does one know where in conceptual space to look? This is akin to the problem Michael Luntley raises about practical expertise.

Whilst I can take in my stride the kind of fallible glad start of thinking one knows how to continue a series or launch a spoken sentence, it seems an odder piece of phenomenology that one can think one is not persuaded by a paper but only dimly grasp why not.

This paper may thus fall off my list of activities unless something changes on a run round Kentmere later.

Campbell, J. (2001) ‘Rationality, meaning, and the analysis of delusion’ in Philosophy Psychiatry and Psychology
Campbell, J. (2007) ‘An interventionist approach to causation in psychology’ in Gopnik, A. and Schulz, L. Causal learning: psychology, philosophy, and computation, Oxford: Oxford University Press 
Campbell, J. (2008) ‘Causation in psychiatry’ in Kendler, K.S. and Parnas, J. (eds) Philosophical Issues in Psychiatry, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press 
Campbell, J. (2009) ‘What does rationality have to do with psychological causation? Propositional attitudes as mechanisms and as control variables’ in Bortolotti, L. and Broome, M. (eds) Psychiatry as Cognitive Neuroscience, Oxford: Oxford University Press 
Goldie, P. (2012) The Mess Inside: narrative, emotion, and the mind, Oxford: Oxford University Press 
Wittgenstein, L. (1981) Zettel, Oxford: Blackwells

For my own housekeeping convenience, my other ongoing writing activities are as follows.

Papers / chapters under review 

‘Bootstrapping conceptual normativity?’ Foundations of Science

‘Nursing knowledge: its nature and generation’ for Chambers, M. (ed) Psychiatric & Mental Health Nursing: the craft of caring, Abingdon: CRC Press

‘Transcultural psychiatry’ for White, R., Read, U., Jain, S. and Orr, D. (eds) The Palgrave Handbook of Global Mental Health: Sociocultural Perspectives, London: Palgrave

‘Naturalism and dysfunction’ for Forest, D. and Faucher, L. (eds) Defining Mental Disorders: Jerome Wakefield and his Critics, MIT Press

 ‘Psychiatric classification, tacit knowledge and criteria’ for Keil, G., Kutschenko, L., Hauswald, R. (eds) Gradualist Approaches to Mental Health and Disease, Oxford: OUP

‘Recovery, paternalism and narrative understanding in mental healthcare’ Maria Francesca Freda, M.F. and De Luca Picione, R. (eds) Cultural Construction of Social Roles in Medicine, Information Age Publishing: Charlotte, N.C.

Papers / chapters in preparation 

‘Phenomenological implication as transcendental argument’ for van Staden, W. and Pickering, N. (eds) Wittgenstein and mental health, Oxford: OUP

‘The normativity of meaning and the constitutive ideal of rationality’ for Verheggen, C. (ed) Wittgenstein and Davidson on Thought, Language, and Action, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

‘Philosophical understandings of mental health’ for Wright, K. and McKeown, M. (eds) Essentials of Mental Health Nursing, London: Sage

Book in preparation 

John McDowell (second edition), Abingdon: Routledge