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Expression and the Inner Paperback – August 11, 2008
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This book is an important contribution to a group of problems which have a central place in philosophy of mind. Here I am taking "philosophy of mind" in a broad sense; Finkelstein's book and the problems he discusses have implications for philosophy of language, metaphysics, and epistemology. The book is written with intelligence and verve. Very few works in philosophy have anything describable as "narrative tension," but Finkelstein's certainly does. He draws the reader into the problems he is attempting to solve with the skill of a writer of detective stories; he leads his readers down paths that appear inviting, only then to demonstrate why the apparent solutions on offer down those paths won't do; and his arguments for the solution he himself offers at the end have the force, and the place in the book, of the denouement of a good thriller. (Cora Diamond, Professor of Philosophy, University of Virginia)
This is an excellent product of philosophical reflection. (Jennifer Hornsby, Professor of Philosophy, University of London)
What begins as a discussion of a somewhat suburban issue in the philosophy of mind―the problem of first-person authority―turns out to have surprisingly far-reaching implications. Expression and the Inner brings out the fatefulness of a host of deeply entrenched assumptions about a wide range of philosophical topics―topics such as what it takes to understand an utterance or to read a facial expression, the relation between sentience and sapience, the nature of psychoanalytic discovery, and the character of an animal's mental life. Finkelstein shows that making sense of first-person authority requires that one give up these assumptions and that doing so transforms the entire landscape of philosophy of mind in a dramatically illuminating way. Many of the book's central arguments draw upon Wittgenstein's writings. It is a strange feature of contemporary philosophy of mind that Wittgenstein is usually taken to have been among the most significant philosophers of the twentieth century, and much of his writing concerns philosophy of mind, yet we have no good understanding of what the importance of his work for philosophy of mind really is. This book is a major contribution to filling that gap. In the scope of its reach, the extent of its ambition, the thoroughness of its conception, and the elegance of its presentation, it is an exemplary piece of philosophy. (James Conant, Professor of Philosophy, University of Chicago)
This delightful book takes the reader on an entertaining tour of some of the key issues in the philosophy of mind and language, while offering an appealing new account of self knowledge and consciousness. I loved this book! (Martha J. Farah, Professor of Psychology and Director of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, University of Pennsylvania)
Finkelstein’s book opens up new and promising directions of thought on some old philosophical topics. (Ram Neta Philosophical Review 2008-01-01)
About the Author
David H. Finkelstein is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Chicago.
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In his thought provoking book, Expression and the Inner, David Finkelstein argues that the statement "I am in pain" (uttered when I am actually in pain) can function both as an assertion and as an expression of a sensation such as pain. Of course, assertions have a truth value, but expressions that are used in a merely expressive way do not. The surface structure is predicative, but it really functions similarly to an exclamation, ostensive statement, or related demonstrative. This position recovers and sustains the basic intuition which is owed to the later Wittgenstein that knowing that I am in pain as philosophers engage the issue falls out of the language game of epistemic justification. In particular, the position avoids a logical behaviorism that reduces the rich animate life of human beings - sensations, emotions, affects - to dispositions misses the space of distinctions of animate life; and an account of first person authority that becomes entangled in arguing for an incorrigibility thesis (whether of an introspective, constructive, or functional kind) over-estimates the substantial, but limited, authority wielded by the experiencing individual as a center of emotional, volitional, and cognitive acts. As individuals, we speak authoritatively about our experiences in the first person, even if such authority is fallible and occasionally subject to revision. The best person to ask about what I am experiencing is me. The best person to ask about what you are experiencing is you. Yet the job, as Finkelstein engages it, is incomplete. Finkelstein starts to develop this relationship between what Wittgenstein calls the unexpressed something = x that is not a something yet is not a nothing either. He asserts that "a pain and its expression hang together in the logical space of animate life" (2003: 135). It is a worthy inquiry to engage this relationship between the unexpressed and its expression within this space of animate life and to do so by means of a series of paradigm, ideal type cases. However, first it will be useful to take a step back and orient the approach to the issue.
Finkelstein's argument preserves our intuition about the first person speaking authoritatively about his or her experience in the Three Paragraph Account of First Person Authority (Finkelstein 2003: 100). As noted, such avowals as "I know that I am in pain" fall out of the language game of epistemic justification and take on the status of "language on holiday" or, as Wittgenstein also describes it, a kind of joke. Such self-ascriptions of sensations, affects, emotions, are not epistemically grounded. That does not mean they are false. It means that nothing justifies (Finkelstein 2003: 133) such statements when they stand alone in a philosophical without context. If someone doubts that I am in pain, accusing me that I am malingering to avoid work, then I emphatically express myself "I know that I am in pain!" Here such a statement is not a philosophical joke. My first person authority is such that I get to say whether and where I hurt, granted that a note from my doctor may also be requested upon my returning from sick leave. Our philosophical sanity is preserved because the account of first person authority is able to switch from the assertive (epistemically justified) use of "I am in pain" the expressive use ("I am in pain"). Well and good.
However, the argument next is required to handle the distinction between conscious and unconscious experiences as regards first person authority. Unconscious mental states come in a variety of forms, extending from contents of which the individual is contingently unaware, through those about which he or she is unsure and ambivalent, to those that he denies due to individual and group dynamics over which he has limited control.
Finkelstein quotes the crucial passage from Freud's Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis. Freud's point is the crucial one that it does not make a difference to the patient's illness if the analyst tells the patient that (e.g.) he really want to kill his father or that he really wants to prove to his father that he (the patient) is worthwhile. It does not make a difference when a proposition is communicated as a piece of information. The key term that has come to be current since Freud's time is "cognitive impenetrability." Telling little Hans that he does not want to go outdoors because he is afraid of meeting draft horses whose large and visible sex organs (in the case of the stallion) remind him of his father's dominating masculinity does not make a difference. Telling Dora that her neurotic symptoms are a compromise formation expressing her conflicted feelings about the seductive Herr K. and her legitimate sense of a premature sexual relationship for which she is not ready does not make a difference. All the examples of fear of flying, being afraid of snakes - when you know flying is the safest form of transportation and the snake is safely behind the glass in the zoo - belong here. Knowing all the statistics about the safety of flying does not make a difference when a person has an unacknowledged commitment to be in control of one's space at all times and one is not in control when stuffed in the back of an airplane. Knowing that the snake is safely behind plate glass does not make a difference when a person has an unacknowledged commitment that snakes represent uninhibited oral desire and the loss of the integrity of oneself. Likewise, the example belongs here of the wife whose soldier husband is lost in battle and yet she does not accept it at a visceral level as the years go by. She knows it like a concept, yet she cannot accept it, because of the unacknowledged commitment to the return of the man she loves. Cognitive impenetrability is recognized by Finkelstein as indicated on p. 26: "...It is not enough that I know of or about the state; it must also be conscious." Knowledge, belief, concept, do not make a difference in these particular cases.
What does make a difference? What makes a difference is the expression of the unexpressed. In the case of psychoanalysis, the patient discovers the unconscious content, something = x that is not nothing yet not something either in a step-by-step process - the analysis itself - that requires working through the complex tangles of experiences, judgments, assessment, that emerge in a process of free association. In the case of ordinary experience, what makes a difference is transforming the something = x which is not a something yet is not a nothing either into a something. The latter statement also echoes Wittgenstein's famous remark regarding the unexpressed sensation: "It is not a something, but not a nothing either!" (1945: Paragraph 304). What makes a difference is transforming the something = x about which allegedly nothing can be said into a something = x that is bound to an expression. The unexpressed gets expressed. This process of coming to expression often looks like a display, discharge, or even a betrayal of emotion, strong affect, or even a physical sensation (such as pain). In analysis the expression often looks like a catharsis, an abreaction, which tells the analyst that the patient is not merely intellectualizing but is working through the experiences. For my money - and I did buy it retail - you know your true friends, David (!) - this is valuable and engaging part of Finkelstein's innovative contribution, and i am less engaged by the academic conversation with Krispin and McDowell (not that the latter are to be in any way overlooked).
This provocative idea - a pain and its expression are related in the context of animate life - remains undeveloped. However, it is a good start. All-in-all, an excellent read and a worthy engagement with difficult, significant matters. Caution: Not necessarily well-suited for the casual reader or the faint of heart in the matter of [pardon the expression] tight-assed analytic philosophy. However, fellow travelers in the matter of all things Wittgenstein-ian will be appreciative.
Finkelstein's ideas about the relation between the conscious and the unconscious mind are groundbreaking.
A must-read for everyone who is interested in how the mind works.