​​​​David Sprintzen

The ultimate evidence of genuine hazard, contingency, irregularity and indeterminateness in nature is thus found in the occurrence of thinking.
John Dewey, Experience and Nature

 The conjunction of problematic and determinative characters in nature renders every existence, as well as every idea and human act, an experiment in fact, even though not in design. To be intelligently experimental is but to be conscious of this intersection of natural conditions so as to profit by it instead of being at its mercy. 
John Dewey, Experience and Nature

The appropriate subject-matter of awareness ... is that relationship of organism and environment in which functioning is most amply and effectively attained; or by which, in case of obstruction and consequent needed experimentation, its later eventual free course is most facilitated.
John Dewey, The Practical Character of Reality

Every question is always raised within (the horizon of) the promise held out by that which is put into question ... the primary and proper gesture of thought is not questioning; it is rather the hearing of the promise of that which is to come into question.
Martin Heidegger, Unterwegs Zur Sprache

Chapter One: Philosophy and Human Experience

1. The Normal Life

Human beings experience the world long before they have any clear sense of what is going on. In that blooming, buzzing confusion which are the first months of infancy, we feel, need, want, and demand; objects excite our interest and we strive after them; pain and fear are encountered and we seek to flee them. Events, objects, persons come to us already charged with the significance with which those around us have endowed them, and for the most part we accept those meanings. We are expected to behave in certain ways; and long before we think about those expectations, we find ourselves to behave -- and to be -- as we feel is expected by those others who are most significant to us: parents, relatives, and friends. In short, we strive to be "good:" without much thought about what it might mean to be "good" -- except that what is called ''good" is usually what those significant others want most.

From those earliest days behavioral and emotional patterns develop for us, along with expectations: expectations that at first others have for us, and then slowly, almost imperceptibly, we begin to have for ourselves. Long before we become conscious of the fact, most of us are acting, feeling, and thinking pretty much as those significant others expect us to -- with some important, though usually quite minor, deviations. We have become "socialized." We have developed the character and self-consciousness that are appropriate for our place in that cosmic drama which roots our culture. We speak the "language" of that culture in more than simply the grammatical sense. It is as if we were initiates in a rhythmically inter-coordinated interpersonal dance. We recognize and respond to the "legitimate" demands, values, and beliefs of others, as they do to ours. We have become "normal" participants in the dramatic world of our culture. As our agreements and disagreements with others pulsate through our being, we develop our personal character. We learn to control our feelings, as we work with others in those daily activities that we feel we choose more or less in accordance with our personal preferences. Yet, often we have a kind of unarticulated sense that "our" preferences may not be "truly" our own; that what we are becoming may have been somehow pre-programmed within the range of culturally available options.

If, upon approaching maturity or even after attaining it, someone asks us who we are and what we want from life, we usually have a stock of fairly well-defined answers available, rooted, no doubt, in that (pre-reflective) character structure which is the basis of our "taken-for-granted" participation in our culturally defined roles. We are -- or wish to be -- a teacher, lawyer, doctor, nurse, mechanic, executive, housewife, mother, artist, or husband. If someone should have the nerve to push further and ask "why?" we may sputter a moment -- perhaps subvocalizing our resentment at this uncalled-for intrusion into our private world -- and then probably respond with something like: "I need money;" "I want a job which will allow me much free time;" "I like to travel;" "I want power or respect;" "I want the good things in life, like cars, boats, a big house, stereo equipment, or vacations." If pushed still further, the resistance may harden a bit, an attack on one's personal values and life style may be felt. And a little testily, and perhaps defensively, one may say simply: "These things please me; I want to be pleased; and what is wrong with that? Doesn't everybody?" With that rejoinder the conversation is likely to come to an abrupt end. And so does the confrontation with our own values.

In short, most of us strive to be that person, having that job or activity, and possessing those objects, which we believe will please us. We become frustrated if we can't make progress toward the realization of our goals. And we resent having others question those goals, As for questioning our goals and values ourselves, that is something we rarely do, generally would rather not do, and resent others pressuring us to do. It seems that only a string of significant set-backs in our life would ever force most of us to become at all reflective about our aspirations. Then the pressure of events may lead us into marriage counseling, job retraining, or psychotherapy. Such acts of relatively private readjustment are themselves usually far more likely than such more general, pervasive, and perhaps unacceptable, forms of distancing oneself from the accepted social authorities and institutions as with crime, emigration, or rebellion.

The common denominator here, however, is that serious questioning of the essentials of our character and life style seems to occur only after we encounter important setbacks in our accepted pattern of activities. We have learned to "fit in," to accommodate our wants to the needs and expectations of others. The personal drama of our life has become a part of the general dramatic patterns of our culture. We feel comfortable, "at home." We know what is expected of us, more or less, and what we can expect from others. We claim our territory, our personal space, and, guarding it closely, do not wish to "upset the applecart." Whether our life style, that taken-for-granted pattern of thinking, feeling, valuing, and acting which has become our character, is really the best possible for us, is a question too potentially upsetting to be seriously asked. Perhaps there are actually available alternatives which might prove far more fulfilling. But who among us really has the courage to face this issue directly? We generally take the path of least resistance and put questions of this type out of our minds.

It is rather ROUTINE, HABIT, and the implicit FORCE OF NUMBERS that tend to solve our perplexities for us. They reinforce both our "daily round" and the cultural drama of which it is a part. This is what R. D. Laing has in mind when he speaks of the "normalization of experience," the molding of one's character in accord with the pre-prepared cultural script. So it seems to be in our society. We seek simply to be "successful" in our life's work, and thus to be able to preserve our sense of personal worth; to feel that somehow we are, in the words of Archie Bunker, "Number One" -- each of us a little hero in our own personal-cultural drama.

2. Putting First Things First

Into this routine the activity of philosophy does not fit too well. Of course, by "philosophy" I do not mean what is generally taught in the academies. If THAT is what "philosophy" means, it would indeed be difficult to understand how the Athenians could ever have found it worth their time, money, and effort to bring a philosopher to trial and order him put to death. But they did precisely that to Socrates in 399 B. C., and the reasons are not hard to find. These reasons bear directly upon the nature of philosophy as classically understood. For Socrates felt deeply that something far more significant for personal and cultural life Was at stake in the act of philosophizing than what passed for philosophy in the academy, both then and now.

To put it simply, Socrates felt that philosophizing meant "putting first things first": relentlessly seeing out what really matters. He would continually subject personal and cultural beliefs to the test of reflection, would insistently pose the questions: "Is it true?" "Is it really good?" "Is it right?" to the most cherished beliefs, attitudes, and practices. He would persevere in the investigation until adequate answers seemed to arise. If the answer was negative, he would advocate discarding the erroneous position. If it was positive, he would expect the goal to be pursued with even more determination. But in either case, the reflection was far from pointless or a mere academic exercise. For him, an essential human activity was the relentless search for "the good life," the "life worth living." Philosophy was for Socrates then, and 4~-believe ought always to be, an expression of the personal demand to "live well," according to what reflection reveals the good life to be. It ought to be the "theory and practice of the good life," or, if one may be permitted the expression, the search for "wisdom" in human affairs.

What may be troublesome about this effort is obvious. To philosophize is NOT to respect authority, custom, norms, rules, regulations, roles, standards, principles, values, and beliefs simply because they are there, because others accept them. To be philosophical is to be ever questioning the given. It is to be ever concerned to find but whether or not "conventional wisdom" holds up under the scrutiny of sustained critical reflection. Life as routine is dull, lifeless, and uninteresting. The life of routine is lived without being experienced. Even if the "right thing" is prescribed, its rightness will not be appreciated if we don't make it ours by personal involvement. That was what Socrates was getting at when he claimed that "the unexamined life is not worth living." It is a waste of time, energy, and resources. It is, in the words of Emerson, merely a "dull grub." When Socrates equated knowledge with excellence we may take him as meaning that without reflection one cannot be assured of living the best possible life available at that time. And philosophy OUGHT to be precisely such a reflective enterprise -- a necessary ingredient of ANY life that seeks to be enriched and deeply meaningful. Philosophy itself is not the goal. It is, rather, an essential instrument of, and ingredient in, such an existence.

3. Institutions and Mores

In order to appreciate the significant role philosophy has to play in the enrichment of human experience, it is important to locate it within the life of a culture. Cultures are like dramas. Emerging from the background of a natural setting whose very meaning is contoured by the memories and actualities of past events, human beings confront their world with a deep concern for what is to become of them. Qualified by these memories and anticipations, pervaded by this concern for their personal and collective destinies, and energized perhaps by a sense of the possibilities for a qualitative enhancement of their lives, the natural rhythms of organic life become charged with the significances that the future and the past bring to them. Human beings find themselves involved with others in courses of action and ways of being which open up before them more or less definite horizons of options and risks, inviting vital consummations and threatening dissipations, dispersions, or boring repetitions. It is this sense of challenge and risk, rarely if ever adequately articulated, pervading our engagement in a world experienced as at least partially open to novel futures, that is implied by description of its structure as dramatic. Whatever may be the actual influence of objective factors in the constitution and delimitation of that world, its lived drama remains the primary reality of our experience, the root of our motivations, the meaningful frame of our actions, and must be respected as such.

Cultures are thus historically developed patterns of meaningful activity. By dramatically locating us within the cosmos, they give purpose, support, and direction to our lives. We may then feel that what we are about is of some importance. Even if our role is minor, we feel that some aspect of this cosmic drama could not go on without us. We may strive to think of ourselves, paraphrasing Ernest Becker, as centers of value in a meaningful cosmic drama.

Of course, cultures must be able to provide their members with the "basic necessities" of life, or, rather, they must aid individuals in so organizing their activity that they may be able to provide adequately for one another. Such organization will, no doubt, be affected by, as it will affect, the achieved level of technological development. Yet it is not in this function alone, nor perhaps even predominantly, that a culture vitalizes the experience of its members and calls forth their vigorous activity. It is rather the myths and rituals, the possibilities and the dangers (most of which lack adequate articulation), which make of the cultural experience a drama worth playing. Only then does the struggle to maintain life seem worth the effort, and the hope to enhance its meaning seem viable.

The importance of a culture's dramatic structure can be better appreciated by considering cultures whose dramas have failed, for whatever reasons. One might think of the fate of the Indians of North and South America, the Iks in Central Africa, or the Jews in Nazi concentration camps. The point at issue here is not what caused their dramas to fail, but rather what effect this failure had upon the experience of the group's members. Perhaps one of the best ways to understand the experience of many Indian tribes in the Americas today is to think of them as having suffered a cultural depression through the breakdown of the drama which sustained them. 

However, I do not wish to investigate cultural dramas here, but merely to point to their significance. To understand a culture it is essential to penetrate its cosmic drama: to live it if possible; to understand it, at least. An approach may be made through an analysis of its institutions and articulated beliefs, but these will only "come alive" when they are related to the dramas that are their living soul. Of course, such "living souls" must be concretely embodied. They must find expression in the thought and practice of their adherents. The soul may vivify cultural activity, but the traditions, the mores -- in short, the institutions -- are what give concrete shape to daily life.

The institutions of a culture -- both formal and informal -- are the formative patterns of daily living. They channel behavior and belief along the expected pathways. They are the practical stage-setting, and in part the script. Marriage and family, production, exchange, distribution, and consumption, artistic creation, religious myth and ritual, public celebrations, legal and political organizations; these are some of the thematic patterns which must be shaped and justified by the cultural drama.

In any act of thinking concretely about cultural life it will, of course, be necessary to give detailed consideration to many other factors that limit the freedom of dramatic imagination and institutional organization of a culture. For example, one would have to consider the influence of: the level of technological development, climate, available resources, geography, neighboring cultures, and cross-cultural contacts. Our present purpose of clarifying the nature and possibilities of philosophy in general, however, requires no further attention to these matters.

We may conclude that the institutional organization of the cultural drama situates the individual. It specifies his statuses in virtue of which his roles are determined. His tasks are set; the people with whom one is to deal are determined; their expectations are anticipated; the criteria of success and failure are known; the rewards and penalties are envisaged; and personal anxiety in the face of the potential terror of the unknown is partially, at least, alleviated. In short, this dramatic script tends to fashion the identities of the actors. In the words of George Herbert Mead: we become as we are addressed. As the dramatic institutional setting determines the roles to be played, we find ourselves expecting others, and being expected by them, to play those roles. In fact, we will probably find ourselves playing them without even thinking about it. We will come to see ourselves as the people who are expected, and whom WE expect, to play them. We will even strive to be accepted and approved performers of those expected roles. Ultimately, our sense of who we are will most likely be the unreflective approximation to these expectations of others that the cultural script has written for us. Without questioning the essentials of that script, neither asking who authored it nor whose interests it best serves, most of us will simply strive to play our assigned and self-accepted part in order to achieve our desired satisfactions.

In short, institutions precede individuals! Not that institutions can exist without individuals -- most certainly not. But that any specific individual -- you or me, for example -- enters upon the historical stage in the midst of a complex and ongoing cultural drama whose institutions essentially predefine our personal options, as they shape our maturing character and self-conscious activity. We learn to play the game according to the rules -- as those persons who are most significant for us, whether authorities or peers, unreflectively teach them to us. We need these others. We are dependent on them, both materially and spiritually. We need their support and affection; their love and concern. We often desperately want their approval. We want to be "good" As Jean-Paul Sartre has so poignantly shown, to be "good" usually means in the first instance to be an accepted and successful performer in the roles laid out for us by those authoritative others to whom the culture has given the task of overseeing our activity. To fail of their approval is to be "bad," which is painful. it is a burden which we don't wish and perhaps do not have the strength to bear. 

4. The Place of Reflection

There are moments, however, when a murmur can be faintly heard. Must I play THOSE roles? In THAT manner? For THOSE people? For THAT reason? To THAT end? Such moments tinged with reflection are potentially the dawn of a new day, whose high noon may be a philosophical analysis of that cultural drama in terms of which one was trying to be "good." But it would be a mistake to assume that reflection is identical with philosophizing. Reflection may take place, and usually does, totally within the frame of a given role. It is usually called forth by the most uncontroversially normal events. Perhaps the car doesn't start, or the weather is worse than expected, or your pen runs out of ink, or you simply don't know what to wear, or ... any myriad number of other such questions or misadventures. Each call for thought in their own way: to figure out why the car won't start and what to do about it; to decide how to meet the change in the weather; to consider whether to fix, fill, or replace the pen; to evaluate where we are going, who we will be with, and what is available .... Every day, in almost every way, we are constantly facing situations in which our unreflective routines encounter such minor blockages, momentary impediments in the flow of our "daily round." These occasions are so normal that the reflection that they occasion is simply "taken in stride.” The problems are themselves hardly thought about: and the thinking that is done simply flows into the normal channels of possible alternatives. We encounter a situation that interprets what we are about. We quickly locate the disturbance, and devise responses which unblock our action, placing us back upon the track "pre-ordained" by our place in the cultural drama. We "move on."

Such thinking might be called “technical reflection,” albeit at a low level of sophistication, as opposed to “philosophical reflection.” Both are usually occasioned by the experience of a disturbance in the normal flow of our "daily round. " (Under "re-fined" conditions such thinking may be instigated by an inquiring mind that likes to seek out the problematic; but this is clearly a special case.) By technical reflection we mean ordinary questioning, choosing, and problem solving. Rarely does this raise questions about assumed values, about the purposes entertained and the goals sought -- in short, about our place in the drama or about the drama itself. If such questions do arise, they are usually incidental to the inquiry; and thus they are not faced directly, taken seriously, and tackled systematically. It is more likely than not that they will arise when "the going gets rough" and there is some question about continuing a course of action in view of the difficulties being encountered. In principle such difficulties can lead very easily to philosophical reflection about the values at stake, and the qualities of the personal and cultural dramas that are implicated: can, but rarely do.

We are constantly being called upon to make decisions about alternative courses of action; ranging from what goods we should buy, and where and when we should take a vacation, to how our children should be raised and where we would prefer living our lives; but rarely do such "technical" problems give rise to inquiries as to the kind of person we are and the kind of life we are living. It is only with the latter questions, however, as they implicate our relations with others and give expression to our fundamental concerns, that we begin to confront the classical realm of the philosophical. Here, finally, the "meaning of life" is reflectively encountered.

With more sensitive and more imaginative souls, however, this questioning may emerge simply out of the sheer joy or delight in the unhindered activity of thinking, or the simple wonder that things are as they are. In fantasy, reverie, imagination, or "playacting," we can explore realms of experience that are not physically present or practically accessible. Often very young children make little distinction between "realms of being," between the "real" and the "imaginary," and may delight equally in both. This joyful thinking, imaginatively exploring the contours of the conceivable, may be simply an "aesthetic" delight. Or it may prove to be a most fruitful source of insight into new possibilities of self and world, raising sophisticated and sensitive questions about the basics of one's present mode of being. In either case, the contribution of such thinking to the enhancement of human living must not be overlooked, nor underplayed. It is this natural, "playful" capacity of thinking, which places in question the fundamentals of our world, that is so important to those who emphasize the origins of philosophy in wonder. It will be important for us, however, to clearly distinguish questions concerning the origin of philosophical reflection from those that deal with the logical functions and concrete bearings of such thinking. It is with respect to the latter that our discussion of the role of intelligence in human affairs will be primarily concerned.

Thus philosophical reflection, like technical reflection, has its origin in the concrete concerns of daily living. It often emerges with the latter when that "daily round" to which we have become habituated hits a snag. Something simply "goes wrong," or the "normal" course of development has brought us to one of life's "intersections": it is time to go off to college; to choose a career; to get married; to take a first (or a new) job; to buy a house; to have (or not to have) children; to deal with the death of a "loved one." Most of the time such "intersections" come and go without any earthshaking challenge to that self we have come to be. The significant others in our life at that time, living the normal course of things as arranged by the ongoing cultural dramas, play out their prescribed institutional roles in the appropriately ritualized manner. This effectively, and more or less comfortably, carries us across the potentially gaping intersection. We "find ourselves" on the other side -- after experiencing the appropriate degree of pain and anxiety -without being sure precisely how we got there. it hardly seems that any-decision was taken. Life simply "recommences" in the normal fashion -- without much of a sense of the actual discontinuity.

At such times, however, something else could have emerged. It may be a bit cynical to suggest that it is precisely the institutionally authenticated function of those significant others to seek to insure that that "something else" does not emerge. Cynical, but probably true. Cultures are dramatic systems in part aimed at assuaging the natural terrors of existence; thus the assurance of normality at times of stress tends to be a crucial cultural function: “the king is dead; long live the king.” 

Vital cultures seeking to come to grips with novelty, however, must offer more profound resources to their members if they are to survive. The philosophical tradition in the west, in fact the entire history of critical and speculative thought, is precisely such a resource. It embodies alternative perspectives that can help a sensitive and critical spirit to confront imaginatively the conditions of his life. It is a vital resource for personal liberation -- on the condition, that is, that it be well used.

Reflection is thus called for whenever a problem arises, whenever the daily round does not follow in accordance with the expected script. Numerous times each day this is the case. Each choice is an occasion for reflection. We are called upon to consider the procedures we are following, the tools we are using, the people with whom we are working and our relations with them, the goals we are seeking, the inhibitions we are experiencing, the difficulties we are encountering, the institutional and cultural "games" we are playing, or simply our unarticulated sense of possibilities unfulfilled. There is, in short, no area of cultural life that is, in principle, immune from being subject to critical scrutiny; even though there are many such areas that we do not, in point of fact, question. Our daily life involves an unarticulated routine acceptance of numerous beliefs about the world, the structure of values, the natural order of priorities, and the acceptable and unacceptable expectations of others. Our life is simply the result of the way we have chosen to respond to the given set of such assumptions that are the heritage of our culture. These assumptions about ourself and about the natural and social world in which we are involved generally pre-determine the conceptual frame of our world and thus the limits of our possible action. Our freedom of action takes place WITHIN such limits. If we feel that gravity will operate in such a way as to insure our death if we jump from a third floor window, and if we do not wish to die, then we do not jump from such a window. In a similar way, if we feel that we will be social outcasts if we engage in certain types of forbidden sexual behavior, and if we do not wish to suffer that fate, then we will probably forgo any attempt to engage in such behavior, whatever may be our inclinations to the contrary. (In fact, we may handle both situations by denying to ourself any inclination to do the "dangerous" act.) While the analogy here is far from complete -- more needs to be said about differences between natural and cultural limitations -- there is an important point to be made. Our "free" action will be constrained to take place WITHIN the frame of the world as we see it, of "our world," however "distorted" the lenses of our vision may be.

In short, our practical freedom is as much a function of our perception of what is possible as it is a result of our power to actually realize our goals. We are far more often than we realize prisoners of our beliefs, even when free of the actual control of others. It is precisely here that the philosophical significance of imagination and fantasy can be most adequately appreciated. Whether responding to a specific problem, or simply exploring the dramatic contours of "our world," such thinking may take us beyond the conceptual horizons of the world in which we have been dwelling, opening up entirely new ways of being and doing. Drawing upon these imaginative capacities, philosophy should take as one of its central tasks the sensitive interrogation of those hidden and unarticulated assumptions and presuppositions that form the limiting horizon of our present world, so that, in the words of the Psalmist, we may know the truth and it may set us free. 

5. Reflection and the mindscape

To the extent that we are enslaved by our unrecognized assumptions, philosophy can be a crucial instrument in our personal liberation. A closer look at the reflective process can perhaps illustrate how this may happen.

Reflection usually begins with the experience of a difficulty in one's daily round. The routine is upset. We must locate the disturbance, the discomfort; define its nature; grasp its causes; imaginatively articulate the available options; evaluate them; take an inventory of our resources; reflectively play out the range of alternatives through a deductive elaboration of the meanings involved in order to assess their likely outcomes; and then, after settling upon the foreseen outcome which deliberation suggests is both achievable and most desirable, act upon the results of our deliberation in the hope of bringing about that desired result. Of course, the best laid plans of mice and men often, nay invariably, go at least partially astray, so that the need for continuing reflection remains constant, and even goals and practices once decided upon require continual updating in the light of the partial results achieved along the way. Such are the preconditions of intelligent action.

Few of us, as we think about our daily problems, are explicitly aware of these procedures. In actual practice many of these logically necessary stages are short-circuited. We follow hunches, jump stages, or resort to habitual or traditional rather than critically considered alternatives. In short, our actual procedures are rarely so precisely delineated as the discussion above would suggest. What was presented was in the nature of a sketch, from a logical standpoint, of an ideal reconstruction of what in the normal course of problem solving is far more quickly, unmethodically, and impulsively done. The ideal reconstruction is, nonetheless, quite useful in pointing out the essential dimensions of intelligent decision-making. It thus facilitates an investigation of its nature, with the possible aim of making it a more concretely fruitful activity.

Having ideally reconstructed the reflective processes involved in intelligent action, we may now look at this process more closely to see how and where it may go wrong. For if intelligence is our most reliable guide to the solution of life's problems and to an enhancement of its meanings, then an understanding of its processes must surely be an invaluable asset.

In our society, reflection is usually directed toward the removal of impediments lying in the way of the practical realization of our personal goals. As thinking beings we have values and goals that are more or less consciously understood by us. They have become part of our character, undergirding our life style and daily activity. We have responded to the objective world as we perceive it with a series of choices that have located us within the institutionalized patterns of our culture. Our job, family, school, leisure-time pursuits, the choices here are our life, its possibilities and satisfactions. It is within the context of this life that our problems emerge. And it is the generally unarticulated assumptions, constituting the horizon of our world that are the meaningful background of our daily rounds, setting the conceptual frame for our thinking about the problems with which we are continually confronted. The person we are, the beliefs and values to which we are committed, in short, our personal response to our cultural drama, in a very important sense sets limits to the possibilities we are likely to imagine. These conceptual limitations are as constraining as are those established by the resources and potentialities of the objective world. 

The process of reflection just outlined is, therefore, limited at its outset by our personal orientation, by the "set" of our character, our beliefs and values, as much as by the actual nature of the objective world. It, thus tends to predefine the world we encounter at any moment. The world we experience is OUR world, the world as it exists for us. It is this world-as-it-exists-for-us that establishes the perceptual background of our thinking, rather than objective events themselves. Of course, the independent structure of events will have an important "say" in the kind of perceptions we may have and the kind of results we may actually achieve through action. it will thus work to modify our plans and expectations. This process, by which deliberatively produced action brings forth consequences that serve to modify our initial beliefs, is at the center of a rational faith in science. But it should not obscure the most crucial fact here in question, that the initial limitations under which reflection operates are those placed upon it by the often-unarticulated set of beliefs that define both our character and the horizon of our world. The set of alternatives that the reflective person entertains is thus usually determined pre-reflectively at the outset of the inquiry.

In sum, it is OUR understanding of the encountered "problem" emerging out of the world as we see and feel it, and challenging the beliefs, values, and actions to which we are committed, which frames reflection. Which dimensions of the problem we take as worth being investigated and capable of being changed will be determined by OUR conception of the resources and potentialities of the objective world as they are balanced by OUR appreciation of our own capacities and values. The rest of the dramatic situation will serve as boundary conditions of our inquiry, invariant, or invariable, as the case may be. The law of gravity or the desire to become a millionaire, each in its own way, can serve equally as the unquestioned, unarticulated boundary conditions of a particular inquiry.

It is important to understand that I am NOT now talking about evaluating the success of any inquiry. I am talking only of the initial process of reflection itself. Certainly there ARE objective conditions that will prove more resistant to certain types of action than to others. And those objective forces will have a significant "say" in determining which actions are most successful in resolving our experienced difficulty. Certainly, the desire to be a millionaire is more easily modified than is the law of gravity. But how often, may I ask, are viable paths of actions blocked NOT because the objective world was recalcitrant, but because the possibilities were NEVER considered? because we never reflectively entertained certain alternative courses of action?

More often than we are prepared to admit we are the prisoners of our accepted "world-views," of our character, and of the beliefs and values IN TERMS OF WHICH we normally act. These often tend to be far more constraining than is the actual objective reality. It is as if we faced that reality with a kind of conceptual MAP in our heads -- or we viewed the world through a specially colored prismatic lens. That map, made ours through habit and tradition, pre-structures our perception of that objective reality. It tells us what that reality is essentially like. It outlines the possible and the impossible, the desirable and undesirable. It further suggests what others will and won't do. In short, it transforms that objective reality into OUR WORLD: that world in which we live, and move, and have our being. It thus locates our activity within the meaning-frame of a cultural drama which we "take for granted": we KNOW what is REAL, and what is GOOD, without having to give much thought to them. Our ordinary thinking about problems takes place, as it were, WITHIN the meaning-frame of that "taken-for-granted" world which is the "gift" of our culture to us. Theodore Roszak has a fine name for these set contours of our thinking; he speaks of personal and cultural "mindscapes." As the objective world can be painted in a landscape, in which hills, valleys, paths for travel and natural impediments can advance of the journey the terrain to be covered, similarly one's personal mindscape lays out the terrain within which the journey of thinking is to take place. The mindscape pre-structures the nature of problems and the available options by defining the REAL, the POSSIBLE, the DESIRABLE, the FEARFUL, the WE and the THEY, all prior to reflection. Concrete acts of thinking take place within the meaning-frame, or horizon, of such a mindscape.

In short, the mindscape is the mental mapping of our world, and thus, implicitly, of our self, in terms of which the drama of our life unfolds. it is a mapping which itself rarely if ever becomes problematic for us. It rather serves as our "taken-for-granted" meaning-frame, the limiting horizon of our concerns, and our ever-available conceptual guide to the solution of our concrete problems.

The distinction considered earlier between technical and philosophical problems may now be reformulated as one between problems emerging within the horizon of a given mindscape and those that involve and implicate the nature of the mindscape itself. This distinction is roughly equivalent to one between an investigation of problems "out in the world," the problematic of the sciences (which includes consideration of one's self as an object among objects) and a self-reflecting investigation of the values and beliefs, of the conceptual maps and related tools, with which one normally conducts those investigations "out in the world." This distinction is not to be taken as absolute, however. It is relative and functional. Technical problems implicate and often fade into philosophical ones, and vice versa. Philosophy thus considered will be a systematic, critical investigation of mindscapes, both ours and others; of taken-for-granted worlds, and of the selves that reside therein; that is, of the meaning that the world has for its inhabitants. In the most immediate sense, philosophy will be a critical investigation of the conceptual roots of our styles of life, of our cultural and personal dramas. It will be metaphysical; in the words of John Dewey: the "ground map of the province of criticism." 

6. The Criticism of the Given

We may now provisionally reaffirm a proverbial distinction between science and philosophy. Science, it may be said, is primarily concerned with truth-claims concerning the "objective" world, while philosophy is primarily concerned with the articulation of meanings. It is, however, impossible to actually draw such a hard and fast distinction between philosophy and science, because further reflection upon this problem will immediately reveal two complicating factors. First, the concept of truth, with which we said science is primarily concerned, is itself a meaning for us, a meaning among meanings, like Beauty, Goodness, Evil, and Fear. As such it is by definition of concern to philosophy. What is the nature of truth? How is it established? What is the relation in principle between evidence and claims? Between facts and theories? Many such questions arise that are clearly philosophical in nature and have as their primary concern the clarification of the nature, meaning, and significance of the scientific endeavor for human beings. For science is only one human activity among many, one that is influenced in crucial ways by the structure of the cultural and personal dramas, as well as by the institutional forms, within which its activity takes place. It is, in short, a cultural activity taking place within the horizon of personal mindscapes.

On the other side of the ledger is the fact that philosophy, in its primary concern for meaning, cannot simply fabricate meaning in its total disregard of the constraints pIaced upon it by the structure of "objective" reality -- the central province of science's investigation into truth. Philosophy cannot so fabricate meanings, that is, if it is interested in using its developed meanings to enrich concrete human living. For meanings are orientations entertained by human beings who are interested in enhancing the significance of their lives. And disregard of objective constraints will most likely lead to quite unforeseen and undesirable consequences as far as human wellbeing is concerned. The respectful concern for the conditions that actually obtain, independent of human attitudes and beliefs, is a crucial. resource which science can provide in the search for the good life.

It is thus clear that the concern for truth and for meaning, the generally accepted provinces of science and philosophy respectively, are not totally separated and isolatable compartments of human experience. Rather, of necessity they continually implicate and are implicated by one another. While we must be idealists as to meaning, observed Dewey, we must all be realists as to truth.

The import of this discussion for the clarification of the nature of philosophy should be quite clear. Philosophy is most centrally a clarification of the meanings of experience in terms of which we live our life and formulate our goals. The clarification of such meanings is an endeavor logically prior to ascertaining the objective truth of specific traditional, customary, or scientific claims. That is to say that one cannot properly evaluate the truth - claims - concerning the nature of reality which people make -- upon the basis of which individuals and groups build their hopes and aspirations, formulate their projects, and engage in specific actions -- apart from a careful interrogation of their mindscape -- its assumptions about the Real, about the ideals of inquiry, about the conceptual and practical tools available for such inquiring, about the alternative possible solutions which are to be entertained, and about the most desirable goals of such interrogation.

For objective reality does not come to us and declare itself. Nature does not say: "I am such and so." At best, it will respond to a question posed to it experimentally with a "yes," “no,” or "maybe." A well-designed experiment will give results that must be interpreted. They will be interpreted in terms of the mindscape -- the expectations, assumptions, and beliefs -- of the investigator: and this is true generally, not simply in experimentally designed situations. All of life is an on-going series of experiments. Individuals find themselves located in a culture that offers a more or less systematic body of values and beliefs as to the nature of the Real, in which many questions remain unanswered. Objective reality has not declared itself. It has been subjected to continuous historical interrogation through the actions embodied in long cultural traditions. The funded wisdom of the culture, its essential drama, constitutes in part the meaning of objective reality for its participants. To become an active member of a culture -- to be "socialized" -- is to think that historically developed mindscape as one's own. It is to accept the meaning of objective reality as it GIVES itself to us at this time and place within the horizon of the mindscape of our culture. Reflectively speaking it would be more accurate to refer to the GIVEN as TAKEN: the objective reality, as we have learned to TAKE it unreflectively as GIVEN -- the TAKEN-FOR-GRANTED structure of the Real in which we find ourselves implicated prior to reflection (our "throwness" in the language of Existentialism). This is the deeper meaning of our opening remarks to the effect that human beings "find themselves engaged in experience long before they have any clear sense of what it is about." This "GIVEN" world will certainly present itself as a structure of possibilities and limitations -- an "horizon" of meanings -- that may well constitute the structure of a partial or near- total enslavement. It is perhaps the essential task of philosophy to reveal the historically relative and socio-personal TAKEN character of the GIVEN in order to subject the meaning of this "REAL" to systematic criticism. It is only in this manner that we may be true to that ideal of philosophy and to the possibilities of human experience that was so well expressed by John Dewey when he called for "the liberation and expansion of the meanings of which experience is capable." (EN, p. 411)