1. Thinking as Intelligence
The drama of thinking is rooted in the drama of living. And the living of a (self‑) conscious organism is a searching inquiring directed toward the enhancement of the developing qualities of its natural and social transactions. Experience can thus become an intelligent transaction between a concerned organism and its world, where intelligence is understood as the capacity to mutually and reciprocally coordinate means with ends: tools, instruments plans or programs with purposes, goals or ideals. For an organism to organize available means with respect to their ability to further its ideals, while critically evaluating those ideals with respect to their concrete possibilities for realization, in short, for it to act intelligently, it must be able to respond to felt dissatisfactions by locating distinguishable features with respect to their differential consequences. By being able to transform a felt dissatisfaction into a defined problem, and then to see present factors AS significant of possible alternative outcomes, the organism can evaluate those diverse potential outcomes with respect to their bearing upon the “good life. “ Thus intelligent choice becomes possible, initiating a course of action by which the likelihood of bringing about the desired results is increased.
Since the good life is not given to us, nor can we rely upon a set of fixed instincts to determine our course in advance, its approximate realization is generally dependent upon such an intelligent coordination of means and ends. Intelligence thus becomes the tool of tools, that powerful human capacity, enabling us to employ practical instruments in accordance with their ideal potentials. Thus intelligence must logically be placed at the center of any human concern for “living well.
2. Tools in Human Experience
It is no more possible to confront “the Real” philosophically without tools than it is possible to confront the WORLD intelligently in daily life without them. We cannot write without pencils, pens, typewriters: we cannot be transported long distances without cars, trains, planes, and buses, and travel short distances without bicycles and legs. We cannot, furthermore, build cars, trains, planes, and buses without industry and a developed technology. Similarly, we cannot repair cars without wrenches, screwdrivers, and gauges. Only the most primitively simple transactions with our environs can be sustained with the capacities and resources of our unaided body. The history of western civilization has been in major part the history of the development of increasingly complex tools and techniques by which the human relation to nature has been increasingly mediated. To be is to be active, and activity involves transacting with an environing world. The nature of these transactions is and will continue to be modified in complex ways by the tools which are developed by the conjoint efforts of countless individuals through time. This is, in part, the meaning of “civilization.” Tools are not simply instruments used in a transaction which would be the same without their employment. The essential quality of that transaction, the dynamics of the life processes which are those transactions, is no doubt profoundly effected in its most essential dimensions by the tools, the technology, in terms of which those transactions take place. We live by, with, and through our tools.
At any moment in our existence, there is an available set of tools which constitute resources for the realization of our purposes. This repertoire of tools provides us with possibilities and prescribes limitations. How often have our practical tasks been limited, made difficult or impossible, because we do not have adequate tools? How often have we defined or redefined our problems and goals in order to make them amenable to the solutions made possible by our available tools? How often have we felt the need for new or different tools? And how often has the need to solve a certain problem given rise to the search for, the imaginative and practical development of, new and perhaps more sophisticated tools in order to make possible the realization of our purposes? Throughout the history of our civilization, and certainly with heightened speed during and after the emergence of the industrial revolution, we have developed increasingly specialized tools to do increasingly more complex jobs. The tools of the auto mechanic of today are far greater in number, sophistication of design, and specification of function, than those of the mechanic of twenty years ago.
In short, tools make jobs possible, and more sophisticated and specialized tools make possible more complex jobs. Further, such tools make practical the realization of hitherto purely imaginative goals. In order to have such tools at our disposal, however, we require individuals and industries which will design and build these essential tools. For every tool there tends to develop tool‑making industries whose task it is to design, produce, and distribute the tool. And the complex network of tool‑making and tool using activities constitute the material infrastructure of the economic apparatus of our civilization upon which so much of our material well‑being depends.
3. Ideas as Tools
As our material well‑being depends in part upon the production and use of increasingly more sophisticated tools, that is, of a developing technology, so the latter clearly depends upon the development of a science adequate to such a task. For technology and the material well‑being which depends upon it is not possible without an increasingly sophisticated set of theories and practices which provide us with an ever‑more sophisticated understanding of the nature of objective reality. It is the development of such a science which makes it possible to envision imaginatively new possibilities of resource utilization and material production. For technology is applied science. And since science in its “pure” moment is but the elaboration of theories about the nature of the world, we may clearly see how concepts may very well be understood themselves as an interestingly different kind of tool. Concepts are tools for the organization of data and the elaboration of theories which constitute the logical prerequisite to the imaginative articulation of new technological and natural possibilities, not to speak of their practical realization.
We may, in fact, simply follow the pragmatists here, and generalize this finding into the assertion that a major function of intelligence is the development of those conceptual tools which will allow us to further the realization of our purposes. Ideas are tools for the organization of experience in the service of human purposes. They are implicit plans of actions. They are programmatic in nature. If I say there is a door over there, I am implicitly committing myself to an indefinite series of specific acts in yet to be specified circumstances. I might rephrase the conceptual content of that claim in a series of hypothetical, that is, If‑Then,, statements, such as: “If there is a fire, then that door over there will serve as an exit”; or “If you are expecting guests, then you may expect that they will. enter by way of that door. Without pushing this point about the essentially practical‑hypothetical nature of such supposed simple reality claims at this time, I do wish to emphasize that ideas are tools by which we organize our experience, orienting ourselves to others, to the natural environment, to our past and our future. Ideas or concepts are not free‑floating abstractions residing in a world entirely their own. They root in human experience and the processes of culture, helping to organize meaningfully and direct human action. Their central intellectual function is thus to serve as an instrument in the processes by which the meanings and felt qualities of that experience may be dramatically enhanced. As such we may say that their crucial intellectual role is instrumental; and further that we understand more about the historical origin, nature., and practical function of ideas, when we consider them as “conceptual tools.”
As “conceptual tools” ideas generally emerge in specific contexts, when we are faced with specific problems. Or better, ideas, which may emerge like evolutionary “sports” in any context, are taken seriously, classified, and refined, when they are seen as relevant to the demands of specific situations. They usually have, therefore, a more or less clearly defined range of applicability. A can opener was designed and generally functions adequately when used to open cans, yet it may be employed to break windows, poke holes in various objects, or push putty into crevices. For these secondary uses, however, can openers probably will not serve as well as would other more appropriately designed tools. There are, furthermore, numerous tasks for which can openers would be a total flop, like painting a wall, charging a car battery, or writing a letter.
The situation is quite the same with ideas. The language of poetry is usually not too helpful in aiding a chemist in a laboratory, even though it may serve far better than the prosaic language of the latter in describing one’s feelings or for imaginatively envisaging new possibilities; the language of the law may be quite necessary in drawing up a legal brief or in writing precise legislation, while it might be a disaster if used to explain one’s rights and obligations to a junior high school student. One must design one’s language for the tasks to be performed as clearly as one designed one’s material tools. And one must recognize the purpose, possibilities, and limits of such “conceptual tools.”
4. “Conceptual Tool‑making and Repairing”
Material well‑being depends upon a developed technology, which in turn depends upon a mature science. A mature science requires the development of sophisticated “conceptual tools, “ as well as practical instruments.
Thus an advanced civilization needs in addition to an “industry which produces the conceptual tools of technology, which in part science is, an “industry” which critically evaluates these tools in use, the purposes for which they are being employed, and their ability to do the job expected. It is also quite important to consider the other jobs which could or should be done. The continual redesign of the conceptual tools on hand is a further cultural necessity so that they may better serve both their designated purposes and the possible new purposes which it might seem important and worthwhile for the culture to undertake.
In short, while philosophy shares with science and in some sense with literature, the arts, and even “business,” the primary role of producer of conceptual tools, it stands more or less alone as the sole enterprise whose central concern is and should be with the critical analysis and imaginative redesign of the conceptual tools by which both science in particular and the culture in general intelligently direct their activity. Further, its investigation of our conceptual tools should not be limited to those tools by which we seek to realize pre‑established or accepted personal or cultural purposes, but, on the contrary, in a very crucial sense, it must be concerned with the tools by which we understand and articulate those very purposes. To fail of this dual concern by losing sight of the normative dimensions involved in any analysis of conceptual tools is to reduce philosophy to the level of technical reflection, and thus, if only by inadvertence, to open the way to its ideological manipulation, of which more later. In short, the basic province of philosophy is the repertoire of ideas in terms of which we formulate our goals and organize our means in the search for the good life.
Thus, ideas are tools, and philosophy is, in part, conceptual tool-making. More centrally still, it is the enterprise which should undertake the critical investigation and imaginative reconstruction of our conceptual tools. Ultimately, and most profoundly, it must assume the task of rooting these analyses within that conceptual terrain laid out by the cultural mindscape or root metaphysics. It is only by critically locating itself within this “horizon of intelligibility” that more and better concretely applicable conceptual tools may be designed with a sensitive view to their bearing upon the ideal. Let us look now a little more closely at these philosophical tasks which are so central to the progressive development of culture.
5. The Critical Appraisal and Redesign of Conceptual Tools
By calling philosophy the “industry” concerned primarily with the critical appraisal and redesign of our conceptual tools we have located one of the essential dimensions of the philosophic enterprise. It is therefore important for the purposes of this investigation to take a closer look at this claim. What, we must ask, does the analogy of ideas with tools mean for our understanding of the nature and function of ideas? And to what extent does this analogy hold up? Or does it lead us astray? (It should be noted here that our reference to philosophy as an “industry” draws heavily on the root meaning of that word as “organized diligence,” without any assumption as to the socio‑economic structure which that “organized diligence” is to take. The relation of this term to the problems of the division of labor and the relation of the philosophic profession to the culture at large will be considered in Chapter 3.)
a. The Cultural Need for Ideas
Ideas, like material instruments, ideally develop in order to facilitate our transactions with an environment. As we can produce and enjoy little without the aid of implements, so we are very limited in our range of transactions without the availability of ideas. Ideas mediate our transactions with nature. They allow us to conceive of, and thus orient ourselves to, the future and the past, as well as to spatial distances not accessible to direct perception. Thus an horizon of intelligibility is opened up for us which transcends the materially given. Not only do they place us in touch with events and persons who are not present, thus allowing for the expansion of the realm of our feelings and the development of plans and programs that give us greater control over our possible satisfactions, but they make possible insight into the very conditions which underlie the appearance of that which is directly perceived. Such insight is of inestimable value in our desire to be something more than the simple playthings of chance.
In short, without ideas we are relegated to living only in the moment, with no greater range of feelings or practical control over the forces which effect us than has a dog. These limitations are qualitative as well as instrumental.
The instrumental role of ideas concerns their service as guides to action. They make possible control of various contingencies, in the service of more assured satisfactions. Their qualitative dimension, on the other hand, refers to their ability to aid in the elaboration and development of feelings and of more discriminating perceptions. They can serve as symbols which expand the range and deepen the intensity of life. They are immediately enjoyed as elements in human communication and are the medium for the sophisticated expressions of poetry, drama and literature. The direct enhancement of life which they thus make possible is no less significant than is their instrumental value when elaborated into theories which serve as precious guides with which to confront novel futures.
The development of complex ideas and of the medium of language which seems to be its necessary precondition, thus both requires and makes possible the further development of social relations. The previous remarks were individualistically oriented, but the development of a complex, qualitatively compelling, and efficacious social order is hardly conceivable apart from the existence of a sophisticated ideational network, which is the product of an ongoing civilization.
Since it should be abundantly clear, therefore, how absolutely crucial to civilization as we know it is the existence of a sophisticated ideational language, encased in a functioning oral and hopefully written network, let us, in what follows, take such a system for granted, and focus our attention on the intellectual role of specific ideas.
One point requires special emphasis in order to avoid misunderstanding. The knowing function being studied in this chapter is clearly not the only, nor necessarily the “best”, use to which thinking may be put. It is however a qualitatively distinct way of relating to the world with potentially very significant practical consequences. The consequences which are most crucial from a logical point of view are precisely those which enhance the power of the intelligent organism to control the quality and direction of its experience. And it is the significance of such consequences in their essential relation to the meaning of what it is “to know” that we have been concerned to accentuate.
b. The Reasons for Production
When we use the tool metaphor to understand the nature of ideas, we are concerned primarily with the intellectual or truth‑seeking function of thinking. As with tools, so with ideas, they may be appreciated for their inherent beauty, for the generalized aesthetic satisfactions which they may yield either in production, use, or in simple observation. Their intellectual adequacy, however, is not essentially evaluated on those grounds. And while the people who produce tools may do so simply for the joy they take in the process of production—a joy certainly not to be disparaged—the adequacy of their production as an aid in the development of knowledge will be evaluated by their success in producing tools which meet required specifications. We will have more to say about the qualitative or aesthetic dimension of conceptual tools later on, but here our concern is with their more specifically intellectual function.
Thus we may say that conceptual tools are usually produced and employed because of need. Direct access to the world is found lacking, satisfactions are inadequate or uncertain, and greater control of their conditions or consequences is desired. Conceptual tools are essentially instruments which in directing our activity into new areas of experience or restructuring present dimensions are believed to enhance our possibilities for control and for appreciation of the values which we seek to enjoy. As with all instruments, however, their adequacy cannot be evaluated apart from a consideration of the purposes for which they are being employed.
It is often assumed by many that the central, nay the only crucial, question which is relevant to an appraisal of an idea is its truth‑value. Is it true or false, the inquirer will ask. If it’s true, it’s good, and should be used; if it’s false, it’s bad, and must be discarded or critically reformulated. And what is meant by truth? Usually something like the notion that the idea correctly mirrors or copies the nature of the objective reality to be known. But how adequate is this simple notion? Is it helpful in understanding the nature and function of ideas in human experience? I think the answer must be that it is not. And that basically for two reasons.
First, what can it mean to copy or mirror objective reality? Such reality is always other and different than an idea. An idea is always a definite orientation of human experience. Words on a written page, for example, are only markings, actually configurations of ink—unless there is a mind to entertain them, think about them, and respond to them. In any case, words don’t copy anything, not even other words. They just are. Markings have physical relations to other physical events, like the pencils which write them, or the paper on which they are written, but no conceptual relations. When an individual entertains them as words, then they become meanings. FOR HIM. That is the locus of ideas, namely “in the mind” of the experiencer. But the reality of the idea in the experiencer’s mind is not physical or objective in the same sense as is the objective reality to be known. It is rather a certain organization of the thinker’s experience with respect to that objective reality to be known. It is, at best, an intellectual mapping of that reality. And as with any mapping, it must be selective. It must choose those elements of the reality which are important for the purposes at issue. To copy, at best would be to reduplicate in all of its features. Even if this were possible, however, all one would be left with would be another “copy” of the reality to be known, that is, another copy of the reality rather than a knowing of it. If I wish to know America, to have a certain kind of map of America, what intellectual good would be another copy of America, even if I could get it? None whatsoever.
But, of course, since ideas are not “of the same stuff” as the reality to be known (except in the special case in which I seek to know another idea), ideas in principle cannot reduplicate—or copy in the strong sense—objective reality. But in a weaker sense, one might say that they may conceptually map it. And this is, of course, possible. As we have physical maps, so may we have conceptual maps. But what is crucial to emphasize here, is that such maps are of necessity selective in nature. They are always the products of selective emphasis. They are the result of choices which are made concerning what are the important elements or aspects of the objective reality to be mapped. We may map transportation routes, or geological strata, or apartment design, or numerous other “territories, “ But can such mappings be called “copies,” when we must leave out as much or more of the reality in our “conceptual mapping” than we put in our “copies?” A conceptual mapping, even if successful, cannot be a reduplication. Thus the essentially selective nature of our conceptual, mapping brings us to the second problem concerning the claim that ideas in g(‑,neral ar‑e best judged as either true or false. If ideas must be selective by ‘nature, how do we evaluate the adequacy of the selective emphasis which they embody? The answer can only be: in terms of a consideration of the purposes for which they were designed and are to be used. A geological map of America may not be “false”, and yet it would be of little use to a motor‑ist who wished to drive from New York to California. Similarly, a roadmap of America would be of little help to a geologist who sought to understand American i‑ock formations. The “truth” or “falsity” of the mappings are here not the central question. What is central is the relationship between the mapping, the reality to be mapped, and the purposes of the map user.
It is, of course, correct to observe that some mappings are better, than others, not simply because they are designed with a specific purpose in mind, but also because they are more “true” mappings of the domain in question. But what does the word “true” mean here? Experientially, it means that the mapping will tend to facilitate the map user in realizing his purposes because it more adequately designates certain objective connections which hold in the reality to be mapped. This facilitation will function in accordance with some pre‑designed principle of interpretation and use (that is, in accordance with a “key” or schema designating how to “unlock” the secrets of the map and put it to practical use).
It is by the employment of such a map in accordance with a specified principle of interpretation that a rnap‑user may verify the map’s adequacy for certain purposes. For the adequate map is more likely to make possible the successful completion of the activities for which it was employed. Thus, without specifving the purposes for which the map was designed, or is being used, it is in principle impossible to verify its adequacy and thus to ascertain its “truth. “ A.11 truth claims must, therefore, include essential reference to the purposes or functions which they are designed to serve. [This point bears heavily upon the question of ideology which we will consider in Chapter III]
It is relevant to note here that one purpose which a conceptual mapmaker may be concerned to realize might be the “pure scientific” goal of a “true” knowledge of “objective reality.” That is certainly a legitimate human purpose. But even here, if the enquirer is not concerned to achieve the impossible goal of reduplicating that reality, but rather seeks to “know” it, he must also be selective in his conceptual mapping as to what elements or aspects of reality are most crucial. [We will return to this problem in Chapter IV]
c. The Problem of Objective Reference
Having shown that ideas must be related to human purposes if their origin and intellectual function are to be properly appreciated, it is important to underscore the referential character which all ideas seem to embody, even the most “purely” instrumental. By instrumental it should be added, one is to understand the propagandistic or poetic uses of language as well as the more ordinarily manipulative or programmatic. While the truth claim is not the only, nor even usually the most important, aspect of an idea, it does point out its referential dimension. On many occasions we do use ideas to make explicit reference to what is “out there,” as when we say that there are three chairs in a room, or when the scientist savs that a water molecule is composed of two atoms of Hydrogen and one atom of Oxygen. While the former claim is basically capable of validation by direct observation, the status of the latter is far more complicated. It Is validation will require quite elaborate theoretical formulations and testing procedures. Both statements, however, embody claims which involve reference to the objective world. Such claims to adequate objective reference are explicit and essential in these two cases, and numerous others like them.
As examples of selective emphasis in which individuals engage in order to better orient themselves toward their environment, however, any evaluation of their adequacy is subject to the considerations mentioned in the prior section. Most centrally this means a consideration of the specific purposes of the inquirer. There are, however, many conceptual, as there are practical, tools which make no explicit reference to the objective world. We might take wrenches or can‑openers as simple examples of the latter, and directions (plans or programs), or cries for help, as examples of the former. Consider briefly a can‑opener. Unlike a road map, it wasn’t made to describe anything. And it is not used to outline a direction or activity, as are the printed instructions for its use with which it may be packaged for purchase. It is a tool to be practically employed to open cans -- its normal use makes no explicit descriptive reference to objective reality. And yet it is designed and purchased with the expectation that it will serve to open cans. That means it is designed with implicit reference to the structure of the cans that it is to open. If it poorly embodies in its design such objective reference, or if the objective structure of cans suddenly changes, the can‑opener will no longer‑ serve the purposes for which it was intended: it won’t work. The workability of the can opener is a function of the adequacy of the design embodied in its materials with respect to the objective reality upon which it is intended to operate. It embodies a purpose that includes implicit reference to, and hence, makes implicit claims about, the structure and material constitution of the objective reality in question—in this case, certain kinds of cans.
From this example we may generalize and say that all practical implements make the same implicit claims about the nature of segments of objective reality in terms of which their embodied purposes may be seen to work. The “essence” of the can‑opener is to open cans—and it is so designed. But we might use it: to make holes, break windows, or pry open car hoods. In short, the essence for us is a function of the intentions we seek to realize, as well as of the objective structure of the implement. The adequacy of the implement to realize those intentions will depend in large part, however, not so much upon our purposes, as upon the embodied objective reference implicit in the material structure of the implement, that is, upon the objective connections that hold between the material structure of the can‑opener and the material structure of the cans to be opened.
As with can openers and other such practical implements, so with directions and cries for help. Let us briefly consider the latter, since the former are so closely related to the conceptual maps already discussed. How can we say that cries for help embody implicit objective reference? A cry for help is clearly a purposeful utterance meant to mobilize the action of others. It is certainly not an explicit statement about, or description of, an existent state of affairs. Yet, if it is to serve the purposes for which it is intended, it must point to an objective situation in which an individual is in need. Furthermore, it must, in at least some minimal way, describe that need, if that need is not clearly perceptible. And it must be so formulated as to connect up with ‘the capacities of would‑be helpers. The adequacy of the cry presupposes and implicitly asserts that certain objective conditions obtain, while it seeks to bring into new relationships other individuals who may function so as to aid the one experiencing the need.
Cries for help, just as much as can openers, may fail in their intended purpose ‑- and that, similarly, for many reasons, not the least of which may be that they fail to make adequate reference to the objective situation. One might think of expressions of pain in which the cause is some psychological hurt, but the expression points to a physical injury, as in the case of hysterical paralysis. The help thus mobilized will most likely fail to relieve the pain. But we may be less esoteric in our analysis. Consider the cries of a drowning man. If the danger is caused by a whirlpool, while the cry suggests simply an inability to swim in water over his head, the relief mobilized by the cry may also fail. For example, by bringing to the aid of the endangered person someone who cannot cope with the force of the whirlpool when it might have directed said agency of relief to call upon someone capable of responding adequately to that circumstance.
It should be clear, therefore, the way in which ideas and the expressions to which they often give rise, may embody either explicit or implicit reference to “objective reality.” Likewise, they are also embodied purposes. That is, they are at least conditional plans for action. As a can‑opener is so constructed as to “say” to the one who has access to it that if you wish to open a can, then here I am to do the job in a certain way, so an idea, such as that there are three chairs in a room, says to the one who entertains it that if you wish to do any number of things, then you can expect that these three chairs may be used in a certain number of relevant ways. And as the it essence of the can‑opener is determined by the purposes to which it may be put in virtue of the objective connections that obtain between its material constitution and the rest of the objective world, as we have noted above, so the essence of an idea is similarly determined by this three‑fold relation between the structure of the idea, the purpose of the one who entertains it, and the material structure of that objective reality to which the idea refers.
The essence of an idea, its essential nature, therefore, cannot be appreciated in isolation from the purposes for which it is entertained or the uses to which it can be successfully put. Its essence is better embodied in conditional statements of the If‑Then form than in categorical statements, such as, the essence of a chair is to be sat upon. And it is the same with practical implements. We showed above how can‑openers might be used for many purposes other than those for which they were specifically designed. Their potential uses are only limited by the imagination of the user and by their objective material constitution. In fact, practical cleverness, as well as creative intelligence, often requires precisely such an imaginative reevaluation of the possible uses of available implements and resources. That is one of the major values of creativity whether in art or in do‑it‑yourself endeavors. In the words of William James, essence is teleological in nature, it is a function of the purposes of the experiencer.
As we have noted on several occasions, however, the experiencer is not free to use an implement or idea for any purpose he wishes. “Woe to him whose beliefs play fast and loose with the order which realities follow in his experience. They will lead him nowhere or else make false connections.” (McDermott, p. 432.) The essence may be a function of our intentions, limited only by our imagination, but some purposes are more easily realized than others, and implements or ideas have a range of potential serviceability which is limited by the constraints of material reality. A can opener will not write in ink on paper, or at least not very well; whatever we intend or want to do with it. If ideas are conceptual tools which, as plat‑is for action, involve an implicit or explicit selective mapping of the objective world, they will be limited in their possibilities for successful use by the conditions which objectively hold in that mapped world. A plan for action involves reference to a structured reality as well as to available resources, both material and psychical. The plan is a conditional statement of the form: If I wish to do x, then reality is structured so that by doing a, x will result. If objective reality is not so structured, if the “mapping” of those conditions which it is claimed obtain is not accurate, then it is most probable that the intended action will fail. In fact, the failure of the action would constitute an, at least partial, invalidation of the plan or program. The question as to what part of the plan would be invalidated, its bearing upon the implicit mapping, and the procedures for evaluating those questions, are outside the scope of our present inquiry. We simply wish to emphasize here that the evaluation of the adequacy of an idea must always involve, in addition to a specification of the purposes for which it is being entertained, a consideration of the structure of connections which objectively obtain.
d. Science and Intelligence
By underlining the hypothetical nature of truth claims we can bring out more precisely the relation of science to intelligence. We have shown how the logical evaluation of an idea requires a specifications of: a) the (implied) purposes of its use; b) the range of actions which it implicitly calls forth; and c) the conception of an “objectively real” context which is at least implicitly invoked. For example, if one is to grasp the idea of a ball-point pen, one must have some understanding of: a) the purposes for which such a pen may be used; b) the practical ways in which it may be employed; c) the social situations and natural conditions that make possible its successful use. To be more specific, gravitation facilitates the downward flow of ink onto the page, while the pen will not work well if you are lying on your back and trying to write in the air. In such a situation, therefore, the ball-point pen probably would not be the best writing implement to select – unless the social range of your options was severely limited. Further, the obviousness of this example is itself partly the result of cultural initiation. For the pre-literate people the pen would probably not even be a recognizable or meaningful instrument.
This three‑fold division of the cognitive function of ideas directly parallels the three‑fold nature of hypothetical statements. The “if‑then” nature of the hypothetical involves: a) the “if” of purpose; b) the it then” of means, plans or programs; and c. the “if‑then” relation which points toward a specific mapping of “objective reality.” The hypothetical statement can be taken as saying that: if you seek to accomplish a specific purpose, then you should use these means in accord with this plan, because such and such connections actually obtain in “the real world.” It is the supposed reality of the connections implicitly mapped by the “if‑then” relation which links the means to be employed with the purposes to be attained, thus making intelligent action possible.
Intelligence thus requires as an essential ingredient an adequate mapping of “the real. “ Adequate here means in the most general sense mapping of the connections which actually obtain in the domain in question without regard to the specific purposes to which that knowledge may be put. It is precisely the aim of science, when considered ideally as the impartial and objective search for “truth,” to develop a mapping of “the real” which is maximally free from the biases inevitably involved with any particular human purposes. The “objectivity” of science does not come from its freedom from the limits of perspective, nor from any supposed freedom from the selectivity of human interests and mindscapes. It rather emerges as an ideal of those whose particular interests lie precisely in the aspiration toward the most adequate impartial and general mapping of “the real.” In developing theories and laws which are maximally free from particular human interests and thus most general in scope, science offers human action an invaluable instrument which can serve as the means for linking ideal purposes to practical actions in an indefinite variety of particular circumstances.
The “if‑then” mappings of science do, of course, enshrine a specific language and invoke a mindscape or metaphysics the significance of which remains to be explored.. Nevertheless, the essential relationship between such scientific mappings and intelligence serves to underscore both the potential power of science and the logically instrumental nature of its truth‑claims.
e. Contextuality of Tools
In sum, therefore, the logically instrumental function of statements, claims, and expressions, must be appreciated. As the formulation and application of ideas in an ongoing human experience, they must take into consideration the objective situation within which they are to function. As purposeful utterances, they must also concern themselves with the available materials at the disposal of the inquirer. As practical implements are the formation of the available materials in order to make possible the realization of purposes by embodying at least implicit reference to the objective situation in which they are to be utilized, so conceptual tools should be formulated with reference to the inherited body of ideas and theories, as well as available material resources, within which they are to be understood, responded to, and employed. We will have much more to say about the problems which concern the “inherited body of ideas and theories, “ that is the mindscapes, which constitutes the conceptual framework for the use of conceptual tools, in Chapter IV. What we are concerned to emphasize here, however, is the contextuality of ideas.
An idea no more exists in isolation from other ideas than a word, by which it may be expressed, has meaning apart from a language in which it functions. And both equally implicate an on‑going cultural drama. Apart from such a context, the word is a meaningless ejaculation, and the idea at best hardly more than a vague conjurie of images, if even that. If such images are to be shaped into anything meaningful, they must constitute a specific organization of the extant meanings embodied in the culture. We can perhaps concretize these remarks about ideas by looking once again at the situation as it pertains to practical implements.
What good is a sewing needle in a culture without thread? Or a can‑opener in a culture without cans? Not only would the implement not be an implement in such a context, since it would have no function; it would almost certainly never have been developed. It probably would never even have been thought of. The same would hold for the idea of personal identity and the related concern with an “identity crisis” in a culture of “eternally” fixed statuses and roles in a pre‑determined and unquestioned social hierarchy, as perhaps, among the ancient Egyptians of the third millennium.
Furthermore, when implements are developed, they emerge out of a context in which a need is felt for the doing of certain kinds of tasks. Tile implement constitutes a specific organization of the materials at hand which is essentially consonant with the level of technology of the culture. This level of technology determines in crucial ways the possibilities for the development of implements as it determines what can be done with the available physical materials. Uranium is not much of a material resource for a civilization which has not the technological capacity for developing nuclear energy. And a nuclear reactor is not a possible tool in a civilization which lacks the complex technical capacities of a developing industrial society.
In short, a complex relationship holds between the materials available, the level of technology which determines whether those materials can become resources for the realization of human purposes, and the ability of the society to develop tools which will “work.” (Until twenty years ago, for example, natural gas was not conceived of as an energy source, but was rather an unusable by‑product of the production of petroleum which was burned off in the process.
The development of technology makes possible, however, the production of increasingly more sophisticated tools which may be designed to perform ever more refined and specialized tasks. The present day auto mechanic has available to him a far larger range of specified tools to do a far greater range of complex repair operations on automobiles with far more ease and proficiency than was possible twenty years ago. The present set of tools, however, may be less suitable for employment for purposes other than those for which they were specifically designed. The mechanic is thus increasingly dependent upon a sophisticated tool‑making industry for the production of the highly specialized tools that he requires to work efficiently upon the highly specialized products which are present‑day automobiles.
In general, the increase in material well‑being is a function of the development of a complex and highly specialized technology which has made both possible and necessary the production of an increasingly more sophisticated arsenal of practical implements. This arsenal of implements has necessitated the development of complex industries whose sole concern is their production. Furthermore, the practical success of the tool‑user in producing and repairing the products of primary use so important to the maintenance of our present (and hopefully advancing) level of material wellbeing, is increasingly dependent upon the capabilities of the “industry” which makes, appraises, and redesigns those tools. It is very important that those necessary tools be produced to the required specifications.
However important may be the job‑to‑be‑done in determining the tools‑to‑be‑produced, an important relationship of reciprocity must be noted. For the level of technology effects in turn the tools which can be produced and the materials which can be used. This significantly effects the kind of jobs which can be done. The relationship is, therefore, circular, though not viciously so. We simply cannot do -- and hardly even imagine ‑‑ jobs to be done which the present stage of technology does not make at least remotely possible.
As with practical implements, so again with conceptual tools. The latter are dependent upon the level of conceptual sophistication of a culture, their available “stock” of ideas, values, and ‘theories. The level is, in turn, conditioned by the goals or purposes of the individuals of the culture. Not only do poorly designed conceptual tools lead us to botch the job to be done, but many jobs will not even be thought of because the available conceptual resources do not suggest their possibility. For example, in a capitalist society the idea that a social system could be organized and operated in accordance with the Marxist principle of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need, “ tends to be ruled out in advance as, at best, an impossible utopian romantic dream. It is hardly even conceivable within the conceptual parameters of capitalist theory. And so with many other Marxist or socialist ideas.
We are not concerned to argue here for the “truth” or workability of Marxist theory. We seek, rather, simply to point out how the very structure of thinking, both expressed through and determined by capitalist theory, tends to make many Marxist ideas hardly worth serious consideration as possible guides to social practice. The theoretical framework of capitalist economics has developed a wide range of highly sophisticated ideas which are designed to “understand” and direct the possibilities of development in world society. The “science” of Economics may be thought of as an industry which produces both the individuals and the conceptual tools by which the capitalist economy is justified and managed—with differing degrees of success. The structure of this science reciprocally influences the goals which may be sought and the means which may be employed. It simply leaves little or no place for a meaningful use of ideas which do not fit within its accepted theoretical framework.
We will return to a more detailed consideration of the general problem of theoretical frameworks later (Chapter IV). Our concern here is to clarify the problems involved in the production, appraisal, and redesign of conceptual tools. Our discussion so far has been at pains to point out that the development of material technology is dependent in large part upon the development of conceptual tools which chart out a domain of possible actions in accord with a specific understanding of the structure of the objective world which they map. As the development of material well‑being is dependent upon the development of such tool‑making industries, so the development of that technology is also dependent upon the development of the conceptual tools and the conceptual tool‑making, appraising, and redesigning ~’industries” without which our conceptual mapping of human possibilities would be extremely limited, to say the least.
f. Conceptual Tool‑making, Appraising, and Redesigning
The upshot of our discussion so far is that the primary task of philosophy ought to be the making, critically appraising, and, when appropriate, imaginatively re‑designing of the conceptual tools available to a culture. The philosophic profession would then be seen as an “industry” which has this as its major task. As there are an indefinite number of purposes which individuals and groups in a culture may be seeking to realize at any particular time, and thus a wide variety of practical implements to be employed in those varied tasks, similarly there are a wide variety of conceptual tools of differing degrees of specialization and sophistication which are involved in that cultural process. Thus philosophers might take a more narrow or‑ a more broad approach to their central task depending upon the area of their primary concern. They might study, as they have in the past, the conceptual tools used in such ordinary activities as law, morals, religion, art, natural and social science, politics, and economics. They have also sought to understand the underlying continuities which may link together several or all of these fields, going so far as to aim at a comprehensive grasp of the basic structure of the thought of a culture as a whole. Even more ambitiously still, some have sought to formulate a cross‑culturally valid theory of the nature of experience -- a fundamental ontology or metaphysic -- thus hoping to reveal the trans‑historical essence of Objective Reality itself. Each and all of these tasks can be legitimate activities for philosophers to pursue.
The point in question here, however, is that people in the ordinary course of their daily existence use ideas in order to organize, understand, and control ‑‑ in short to make more “meaningful, “ significant, and satisfactory -- their life experience. The ideas or conceptual tools which they employ are almost invariably those which have been the legacy of former generations to them. Such a legacy tends in the main to be accepted by any generation of idea‑users. The adequacy of such tools to do the jobs for which they are being employed, as well as the very desirability of doing those jobs themselves, is generally part of the “taken‑ for‑ granted” stock of “knowledge” of a culture at any specific period. The average person usually does not subject to sustained critical scrutiny the conceptual tools in terms of’ which he lives his life. If something goes wrong in the flow of his activities, he will usually engage in limited reflection, rarely going much beyond a consideration of the practical implements available to “patch‑up” the problems so that he may resume his daily round. The same is generally true, only at a somewhat higher level of sophistication, with the practical professions, even including the sciences. Usually, it is only at the most theoretically advanced levels of scientific inquiry that the concern shifts toward a critical evaluation of the very nature, structure, and function of the conceptual tools which themselves are being used in their investigations of Reality. At that point, science has tended to merge with philosophy as we understand it.
Historically, however, a separation has developed between the technical reflection which is carried out within the given confines of a knowledge industry, such as the “science of economics, “ and the philosophical reflection which may emerge on the outer limits of scientific advance. It is the latter, we are arguing, which it should be the task of professional philosophers to pursue systematically. Unfortunately, all too often the activity of professional philosophers has hardly differed from such technical reflection, limiting itself to a refinement of conceptual tools without critical consideration of the mindscape which they implicate and the purposes which they serve.
Encased within our use of the word “industry” to describe the professional organization of philosophers is precisely this crucial ambiguity. Is philosophy “organized diligence” which may but need not be carried on by a body of individuals who are professionally trained? Or is it an activity carried on solely by such “professionals” within the institutionally predetermined confines of the profession, and often within the belief and value systems to which the culture is heir?
It should be abundantly clear by now that we believe that the activity of philosophy must not be circumscribed by any fixed belief or value system, nor by any established institutional life‑forms. Philosophy is either a self-consciously critical and open‑ended activity in the service of a developing vision of human well‑being or it is but a hired hand of vested interests, that is, an ideology. We will return to this question of the relation of philosophy to ideology in the next chapter. Here we wish only to underscore this crucial difference between the normal function of tool‑making industries, including those which engage in the technical reflection which refines conceptual tools, and the unique role of philosophy as the critical moment in the daily activity of individuals and cultures. This philosophical role holds regardless of whether it is considered as the activity of professional philosophers or of ordinary people.
In sum, cultures need continually to investigate, evaluate, appraise, and possibly innovatively redesign,, the ideas in terms of which their daily business is carried on. In fact, at times of sustained crisis, such investigations might well become a necessity of survival. (The fact that I believe such to be the case with our present culture is a consideration whose investigation lies beyond the scope of this work.) While an economy needs tool‑making industries simply to resupply tools for the productive processes as the original ones wear out, as well as to produce new and different tools, to do new tasks, a conceptual‑tool making industry is not necessary to resupply a culture with ideas as the old ones wear out from use. It requires only an it educational” establishment to transmit the old ideas to new subjects. It is, however, a continual necessity for any culture which is undergoing fairly rapid change ‑ and especially so for any culture whose basic institutions and values are coming into question ‑ ‑ to develop new ideas to meet the changing circumstances, and thus to be able to give direction to the new ways of living which are emerging. Thus such an “industry” is an essential need of practically all cultures as we know them ‑ especially of “advanced” societies. (The Stone Age Tasaday tribe recently discovered in the Mindinao rainforest in the Philippines seems to be an example of a culture which doesn’t have and hasn’t needed such an “industry”—at least not until they were “discovered.”)
We might summarize what we are saying by calling professional philosophy a second‑order disciplined activity in the sense in which it is a universally applicable conceptual tool‑making, appraising, and redesigning “industry. “ By this we mean that philosophy as a systematic activity of professionals does not usually employ its ideas directly in daily experience. Its task is rather to investigate ideas which others employ in their experience. Thus, while an essential moment in the practice of a culture, professional philosophical activity does not itself ‑practically use the ideas it investigates any more than a practical tool‑making industry puts to actual practical use the tools it produces. The latter industry produce -- and perhaps even designs -- tools in accord with specifications developed by those who need the tools for practical use. As the latter industry is removed from the practical use of the tools which it produces, so the work of professional philosophy is to be distinguished from the concrete uses to which others will put the ideas which it explores. This is in part what John Dewey had in mind when he said that philosophy is criticism: Criticism of the conceptual tools practically used in the daily life of a culture.
Systematic philosophical investigations, therefore, generally take place away from the on‑going concerns of practical life. While their major concern should be to feed such concerns, to critically evaluate the tools which are being employed so as to enable the concrete life activity of human beings to be reconstituted and enriched, the enterprise of professional philosophy as a discipline is not itself in this sense a practical activity! As professionals, philosophers do not do anything with most of the tools they critically appraise and redesign. They simply offer them to others so that others may have better conceptual tools with which to guide their activity. It is important to emphasize however that philosophical reflection is not limited to the activity of professionals. While professionals may be needed to preserve and develop the tradition, to sharpen the “tools of the trade, “ and to subject the values and practices of a civilization to systematic scrutiny, every mature adult may and should be a philosopher. By that we mean that his every day practice should be informed by a critical sensitivity to the values and beliefs at stake as well as to the adequacy of the available conceptual tools and their implied mindscape. We will return to this problem of the relation of philosoph3r to the profession at the end of Chapter IV.
g. Some Limitations to the Analogy
In this chapter we have tried to show that ideas are best thought of as conceptual tools. The idea‑tool analogy has been used systematically to reveal the nature and function of ideas. We have thus sought to clarify the nature of philosophy as an “industry” whose basic concern is the production, critical appraisal, and imaginative redesign of the ideas in use in a culture. Subject to the limitations involved in the use of the word “industry” noted above, philosophy may be seen in part as a second‑order activity whose concern is not with the immediate use of conceptual tools, but rather with an analysis of the adequacy of their design for the purposes for which they will be used. As the critical and self-critical moment in practical activity, philosophy must further concern itself with reflection upon the purposes to which the available or potential conceptual tools are to be put. [Of this other dimension of philosophy we will have much more to say later in Chapters IV and V. ]
In our discussion oil conceptual tools it was important to single out one specific kind of tool for separate consideration, namely maps. Conceptual mappings, like ordinary maps, are instruments which embody a much more explicit referential dimension then have the usual run of tools. While most practical instruments are only referential by implication, as was discussed above, maps make claim to explicit referential value in accord with some selective interpretive “key” or schema. And so it is with ideas. All too often ideas have been treated as if they were totally or even mostly simply close approximations to perfect mappings of domains of Reality. But as many contemporary philosophers have shown (e.g., Wittgenstein, the Existentialists, and the Pragmatists) that is rarely their most important or usual function. Most ideas and companion expressions are means of communication, expressions of sentiment, and instruments in the facilitation of joint activity. Still they seem always to carry at least an implicit referential dimension. Certain ideas, however, do make their referential dimension predominant, in descriptions and explanations, for example, and these ideas constitute a special and highly important realm of conceptual tools. This is the realm at stake in the discussion of conceptual mappings. Conceptual maps also have instrumental and communicative dimensions, and are subject to all the strictures governing selective expression. But it is to such tools, we argued, that the question of truth most adequately applies, and then only fully in the context of the conceptual system within which such mappings take place. It is to a more detailed discussion of the problems involved in such conceptual systems that we shall turn in our fourth chapter. There are, however, two other important aspects of the idea‑tool analogy that must first be underscored.
All too often the idea‑tool analogy proceeds upon the implicit assumption that tools are instruments for individual use alone. But some of the most important tools available in our culture, such as the nuclear reactors discussed above, are tools which can neither be produced nor used by a single individual, as might a can opener. (In fact, the latter also is rarely if ever produced individually, though it is almost always so used.) In short, there are social, as well as individual, tools. And so it is with ideas. While the locus of ideas in the primary instance is “in the mind” of some single person, the origin, meaning, and use of the idea rarely is. At best, creative individuals rearrange, or imaginatively re‑design, the ideas which are handed down to them by the culture in which they are more or less integrated participants. As with practical instruments or technology, so with ideas, they have a history and are embedded in the processes of a culture. Even more than with tools, ideas are essentially social by nature. We simply must not lose sight of this social dimension of our conceptual tools. They constitute perhaps the most essential legacy offered by culture to us for the meaningful organization and direction of our lives. Our discussion in the fourth chapter of the system in which our conceptual “technology” is embedded must be given its due importance.
Secondly, it is important to pay some explicit attention to the most obvious disanalogy in the relationship between tools and ideas. Tools in the usual parlance are material instruments, while ideas, whatever else they are, are not material instruments. Tools can be seen, heard, tasted, touched, smelled, and most directly grasped and handled. Ideas cannot. The central locus of ideas is “in the mind” of the experiencer, whatever one may mean by that expression. It is not part of our present concern to inquire into the nature of mental activity, its relation to the brain and the central nervous system, in short, the so‑called “mind‑body problem.” Let us for the present simply accept this division at face value. While tools are material implements in the objective material world, ideas are conceptual instruments in the mental world. They are meanings, not objective physical existences, however much they may be dependent upon material conditions, such as brains, for their specific reality.
To say that ideas are mental existences is to say that they cannot be “seen, “ or be sensed directly, by others. We note the existence of mentality in others indirectly, by inferences from the way they act: from the obvious purposefulness of their behavior. And similarly, they with us. We have no direct access into the mind of the other save for unproved speculations about mental telepathy. To evaluate the ideas of another is to interrogate what they “say” and how they act in the objective world around us. And similarly with the ideas of a culture. We can only appraise the adequacy of an idea or group of ideas by the way in which it succeeds in facilitating the plans and programs of an individual or a group. Both its presence, its structure, and function can only be grasped inferentially.
In pointing out this obvious disanalogy between conceptual and material tools we are concerned to underline the fact that ideas are not therefore limited in the possibilities of their appearance to the material constraints which are evidently placed upon practical instruments by the level of technical and material development of a civilization. The range of the conceivable far surpasses the range of the materially possible, not to say practicable. The mind is free to wander in wonder throughout the realm of the conceivable, in wish, fantasy, and imagination, far beyond the realm of the possible. It is certainly not even bound to the “problematic” in any narrow sense. This can be both liberating and disillusioning depending upon its concrete relation to lived experience. It is thus especially important for the products of thought to be subject to careful critical scrutiny before they become transformed into concrete plans and programs. Thus follows the dual role of philosophy: to liberate the mind from encrusted modes of thinking so that it will be free to consider alternative tools and programs; and to subject such liberal speculation to detailed critical appraisal before, during, and after it is acted upon. We will have more to say about these speculative and analytical modes of philosophy and the dialectic of purpose which they implicate in Chapters IV and V.
Finally, we should note that the division between practical implements and conceptual tools is at the extreme a bit forced. Practical implements, technology in its widest sense, can make no sense and be of no use to human beings apart from the presence of ideas about its nature and possible use. A tool is not a tool, but only a material object, apart from the presence of a mind for which it is a tool -- that is, a mind which can see its structure as a potential function for the realization of some purpose. Practical maps are not maps for a being who cannot “read” them, anymore than can‑openers are can‑openers for one who does not know how to use them. On the other hand, ideas may become nothing more than expressions of sentiment and empty wishes without effective conceptual and practical relationships to material implements which can serve as their means for the realization of purposes. Any attempt totally to separate practical implements and conceptual tools is to make nonsense out of both. They are rather complementary dimensions of a conscious purposeful being’s effort to make sense out of and achieve satisfaction in its life..
Chapter 2: Philosophy and Reflection
“ ‘ . . I want to write on knowing as the way of behaving in which linguistic artifacts transact business with physical artifacts, tools, implements, apparatus, both kinds being planned for the purpose and rendering ingui of necessity an experimental transaction. . .
(Dewey, in a letter to Bentley.)
“Knowledge of special conditions and relations is instrumental to the action which is in turn an instrument of production of situations having qualities of added significance and order.”
(Dewey, The Quest for Certainty)
That the subject matter of an experience of knowing, while the knowing is in progress, is such as to arouse search for some other experience, but that every conclusion reached after active search is experienced as a finding of what has been searched for and in so far has esthetic quality.”
(Dewey, “Experience, Nature and Value.”)
... since reflection is the instrumentality of securing freer and more enduring goods, reflection is a unique intrinsic good. Its instrumental efficacy determines it to be a candidate for a distinctive position as an immediate good, since beyond other goods it has power of replenishment and fructification.”
(Dewey, Experience and Nature.)
“The programmatic theory of intelligence means that the function of mind is to project new and more complex ends—to free experience from routine and from caprice.”
(Dewey, “The Need for a Recovery of Philosophy.”)