Category Archives: Analyses

Phenomenological Approaches to Self-Consciousness (Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy

(First published Sat Feb 19, 2005; substantive revision Wed Dec 24, 2014)

On the phenomenological view, a minimal form of self-consciousness is a constant structural feature of conscious experience. Experience happens for the experiencing subject in an immediate way and as part of this immediacy, it is implicitly marked as my experience. For phenomenologists, this immediate and first-personal givenness of experiential phenomena is accounted for in terms of a pre-reflective self-consciousness. In the most basic sense of the term, self-consciousness is not something that comes about the moment one attentively inspects or reflectively introspects one’s experiences, or recognizes one’s specular image in the mirror, or refers to oneself with the use of the first-person pronoun, or constructs a self-narrative. Rather, these different kinds of self-consciousness are to be distinguished from the pre-reflective self-consciousness which is present whenever I am living through or undergoing an experience, i.e., whenever I am consciously perceiving the world, whenever I am thinking an occurrent thought, whenever I am feeling sad or happy, thirsty or in pain, and so forth.

1. Pre-reflective self-consciousness

One can get a bearing on the notion of pre-reflective self-consciousness by contrasting it with reflective self-consciousness. If you ask me to give you a description of the pain I feel in my right foot, or of what I was just thinking about, I would reflect on it and thereby take up a certain perspective that was one order removed from the pain or the thought. Thus, reflective self-consciousness is at least a second-order cognition. It may be the basis for a report on one’s experience, although not all reports involve a significant amount of reflection.

In contrast, pre-reflective self-consciousness is pre-reflective in the sense that (1) it is an awareness we have before we do any reflecting on our experience; (2) it is an implicit and first-order awareness rather than an explicit or higher-order form of self-consciousness. Indeed, an explicit reflective self-consciousness is possible only because there is a pre-reflective self-awareness that is an on-going and more primary self-consciousness. Although phenomenologists do not always agree on important questions about method, focus, or even whether there is an ego or self, they are in close to unanimous agreement about the idea that the experiential dimension always involves such an implicit pre-reflective self-awareness.[1] In line with Edmund Husserl (1959, 189, 412), who maintains that consciousness always involves a self-appearance (Für-sich-selbst-erscheinens), and in agreement with Michel Henry (1963, 1965), who notes that experience is always self-manifesting, and with Maurice Merleau-Ponty who states that consciousness is always given to itself and that the word ‘consciousness’ has no meaning independently of this self-givenness (Merleau-Ponty 1945, 488), Jean-Paul Sartre writes that pre-reflective self-consciousness is not simply a quality added to the experience, an accessory; rather, it constitutes the very mode of being of the experience:

This self-consciousness we ought to consider not as a new consciousness, but as the only mode of existence which is possible for a consciousness of something (Sartre 1943, 20 [1956, liv]).
The notion of pre-reflective self-awareness is related to the idea that experiences have a subjective ‘feel’ to them, a certain (phenomenal) quality of ‘what it is like’ or what it ‘feels’ like to have them. As it is usually expressed outside of phenomenological texts, to undergo a conscious experience necessarily means that there is something it is like for the subject to have that experience (Nagel 1974; Searle 1992). This is obviously true of bodily sensations like pain. But it is also the case for perceptual experiences, experiences of desiring, feeling, and thinking. There is something it is like to taste chocolate, and this is different from what it is like to remember what it is like to taste chocolate, or to smell vanilla, to run, to stand still, to feel envious, nervous, depressed or happy, or to entertain an abstract belief. Yet, at the same time, as I live through these differences, there is something experiential that is, in some sense, the same, namely, their distinct first-personal character. All the experiences are characterized by a quality of mineness or for-me-ness, the fact that it is I who am having these experiences. All the experiences are given (at least tacitly) as my experiences, as experiences I am undergoing or living through. All of this suggests that first-person experience presents me with an immediate and non-observational access to myself, and that (phenomenal) consciousness consequently entails a (minimal) form of self-consciousness. In short, unless a mental process is pre-reflectively self-conscious there will be nothing it is like to undergo the process, and it therefore cannot be a phenomenally conscious process (Zahavi 1999, 2005, 2014). An implication of this is obviously that the self-consciousness in question can be ascribed to all creatures that are phenomenally conscious, including various non-human animals.

The mineness in question is not a quality like being scarlet, sour or soft. It doesn’t refer to a specific experiential content, to a specific what; nor does it refer to the diachronic or synchronic sum of such content, or to some other relation that might obtain between the contents in question. Rather, it refers to the distinct givenness or the how it feels of experience. It refers to the first-personal presence or character of experience. It refers to the fact that the experiences I am living through are given differently (but not necessarily better) to me than to anybody else. It could consequently be claimed that anybody who denies the for-me-ness of experience simply fails to recognize an essential constitutive aspect of experience. Such a denial would be tantamount to a denial of the first-person perspective. It would entail the view that my own mind is either not given to me at all — I would be mind- or self-blind — or is presented to me in exactly the same way as the minds of others.

There are also lines of argumentation in contemporary analytical philosophy of mind that are close to and consistent with the phenomenological conception of pre-reflective self-awareness. Alvin Goldman provides an example:

[Consider] the case of thinking about x or attending to x. In the process of thinking about x there is already an implicit awareness that one is thinking about x. There is no need for reflection here, for taking a step back from thinking about x in order to examine it…When we are thinking about x, the mind is focused on x, not on our thinking of x. Nevertheless, the process of thinking about x carries with it a non-reflective self-awareness (Goldman 1970, 96).
A similar view has been defended by Owen Flanagan, who not only argues that consciousness involves self-consciousness in the weak sense that there is something it is like for the subject to have the experience, but also speaks of the low-level self-consciousness involved in experiencing my experiences as mine (Flanagan 1992, 194). As Flanagan quite correctly points out, this primary type of self-consciousness should not be confused with the much stronger notion of self-consciousness that is in play when we are thinking about our own narrative self. The latter form of reflective self-consciousness presupposes both conceptual knowledge and narrative competence. It requires maturation and socialization, and the ability to access and issue reports about the states, traits, dispositions that make one the person one is. Bermúdez (1998), to mention one further philosopher in the analytic tradition, argues that there are a variety of nonconceptual forms of self-consciousness that are “logically and ontogenetically more primitive than the higher forms of self-consciousness that are usually the focus of philosophical debate” (1998, 274; also see Poellner 2003). This growing consensus across philosophical studies supports the phenomenological view of pre-reflective self-consciousness.

That pre-reflective self-awareness is implicit, then, means that I am not confronted with a thematic or explicit awareness of the experience as belonging to myself. Rather we are dealing with a non-observational self-acquaintance. Here is how Heidegger and Sartre put the point:


The body provides not only the egocentric spatial framework for orientation towards the world, but also the constitutive contribution of its mobility. Perception does not involve a passive reception, but an active exploration of the environment. Husserl calls attention to the importance of bodily movements (the movements of the eye, manipulations by the hand, the locomotion of the body, etc.) for the experience of space and spatial objects. He further claims that perception is correlated to and accompanied by proprioceptive-kinaesthetic self-sensation or self-affection (Husserl 1973c). Every visual or tactile appearance is given in correlation to a kinaesthetic experience. When I touch a shaped surface, it is given in conjunction with a sensation of finger movements. When I watch the flight of a bird, the moving bird is given in conjunction with the kinaesthetic sensations of eye movement and perhaps neck movement. Such kinaesthetic activation during perception produces an implicit and pervasive reference to one’s own body. The implicit self-awareness of the actual and possible movements of my body helps shape the experience that I have of the world. To be clear, however, bodily self-awareness is not an awareness of the body in isolation from the world; it is embedded in action and perception. We do not first become aware of the body and subsequently use it to engage with the world. We experience the world bodily, and the body is revealed to us in our exploration of the world. Primarily, the body attains self-awareness in action (or in our dispositions to action, or in our action possibilities) when it relates to something, uses something, or moves through the world.[4]

Bodily self-awareness, like self-consciousness more generally, has limitations. I am never fully aware of everything that is going on with my body. Indeed, my body tends to efface itself as I perceive and act in the world. When I jump to catch a ball that is thrown over my head, I certainly have a sense of what I can do, but I am not aware of my precise movements or postures—for example, that my right leg bends at a certain angle as I reach with my left hand. I can execute movements without being explicitly conscious of them, and even what I am tacitly aware of is somewhat limited—for example, I am not aware of the shape of my grasp as I reach to grab the ball. Although I may not be aware of certain details about my bodily performance, this does not mean however that I am unconscious of my body. Rather it means that the way that I am aware of my body is fully integrated with the intentional action that I am performing. I know that I am jumping to catch the ball, and implicit in that, as an immediate sense rather than an inference, is the experience of my body jumping to catch the ball. Furthermore, experiential aspects of my embodiment permeate my pre-reflective self-consciousness. There is something it is like to jump to catch a ball, and part of what it is like is that I am in fact jumping. There is something different to what it is like to sit and imagine (or remember) myself jumping to catch the ball, and at least part of that difference has to do with the fact that I am sitting rather than jumping, although none of this may be explicit in my experience.

Another way to think of this is to consider the sense of agency that is normally an aspect of pre-reflective self-awareness in action. If, as I am walking down the street, I am pushed from behind, I am instantly aware of my body moving in a way that I did not intend. The fact that I feel a loss of control over my actions suggests that there had been an implicit sense of agency or control in my walking prior to being pushed. In voluntary action, I experience the movements of my body as my own actions, and this is replaced by a feeling of loss of bodily control in the case of involuntary movement. Voluntary actions feel different from involuntary actions, and this difference depends respectively, on the experience of agency or the experience of a lack of agency—as the case may be if my body is being moved by someone else.

5. Social forms of self-consciousness
A focus on embodied self-experience inevitably leads to a decisive widening of the discussion. The externality of embodiment puts me, and my actions, in the public sphere. Self-consciousness involves not only an ability to make reflective judgments about our own beliefs and desires but also includes a sense of embodied agency. I am, as Paul Ricoeur (1950, 56–57) points out, conscious of being the author of my actions, and this kind of awareness often comes about as my actions are reflected in the presence of others. I can become aware of myself through the eyes of other people, and this can happen in a number of different ways. Thus, embodiment brings intersubjectivity and sociality into the picture, and draws attention to the question of how certain forms of self-consciousness are intersubjectively mediated, and may depend on one’s social relations to others. My awareness of myself as one person among others, an awareness that I may frame from the perspective of others, attempting to see myself as they see me, involves a change in the attitude of self-consciousness. Within this attitude, judgments that I make about myself are constrained by social expectations and cultural values. This kind of social self-consciousness is always contextualized, as I try to understand how I appear to others, both in the way I look, and in the meaning of my actions. I find myself in specific contexts, with specific capabilities and dispositions, habits and convictions, and I express myself in a way that is reflected off of others, in relevant (socially defined) roles through my language and my actions.

The role of the other in this mode of self-consciousness is not unessential. According to Husserl, I become aware of myself specifically as a human person only in such intersubjective relations (Husserl 1973b, 175; 1952, 204–05; see Hart 1992, 71; Zahavi 1999, 157ff. Also see Taylor 1989, 34–36 for a similar idea). Thus Husserl distinguishes the subject taken in its bare formality from the personalized subject and claims that the origin and status of being a person must be located in the social dimension. I am not simply a pure and formal subject of experience, but also a person, with abilities, dispositions, habits, interests, character traits, and convictions, and to focus exclusively on the first is to engage in an abstraction (Husserl 1968, 210). Given the right conditions and circumstances, the self acquires a personalizing self-apprehension, i.e., it develops into a person and as a person (cf. Husserl 1952, 265). And this development depends heavily upon social interaction (Husserl 1973b, 170–171).

This kind of self-consciousness is also the occasion for a self-alienation, famously explicated by Sartre in terms of the other’s gaze. For Sartre, because “our being, along with its being-for-itself, is also for-others; the being which is revealed to the reflective consciousness is for-itself-for-others” (1956, 282). On this view, the primary experience of the other is not that I perceive her as some kind of object in which I must find a person, but I perceive the other as a subject who perceives me as an object. My experience of the other is at the same time an experience that involves my own self-consciousness, a self-consciousness in which I am pre-reflectively aware that I am an object for another. This experience can further motivate a reflective self-consciousness, as I consider how I must appear to the other.

Merleau-Ponty (1945, 415) suggests that the other’s gaze can motivate this kind of self-consciousness only if I already have a sense of my own visibility to the other. This sense of my own visibility, however, is immediately linked with the pre-reflective, proprioceptive-kinaesthetic sense of my body, an insight that goes back to Husserl’s analysis (mentioned above), through Merleau-Ponty, who sees its connection to the infant’s capability for imitation, and forward to more recent advances in developmental psychology (see Merleau-Ponty, 1945, 165, 404-405; 2010; Gallagher and Zahavi 2008; Zahavi 1999, 171–72). In effect, we find ourselves related to others through self-conscious experience that is motivated by the other’s gaze.

This is not the place to enter into a detailed discussion of these rich and complex issues, issues that extend to analyses of phenomena such as empathy, shame, guilt, and so on (see Zahavi 2010, 2014). But it is important to realize that self-consciousness is a multifaceted concept. It is not something that can be exhaustively analyzed simply by examining the inner workings of the mind.

6. Conclusion

The notion of self-consciousness has been the subject of a rich and complex analysis in the phenomenological tradition. Aspects of the phenomenological analysis also show up in other areas of research, including feminism (Stawarska 2006; Young 2005; Heinämaa 2003), ecological psychology (Gibson 1966), and recent analyses of enactive perception (Noë 2004; Thompson 2008). The recognition of the existence of a primitive form of pre-reflective self-consciousness is an important starting point for an understanding of more elaborate forms of self-consciousness that are concept- and language-dependent. Phenomenological analyses show these processes to be more than purely mental or cognitive events since they integrally involve embodiment and intersubjective dimensions.

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Your Children are not Your Children


They are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

Kahlil Gibran, 1923, 1973.

On Death and What Comes Next by Terry Pratchett

When Death met the philosopher, the philosopher said, rather excitedly: “At this point, you realise, I’m both dead and not dead.”

There was a sigh from Death. Oh dear, one of those, he thought. This is going to be about quantum again. He hated dealing with philosophers. They always tried to wriggle out of it.

“You see,” said the philosopher, while Death, motionless, watched the sands of his life drain through the hourglass, “everything is made of tiny particles, which have the strange property of being in many places at one time. But things made of tiny particles tend to stay in one place at one time, which does not seem right according to quantum theory. May I continue?”

YES, BUT NOT INDEFINITELY, said Death, EVERYTHING IS TRANSIENT. He did not take his gaze away from the tumbling sand.

“Well, then, if we agreed that there are an infinite number of universes, then the problem is solved! If there are an unlimited number of universes, this bed can be in millions of them, all at the same time!”



Death nodded at the bed. CAN YOU FEEL IT MOVING? he said.

“No, because there are a million versions of me, too, And…here is the good bit …in some of them I am not about to pass away! Anything is possible!”

Death tapped the handle of his scythe as he considered this.


“Well, I’m not exactly dying, correct? You are no longer such a certainty.”

There was a sigh from Death. Space he thought. That was the trouble. It was never like this on worlds with everlastingly cloudy skies. But once humans saw all that space, their brains expanded to try and fill it up.

“No answer, eh?” said the dying philosopher. “Feel a bit old-fashioned, do we?”

THIS IS A CONUNDRUM CERTAINLY, said Death. Once they prayed, he thought. Mind you, he’d never been sure that prayer worked, either. He thought for a while. AND I SHALL ANSWER IT IN THIS MANNER, he added. YOU LOVE YOUR WIFE?



“Yes. Of course.”


“Certainly not!”


“But of course we can make choices between-“


“Was that sarcasm?”


“Oh, come on! I know what you’re implying, and I’ve never believed in any of that Heaven and Hell nonsense!”

The room was growing darker. The blue gleam along the edge of the reaper’s scythe was becoming more obvious.


Fighting for breath, the philosopher managed to say: “Don’t be silly.”


“We’ve certainly escaped from outmoded superstitions!”


He leaned forward.


“Oh, yes,” said the philosopher.

GOOD, said Death. He got to his feet as the last of the light died, and smiled.


10 experiments on the power of nonsexual touch in relationship building

1. Touch for money

A well-timed touch can encourage other people to return a lost item. In one experiment, users of a phone booth who were touched were more likely to return a lost dime to an experimenter (Kleinke, 1977). The action was no more than a light touch on the arm. People will do more than that though; people will give a bigger tip to a waitress who has touched them (Crusco & Wetzel, 1984).

2. Touch for help

People are also more likely to provide help when touched. In one study, strangers who were touched lightly on the arm were more likely to help an experimenter pick up things they had dropped (Gueguen, 2003). The percentage of people who helped went up from 63% to 90%.

3. Touch for compliance

The power of a light touch on the upper arm often extends more broadly to compliance. In a study by Willis and Hamm (1980), participants were asked to sign a petition. While 55% of those not touched agreed to sign it, this went up to 81% of those participants touched once on the upper arm. A second study asked people to fill in a questionnaire. The same touch increased compliance from 40% to 70%.

4. Touch twice for more compliance

And you can increase compliance with a second light touch on the arm. Vaidis and Halimi-Falkowicz (2008) tried this out when asking people in the street to complete a questionnaire. Those touched twice were more likely to complete the questionnaire than those touched once. The effects were strongest when men were touched by a female surveyor.

5. Or, touch for a fight!

However, the acceptability of touch, especially between men, depends a lot on culture. When Dolinski (2010) carried out a compliance experiment in Poland, he got quite different results for men and women. In Poland men asked to do the experimenter a favour reacted badly to a light touch on the arm. This seemed to be related to higher levels of homophobia. Women, however, still reacted positively to touch.

6. Touch to sell your car

Unlike Poland, France has a contact culture and touching is acceptable between two men. French researchers Erceau and Gueguen (2007) approached random men at a second-hand car market. Half were touched lightly on the arm for 1 second, the other half weren’t. Afterwards those who had been touched rated the seller as more sincere, friendly, honest, agreeable and kind. Not bad for a 1 second touch. We can safely assume the results would have been quite different in Poland!

7. Touch for a date

You won’t be surprised to hear that men show more interest in a woman who has lightly touched them. But here’s the research anyway: Gueguen (2010) found men easily misinterpreted a light nonsexual touch on the arm as a show of sexual interest. Perhaps more surprisingly women also responded well to a light touch on the arm when being asked for their phone number by a man in the street (Gueguen, 2007). This may be because women associated a light 1 or 2 second touch with greater dominance.

8. Touch for power

Touch communicates something vital about power relationships. Henley (1973) observed people in a major city as they went about their daily business. The people who tended to touch others (versus those being touched) were usually higher status. Generally we regard people who touch others as having more power in society (Summerhayes & Suchner, 1978).

9. Touch to communicate

Touch comes in many different forms and can communicate a variety of different emotions. Just how much can be communicated through touch alone is demonstrated by one remarkable study by Hertenstein et al. (2006). Using only a touch on the forearm, participants in this study tried to communicate 12 separate emotions to another person. The receiver, despite not being able to see the toucher, or the touch itself, were pretty accurate for anger, fear, disgust, love, gratitude and sympathy. Accuracy ranged from 48% to 83%. To put it in context, that is as good as we can do when we can see someone’s face.

10. Massage for maths

So, if you can do all that with a touch, imagine what you could do with a massage. Well, one study has found that it can boost your maths skills (Field, 1996). Compared with a control group, participants who received massages twice a week for 5 weeks were not only more relaxed but also did better on a maths test.

‘Private Language’. Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy. First published Fri Jul 26, 1996; substantive revision Tue Sep 2, 2014.

The idea of a private language was made famous in philosophy by Ludwig Wittgenstein, who in §243 of his book Philosophical Investigations explained it thus: “The words of this language are to refer to what can be known only to the speaker; to his immediate, private, sensations. So another cannot understand the language.”[1] This is not intended to cover (easily imaginable) cases of recording one’s experiences in a personal code, for such a code, however obscure in fact, could in principle be deciphered. What Wittgenstein had in mind is a language conceived as necessarily comprehensible only to its single originator because the things which define its vocabulary are necessarily inaccessible to others.

Immediately after introducing the idea, Wittgenstein goes on to argue that there cannot be such a language. The importance of drawing philosophers’ attention to a largely unheard-of notion and then arguing that it is unrealizable lies in the fact that an unformulated reliance on the possibility of a private language is arguably essential to mainstream epistemology, philosophy of mind and metaphysics from Descartes to versions of the representational theory of mind which became prominent in late twentieth century cognitive science.

1. Overview: Wittgenstein’s Argument and its Interpretations

Wittgenstein’s main attack on the idea of a private language is contained in §§244–271 of Philosophical Investigations (though the ramifications of the matter are recognizably pursued until §315). These passages, especially those from §256 onwards, are now commonly known as ‘the private language argument’, despite the fact that he brings further considerations to bear on the topic in other places in his writings; and despite the fact that the broader context, of §§243–315, does not contain a singular critique of just one idea, namely, a private language—rather, the passages address many issues, such as privacy, identity, inner/outer relations, sensations as objects, and sensations as justification for sensation talk, amongst others.

Nevertheless, the main argument of §§244–271 is, apparently, readily summarized. The conclusion is that a language in principle unintelligible to anyone but its originating user is impossible. The reason for this is that such a so-called language would, necessarily, be unintelligible to its supposed originator too, for he would be unable to establish meanings for its putative signs.

We should, however, note that Wittgenstein himself never employs the phrase ‘private language argument’. And a few commentators (e.g., Baker 1998, Canfield 2001 pp. 377–9, Stroud 2000 p. 69) have questioned the very existence in the relevant passages of a unified structure properly identifiable as a sustained argument. This suggestion, however, depends for its plausibility on a tendentiously narrow notion of argument—roughly, as a kind of proof, with identifiable premisses and a firm conclusion, rather than the more general sense which would include the exposure of a confusion through a variety of reasoned twists and turns, of qualifications, weighings-up and re-thinkings—and is a reaction against some drastic and artificial reconstructions of the text by earlier writers. Nevertheless, there is a point to be made, and the summary above conceals, as we shall see, a very intricate discussion.

Even among those who accept that there is a reasonably self-contained and straightforward private language argument to be discussed, there has been fundamental and widespread disagreement over its details, its significance and even its intended conclusion, let alone over its soundness. The result is that every reading of the argument (including that which follows) is controversial. Some of this disagreement has arisen because of the notorious difficulty and occasional elusiveness of Wittgenstein’s own text (sometimes augmented by problems of translation). But much derives from the tendency of philosophers to read into the text their own preconceptions without making them explicit and asking themselves whether its author shared them. Some commentators, for instance, supposing it obvious that sensations are private, have interpreted the argument as intended to show they cannot be talked about; some, supposing the argument to be an obvious but unsustainable attempt to wrest special advantage from scepticism about memory, have maintained it to be unsound because it self-defeatingly implies the impossibility of public discourse as well as private; some have assumed it to be a direct attack on the problem of other minds; some have claimed it to commit Wittgenstein to behaviourism or verificationism; some have thought it to imply that language is, of necessity, not merely potentially but actually social (this has come to be called the ‘community view’ of the argument).

The early history of the secondary literature is largely one of disputation over these matters. Yet what these earlier commentators have in common is significant enough to outweigh their differences and make it possible to speak of them as largely sharing an Orthodox understanding of the argument. After the publication in 1982 of Saul Kripke’s definitely unorthodox book, however, in which he suggested that the argument poses a sceptical problem about the whole notion of meaning, public or private, disputation conducted by Orthodox rules of engagement was largely displaced by a debate on the issues arising from Kripke’s interpretation. (However, there is overlap: Kripke himself adheres to the community view of the argument’s implications, with the result that renewed attention has been paid to that issue, dispute over which began in 1954.) Both debates, though, show a tendency to proceed with only the most cursory attention to the original argument which started them off.

This rush to judgment about what is at stake, compounded by a widespread willingness to discuss commentators’ more accessible accounts of the text rather than confront its difficulties directly, has made it hard to recover the original from the accretion of more or less tendentious interpretation which has grown up around it. Such a recovery is one of the tasks attempted in this article. The criterion of success in this task which is employed here is one of coherence: a good account should accommodate all of Wittgenstein’s remarks in §§244–271, their (not necessarily linear) ordering as well as their content, and should make clear how these remarks fit with the context provided by the rest of the book. (One of the problems with many of the commentaries on this matter, especially the earlier ones, is that their writers have quarried the text for individual remarks which have then been re-woven into a set of views said to be Wittgenstein’s but whose relation to the original is tenuous. A striking example of this approach is Norman Malcolm’s famous and influential 1954 review of Philosophical Investigations, which was commonly taken as an accurate representation of Wittgenstein’s own thinking and formed the target of many “refutations”.)

1.1 Recent Developments and Their Consequences

Interpretation of Wittgenstein started to become even more complex at the close of the twentieth century, as commentators began to focus on broad questions of method. In both Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and Philosophical Investigations there is a tension between some statements that seem to be stating controversial philosophical positions and others that seem to be saying that philosophy ought not to offer controversial theses but only work with what we already know by being competent language users embedded in human circumstances. In the latter book there are passages that seem to support an anti-philosophical position and others that seem to offer interesting new philosophical views in the process of criticizing more traditional philosophical doctrines such as foundationalism and Cartesianism. Along these lines, two overlapping distinctions concerning how to read Philosophical Investigations have arisen: the resolute–substantial distinction, and the Pyrrhonian–non-Pyrrhonian distinction. In general, the resolute and Pyrrhonian readings make Wittgenstein out to be an anti-philosopher, one who is not offering positive philosophical theses to replace false ones; rather, his goal is to show the nonsensical nature of traditional philosophical theorizing. It is this goal that is partly responsible for the unique style of Philosophical Investigations (its dialogical and, at least at times, anti-dogmatic, therapeutic character). On the substantial and non-Pyrrhonian readings, Wittgenstein is not only presenting a method for exposing the errors of traditional philosophers, but also showing how philosophy should rightly be done and thereby offering positive philosophical views, views which must often be inferred or reconstructed from an elusive text.

There is neither a single resolute/Pyrrhonian nor a single substantial/non-Pyrrhonian reading of Wittgenstein. Moreover, there is an important difference between the resolute–substantial and Pyrrhonian–non-Pyrrhonian distinctions. The former distinction arises from a continuing debate on how to read Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, both on its own and in relation to Philosophical Investigations (see, e.g., Conant 2004 and Mulhall 2007), and is associated with the so-called New Wittgensteinians (see, e.g., Crary and Read 2000). The Pyrrhonian and non-Pyrrhonian discussion is to be found, for example, in Fogelin (1994), Sluga (2004), and Stern (2004, 2007), and concerns the ways in which Wittgenstein might be considered as writing in the tradition of the ancient Pyrrhonian sceptics, who were philosophically sceptical about the very possibility of philosophy (see Fogelin 1994, pp. 3ff and 205ff). These distinctions cut across the distinction between Orthodox and Kripkean non-orthodox readings of the text: both Orthodox and Kripkean non-orthodox interpreters have tended to offer substantial or non-Pyrrhonian readings of Wittgenstein—though the line may not always be clear and some (e.g., Hacker, 1990) move from a resolute/Pyrrhonian to a substantial/non-Pyrrhonian reading without remarking the fact.

Some (Fogelin, Stern, and Mulhall, for example) have come to question whether it makes sense to suppose that either one or the other, resolute/Pyrrhonian or substantial/non-Pyrrhonian, must be the correct way to read Wittgenstein. Fogelin and Stern see the tension in the text of Philosophical Investigations as the expression of a tension, indeed a struggle, within its author, between his wanting to uncover the ‘disguised nonsense’ of philosophical theses and his being tempted and drawn into still other philosophical positions on the nature of language, reference, private experience, and philosophy itself. In what is surely a reference to §133c—which reads: ‘The real discovery is the one that makes me capable of stopping doing philosophy when I want to.—The one that gives philosophy peace, so that it is no longer tormented by questions which bring itself in question’—Wittgenstein is reported by Rush Rhees to have said ‘In my book I say that I am able to leave off with a problem in philosophy when I want to. But that’s a lie; I can’t’ (Rhees, 1984, p. 219 n. 7). According to Stern, the Wittgenstein of the Philosophical Investigations is more Pyrrhonian than not, while understanding all too acutely the attraction of philosophy and the difficulty of giving it up. One’s stance on these matters affects how one reads the private language sections, in particular by raising the question whether Wittgenstein intends to argue that the positive claim of the possibility of a private language is false, or is some kind of nonsense.

1.2 Are Claims Affirming the Possibility of a Private Language False or Nonsense?

If someone were to insist that a private language is possible, one way to argue against him would be by employing the method of reductio ad absurdum: assume that it is true that a private language is possible, show that that assumption leads to certain absurdities or a contradiction, and then conclude that it is actually false that a private language is possible. This is the way in which the argument was typically understood. But this understanding has come into question. In contrast to his earlier commentaries, for example, Gordon Baker has since called into question whether the private language sections should not be read as attempting to show that the notion of a private language is intelligible but false, but rather that it is nonsense masquerading as an important possibility (Baker, 1998).

There is, however, in Wittgenstein’s thinking an inclination to think of contradiction in terms of the disintegration of sense, so that even argument by reductio might be understood not in terms of falsehood. (The appearance of this inclination in Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, for example, is well mapped by Fogelin [1976, Ch. IV].) And it is characteristic of Wittgenstein to talk of philosophical error in terms of nonsense. In §119 of Philosophical Investigations he wrote, e.g., ‘The results of philosophy are the uncovering of one or another piece of plain nonsense and of bumps that the understanding has got by running its head against the limits of language. These bumps make us see the value of the discovery.’ And in §464: ‘My aim is: to teach you to pass from a piece of disguised nonsense to something that is patent nonsense.’ In the discussion of the possibility of a private language it may well at first seem as though we understand the possibility under consideration. After all we seem to understand the question in §256, ‘Now, what about the language which describes my inner experiences and which only I myself can understand?’ But is Wittgenstein suggesting we only seem to understand this question?

The matter may not be clear. Shortly after the main private language sections, the following remark occurs as part of a dialogue, ‘It comes to this: only of a living human being and what resembles (behaves like) a living human being can one say: it has sensations; it sees; is blind; hears; is deaf; is conscious or unconscious’ (§281). The dialogue continues in §282:

“But in a fairy tale the pot too can see and hear!” (Certainly; but it can also talk.)

“But the fairy tale only invents what is not the case: it does not talk nonsense.”—It is not as simple as that. Is it false or nonsensical to say that a pot talks? Have we a clear picture of the circumstances in which we should say of a pot that it talked? (Even a nonsense-poem is not nonsense in the same way as the babbling of a child.)

Here the question of how the Investigations is to be read intrudes. For example, part of the distinction between what Mulhall calls resolute and substantial readings of Wittgenstein concerns the sense in which Wittgenstein aimed to ‘overcome our attraction to the idea that there is something that we cannot do in philosophy’ (Mulhall, 2007, p. 8; cf. Philosophical Investigations §374). Mulhall claims that that idea goes against the moral of Investigations §500: ‘When a sentence is called senseless, it is not as it were its sense that is senseless. But a combination of words is being excluded from the language, withdrawn from circulation.’ Further, this substantial reading attributes to Wittgenstein an implicit philosophical theory of meaning, ‘of the (now grammatical) conditions of sense—quite as if our everyday abilities to distinguish sense from nonsense require at the very least a philosophical grounding or foundation (perhaps a criterial semantics, or a theory of language-games, or an anthropology of the human life form’ (Mulhall, 2007, p. 9). By contrast, on a resolute reading of Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein’s appeal to the notion of a grammatical investigation involves the deployment of ‘our everyday capacity to distinguish sense from nonsense in a philosophical context, and hence as depriving itself of any claim to expertise or authority that exceeds that form of practical ability—an ability that can equally well be laid claim to by any competent speaker, and hence by any philosophical interlocutor’ (ibid., p. 10). Further, the resolute reading is especially firm in rejecting the idea that there is something determinate that we cannot do, the idea that there is something, namely, a private language, that cannot be achieved; there is not a limitation on language. Rather, the idea is simply nonsense, or as Mulhall later puts it (ibid. p. 18): no sense can be given to the idea of a philosophically substantial private language.

Though Mulhall claims that the private language sections can justifiably be read either resolutely or substantially—because ‘each reading can … point to an aspect of the text that it fully acknowledges, and whose proper acknowledgment by the other is at the very least an issue for it, it would seem profitless to insist that one reading is essentially faithful to Wittgenstein’s text and the other intrinsically faithless’ (ibid., p. 20)—it is plain that he thinks the resolute reading is to be preferred. However, we may not need to choose. We might view the private language sections as Wittgenstein’s asking, ‘Do we have a clear picture of the circumstances in which we should say that someone spoke a private language?’ The line of reasoning that follows §243 can be read as various attempts to achieve a clear picture of what it might mean to speak a private language, where the attempts ultimately fail, with the result that what at first sight seemed intelligible (‘a language which describes my inner experiences and which only I myself can understand’) turns out not to be intelligible after all. And in so far as we cannot make intelligible the circumstances in which there could be a private language, we should say that the idea of a private language is nonsense. However, as we saw above, in §282 Wittgenstein indicates that the border between nonsense and falsehood is itself unclear; and moreover, in trying to make sense of the possibility of a private language, we may find, in different parts of the chain of reasoning, suggestions of falsehood as well as of nonsensicality.

2. The Significance of the Issue

The issue’s significance can be seen by considering how the argument is embedded in the structure of Philosophical Investigations. Immediately prior to the introduction of the argument (§§241f), Wittgenstein suggests that the existence of the rules governing the use of language and making communication possible depends on agreement in human behaviour—such as the uniformity in normal human reaction which makes it possible to train most children to look at something by pointing at it. (Unlike cats, which react in a seemingly random variety of ways to pointing.) One function of the private language argument is to show that not only actual languages but the very possibility of language and concept formation depends on the possibility of such agreement.

Another, related, function is to oppose the idea that metaphysical absolutes are within our reach, that we can find at least part of the world as it really is in the sense that any other way of conceiving that part must be wrong (cf. Philosophical Investigations p. 230). Philosophers are especially tempted to suppose that numbers and sensations are examples of such absolutes, self-identifying objects which themselves force upon us the rules for the use of their names. Wittgenstein discusses numbers in earlier sections on rules (185–242). Some of his points have analogues in his discussion of sensations, for there is a common underlying confusion about how the act of meaning determines the future application of a formula or name. In the case of numbers, one temptation is to confuse the mathematical sense of ‘determine’ in which, say, the formula y = 2x determines the numerical value of y for a given value of x (in contrast with y > 2x, which does not) with a causal sense in which a certain training in mathematics determines that normal people will always write the same value for y given both the first formula and a value for x—in contrast with creatures for which such training might produce a variety of outcomes (cf. §189). This confusion produces the illusion that the result of an actual properly conducted calculation is the inevitable outcome of the mathematical determining, as though the formula’s meaning itself were shaping the course of events.

In the case of sensations, the parallel temptation is to suppose that they are self-intimating. Itching, for example, seems like this: one just feels what it is directly; if one then gives the sensation a name, the rules for that name’s subsequent use are already determined by the sensation itself. Wittgenstein tries to show that this impression is illusory, that even itching derives its identity only from a sharable practice of expression, reaction and use of language. If itching were a metaphysical absolute, forcing its identity upon me in the way described, then the possibility of such a shared practice would be irrelevant to the concept of itching: the nature of itching would be revealed to me in a single mental act of naming it (the kind of mental act which Russell called ‘acquaintance’); all subsequent facts concerning the use of the name would be irrelevant to how that name was meant; and the name could be private. The private language argument is intended to show that such subsequent facts could not be irrelevant, that no names could be private, and that the notion of having the true identity of a sensation revealed in a single act of acquaintance is a confusion.

The suggestion that a language could be private in the way described appears most openly in the second of Bertrand Russell’s published lectures ‘The Philosophy of Logical Atomism’, where Russell says:

In a logically perfect language, there will be one word and no more for every simple object, and everything that is not simple will be expressed by a combination of words, by a combination derived, of course, from the words for the simple things that enter in, one word for each simple component. A language of that sort will be completely analytic, and will show at a glance the logical structure of the facts asserted or denied. … A logically perfect language, if it could be constructed, would not only be intolerably prolix, but, as regards its vocabulary, would be very largely private to one speaker. That is to say, all the names that it would use would be private to that speaker and could not enter into the language of another speaker.

… A name, in the narrow logical sense of a word whose meaning is a particular, can only be applied to a particular with which the speaker is acquainted, because you cannot name anything you are not acquainted with.

… One can use ‘this’ as a name to stand for a particular with which one is acquainted at the moment. We say ‘This is white’. … But if you try to apprehend the proposition that I am expressing when I say ‘This is white’, you cannot do it. If you mean this piece of chalk as a physical object, then you are not using a proper name. It is only when you use ‘this’ quite strictly, to stand for an actual object of sense [i.e., a sense-datum], that it is really a proper name. And in that it has a very odd property for a proper name, namely that it seldom means the same thing two moments running and does not mean the same thing to the speaker and to the hearer.

… [I]n order to understand a name for a particular, the only thing necessary is to be acquainted with that particular. When you are acquainted with that particular, you have a full, adequate and complete understanding of the name, and no further information is required.

Although Wittgenstein does not explicitly say so, it is likely that this is the inspiration of his argument: his writing is marked in many places by criticism of Russell, both explicit and otherwise.

But the idea of a private language is more usually hidden: the confusions supposed to belong to it allegedly underlie a range of articulated philosophical notions and theories, without themselves being so articulated. The argument is thus perhaps most profitably read as targeting, not any particular theory, but rather the motivation for considering a range of apparently independent or even competing theories along with their associated tasks, problems and solutions.

For example, a still very common idea, often attributed to John Locke and openly embraced by Jerry Fodor in the nineteen seventies, is that interpersonal spoken communication works by speakers’ translation of their internal mental vocabularies into sounds followed by hearers’ re-translation into their own internal vocabularies. Again, Descartes considered himself able to talk to himself about his experiences while claiming to be justified in saying that he does not know (or not until he has produced a reassuring philosophical argument) anything at all about an external world conceived as something independent of them. And he and others have thought: while I may make mistakes about the external world, I can infallibly avoid error if I confine my judgments to my immediate sensations. (Compare The Principles of Philosophy, I, 9.) Again, many philosophers, including John Stuart Mill, have supposed there to be a problem of other minds, according to which I may reasonably doubt the legitimacy of applying, say, sensation-words to beings other than myself.

In each of these examples, the implication is that the internal vehicle of my musings could in principle be private (as Kenny [1966, p. 369] showed, this vehicle does not have to be a language for the argument to apply to it): for these problems and theories even to make sense, sharability must be irrelevant to meaning and it must be at least conceivable that my knowledge, even my understanding, is necessarily confined to my own case. The implication is of course often denied. The terms of Fodor’s language of thought, for example, are supposed to be able to refer to public objects. But the question is, on what basis does this ability rest? However this question should be answered, Fodor himself was concerned enough about Wittgenstein’s argument to try to show both that it did not apply to his views and—apparently superfluously—that it is not a good argument anyway (Fodor pp. 68–73). The matter is clearer with Descartes (compare Kenny 1966): for his sceptical question to be raised without being immediately self-defeating, he must hold it possible to identify his experiences inwardly—where ‘inwardly’ means without relying on resources supplied by his essential embodiment in a world whose existence is independent of his own mind and accessible to others (e.g., such resources as the concepts acquired in a normal upbringing). The question which accordingly looms large in the private language argument is: How is this identification of one’s experiences to be achieved?

However, it cannot be emphasized too strongly that the significance of the private language argument does not rest on the scholarly detail of whether this or that thinker can be correctly described as committed to the idea. The target is a way of thinking which generates philosophical theories, not the theories themselves.

3. The Private Language Argument Expounded

3.1 Preliminaries

As already noted, the private language sections of Philosophical Investigations are usually held to begin at §243 (though we shall see that Wittgenstein relies on points made much earlier in the book). The methodological issues canvassed above arise at the outset, in the interpretation of §243’s crucial second paragraph.

On a substantial/non-Pyrrhonian reading, Wittgenstein begins to clarify what kind of philosophically important notion of private language is to be examined, i.e., one that is necessarily private and which refers to one’s immediate private sensations. In the remarks that follow, Wittgenstein argues that the idea of such a private language is nonsensical or incoherent because it is a violation of grammar (i.e., Wittgenstein draws on his substantive views on meaning).

On a resolute/Pyrrhonian reading, it is emphasized that the reader is asked in the first sentence of the second paragraph whether one can actually imagine a language for one’s inner experiences, for private use. Wittgenstein at this point reminds the interlocutor that we already use ordinary language for that. But the interlocutor quickly replies in the last three lines of §243 that what he is asking is whether we can imagine a private language that refers to what only the speaker can know. In the following sections, Wittgenstein examines ‘whether there is a way of meaning the words of the penultimate sentence










































There is, however, reason to believe that this assumption is false, for investigation of Wittgenstein’s notions of essential, possible and lifelong Crusoe shows that admission of the first claim does not commit him to the denial of the second. To take the first notion: on Wittgenstein’s view, while chess is essentially a game for two players, this does not exclude the possibility of playing it against oneself provided such solitary games are not regarded as paradigm instances of chess. Similarly, he can claim that language is essentially social, but still allow the possibility of exceptions provided these are peripheral cases. The issue is complex, and its pursuit would lead away from the current article’s purpose of articulating the central text. For a detailed account, the reader is referred to Canfield [1996] (to which this section is indebted, and which also contains a useful bibliography of the debate over the community view), and to Hacker [2010].


The secondary literature on this topic is enormous. The following list is highly selective, and entries are included by meeting at least one of the following criteria: good representative of a standard reading of the argument; influential source, primary or secondary; useful collection of items meeting one or other of the previous two criteria; useful survey; item making recent and significant progress in the understanding and assessment of the argument; source drawn on in the writing of this article; item mentioned in the main text of this article.

Baker, G.P., 1998, ‘The private language argument’, Language & Communication, 18: 325–56.
Baker, G.P. & Hacker, P.M.S., 1990, ‘Malcolm on language and rules’, Philosophy, 65: 167–79.
Boghossian, P.A., 1989, ‘The rule-following considerations’, Mind, 98: 507–49.
Candlish, S., 1997, ‘Wittgensteins Privatsprachenargumentation’, in Eike von Savigny (ed.), Wittgensteins Philosophische Untersuchungen, Berlin: Akademie Verlag: 143–65.
Canfield, J.V. (ed.), 1986, The Philosophy of Wittgenstein, Volume 9: The Private Language Argument, New York: Garland.
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–––, 1996, ‘The community view’, The Philosophical Review, 105: 469–88.
–––, 2001, ‘Private language: the diary case’ Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 79: 377–94.
Conant, J., 2004, ‘Why worry about the Tractatus?’, in B. Stocker (ed.), Post-Analytic Tractatus, Aldershot: Ashgate: 167–92.
Cook, J.W., 1969, ‘Human beings’, in P. Winch, (ed.), Studies in the Philosophy of Wittgenstein, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Crary, A. & Read, R. (eds.), 2000, The New Wittgenstein, London and New York: Routledge.
Fodor, J., 1975, The Language of Thought, New York: Crowell.
Fogelin, R.J., 1976, Wittgenstein, London: Routledge, Ch. XIII.
–––, 1994, Pyrrhonian Reflections on Knowledge and Justification, New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hacker, P.M.S., 1990, Wittgenstein: Meaning and Mind, Volume 3 of an Analytical Commentary on the Philosophical Investigations, Oxford: Blackwell.
–––, 2010, ‘Robinson Crusoe Sails Again: The Interpretative Relevance of Wittgenstein’s Nachlass’, in N. Venturhina (ed.), Wittgenstein After His Nachlass, Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Jones, O.R. (ed.), 1971, The Private Language Argument, London: Macmillan.
Kenny, A., 1966, ‘Cartesian privacy’, in G. Pitcher (ed.), Wittgenstein: The Philosophical Investigations, London: Macmillan, 1968.
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Kripke, S., 1982, Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language, Oxford: Blackwell.
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McDowell, J., 1989, ‘One Strand in the Private Language Argument’, Grazer Philosophische Studien, 33/34: 285–303.
Mulhall, S., 2007, Wittgenstein’s Private Language: Grammar, Nonsense, and Imagination in Philosophical Investigations, §§ 243–315, Oxford: Clarendon Press.
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The Good Life: Fifty simple psychological insights toward individuation

Here’s fifty simple yet profoundly important psychological insights which may certainly be beneficial to you and yours.


1) The morning is wiser than the night. Today may have looked awful, but tomorrow is another day.
2) Sleep is perhaps the best medicine.
3) Never keep a grudge overnight. Talk it out before sleep.
4) Listen much more than you speak. When you do speak, make it count.
5) Meditate on what’s important and valuable in your life every single morning.
6) Wake up early and never waste the morning (the most productive time).
7) Judge people favorably – yourself first.
8) Forgive easily, forget slowly. Start with yourself.
9) Be slow to anger.
10) Music changes your mood powerfully and quickly, better than any drug.
11) You are the average of the 5 people you spend most time with. Choose very carefully.
12) Make sure to take a walk every single day.
13) Make experiencing nature a part of your everyday routine.
14) Find a way to live in the moment. Always stop to smell those roses.
15) Understand and automate your finances as much as possible, no matter how bad your situation looks. This is the biggest source of stress in life for couples.
16) Accept the people around you as they are today and don’t try to change them. If they’re no good to you, walk away.
17) Your actions are the best show-and-tell. Don’t tell me – show me how it’s done!
18) Always try to see the glass as half-full, even if it looks empty. Perception is another reality.
19) Deal head-on with your childhood baggage ASAP. Talk it out with family and friends. Get a therapist. Just stop letting it screw up your adult life.
20) Find what ROLE you want to play in people’s lives based on your personality and you’ll get much closer to your dream job.
21) Stop letting others define who you are. Hang out with people that enrich your life emotionally, spiritually, intellectually (and yes, financially) – and who root for you to succeed. Get rid of all the others.
22) Always take the long view in life. Be patient. The forest is never just the trees. Markets crash and markets rebound. Today’s setbacks aren’t deadly. With the right attitude, you’ll get over them – and then some.
23) Fill every free moment with something useful – reading, writing, learning, laughing, helping someone.
24) Strive to leave no person you meet worse off for having met you. Do your best to contribute something useful to the life of each person you encounter.
25) Clean up your mess. If you wait, it will become a bigger mess that takes longer to clean.
26) Never engage in useless debates online and in person – avoid politics, religion, optical illusions, the news.
27) Unplug from all your devices and work at least one day a week.
28) Choose very carefully what you consume – starting with the ingredients in your food and drink, moving on to music, film, art, books, etc. Garbage in always means garbage out.
29) Travel every chance you get, even if it’s just out of town to see a new place.
30) Always value experiences over goods. The former expand your mind and the latter narrows it.
31) Get rid of all the clutter in your house and your life. It keeps you tied to the past, whereas you should be living in the present and focus on a better future. Keep what you accumulate to a minimum.
32) Plant a few new seeds every day. Brainstorm and write down 10 new business ideas. Reach out to a new person. Reconnect with people you haven’t spoken to in ages.
33) Work to improve 1% on important personal traits each day.
34) Do something well each day, even if it’s just brushing your teeth on a horrible, no-good day.
35) Treat yourself once in a while. Celebrate small wins.
36) Take the stairs.
37) Be nice to the foolish and the bigoted – they need it more than you.
38) Your health should be your first priority. Don’t abuse the privilege of health until it’s too late.
39) Prioritize your loved ones above everyone else. Otherwise, you’ll have no loved ones around soon.
40) Save at least 3-6 months in salary, just in case of emergencies.
41) Find natural light each day. If there’s no sun, make your sure your light bulbs mimic natural light well – at home, work and elsewhere.
42) Replace refined carbs with dried fruits and nuts in the house and the office. Keep the refined carbs out of both.
43) Find and express your gratitude to people who are good to you and help you in life. Express gratitude to the Universe in whichever way you can.
44) Keep a journal. Few things are more fulfilling and better for gaining perspective than finding your old impressions years later.
45) Work on creating good habits and ridding yourself of bad ones.
46) Hard work and perseverance always beat genius and talent, in the end.
47) Work hard to understand the many facets and involutions of human psychology.
48) Get up to stretch from your seat at least once every 45–60 minutes.
49) Do everything in moderation, especially moderation.
50) Live and let live. Mind your own business before minding the business of others.

A Very Very Brief Approach to Power (or, Narrative power, or, Power and narrative)

The Birth of the Clinic
The Birth of the Clinic (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is a question often raised yet seldom, if ever, answered satisfactorily: How might we approach an understanding of power? In order to provide some brief initial groundwork to this important and complex question I should like to begin with a very brief examination of the context within which to locate power and then to move steadily toward a more [systemic] narrative and reflexive position in this regard.

In general terms power may be understood, writes Heil, as ‘a disposition; an ability or capacity to yield some outcome’ (Heil in Audi, 1999). The dispositions of power might also be thought of in terms of relational (i.e. social or interpersonal) terms. That is, properties of phenomenal objects (i.e. in the world) possessed only in virtue of those objects standing in appropriate relation to other objects. Moreover, the proximity of phenomenal objects in relation to other objects, coextensive with an asymmetry of the relation said to exist between these objects, clearly denotes that difference may have some important bearing on approaches to an understanding of power.

Power and power differentials might possess a property or capacity which is potential but not manifest in some form of reciprocal relation (i.e. energy may be described as either kinetic or potential in virtue of its latent or manifest difference to other objects). In this sense one can begin to discern between two vertices for power: active/passive and intrinsic/extrinsic power (see Locke, 1975). To further an understanding of the basic notions underpinning power and power differentials (PD) in social relations (and intersubjective experiences) I will now turn to the social construction of power.

Hobbes (1651/1840; see also Kraynak, 1990) was one of the leading participants in the intellectual revolutions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries which gave rise to what might be called modernity. For Hobbes (1840: 35), human nature renders men “apt to invade and destroy one another”. Thus for Hobbes (1840: 35-36) power ought to be exercised over “the [human] passions for security, profit and glory” and control of human passions becomes a central concern of any legislating governance. For Hobbes power is – if it is to be understood purposefully – located as an object which is always to be historically situated as an object of study and thus gives rise to the birth of political science.

For Marx (1859; 1867; 1884; 1893; see also McLellan, 2000) the situation could not have been more different to Hobbes’ (1651/1840) formulation. Marx may be said to view power and PD as enforced relations based upon alienation and production. This Marx called alienated labour. For Marx alienated labour contains four major problematic areas: (1) alienation of the worker from the object of their production, the object of production comes to hold power over the worker (2) workers become alienated from themselves as production cannot be seen as the real life of the worker (3) workers’ social essence is removed from them in their work as production cannot (see 1 & 2) be seen as a harmonious concerted effort (4) workers found themselves alienated from other workers. Marx’s mature thought (historical materialism) critiques production, competition and enforced power relations as an entirely unsatisfactory basis for social organisation.

For Foucault (1967; 1969; 1973; 1986; see also Rabinow, 1984; 2000; Gutting, 2005), one detects an examination of limit-experiences using a socio-historical lens: Foucault’s works are perhaps as challenging as they are a coherent corpus undergirded by a few thematic hallmarks: a strong counter-narrative approach to lineal historicity/historiography, the historicisation of an ahistorical subject, the dividing practices – the systematic objective removal of sovereign power from within the subject or from others, and a rejection and deconstruction of the Cartesian Cogito (Rabinow, 1984: 3-27). For some Foucault clears the way for, and to some extent makes possible, the historical emergence of something like a rational subject via a reflexive and methodical application of socio-scientific knowledge (Foucault, 1967; 1969; 1973; 1986; see also Lyotard, 1984; Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992). Foucault unveils a discontinuous history in outline ripe for inevitable fragmentation in terms of continuity, and, in terms of an impact upon the individual subject and their context – held under the reflexive term, episteme (Foucault, 1969). Foucault’s biting critiques are often held aloft to example further what he discerned as clearly identifiable processes and dispositions of power/knowledge set to undermine, decentre and repress the autonomy of the sovereign individual (subjugation via state psychiatry), and, control and discrimination against the individual (subjugation via state legislation) (see also White & Epston, 1990). Foucault’s analysis of power and alienation is not strictly speaking a Marxist critique, it is rather a singular critical understanding hewn from scholarship in the epistemology of power, politics and the narrative discourses that bind and separate each. For instance, on mental health one finds Foucault (1967; 1973) perhaps at his sharpest and most critically devastating. In Madness and Civilisation (1967), for instance, one finds a historical examination of discriminatory practices across the ages enacted upon the individual subject with foundations forged far back in the medieval period nonetheless with similarities with oppressive acts maintained in present times. Foucault appears to suggest that the subject might always be located and dislocated in coincidence. Indeed there is a suggestion that oppressive practices against the subject, and PD more generally, obtain directly from dominant group norms and dominant narratives (see also Lyotard, 1984; Szasz, 1974; Laing, 1969). His own summary of the period is telling – “I ask myself what else I was talking about in Madness and Civilisation and The Birth of the Clinic, but power” (Rabinow & Foubion in Gutting, 2005: 21).

Lyotard’s (1984) states that his evaluation of legitimising “myths” or narrative archetypes centres on historical and modernist debates between positivists and phenomenologists in relation to the nature of language, language-games, the possibility of the acquisition of knowledge and the power inhering in knowledge (see also Wittgenstein, 1921, 1953; Snow, 1959).

Lyotard (1984) recommends an equivocal explication mobilised through a critique of existing forms of grand narrative legitimation (see also Habermas, 1971) and envisages forms of storying or narrative performativity as acts of legitimation in their own right (see also Bauman, 1986). Lyotard’s (1984) main achievement might be suggested to lie in his privileging of the locutor’s subjective experience of spoken biography as a report inherently capable of dispelling the problematic question of legitimation by legitimating itself and by deemphasising truth-value altogether.

Lyotard (1984) undergirds his reasoning by examining the paralogy of the two main positivistic grand narratives and their claims to legitimation: first, ‘the narrative of emancipation, a story of “freeing the people” for which science is believed to be the necessary means’ (1984: p. 13 orig. syntax) and, second, ‘the narrative of the triumph of science as speculation or pure and authentic knowledge’ (1984: p. 28). On both counts Lyotard (1984) concludes that such claims are founded upon misnomers which are based upon coherent social constructions but not correspondent truths. Lyotard reveals these claims are in actuality invariably specious, unnecessary exercises in power enacted through language-games: (“We no longer have recourse to the grand narratives” 1984: p. 60.) Lyotard’s (1984) singular work assimilates works by notable post-structuralists preceding his own contribution (e.g. Barthes, 1972; Derrida, 1978; Foucault, 1967, 1969, 1973, 1986; Lacan, 1977; Levi-Strauss, 1963) and are perhaps a clear attempt at situating postmodernism as a paradigm capable of sustaining many perspectives: a more durable theoretical social formation derivable from the fluidity and play of language, the performativity of narrative language, and the possibilities available for multiple social constructions for both narrative culture and narrative identity alike. Indeed, Lyotard’s (1984) critical questioning of grand narratives strongly undergird a suggestion that dominant narratives are apt to distort any subjective conception and co-constructed experiencing of the past, present and/or future.

Narrativist theorists and practitioners influenced by an acknowledgement of the utility of both modernist and postmodernist concerns (i.e. second order) as well as those reflexive toward co-constructed meaning-making (Pearce, 2007; Krause, 2012) have sought to question the extent to which certain narratives may inhabit a dominant position within the symbolic space of language, whilst also acting to inhibit (subjugate) other untold, unvoiced narratives and/or embed replicative scripts (e.g. Anderson, 1997; Bannister & Fransella, 1971; Bauman, 1986; Berger & Luckmann, 1967; Burnham, 2012; Byng-Hall, 1995; Dallos & Vetere, 2009; Freedman & Combs, 1996; Foucault, 1967; 1969; 1972; Gergen, 1994; Papadopoulos & Byng-Hall, 1997; White, 1985; 1995; 1997; White & Epston, 1990). White (1989, 1995, 1997) and White & Epston (1990) consider these dominant narratives to provide a compelling frame within which our co-constructed (hi)stories and indeed our identities may become unvoiced, subjugated or organised into formations not always of our own invention (1990: pp. 27-28).

We may come to feel that, for instance, certain dominant narratives concerning status, prestige, wealth or happiness become a source of tension if we do not measure up to the ideal (de Botton, 2004; Lasch, 1979). Self-reflexively, for instance, my earliest experiences of understanding power came in the form of what I might call ‘the success narrative.’ As a young man growing up in the East End of London in the 1980s, the success narrative led me to mistake an overriding importance attached to affluence and ability and academic achievement. This false notion of ‘success’, unfortunately, still pervades, occasionally, in my professional life as a counsellor, and, sometimes, even spills unconsciously into my parental role in the form of voiced ambitions for the young people in my life – though, I am quite aware of its origin as an artefact of the period of my youthful naivety and my incomprehension, and lack of empathy, for those on the receiving end of the prevailing political context of those times in Britain.


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Gergen, K. J. (1973) ‘Social Psychology as History’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 26, 309-320

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‘Approach-Method-Technique’: An Introduction to Milan, Post-Milan and Social Constructionism

burnham boats
burnham boats (Photo credit: akosikenet)

1. Curiosity & Co-Construction

§ Introduction: A model for identifying differences in Approach Method and Technique

Let’s begin by turning first to Burnham’s (1992) paper, in particular, where he outlined a coherent model for differentiating between types of systemic activity and how those activities might be viewed as relating when working within a systemic practice framework. We will then see whether and how Burnham’s (1992) AMT model might also be useful to understand both the movement of approaches, methods and techniques from Milan (e.g. Selvini et al., 1978) to post-Milan (e.g. Cecchin, 1987) and CMM (e.g. Pearce and Cronen, 1980; Cronen, Johnson and Lannaman, 1982; Lang, Little & Cronen, 1990) in the service of a coherent structure for a more general understanding of the implications of social constructionist thought on systemic thought during this period.

In his paper Burnham (1992) suggests that his systemic thinking and practice might be explained using an Approach – Method – Technique (AMT) model. The AMT model seeks to make clear both the context for and the implications of deriving meaning from a hierarchically organised, theoretically and clinically coherent, and recursively connected systemic model of working (following CMM, see below). Burnham’s (1992) influences are many and varied, however he plainly locates meaning as something derived from a context (pace Bateson 1974) and the two terms themselves (i.e. context and meaning) as acting in a recursive relation to one another (pace Pearce & Cronen, 1980; see below CMM).

Burnham (1992) locates and offers to define each term in the AMT model in the following way:

  • Approach – Lenses and dispositions in a recursive relation; Reliant upon abstraction (i.e. metacommunication) – learning to learn (see Bateson, 1972); e.g. family system understood as if a human system.
  • Method – Different practices which serve to organise an approach e.g. use and appreciation of circularity (both in terms of questioning and causality).
  • Technique – Different activities organising a method through practices, tools, training and therapeutic skills; Reliant upon rote learning (see Bateson, 1972); e.g. hypothesising.

And, thus, we might chose to visualise Burnham’s (1992) AMT model using the following three tier hierarchy:

  • Approach
    • Method
      • Technique

It is worth noting that just as an overarching context (i.e. A →M) acts by contextual force in a downward direction upon the meaning of a sub context, so too, there might also exist an implicative force acting upwards upon and changing the meaning of the contextual setting above (i.e. T→M).

Given this relation between a strong contextual force and a weaker implicative force it is possible to designate the relation between AMT as hierarchical, coherent and recursive (i.e. A↔M↔T) following Pearce and Cronen’s (1980) suggestion for coordinating and managing systemic thought and practice.

§ CMM – coordinating the making and management of meaning

As previously touched upon above (see section 1.), Pearce and Cronen’s (1980) paper on the coordinated management of meaning (CMM) theory suggests that meaning might be construed as: (a) made/managed between at least two positions (i.e. co-constructing their social reality) and (b) is a context-sensitive process. They also indicate in their theory that CMM is a rule-based theory comprised on the one hand by Constitutive rules (i.e. essentially rules of meaning, used by communicators to interpret or understand an event or message). And on the other, Regulative rules (i.e. essentially rules of action: which determine how to respond or behave).

In other words, Pearce and Cronen (1980) may be said to be suggesting that meaning-making strongly echoes Bateson’s (1974) theory of meaning; in that, they share a belief that there can be no meaning without a context to situate that meaning. For example (see Pearce, 2007: xv), if we were to examine the simple sentence, “Look here! See this!” should we suppose that the locutor is summoning us to explore, to inquire, to a kind of very serious playfulness, or that they wish to elicit our submission?

Pearce and Cronen (1980) suggest that the act of meaning-making around this and other sentences like it can only be understood within a transpersonal context and that not to appreciate the crucial importance of context in meaning-making leads (us) toward all-too literal misunderstandings and, at worst, conflict.

There might be some correspondences in intentionality and reciprocity in dialogical space between individuals to be researched further in the thought of Bateson (1974), Pearce and Cronen (1980; see also Cronen and Pearce 1982; Pearce 2007) and the ‘Dialogical principle’ (‘I-Thou’ relation) described by both Martin Buber in his work Between Man and Man (Trans. Gregor-Smith, 1947) and Carl Rogers’ (1961) seminal work, On becoming a person.

Notwithstanding any perceived or real conceptual connection between these thoughts mentioned above, Pearce and Cronen’s (1980) CMM model has received a good deal of close attention by social theorists, communication specialists and systemic practitioners alike. One of the reasons for all this well-deserved attention is, perhaps, the simple elegance of the CMM model itself.

Cultural       Patterns

Social Group Scripts

Life       Scripts




Speech Act


Figure 1. CMM hierarchical model adapted from Pearce & Cronen (1980), Cronen & Pearce (1982) and Pearce (2007)

For Burnham (1992), as we saw above, CMM theory offers a purposefully structured social constructionist model for systemic meaning-making and co-constructing social realities – making social worlds systemically, so to speak. It might be said to achieve its systemic aim principally because of three main factors (see Burnham, 1992):

  • CMM is hierarchically organised; thus, privileges context
  • CMM is theoretically and clinically coherent
  • CMM is recursively connected; thus, circular and reflexive

§ Post-Milan: from Neutrality to Curiosity

Just as Maria Selvini Palazzoli (1974) had described her transition from psychoanalysis to systemic practice under the influence of Haley (1963) and Watzlawick et al. (1967) so too Gianfranco Cecchin (1987; 1992) describes the evolution of his approach from structure toward construction.

Cecchin (1992) outlines the evolution in his theory and practice as informed by three main shifts in his emphasis and, therein, his approach:

A closer look at the above shifts in emphasis in Cecchin’s work may reveal much about how he, in a position of systemic trainer and theorist, might explain the evolution in his systemic ideas.

In 1987 Cecchin wrote what was later to become a seminal systemic paper. Entitled, Hypothesizing, Circularity, and Neutrality Revisited: An Invitation to Curiosity, Cecchin’s (1987) paper subtly delivered an epistemological bombshell in the form of a reply to the Milan teams’ paper describing the foundation of their working principles (Hypothesizing – Circularity – Neutrality, Selvini et al., 1980).

In his paper, Cecchin (1987) sought to re-examine the principle concepts contained in Selvini et al’s (1980) Milan systemic manifesto and instead assert his new conviction that therapeutic neutrality in action and language was nothing more or less than an ideal – for family system and therapist alike – which simply could not ever be realised. Cecchin feels impelled to make it clear that he now knows that it is impossible to be neutral.

Cecchin (1987) had looked back upon his former foundational principles of working (i.e. hypothesising, circularity and neutrality) and made the following observations:

  • Hypothesising is a technique
  • Curiosity is a framework for working (i.e. a systemic approach)
  • Hypotheses are stories told (i.e. only of use for as long as they remain relevant)

Thus, looking again at Selvini et al. (1980) one might be drawn to summarise using Burnham’s (1992) AMT model as follows:

  • Approach – Neutrality
  • Method – Circularity / Paradox
  • Technique – Hypothesis

Whereas, a close look at Cecchin (1987; 1992) might result in a subtle difference with quite significant contextual implications for systemic work:

  • Approach – Curiosity / Reflexivity toward co-constructed meaning
  • Method – Circularity / Questions replacing statements
  • Technique – Hypothesis

Cecchin (1987) goes on to reposition the concept of curiosity as defining his approach to systemic thought and action. Cecchin argues that once the ideal approach of therapeutic neutrality is no longer tenable it ought to be replaced by something  – curiosity – inherently more flexible and characteristic of an openness toward lived experience and the uncertainties of lived experience, for only then are we more able to become better helpers and/or systemic practitioners; not worse, not stuck merely in a series of techniques without ever questioning their or our own efficacy (Cecchin, 1987: 5): “… when our neutral position ceases to help us generate hypotheses, we have, no doubt, lost our curiosity and become social controllers.”

He continues by proposing a framework, an approach, to systemic practice, which he views as the crucial – though unexplored – underpinning for the original Milan team’s (see Selvini et al., 1980) founding principles, he writes (1987: 5): “If we are curious, we question premises – our own and those of the family we are treating. A family’s interactions with us should facilitate questioning our own premises. Not only are we intervening in their systems, but families are also intervening in our systems – helping us to become better systemic thinkers. The idea of a recursive relationship among neutrality, hypothesizing, and circularity, as guiding principles, proposes a framework that invites us to be more curious about symptoms in therapy – those of families as well as of therapists.”

§ An irreducible moral dimension: Long, Little & Cronen (1990)

Long, Little and Cronen (1990) suggest a consistent view with which to identify different types of action/activity from a systemic position of co-constructed realities. They lean heavily on Maturana’s (1985) concept of domains of knowledge: aesthetics, explanations and production. Long et al. (1990) are led to conclude that an appreciation of Maturana’s (1985) domain concept raises vital questions about the nature of neutrality within and across the domains which he views as spanning the professional systemic field.

Long et al (1990) suggest that ‘morality’ and ‘a moral posture’ are necessary features of any approach which spans the domains of aesthetics, explanation or production. In so doing they recall Aristotle’s (see Poetics) concept of a position in relational context across and between theory and practice, praxis. Long et al (1990) conclude that as systemic practice is intimately interested in human action – and by definition in these domains of knowledge (see above) – then a moral posture ought to be a necessary principle of any systemic approach/framework.

§ Tracking: Hedges (2005)

Hedges (2005) is interested to investigate how it is that in co-constructing futures we (as systemic practitioners) are attending to the minutiae of grammar, metaphor, noticing the hidden-obvious and slowing ourselves in our work. Hedges (2005) is keen to point out that using these techniques allows us to better track the episodes of our work with families, and, therein, to expose the myth surrounding the notion of systemic work as somehow discreet from depth/exploratory work (i.e. psychodynamics).

He introduces and questions the possibility of a greater correspondence between notions of ‘depth’ and ‘breadth’. He questions whether the demarcation of ‘depth’ as a psychodynamic preserve is sustainable in the light cast by philosophy of language (e.g. Wittgenstein, 1953), systemic thought (e.g. Anderson, 1997) and co-constructionist (CMM) theories (e.g. Cronen, 1990; Cronen & Pearce, 1991) of making/managing social reality and meaning which would indicate otherwise.

Hedges (2005) utilises Bruner’s (1986) notion of metaphor as a ‘crutch’ to begin his investigation into the tracking techniques which might bring mutual benefit or insight. Bruner (1986) suggests that metaphor enable us to navigate meanings that, once utilised, can be discarded or hidden from view. Hedges (2005) suggests that in tracking metaphors – others’ and our own – is crucial to the better exploration and questioning of the co-construction of meaning in the work. Indeed, Hedges (2005) links metaphor and their use to the collective folk wisdom (see C. G. Jung) of the contextual background culture/society. Adding to this rich gestalt the clear difficulties which arise when/if one allows metaphor to remain unexplored, invisible or untold (see LUUUTT model of CMM).

Following Anderson (1997), Hedges (2005) also suggests that tracking an episode also requires slowing down the stories told. That is, slowing the natural pace of a normal dialogical flow. This technique is suggested as a counter measure to ‘knowing’, and, by implication only, may increase curiosity.

Attending to language does not mean only attending to spoken language. Non-verbal communication is a powerful form of communication which Hedges is keen to explore, again, in the service of techniques which can help in the exploration of co-constructed meaning-making. We must, urges Hedges (2005), attend carefully to exploring the range of full bodily communications of the other (see Tom Anderson, 1990).

Tracking also entails noticing. Hedges (2005) suggests that simplicity and familiarity can act to hide aspects of actual experience. That is to say, familiarity can sometimes obfuscate noticing what is in front of one’s nose. Hedges (2005) reiterates the importance of the notion of noticing bodily communications (i.e. non-verbal communications) as these can give us vital information to enrich the meaning/s available in a specific episode. However, Hedges (2005) is swift to point out that when one is noticing things are not simply found, instead, they are always co-constructed through joint action (see Shotter, 1993; 1995). This insight into the technique of noticing allows Hedges (2005) to conclude that episodes are always temporary, unfinished and composed of punctuations (pace Jackson and Bateman in Watzlawick et al., 1967).

Hedges (2005) recalls Pearce’s (1994) notion that ‘social worlds are too complex to perceive … all at once’ and thus reminds his reader of Bateson’s (1972) suggestion that ‘we divide experiences into frames’. By pointing to frames theory, Hedges (2005) is also following Goffman’s (1974) notion that frames turn what would otherwise be meaningless into something that is meaningful. Not so dissimilar one might say to Bateson’s (1972; 1974) famous ideas about the intimate relation and multi-laying which exists between context and meaning.

Frame theory closely looks at our frames of reference, say:

  • Time
  • Boundaries / Liminality
  • Structure

It is, for Hedges (2005), in the appreciation of the multi-laying of episodes (see Bateson, 1974; Cronen and Pearce, 1982) which allows for a broader, deeper construal of the co-constructed and recursive (reflexive) nature of both episodes and frames. Hedges (2005) provides the following example of multi-layered frames and contexts which may commonly appear in an episode:

  • Stories about the (current) relationship
  • Stories related to the clients family
  • Personal identity stories
  • Religious stories
  • Gender stories
  • Cultural, ethnic, racial, colour stories
  • Cultural and societal stories

The example above appears to be a good fit with the LUUUTT model of CMM (see LUUUTT model; Pearce Associates, v1.1, 1991). But what if, Hedges (2005) asks, one feels like one ought to act in certain way under certain circumstances regardless for any evidence that acting in that way is or has ever been beneficial? Here then, Hedges (2005) is calling our attention to the presence of so-named de-ontic logic in lived experience. An example might be something which informs our understanding and situates us towards certain contexts and seemingly automated responses – much like morality can shape our actions because of preconceptions of what is received to be ‘right’ or ‘good’ (see G. E. Moore, Principia Ethica, 1993).


§ Making Social Worlds: Pearce (2007)

In his quite recent work Pearce (2007) stresses the importance of the communication perspective. He strongly suggests that one ought to look at this perspective and not merely through it. That is, Pearce (2007: 1) urges the reader to ‘develop our ability to identify (critical moments) and act wisely in these moments.’ Pearce is convinced that powerful forces are pulling us forward and backward as a species and he invites us to consider some communication abilities – a communication perspective – which might in fact move us upwards.

Pearce (2007) appears keen to look into the future; a future where he apprehends a growing tension across societies between the demands of communication and technology. Pearce (2007) cautions his reader not to follow blindly in the tracks of those who have acted in the name of progress by repeating the same mistakes over and over. Instead, Pearce (2007) states his conviction that real progress comes from a re-positioning towards difference.

Pearce (2007) might be suggesting that progress is often viewed in first-order terms – when, for instance, we ought to be able to recognise a moral dimension (see Long, Little & Cronen, 1990) which may necessitate a greater, wider sense of urgency. Pearce (2007) leans on Gladwell’s (2000) notion of a tipping-point and situates his concern for the adoption of a communication perspective as acting upward progress in terms of upward evolutionary progress.

Pearce’s (2007) retelling of the tragic events of 11th Sept 2001 is poignant and subtle insofar as drawing his readers’ attention to the important background information lacking from most media sources of the time. Pearce (2007) sees these gaps as important mistakes in communicating a story with seemingly little regard paid to how apportioning blame, victimhood and persecution might affect the lives of a great many innocent people with no connection to the disaster save their common cultural identity.

He provides a framework of a different approach as possessing the following characteristics:

  • Constructing a richer narrative of the other, ourselves and the historical context
  • Constructing a more systemic description of events; beyond the jejune use of misleading binary oppositions, such as ‘us’ and ‘them’ / ‘win’ and ‘lose’ / ‘good and ‘evil’
  • Facilitating awareness of implicative and contextual forces and noting responsibility for contributing to the pattern in which we find ourselves; also, noting the opportunities for acting in new, novel ways – not merely reacting in obvious familiar ways.
  • Changing the context of the ‘common ground’
  • Attending to generative (‘appreciative’) narratives as far more productive than degenerative (‘deficit’) narratives e.g. your culture lacks … your culture is wrong because …

2. Prejudice, Reflexivity & Praxis

The next four papers under consideration (i.e. Long et al. 1990; Cecchin, 1994; Krause, 2002; Burnham, 2005) call our attention towards the theme of awareness and acknowledgment using a post-Milan approach to systemic family practice; in particular, to the good practice of exploring our own assumptions and prejudices and challenging them.

§ Uncertainty, risk taking and ethics in therapy: Krause (2002)

Let’s consider Krause’s (2002) paper where the communication perspective is positioned. That is, communication is a context, says Krause (2002), which acts as a fundamental primary process binding and embedding the human experience of the social world.

Krause (2002) views communicating and communication per se as ontological concerns. That is, a concern in relation to human existence and not a matter of knowledge, or how we might come to acquire knowledge (see epistemology).

Krause (2002) argues that precisely because communication involves uncertainty and new knowledge – see Bateson’s (1971) notion of ‘news of difference’ – cross-cultural communication is possible, whilst, in coincidence, pointing to the responsibilities of the therapist (in a cross-cultural setting) to ensure that those communications are – rightly – at all times respectful, anti-oppressive and non-discriminatory.

Clearly, Krause (2002) hastens to add, in the immediate and certain presence of uncertainty there will of course be risk. Risk is a necessary requirement within all communication in no small part due to perennial presence of uncertainty. That said, Krause (2002) suggests that risk is also an important factor when it comes to explaining difficulties related to prejudice and/or prejudicial attributions. Contrary to liberal explanations reliant on genetics, Krause (2002) highlights the importance of an increased awareness and understanding of social differences as crucial to better understanding endemic or localised prejudices and oppressive practices. (Here Krause (2002) specifically cites the findings of the second Stephen Lawrence enquiry.) (see Macpherson, 1999).

For Krause (2002), the concept of culture is an all-encompassing term which includes within its scope conscious and unconscious experiences, thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Culture also spans over and across generations of experience (i.e. intergenerational/familial scripts) as well as over and across individual experience (i.e. transpersonal scripts). That is to say, for Krause (2002), the term culture embraces a vast compass of lived experienced; it (culture) is an overarching context which embeds and binds (supervenes over) all conscious and unconscious, personal and transpersonal actions and/or processes.

Krause (2002) suggests that attention be drawn to the link between our awareness of the continuity of culture and, most crucially perhaps, the continuities of which we are most unaware which can so easily occur and sometimes appear to us as ‘natural’. Krause (2002) urges us to pause and reflect at length upon what we might consider natural.

Following in the lineage of other notable thinkers on values and ethics in practice (e.g. Moore, 1903; Arendt, 1958; Szasz, 1974; Cecchin, Lane & Ray, 1994; Barnes & Murdin, 2001) Krause (2002) situates prejudice as a necessary condition of communication – which is to say, that prejudice is viewed as an unfortunate reality of bias and attribution inhering within any form of communication. For Krause (2002) there is no escape from prejudice, so to speak.

Nonetheless, following Hoffman (1997), Krause (2002) agrees that we ‘see’ (i.e. perceive) the world through cultural lenses, particularly so, in those cases where our awareness is not wholly focused on an object, or instances where our attentional spotlight may be drawn to other objects. It is rather, for Krause (2002), crucial that we orient ourselves to becoming aware of and open to noticing (see Tracking; Hedges, 2005) those partially available objects – those minutiae of episodes – which, can exist at the very margins of our sensory experience and of others too; for it is these semi visible objects, says Karuse (2002), that those objects in the dimmed light of the periphery of our attentional spotlight can go unattended or unnoticed in spite of the actuality that such objects of concern can often be those most benefitting from the rigour of increased attention and awareness.

Keeping pace with John Dewey (see Experience and Nature, 1929) and Whyte (1997), Krause (2002) – no doubt informed by the influence of sociology and/or social psychology – seeks to locate the experience of the individual in the wider cultural context (i.e. within the experience of social action) through the use of such terms as social ‘actor’ or social ‘agent’. To paraphrase Krause (2002) the social actor is perhaps the individual who is actively and intelligently engaged in pragmatically creating some insurance despite a patent lack of assurance. Which is to say, if we, as social actors, take seriously the implications of the uncertainties of meaning said to exists at the heart of all communication, then, one might come to choose to act with a greater degree of moderation and restraint in the sure knowledge that no lasting or definitive future outcome, no predetermined consequence, can be assumed to exist.

Krause (2002) ardently believes that we cannot eliminate uncertainty from our lived experience; however, following the metaphor above regarding differences between insurance and assurance, what we can do is perhaps better orient ourselves (i.e. as systemic practitioners) toward acknowledging uncertainty as inextricably bound to an altogether more encompassing contextual appreciation – namely, culture. Thus, increase our understanding (predicated on an acknowledgement) of the patterning or mechanics or reach of this conceptual entity which we call uncertainty.

Nevertheless, Krause (2002) is wary of and alert to the dangers presented by the variously constructed dispositions and instruments of power. Power, For Krause (2002), corrupts communication precisely by exploiting the channel made available by strong contextual forces (see CMM; Bateson, 1971; Pearce & Cronen, 1980; Cronen & Pearce, 1982). Power, – or power differential – one might say, could easily be imagined as a necessary consequence of the supervenience of a larger context over a smaller context. In systemic terms, then, power may be one of the corollaries of difference.

In conclusion Krause (2002) offers the reader some consolation in the form of a rejoinder: it is in acting upon the reflections above (i.e. uncertainty, risk, not knowing, and acknowledging uncertainty) that we may advance despite the presence of uncertainty; perhaps even to take tentative steps towards ethically informed guesses and risk-taking.

§ An irreducible moral dimension: Long, Little & Cronen (1990)

Long, Little and Cronen (1990) suggest a consistent view with which to identify different types of action/activity from a systemic position of co-constructed realities. They lean heavily on Maturana’s (1985) concept of domains of knowledge: aesthetics, explanations and production. Long et al. (1990) are led to conclude that an appreciation of Maturana’s (1985) domain concept raises vital questions about the nature of neutrality within and across the domains which he views as spanning the professional systemic field.

Long et al (1990) suggest that ‘morality’ and ‘a moral posture’ are necessary features of any approach which spans the domains of aesthetics, explanation or production. In so doing they recall Aristotle’s (see Poetics) concept of a position in relational context across and between theory and practice, praxis. Long et al (1990) conclude that as systemic practice is intimately interested in human action – and by definition in these domains of knowledge (see above) – then a moral posture ought to be a necessary principle of any systemic approach/framework.

§ Managing prejudice: Cecchin (1994)

Cecchin’s (1994) paper suggests that we consider a move into a post-ideological process of questioning our prejudices and questioning how these prejudices affect those with whom we relate and communicate. For Cecchin (1994) awareness of and challenging prejudice is a matter of good ethical practice.

Cecchin (1994) provides three interesting vignettes which serve to demonstrate how prejudices (i.e. discrimination, bias and attribution) and the interaction of prejudices between therapist-team-client may in actuality transport our understanding of ourselves and others far beyond what might ordinarily be described as a useful technique.

Cecchin (1994) believes that there are predominant organising biases in the field, as follows:

  • The attempted solution is the problem
  • The Male dominated society is the root problem
  • We must tease out the attempted solutions and elaborate on them
  • If we just talk to the client in imperceptible ways something will happen
  • When in doubt ask what would happen if a miracle happened
  • Differentiate – take an “I” position
  • The hierarchy is confused

§ Enjoining with clients through the action of relational reflexivity: Burnham (2005)

Burnham (2005) locates praxis as something one does; it is an action – following in the traditional usage employed by Aristotle.

Burnham (2005) says that in 1991 he became interested in thinking about ‘questions about questions’. That is, how warming the context of an episode about the context of the content and process of an episode as such revealed much that could or could not be co-constructed between client/s and practitioner/s.

Burnham (2005) distinguishes self-reflexivity from relational-reflexivity in the following ways:

S-R is thus conceived as;

  • Pace Hoffman (1992), S-R is considered to be a process in which a therapist makes, takes or grasps an opportunity to observe, listen to, and question the effects of their practice, then use their responses to observation/listening to decide ‘How to go on’ in the episode or the work in general
  • One might say it (S-R) is a process of putting self-reflection/insight into action

R-R is thus conceived as;

  • The intention, desire, process and practices through which therapists and clients explicitly engage one another in coordinating their resources so as to create a relationship with therapeutic potential. This would involve initiating, responding to, experiment with, and elaborate the ways in which they relate
  • Relational-reflexivity is, thus, an example par excellence of praxis; that is, an ethical aspiration which can develop into a practical technique

Burnham (2005) follows Bateson’s (1972) notion that warm ideas have a better chance of survival than cold ideas. By embracing Bateson’s notion and extending it, Burnham (2005) suggests that by ‘warming the context’ the therapist can help to improve the readiness of the client/s toward the therapeutic work.

Burnham (2005) suggests that warming the context for questions – perhaps even with regard to the praxis and usefulness of questions about questions – can be a more effective technique for learning about the coherence (i.e. personal preferences, family style, cultural values) of the client/s with which we are working.

In so doing, Burnham (2005) is safely coordinating his resources in a way which ‘guesses’ and ‘takes risks’ with uncertainty, whilst also, crucially, does so respectfully and safely by moving at the pace and tempo of the episode or work set by both the therapist and the client, coextensively.

An Overview of Dialectical Behaviour Therapy in the Treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder

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This excellent article on the use of DBT in the treatment of BPD suggested itself to me as so succinct and informative I decided to not write my own thought on this subject – as it would perhaps merely be a less well constructed fascimile of Kiehn and Swales original paper.

by Barry Kiehn and Michaela Swales

Patients showing the features of Borderline Personality Disorder as defined in DSM-IV are notoriously difficult to treat (Linehan 1993a). They are difficult to keep in therapy, frequently fail to respond to our therapeutic efforts and make considerable demands on the emotional resources of the therapist, particular when suicidal and parasuicidal behaviours are prominent.

Dialectical Behaviour Therapy is an innovative method of treatment that has been developed specifically to treat this difficult group of patients in a way which is optimistic and which preserves the morale of the therapist.

The technique has been devised by Marsha Linehan at the University of Washington in Seattle and its effectiveness has been demonstrated in a controlled study, the results of which will be summarised later in this paper.


Dialectical Behaviour Therapy is based on a bio-social theory of borderline personality disorder. Linehan hypothesises that the disorder is a consequence of an emotionally vulnerable individual growing up within a particular set of environmental circumstances which she refers to as the ‘Invalidating Environment’.

An ’emotionally vulnerable’ person in this sense is someone whose autonomic nervous system reacts excessively to relatively low levels of stress and takes longer than normal to return to baseline once the stress is removed. It is proposed that this is the consequence of a biological diathesis.

The term ‘Invalidating Environment’ refers essentially to a situation in which the personal experiences and responses of the growing child are disqualified or “invalidated” by the significant others in her life. The child’s personal communications are not accepted as an accurate indication of her true feelings and it is implied that, if they were accurate, then such feelings would not be a valid response to circumstances. Furthermore, an Invalidating Environment is characterised by a tendency to place a high value on self-control and self-reliance. Possible difficulties in these areas are not acknowledged and it is implied that problem solving should be easy given proper motivation. Any failure on the part of the child to perform to the expected standard is therefore ascribed to lack of motivation or some other negative characteristic of her character. (The feminine pronoun will be used throughout this paper when referring to the patient since the majority of BPD patients are female and Linehan’s work has focused on this subgroup).

Linehan suggests that an emotionally vulnerable child can be expected to experience particular problems in such an environment. She will neither have the opportunity accurately to label and understand her feelings nor will she learn to trust her own responses to events. Neither is she helped to cope with situations that she may find difficult or stressful, since such problems are not acknowledged. It may be expected then that she will look to other people for indications of how she should be feeling and to solve her problems for her. However, it is in the nature of such an environment that the demands that she is allowed to make on others will tend to be severely restricted. The child’s behaviour may then oscillate between opposite poles of emotional inhibition in an attempt to gain acceptance and extreme displays of emotion in order to have her feelings acknowledged. Erratic response to this pattern of behaviour by those in the environment may then create a situation of intermittent reinforcement resulting in the behaviour pattern becoming persistent.

Linehan suggests that a particular consequence of this state of affairs will be a failure to understand and control emotions; a failure to learn the skills required for ’emotion modulation’. Given the emotional vulnerability of these individuals this is postulated to result in a state of ’emotional dysregulation’ which combines in a transactional manner with the Invalidating Environment to produce the typical symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder.

Patients with BPD frequently describe a history of childhood sexual abuse and this is regarded within the model as representing a particularly extreme form of invalidation.

Linehan emphasises that this theory is not yet supported by empirical evidence but the value of the technique does not depend on the theory being correct since the clinical effectiveness of DBT does have empirical support.


Linehan groups the features of BPD in a particular way, describing the patients as showing dysregulation in the sphere of emotions, relationships, behaviour, cognition and the sense of self. She suggests that, as a consequence of the situation that has been described, they show six typical patterns of behaviour, the term ‘behaviour’ referring to emotional, cognitive and autonomic activity as well as external behaviour in the narrow sense.

Firstly, they show evidence of ’emotional vulnerability’ as already described. They are aware of their difficulty coping with stress and may blame others for having unrealistic expectations and making unreasonable demands.

On the other hand they have internalised the characteristics of the Invalidating Environment and tend to show ‘self-invalidation’. They invalidate their own responses and have unrealistic goals and expectations, feeling ashamed and angry with themselves when they experience difficulty or fail to achieve their goals.

These two features constitute the first pair of so-called ‘dialectical dilemmas’, the patient’s position tending to swing between the opposing poles since each extreme is experienced as being distressing.

Next, they tend to experience frequent traumatic environmental events, in part related to their own dysfunctional lifestyle and exacerbated by their extreme emotional reactions with delayed return to baseline. This results in what Linehan refers to as a pattern of ‘unrelenting crisis’, one crisis following another before the previous one has been resolved. On the other hand, because of their difficulties with emotion modulation, they are unable to face, and therefore tend to inhibit, negative affect and particularly feelings associated with loss or grief. This ‘inhibited grieving’ and the ‘unrelenting crisis’ constitute the second ‘dialectical dilemma’.

The opposite poles of the final dilemma are referred to as ‘active passivity’ and ‘apparent competence’. Patients with BPD are active in finding other people who will solve their problems for them but are passive in relation to solving their own problems. On the other hand, they have learned to give the impression of being competent in response to the Invalidating Environment. In some situations they may indeed be competent but their skills do not generalise across different situations and are dependent on the mood state of the moment. This extreme mood dependency is seen as being a typical feature of patients with BPD.

A pattern of self-mutilation tends to develop as a means of coping with the intense and painful feelings experienced by these patients and suicide attempts may be seen as an expression of the fact that life is at times simply does not seem worth living. These behaviours in particular tend to result in frequent episodes of admission to psychiatric hospitals. Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, which will now be described, focuses specifically on this pattern of problem behaviours and in particular, the parasuicidal behaviour. DIALECTICAL BEHAVIOUR THERAPY The term ‘dialectical’ is derived from classical philosophy. It refers to a form of argument in which an assertion is first made about a particular issue (the ‘thesis’), the opposing position is then formulated (the ‘antithesis’ ) and finally a ‘synthesis’ is sought between the two extremes, embodying the valuable features of each position and resolving any contradictions between the two. This synthesis then acts as the thesis for the next cycle. In this way truth is seen as a process which develops over time in transactions between people. From this perspective there can be no statement representing absolute truth. Truth is approached as the middle way between extremes. The dialectical approach to understanding and treatment of human problems is therefore non-dogmatic, open and has a systemic and transactional orientation. The dialectical viewpoint underlies the entire structure of therapy, the key dialectic being ‘acceptance’ on the one hand and ‘change’ on the other. Thus DBT includes specific techniques of acceptance and validation designed to counter the self-invalidation of the patient. These are balanced by techniques of problem solving to help her learn more adaptive ways of dealing with her difficulties and acquire the skills to do so. Dialectical strategies underlie all aspects of treatment to counter the extreme and rigid thinking encountered in these patients. The dialectical world view is apparent in the three pairs of ‘dialectical dilemmas’ already described, in the goals of therapy and in the attitudes and communication styles of the therapist which are to be described. The therapy is behavioural in that, without ignoring the past, it focuses on present behaviour and the current factors which are controlling that behaviour. THERAPIST CHARACTERISTICS IN DBT The success of treatment is dependant on the quality of the relationship between the patient and therapist. The emphasis is on this being a real human relationship in which both members matter and in which the needs of both have to be considered. Linehan is particularly alert to the risks of burnout to therapists treating these patients and therapist support and consultation is an integral and essential part of the treatment. In DBT support is not regarded as an optional extra. The basic idea is that the therapist gives DBT to the patient and receives DBT from his or her colleagues. The approach is a team approach. The therapist is asked to accept a number of working assumptions about the patient that will establish the required attitude for therapy: 1. The patient wants to change and, in spite of appearances, is trying her best at any particular time. 2. Her behaviour pattern is understandable given her background and present circumstances. Her life may currently not be worth living (however, the therapist will never agree that suicide is the appropriate solution but always stays on the side of life. The solution is rather to try and make life more worth living). 3. In spite of this she needs to try harder if things are ever to improve. She may not be entirely to blame for the way things are but it is her personal responsibility to make them different. 4. Patients can not fail in DBT. If things are not improving it is the treatment that is failing. In particular the therapist must avoid at all times viewing the patient, or talking about her, in pejorative terms since such an attitude will be antagonistic to successful therapeutic intervention and likely to feed into the problems that have led to the development of BPD in the first place. Linehan has a particular dislike for the word “manipulative” as commonly applied to these patients. She points out that this implies that they are skilled at managing other people when it is precisely the opposite that is true. Also the fact that the therapist may feel manipulated does not necessarily imply that this was the intention of the patient. It is more probable that the patient did not have the skills to deal with the situation more effectively. The therapist relates to the patient in two dialectically opposed styles. The primary style of relationship and communication is referred to as ‘reciprocal communication’, a style involving responsiveness, warmth and genuineness on the part of the therapist. Appropriate self-disclosure is encouraged but always with the interests of the patient in mind. The alternative style is referred to as ‘irreverent communication’. This is a more confrontational and challenging style aimed at bringing the patient up with a jolt in order to deal with situations where therapy seems to be stuck or moving in an unhelpful direction. It will be observed that these two communication styles form the opposite ends of another dialectic and should be used in a balanced way as therapy proceeds. The therapist should try to interact with the patient in a way that is: 1. accepting of the patient as she is but which encourages change. 2. centred and firm yet flexible when the circumstances require it. 3. nurturing but benevolently demanding. The dialectical approach is here again apparent. There is a clear and open emphasis on the limits of behaviour acceptable to the therapist and these are dealt with in a very direct way. The therapist should be clear about his or her personal limits in relations to a particular patient and should as far as possible make these clear to her from the start. It is openly acknowledged that an unconditional relationship between therapist and patient is not humanly possible and it is always possible for the patient to cause the therapist to reject her if she tries hard enough. It is in the patient’s interests therefore to learn to treat her therapist in a way that encourages the therapist to want to continue helping her. It is not in her interests to burn him or her out. This issue is confronted directly and openly in therapy. The therapist helps therapy to survive by consistently bringing it to the patient’s attention when limits have been overstepped and then teaching her the skills to deal with the situation more effectively and acceptably. It is made quite clear that the issue is immediately concerned with the legitimate needs of the therapist and only indirectly with the needs of the patient who clearly stands to lose if she manages to burn out the therapist. The therapist is asked to adopt a non-defensive posture towards the patient, to accept that therapists are fallible and that mistakes will at times inevitably be made. Perfect therapy is simply not possible. It needs to be accepted as a working hypothesis that (to use Linehan’s words) “all therapists are jerks”. PATIENTS’ AND THERAPISTS’ AGREEMENTS This form of therapy must be entirely voluntary and depends for its success on having the co-operation of the patient. From the start, therefore, attention is given to orienting the patient to the nature of DBT and obtaining a commitment to undertake the work. A variety of specific strategies are described in the Linehan’s book (Linehan 1993a) to facilitate this process. Before a patient will be taken on for DBT she will be required to give a number of undertakings: 1. To work in therapy for a specified period of time (Linehan initially contracts for one year). and, within reason, to attend all scheduled therapy sessions.

2. If suicidal or parasuicidal behaviours are present, she must agree to work on reducing these.

3. To work on any behaviours that interfere with the course of therapy (‘therapy interfering behaviours’).

4. To attend skills training.

The strength of these agreements may be variable and a “take what you can get approach” is advocated. Nevertheless a definite commitment at some level is required since reminding the patient about her commitment and re-establishing such commitment throughout the course of therapy are important strategies in DBT.

The therapist agrees to make every reasonable effort to help the patient and to treat her with respect, as well as to keep to the usual expectations of reliability and professional ethics. The therapist does not however give any undertaking to stop the patient from harming herself. On the contrary, it should be make quite clear that the therapist is simply not able to prevent her from doing so. The therapist will try rather to help her find ways of making her life more worth living. DBT is offered as a life-enhancement treatment and not as a suicide prevention treatment, although it is hoped that it may indeed achieve the latter.


There are four primary modes of treatment in DBT :

  1. Individual therapy
  2. Group skills training
  3. Telephone contact
  4. Therapist consultation

Whilst keeping within the overall model, group therapy and other modes of treatment may be added at the discretion of the therapist, providing the targets for that mode are clear and prioritised.

The individual therapist is the primary therapist. The main work of therapy is carried out in the INDIVIDUAL THERAPY sessions. The structure of individual therapy and some of the strategies used will be described shortly. The characteristics of the therapeutic alliance have already been described.

Between sessions the patient should be offered TELEPHONE CONTACT with the therapist, including out of hours telephone contact. This tends to be an aspect of DBT balked at by many prospective therapists. However, each therapist has the right to set clear limits on such contact and the purpose of telephone contact is also quite clearly defined. In particular, telephone contact is not for the purpose of psychotherapy. Rather it is to give the patient help and support in applying the skills that she is learning to her real life situation between sessions and to help her find ways of avoiding self-injury. Calls are also accepted for the purpose of relationship repair where the patient feels that she has damaged her relationship with her therapist and wants to put this right before the next session. Calls after the patient has injured herself are not acceptable and, after ensuring her immediate safety, no further calls are allowed for the next twenty four hours. This is to avoid reinforcing self-injury.

SKILLS TRAINING is usually carried out in a group context, ideally by someone other that the individual therapist. In the skills training groups patients are taught skills considered relevant to the particular problems experienced by people with borderline personality disorder. There are four modules focusing in turn on four groups of skills:

  1. Core mindfulness skills.
  2. Interpersonal effectiveness skills.
  3. Emotion modulation skills.
  4. Distress tolerance skills.

The ‘core mindfulness skills’ are derived from certain techniques of Buddhist meditation, although they are essentially psychological techniques and no religious allegiance is involved in their application. Essentially they are techniques to enable one to become more clearly aware of the contents of experience and to develop the ability to stay with that experience in the present moment.

The ‘interpersonal effectiveness skills’ which are taught focus on effective ways of achieving one’s objectives with other people: to ask for what one wants effectively, to say no and have it taken seriously, to maintain relationships and to maintain self-esteem in interactions with other people.

‘Emotion modulation skills’ are ways of changing distressing emotional states and ‘distress tolerance skills’ include techniques for putting up with these emotional states if they can not be changed for the time being.

The skills are too many and varied to be described here in detail. They are fully described in a teaching format in the DBT skills training manual (Linehan, 1993b).

The therapists receive DBT from each other at the regular THERAPIST CONSULTATION GROUPS and, as already mentioned, this is regarded as an essential aspect of therapy. The members of the group are required to keep each other in the DBT mode and (among other things) are required to give a formal undertaking to remain dialectical in their interaction with each other, to avoid any pejorative descriptions of patient or therapist behaviour, to respect therapists’ individual limits and generally are expected to treat each other at least as well as they treat their patients. Part of the session may be used for ongoing training purposes.


Patients with BPD present multiple problems and this can pose problems for the therapist in deciding what to focus on and when. This problem is directly addressed in DBT. The course of therapy over time is organised into a number of stages and structured in terms of hierarchies of targets at each stage.

The PRE-TREATMENT STAGE focuses on assessment, commitment and orientation to therapy.

STAGE 1 focuses on suicidal behaviours, therapy interfering behaviours and behaviours that interfere with the quality of life, together with developing the necessary skills to resolve these problems.

STAGE 2 deals with post-traumatic stress related problems (PTSD)

STAGE 3 focuses on self-esteem and individual treatment goals.

The targeted behaviours of each stage are brought under control before moving on to the next phase. In particular post-traumatic stress related problems such as those related to childhood sexual abuse are not dealt with directly until stage 1 has been successfully completed. To do so would risk an increase in serious self injury. Problems of this type (flashbacks for instance) emerging whilst the patient is still in stages 1 or 2 are dealt with using ‘distress tolerance’ techniques. The treatment of PTSD in stage 2 involves exposure to memories of the past trauma.

Therapy at each stage is focused on the specific targets for that stage which are arranged in a definite hierarchy of relative importance. The hierarchy of targets varies between the different modes of therapy but it is essential for therapists working in each mode to be clear what the targets are. An overall goal in every mode of therapy is to increase dialectical thinking.

The hierarchy of targets in individual therapy for example is as follows:

  1. Decreasing suicidal behaviours.
  2. Decreasing therapy interfering behaviours.
  3. Decreasing behaviours that interfere with the quality of life.
  4. Increasing behavioural skills.
  5. Decreasing behaviours related to post-traumatic stress.
  6. Improving self esteem.
  7. Individual targets negotiated with the patient.

In any individual session these targets must be dealt with in that order. In particular, any incident of self harm that may have occurred since the last session must be dealt with first and the therapist must not allow him or herself to be distracted from this goal.

The importance given to ‘therapy interfering behaviours’ is a particular characteristic of DBT and reflects the difficulty of working with these patients. It is second only to suicidal behaviours in importance. These are any behaviours by the patient or therapist that interfere in any way with the proper conduct of therapy and risk preventing the patient from getting the help she needs. They include, for example, failure to attend sessions reliably, failure to keep to contracted agreements, or behaviours that overstep therapist limits.

Behaviours that interfere with the quality of life are such things as drug or alcohol abuse, sexual promiscuity, high risk behaviour and the like. What is or is not a quality of life interfering behaviour may be a matter for negotiation between patient and therapist.

The patient is required to record instances of targeted behaviours on the weekly diary cards. Failure to do so is regarded as therapy interfering behaviour.


Within this framework of stages, target hierarchies and modes of therapy a wide variety of therapeutic strategies and specific techniques is applied.

The core strategies in DBT are ‘validation’ and ‘problem solving’. Attempts to facilitate change are surrounded by interventions that validate the patient’s behaviour and responses as understandable in relation to her current life situation, and that show an understanding of her difficulties and suffering.

Problem solving focuses on the establishment of necessary skills. If the patient is not dealing with her problems effectively then it is to be anticipated either that she does not have the necessary skills to do so, or does have the skills but is prevented from using them. If she does not have the skills then she will need to learn them. This is the purpose of the skills training.

Having the skills, she may be prevented from using them in particular situations either because of environmental factors or because of emotional or cognitive problems getting in the way. To deal with these difficulties the following techniques may be applied in the course of therapy:

  1. Contingency management
  2. Cognitive therapy
  3. Exposure based therapies
  4. Pharmacotherapy

The principles of using these techniques are precisely those applying to their use in other contexts and will not be described in any detail. In DBT however they are used in a relatively informal way and interwoven into therapy. Linehan recommends that medication be prescribed by someone other than the primary therapist although this may not be practical.

Particular note should be made of the pervading application of contingency management throughout therapy, using the relationship with the therapist as the main reinforcer. In the session by session course of therapy care is taken to systematically reinforce targeted adaptive behaviours and to avoid reinforcing targeted maladaptive behaviours. This process is made quite overt to the patient, explaining that behaviour which reinforced can be expected to increase. A clear distinction is made between the observed effect of reinforcement and the motivation of the behaviour, pointing out that such a relationship between cause and effect does not imply that the behaviour is being carried out deliberately in order to obtain the reinforcement. Didactic teaching and insight strategies may also be used to help the patient achieve an understanding of the factors that may be controlling her behaviour.

The same contingency management approach is taken in dealing with behaviours that overstep the therapist’s personal limits in which case they are referred to as ‘observing limits procedures’.

Problem solving and change strategies are again balanced dialectically by the use of validation strategies. It is important at every stage to convey to the patient that her behaviour, including thoughts feelings and actions are understandable, even though they may be maladaptive or unhelpful.

Significant instances of targeted maladaptive behaviour occurring since the last session (which should have been recorded on the diary card) are initially dealt with by carrying out a detailed ‘behavioural analysis’. In particular every single instance of suicidal or parasuicidal behaviour is dealt with in this way. Such behavioural analysis is an important aspect of DBT and may take up a large proportion of therapy time.

In the course of a typical behavioural analysis a particular instance of behaviour is first clearly defined in specific terms and then a ‘chain analysis’ is conducted, looking in detail at the sequence of events and attempting to link these events one to another. In the course of this process hypotheses are generated about the factors that may be controlling the behaviour. This is followed by, or interwoven with, a ‘solution analysis’ in which alternative ways of dealing with the situation at each stage are considered and evaluated. Finally one solution should be chosen for future implementation. Difficulties that may be experienced in carrying out this solution are considered and strategies of dealing with these can be worked out.

It is frequently the case that patients will attempt to avoid this behavioural analysis since they may experience the process of looking in such detail at their behaviour as aversive. However it is essential that the therapist should not be side tracked until the process is completed. In addition to achieving an understanding of the factors controlling behaviour, behavioural analysis can be seen as part of contingency management strategy, applying a somewhat aversive consequence to an episode of targeted maladaptive behaviour. The process can also be seen as an exposure technique helping to desensitise the patient to painful feelings and behaviours. Having completed the behavioural analysis the patient can then be rewarded with a ‘heart to heart’ conversation about the things she likes to discuss.

Behavioural analysis can be seen as a way of responding to maladaptive behaviour, and in particular to parasuicide, in a way that shows interest and concern but which avoids reinforcing the behaviour.

In DBT a particular approach is taken in dealing with the network of people with whom the patient is involved personally and professionally. These are referred to as ‘case management strategies’. The basic idea is that the patient should be encouraged, with appropriate help and support, to deal with her own problems in the environment in which they occur. Therefore, as far as possible, the therapist does not do things for the patient but encourages the patient to do things for herself. This includes dealing with other professionals who may be involved with the patient. The therapist does not try to tell these other professionals how to deal with the patient but helps the patient learn how to deal with the other professionals. Inconsistencies between professionals are seen as inevitable and not necessarily something to be avoided. Such inconsistencies are rather seen as opportunities for the patient to practice her interpersonal effectiveness skills. If she grumbles about the help she is receiving from another professional she is helped to sort this out herself with the person involved. This is referred to as the ‘consultation-to-the-patient strategy’ which, among other things, serves to minimise the so-called “staff splitting” which tends to occur between professionals dealing with these patients.

Environmental intervention is acceptable but only in very specific situations where a particular outcome seems essential and the patient does not have the power or capability to produce this outcome. Such intervention should be the exception rather than the rule.


The effectiveness of DBT has been assessed in two major trials. The first (Linehan et al, 1991) compared the effectiveness of DBT relative to treatment as usual (TAU). The second (Linehan et al, in press) examined the effectiveness of DBT skills training when added to standard community psychotherapy.

In the first randomised controlled trial, there were three main goals:

Firstly, to reduce the frequency of parasuicidal behaviours. This is clearly of importance because of the distressing nature of the behaviour but also because of the increased risk of completed suicide in this group (Stone, 1987).

Secondly, to reduce behaviours that interfere with the progress of therapy (‘therapy interfering behaviours’), as the attrition rate from therapy in borderline women with a history of parasuicidal behaviours is high.

Finally, to reduce behaviours that interfere with the patients’ quality of life. In this study this latter goal was interpreted more specifically as a reduction in in-patient psychiatric days, which is hypothesised to interfere with the patient’s quality of life.

Participants all met DSM-IIIR criteria for BPD, and were matched for number of lifetime parasuicide episodes, number of lifetime admissions to hospital, age and anticipated good or poor prognosis.

There were 22 patients in each group. The experimental group received standard DBT as outlined above. The experience of the patients in the treatment as usual group was variable; some received regular individual psychotherapy, others dropped out of individual therapy whilst continuing to have access to in-patient and day-patient services. All participants were assessed on number of parasuicidal episodes and a range of questionnaire measures of mood. Patients were blindly assessed at pre-treatment, 4, 8 and 12 months and followed up at 6 and 12 months post-treatment. Measures of treatment compliance and other treatment delivered (e.g. in patient psychiatric days) were also taken. At pre-treatment there were no significant differences on any of the measures between the control and experimental groups including demographic criteria.

With regard to the first aim of the trial (i.e. the reduction of suicidal behaviour), during the year of treatment patients in the control group engaged in more parasuicidal acts than DBT patients at all time points. The medical risk for parasuicidal acts was higher in the control group than in the DBT group.

Patients in the DBT group were more likely to start therapy and were more likely to remain in therapy than those in the control group. The one year attrition rate in the DBT group was 16.7% compared to 50% for those in the control group who commenced the year with a new therapist. The DBT patients reported more individual and group therapy treatment hours per week than the TAU group, which reflects the intensive nature of DBT treatment. However, the control patients reported more day treatment hours per week.

With regard to the third goal of the trial, patients in the control group had significantly more inpatient psychiatric days per person than those receiving DBT (38.6 days per year as compared to 8.46 days per year for the DBT group).

These results were considered to indicate the superiority of DBT over treatment as usual. However, one major criticism of the trial is that the variable and patchy therapeutic experience of the control group may be considered to favour DBT. This criticism can be challenged, however, since one of the treatment aims of DBT is to keep the patient in therapy. This it seems to have succeeded in doing. However, it is still pertinent to enquire how well DBT would compare to a consistent treatment alternative. An attempt was made to explore this by comparing the DBT patients with those in the TAU group who received regular individual therapy. It was found that the gains of the patients in the DBT group over the TAU group remained even using this more rigorous comparison.

Despite the more intensive nature of DBT it remained cheaper than TAU, largely because of the reduction in the number of in-patient and day-treatment days received by the DBT patients.

It is of interest that, although the DBT patients showed significant gains across the three areas of interest (number of parasuicides, treatment compliance and inpatient days), there were no between-group differences on any of the questionnaire measures of mood and suicidal ideation. During the follow-up year, patients in the DBT group had higher Global Assessment Scores and a better work performance than the patients in the TAU group. In the first 6 months, DBT patients had fewer suicidal acts, lower anger scores and better self-reported social adjustment than TAU patients. In the final 6 months, DBT patients had fewer in-patient days treatment and better interviewer rated social adjustment than TAU patients.

The second trial had two parts. Firstly, it compared standard community psychotherapy (SCP) plus the group skills component of DBT with SCP alone without added skills training. Secondly, it compared the SCP group from the first part of the present study with the experimental group in the previously described randomised control trial. In this latter comparison, assignment to conditions was not random. However, all subjects were screened in the same way, during the same time frame and were all subject to blind assessment.

The results of the first part of this study indicated that the addition of DBT skills training to SCP for this group of parasuicidal borderline women did not confer any additional therapeutic benefit. In this part of the study the skills training was truly ancillary in that there were no meetings between the individual therapists and the group therapists, nor were any attempts made to assist the patient to generalise the skills learnt in the group to her everyday life.

In the second part of the study there were some pre-treatment differences between the two groups. The DBT patients were less depressed than the control group and reported higher levels of unemployment. These differences were not considered to be particularly important for three reasons. Firstly, depression was not correlated with any of the outcome variables. Secondly, although the lower depression scores favoured the DBT group, the lower unemployment favoured the SCP group. Finally, the levels of depression did not differ between the two groups after the pre-treament point.

During the treatment year there were no significant differences between the groups with regard to staying in therapy. There were some slight differences in the distribution of therapeutic hours, with DBT patients reporting more group treatment hours than the SCP group. Most importantly, however, there were no significant relationships between number of treatment hours and any of the outcome variables. Over the treatment year, standard DBT patients compared to SCP patients had fewer parasuicidal episodes, fewer episodes leading to medical treatment and fewer psychiatric in-patient days. DBT patients also reported less anger than the SCP patients.

This research then provides some evidence for the therapeutic efficacy of DBT. This evidence is primarily derived from one randomised control trial in which DBT was found to be superior on a number of variables to treatment as usual. Clearly this finding requires replication. There is also some evidence to suggest that DBT is superior to other forms of psychotherapy with this group of patients. However, this result comes from a comparison made using only a sub-sample of patients in the randomised trial (Linehan et al, 1991) and from a further comparison between two groups from different studies (Linehan et al, in press). Consequently, the effectiveness of DBT compared to other alternative treatments awaits further exploration. This will remain a challenge, particularly given the high drop-out rates from treatment of this group of patients.


Dialectical Behaviour Therapy then is a novel method of therapy specifically designed to meet the needs of patients with Borderline Personality Disorder and their therapists. It directly addresses the problem of keeping these patients in therapy and the difficulty of maintaining therapist motivation and professional well-being. It is based on a clear and potentially testable theory of BPD and encourages a positive and validating attitude to these patients in the light of this theory. The approach incorporates what is valuable from other forms of therapy, and is based on a clear acknowledgement of the value of a strong relationship between therapist and patient. Therapy is clearly structured in stages and at each stage a clear hierarchy of targets is defined. The method offers a particularly helpful approach to the management of parasuicide with a clearly defined response to such behaviours. The techniques used in DBT are extensive and varied, addressing essentially every aspect of therapy and they are underpinned by a dialectical philosophy that recommends a balanced, flexible and systemic approach to the work of therapy. Techniques for achieving change are balanced by techniques of acceptance, problem solving is surrounded by validation, confrontation is balanced by understanding. The patient is helped to understand her problem behaviours and then deal with situations more effectively. She is taught the necessary skills to enable her to do so and helped to deal with any problems that she may have in applying them in her natural environment. Generalisation outside therapy is not assumed but encouraged directly. Advice and support available between sessions and the patient is encouraged and helped to take responsibility for dealing with life’s challenges herself. The method is supported by empirical evidence which suggests that it is successful in reducing self-injury and time spent in psychiatric in-patient treatment.


Linehan, M.M. (1993a) Cognitive Behavioural Treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder. The Guilford Press, New York and London.

Linehan, M.M. (1993b) Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder. The Guilford Press, New York and London.

Linehan, M.M., Armstrong, H.E., Suarez, A., Allmon, D. & Heard, H.L. (1991) Cognitive-behavioural treatment of chronically parasuicidal borderline patients. Archives of General Psychiatry, 48, 1060-1064.

Linehan, M.M., Heard, H.L. & Armstrong, H.E. (in press) Dialectical behaviour therapy, with and without behavioural skills training, for chronically parasuicidal borderline patients.

Stone, M.H. (1987) The course of borderline personality disorder. In Tasman, A., Hales, R.E. & Frances, A.J. (eds) American Psychiatric Press Review of Psychiatry. Washington DC; American Psychiatric Press inc. 8, 103-122.

Barry Kiehn, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, Gwynfa Adolescent Service, Pen-y-Bryn Road, Upper Colwyn Bay, Clwyd, North Wales, LL29 6AL.

Michaela Swales, Chartered Clinical Psychologist, Gwynfa Adolescent Service and Lecturer in the Psychology of Adolescence, University College of North Wales, Bangor, Gwynedd, LL57 2DG.

Semiosis: Mountain and River

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Taborsky, E. (1998) ‘The Mountain and the River: Two levels of codification’. Architectonics Of Semiosis (p. 4)

The concept of a force of infinite and continuous power has played and always will play an important role in the human idea of reality. The truths or powers of this force are understood to exist per se esse: separate and, indeed, unaffected by any of the immediate particularities of life. This essentialist purity provides the continuity of life and is more expan­sive, more enduring, and more powerful than any single articulation. It has been imagized in countless tales, among many peoples, as a moun­tain. We read that:

“They that trust in the Lord shall be as mount Zion which cannot be re­moved, but abideth forever.” (Ps. 125: 1);

and also

“He set above them

Granite of high mountains-and a king Empowered at command to rein them in

Or let them go.” (Virgil 1990: Bk. I. Lines 86-89);

as well as

“On the face of the mountain, the cedar lifts its seed.

Its shade is good, full of comfort.” (Gilgamesh 1984: p. 133).

Another common image is that of water – the rain, the rivers, the streams. We read that “a mist went up from the earth/and watered the whole face of the ground” (Gen. 2:4); and “A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers” (Gen. 2:10). Water, in the boundless polyphonic plurality of its forms, is the image of renewal of the immediate, the multiple individual experiences of life. “Blessed are ye that sow beside all waters” (Isa. 32:20); life can begin again.

Semiosic actions within the architecture of a regime of knowledge con­sist of these two seemingly contradictory forces of stability and change. The individual sign, unfettered as these waters, must always, however one defines it, “dwell in the shelter of the Most High” (Ps. 91) and operate within the bonds of another force, for “In the Lord I take refuge. . . [I] flee like a bird to the mountains” (Ps. 11). What is the relationship of these two disparate forces, which operate within a single regime and, therefore, must interact? What of other relationships and other interactions that must be dealt with by a regime of knowledge?

(p. 5)

S’an ist une goute de sane Do fer de la lance an somet,

Et jusqua la main au vallet (Chretien de Troyes [c.1181] 1990: lines 3136-3139)

Un graal entre ses deux meins

Une demoisele tenoit (lines 3158-3159)

“Reality exists; it is “Other” to us. We fall over, bump into, meet with the brutality of its basic existentiality; as Peirce described, “the real is that which insists upon forcing its way to recognition as something other than the mind’s creation …. The real is active; we acknowledge it, in calling it the actual’ (1.325). We generally admit that we experience the realities of this otherness within the particular nature of ourselves as individuals, “for all men begin, as we said, by wondering that things are as they are” (Aristotle Metaphysics Bk.I:Ch.2.983a15).

Therefore, I am bringing to this analysis a premise that the Self and the Other(s) – we and whatever we experience in external reality-both exist. A key question is, do we have direct or indirect access to the verities of this experienced reality? Is our understanding dyadic and direct between these IWO focal points, the Self and the Other, or is it triadic, with a mediate ac­t ion inserted between these two nodes? These two cognitive frames, the dyadic and triadic, are as ancient as human thought. I consider this debate, over the existence of a mediate metanarrative that plays a role in cognition, the basis of all human inquiry. There seem to have been only these two an­swers, both of which have their followers: a dyadic cognitive frame, which is to say, direct and lacking mediation; and a triadic, which includes a me­diative action. The dyadic interaction operates within a unileveled, or one ­dimensional, architecture; the triadic operates within a bileveled, or multidimensional, architecture. A unilevel architecture involves codal or semiosic actions operative only as particular or single-fact existences; a bilevel architecture adds codal actions of generalization and commonality to those of the particular sign.

Most of the time our reflections about the codal operations of the uni­versal and the particular forces consider one of the two as dominant. In­deed, the history of analytic theories within both the sciences and the humanities is a pendulum swing of exploring, promoting, privileging, denying, or rejecting one or the other as the basis of our reality. However, it is the thesis of this book that the most strategically adaptive semiosis is operative within a bilevel architecture. One level, the group based on continuity, permits stability. The other level, the individual-based line of finite specificity, permits heterogeneity and diversity.”

(p. 139)

“The only way for energy, as desire, to exist is via the development guarantees of codification. Peirce described this energy as “a chaos of un­personalized feeling, which being without connection or regularity would properly be without existence” (6.33). These guarantees are achieved by the development of hierarchical levels of codification of both simple and com­plex-interlocking, delocking, relocking, new locking-networks of codi­fication via which energy moves in a continuous production of signs. Networks of relationships, pragmatic and reflexive (which means an ability to be meaningful) are the infrastructure of semiosis.

Di Quoi Ii Graus sert?

Et Percevaus redit tot el …

Tant que il do Graal savra

Cui I’en an sert, et qu’il avra

La Lance qui saigne trovee

Tant que fa verite provee

Ii soit dite por qu’ele saigne.

(Chretien de Troyes, lines 4656-4670)

Semiosis is the transformation of energy into spatiotemporal reality; it is an ac­tion operating within the desire of energy for codification. This desire is expressed-is empowered in its search for codification-within the action of the question. The question opens the current state of codification, the current semiosis, to its potential transformation into a new semiosis. Life exists within the doubt of the question, and never within the fullness of the answer. “Love is not specially the cause of existence; for in collecting things into the One it destroys all other things” (Aristotle Metaphysics Bk. III: Ch. 4. 1000b12)

THE BASIS OF SEMIOSIS IS THE DESIRE OF ENERGY TO BE ENCODED. [PW syntax] An imme­diate assumption by my use of the word “desire” is that I am denying what Monod (1971) defines as “the basic premise of the scientific method, to wit, that nature is objective and not projective” (1971: p. 3); I am completely in agree­ment with this statement-however, Monod continues that “the positing of the principle of objectivity as the condition of true knowledge constitutes an ethical choice and not a judgment arrived at .from knowledge, since, ac­cording to the postulate’s own terms, there cannot have been any ‘true’ knowledge prior to this arbitral choice.” (1971: p. 176).

(p. 140)

I am therefore insisting on an original “teleonomy” or intentionality of desire, both within the origin of the mediative codal actions (to be discussed as agaplastic desire) and within its ongoing operation (to be discussed as tychastic and agaplastic desire). This first premise, which is and must be a conscious and therefore ethical choice, is that this semiosic desire-which is to say, the infinite action of questioning – can only exist within the reflexive capacities of a bileveled semiosis.

The codal operations that emerge within the semiosic states of desire develop in evolutionary processes. What is evolution? Evolution operate within the desire for the articulation or codification of energy and exists within the realities of entropy. Codes emerge spontaneously within this state of desire. “The evolution of forms begins or, at any rate, has for an early stage of it, a vague potentiality; and that either is or is followed by a continuum of forms having a multitude of dimensions too great for the in­dividual dimensions to be distinct. It must be by a contraction of the vagueness of that potentiality of everything in general, but of nothing in particular, that the world of forms comes about” (Peirce 6.196). This orig­inal intentionality includes no instruction, no agenda, no particular gram­mar for the metanarrative or the signs of semiosis. Semiosic intentionality must be understood as operative within “the realm of perennial metamor­phosis … of every beginning, when the word has not yet detached itself from the thing, nor the mind from the matter” (Calasso, 1993: p. 137). It is “a process which extends from before time and from before logic, we can­not suppose that it began elsewhere than in the utter vagueness of com­pletely undetermined and dimensionless potentiality” (Peirce 6.193). Emergence of the basic code within a knowledge-regime is not simply and only tychastic and chance-driven; that is, isolate and unaffected by Other­ness; but is also operative within the desires, the codal attractions imposed by adjacent codal networks.4 And, therefore, “part of that which is chang­ing must be at the starting-point and part at the goal” (Aristotle Physics Bk. VI: Ch. 4. 234bI5); and “the unfailing continuity of coming-to-be cannot be attributed to the infinity of the material. … [Rather] the passing-away of this is a coming-to-be of something else, and the coming-to-be of this a passing-away of something else” (De Gen. Bk. I; Ch. 3.318a 20-25). Mat­uration, or the evolutionary development of these “selected” codes, will be anancastic – mechanically implemented, incremental networkings and “robust” or functional couplings with other codal networks. Therefore, within a state of desire for codification, actual codes emerge within the limited choices imposed by the current realities of codal Otherness, and

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this choice is made within the unpredictabilities of chance and accident; the “selected” or chosen codes, if successful within the limitations of the existent codalities of the Self and Other(s), quickly transform themselves into grammatical laws of regulatory order and, thus, increase the semiosic complexities and capacities of that particular regime of knowledge.

The codal grammars of the human species are expressed not merely within the physical, chemical, and biologic but also the conceptual codifi­cations. This is the real reason why we define Homo sapiens as “social”­ because the metanarrative is developed and functions within metaphors developed by the imagination, and the imagination is a communal and in­teractive force. “Experience is knowledge of individuals, art of univer­sals … yet we think that knowledge and understanding belong to art rather than experience. .. [and] these things, the most universal, are on the whole the hardest for men to know; for they are farthest from the senses” (Aristotle Metaphysics Bk.I.Ch.1, 2). The perpetuation of life requires the development of a metanarrative that operates within the generalities of in­terconnected habits of being. This generality is not that of any differential specification but “looking upon the course of logic as a whole we see that it proceeds from the question to the answer-from the vague to the defi­nite. The indeterminate future becomes the irrevocable past. In Spencer’s phrase the undifferentiated differentiates itsel[ The homogenous puts on heterogeneity. However it may be in special cases, then, we must suppose that as a rule the continuum has been derived from a more general con­tinuum, a continuum of higher generality” (Peirce 6.191).

Each society will develop a metanarrative grammar and its attendant networks over long periods of time-in a pragmatic, which means re­flexive-sense.5 These metanarratives are not rational architectures, con­cise blueprints of instructional goals, but are dialogic adaptations over time to particular stable and changing realities, beginning with a simple and moving into a complex semiotic architecture. “The activity of an or­ganism in any living system must favour both the environment and the organism itself” (Harries-Jones 1995,76). I am repeating Peirce’s dictum “there are Real things, whose characters are entirely independent of our opinions about them” (5.384). I am quite capable of describing an alli­gator as a metaphoric clone of any ill-favoured politician, but I am no more capable of creating that alligator than it can create me. My rela­tionships with the Real must acknowledge the force of its potential im­pact on me; as such, these relationships develop within the basis of communal generalities developed over time.”