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Archived Comments for: No departure to "Pandora"? Using critical phenomenology to differentiate "naive" from "reflective" experience in psychiatry and psychosomatic medicine (A comment on Schwartz and Wiggins, 2010)

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  1. Reponse by OP Wiggins and MA Schwartz to Schlimme, Bonnemann and Mishara

    Michael Schwartz, U of Louisville, Louisville KY (OP Wiggins) and Austin State Hospital, Austin Texas (MA Schwartz)

    1 November 2010

    Response to "No departure to Pandora: Using critical phenomenology to differentiate 'naive' from 'reflective'experience in psychiatry and psychosomatic medicine (A comment on Schwartz and Wiggins, 2010).

    Osborne P Wiggins and Michael A Schwartz

    Schlimme, Bonnemann, and Mishara develop several criticisms of our article, “Psychosomatic Medicine and the Philosophy of Life” [1]. We shall not address all of their criticisms here, however. We shall rather attempt to show how their main ones are misdirected.

    Schlimme et al draw a phenomenological distinction between “naïve” and “reflective” experience which they think carries numerous methodological implications and which they see us as failing to respect. This methodological failure on our part, according to them, vitiates our entire attempt to sketch a non-dualistic understanding of mind and body. The methodological distinction in their eyes is closely tied to the various “reductions” that Edmund Husserl repeatedly urged. Rather than enter into this argument with them, we wish to point out that we are doing something else, something quite different from the set of problems which they think germane here.

    We are assuming a number of phenomenological findings regarding the mind that Husserl, Merleau-Ponty, Heidegger, Jaspers, and others developed and adopting these findings for use in a non-phenomenological manner. We shall not list all of these findings here. Central among them are intentionality (with its cognitive, affective, and conative dimensions) and time consciousness (Zeitbewusstsein). We are then extrapolating from the properly phenomenological descriptions of these findings and pointing to analogous (although certainly not identical) features in other living beings. Our central aim is not a phenomenology of mind. It is rather a philosophy of life [2]. We suppose that our method can be termed “metaphysical” in the sense that we trying to conceptualize some of the essential structures of all living beings. But our own method is definitely not phenomenological. We are presupposing as given and taking over the findings of others who have employed the phenomenological method, and we are, in a non-phenomenological manner, transferring these notions beyond their human forms to non-human forms of life. There is certainly a speculative element in what we are doing. But we minimize this element by basing our claims in the work done by biologists and phenomenologists. In other words, we think our claims justified because they are based on claims found in biology and phenomenology. We are generalizing at a higher theoretical level than the levels at which biologists and phenomenologists proceed. In this manner we are seeking a theory of organism to unify these. It is precisely because we share Schlimme et al’s high regard for the intellectual rigor of phenomenological reflection that we choose this discipline as the best available characterization of the human mind on which to base our extrapolations. But since mind is not our target concept, we are moving beyond these to basic features of life.

    Approaches such as ours are usually criticized as “anthropomorphism.” The charge that imputing human characteristics to non-human reality is a mistake is an old one. It was made at the beginning of the Modern epoch just before Rene Descartes (1595-1650) divided mind and body through developing his novel metaphysical dualism. Francis Bacon (1561-1626) insisted that imputing “final causes” to nature was a mistake issuing from anthropomorphism [3]. Final causes, according to Bacon, “are plainly derived from the nature of man rather than the universe, and from this origin have wonderfully corrupted philosophy” (Bacon, p. 44). This charge was, of course, part of the critique of Aristotelianism in general that cleared the ground for the construction of the new picture of the universe advanced by Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, and subsequently Newton. At the very outset, then, the banning of “final causes” – or more generally, teleology – from nature became a methodological stricture for engaging in scientific investigation. In other words, the scientist must, even at the beginning, to commit himself to abstracting from and disregarding any aspect of teleology, even in living beings (Jonas, 2001, 33-37).

    Not long after Bacon, Descartes solidified this banishment of teleology from nature by providing a proper place for teleology, namely, in the res cogitans that humans alone possessed. Since there was a separate metaphysical domain within which teleology could find a home, there was no puzzle in its constant appearance. And teleology was excluded from “nature” since this nature was defined as exclusively res extensa. Cartesian metaphysical dualism thus shows both why anthropomorphizing nature is possible and why it is a mistake (Jonas, 2001, 33-37).

    This, however, is precisely the logical move that we wish to challenge. By asking why the evidence from human life is excluded from the understanding of non-human life, we seek to assert that it need not be. This is why we appealed to Darwin. One of the main thrusts of the theory of evolution is to argue that human life must be conceived in the same terms in which non-human life is understood. Human life is thus reintegrated back into the general realm of living beings. With this reintegration anthropomorphism appears as no longer such an egregious mistake. Attempting to conceive features of non-human life in terms of human life seems to be needed if we are to develop an inclusive comprehension of this reintegration. We can now legitimately ask how far the characteristics of human life, such as teleology, extend into the region of life in general (Jonas, 2001, 38-63).

    More particularly, we can inquire into the features of human life because we are ourselves alive and thus have constant and direct experience of what living is like. We have privileged access to life through our own immediate experience of being alive. Granted, this is a “pre-reflective” experience of ourselves. But we human beings, as many philosophers have maintained, are capable of reflecting on our own experience and thereby uncovering its main characteristics. We think phenomenology has most successfully carried out this reflective enterprise and thus furnished us with numerous findings about the life process, at least insofar as that living is experienced by the living subject. Biology and related sciences have, of course, provided us with other evidence. Hence we think it possible to consider both this “inner” and “outer” understanding of life and attempt to delineate features they share.

    As any reading of our article will make plain, we are not seeking to solve the “hard problem” of the link between brain events and mental events in the specific sense in which some cognitive neuroscientists and philosophers are. Our concern is not with mind/brain, but rather with the more encompassing reality of life. The concept of life subsumes those of mind and brain. Mind and brain must exhibit the features we attribute to life, but we have not resolved the more specific question of mind/brain interaction by describing the living organism within which, at least in higher forms of life, mind and brain function.

    We are not herein expressing a wish to “depart to Pandora” – wherever or whatever that may be. Nor to restore “animism” – except to those animate beings which are self-evidently animate despite generations of thinkers who have sought some way around this fact.


    1. Schwartz MA, Wiggins OP. Psychosomatic medicine and the philosophy of life. Philosophy Ethics and Humanities in Medicine 2010, 5:2 doi:10.1186/1747-5341-5-2

    2. Jonas H. The Phenomenon of Life: Toward a Philosophical Biology, New York: Dell Publishing Co., Inc; 1966.

    3. Bacon F. The New Organon. (Eds. L Jardine, M Silverthorne) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 2009.

    Competing interests

    The authors have no competing interests to declare