To exist in the human sense of course means not merely taking up three dimensional space through a duration of time, but engaging with the world in meaningful ways. Many such ways count as thinking, and some count further as knowing, but much else that is essential to being human meets neither criteria, and is thus never considered in most philosophical reflection. We postulate that all but a very few matters of philosophical import can avoid relying on some sort of philosophical anthropology, however thinkly sketched or merely implied, to serve as the cornerstone of the ontology, again frequently only implied, that provides the background to their inquiry. Consequently, one needs to grasp adequately the contours and layout of human existence, beyond mere thinking and knowing, in order to gain the right orientation for any sort of ethical, political, or even epistemological investigation, and so on. One’s starting point is everything in philosophy, and we advocate beginning with full-blown human engagement in the world.


Early in the introduction to Mind and World John McDowell takes an almost apologetic tone as he leads the reader away from the overriding focus of empiricist philosophy since the birth of the Modern period, that of properly conceiving and analyzing human knowledge of the world, to what McDowell argues is the more primordial relation between homo sapiens and their environment, that of thought. While affirming the insight that problems of knowing are rooted in failures to understand adequately what is involved in thinking, we the authors of this essay wish to join the early Heidegger in taking a further step back beyond McDowell’s destination to what we contend is the further fundament of all human relations, that of existing.

Alright, having sketched some ideas for a while and then drawn out a semi-organized second draft, it’s time to consider ways to break down and then reassemble the pieces we’ve brought together so far to produce a coherent article. We’re hoping four drafts do it, with the fourth amounting to a clean up of the third. We’re under two months to the due date, so that’s where we need to be.

Greig and I agreed that the “praxis hermeneutics” bit of the second draft interested us most, and so we sought out ways to highlight that angle while keeping to our original proposal (to analyze the relationship between language, praxis, and meaning, particularly as developed in the work of Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Gadamer, Sellars, Brandom, and Lance) as much as possible. We decided that our best approach would be to move the Taylor/Schatzki social practices piece to the front, presenting it as a broad account of the human condition, and as our endorsed take on the same, and using that as a staging ground for branching off into the work of the other philosophers we’re considering. We discussed a bit whether we wanted Taylor/Schatzki to serve as a foil for these other views, or whether we were more inclined to try to synthesize all of these views.

Not surprisingly, Greig and I opted to emphasize the latter, to ask not, “Which of these views is closest to being right?”, but rather, “How could all of these views be maximally true?” If a philosophy is not basically true in its salient points, why bother examining it?

So now we start over. I’ve got an idea for an opening section working with a quote from John McDowell’s Mind and World. Then we’ll see how fully we want to develop the Taylor/Schatzki account. In the final version I think this section should be quite large, and it has to provide the context for our sorting out what language is and how it functions in human life, as well as what praxis is both in abstraction from and in collaboration with language.

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At this point we are ready to begin reformulating the guiding questions of this investigation. We began by asking after the relationship between praxis, language, and meaning. Through consideration of a number of different approaches to aspects of this relationship, we have gathered the resources necessary to carry out this analysis with fuller understandings of what each of our three guiding terms mean. We can also both separate out and integrate questions concerning the phylogeny, ontogeny, founding, and scaffolding of the praxis/language whole.

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The question becomes how sayings, however elaborate their grammatical structure, alter the meaning of a situation from that available when mere doings are at work, even given the saying-doing continuum previously noted. The two main indicators on this question are Brandom’s work on explication and Charles Taylor’s work on articulation. Briefly, Brandom treats language primarily as a means of codifying meanings already implicit in practice, and hence likely expressed in doings, in such a way as to make them more susceptible to what he terms “deontic scorekeeping,” which we can gloss here as the normative accounting of the rightness of our own or another’s behavior, particularly according to the canons of formal logic. Taylor, on the other hand, focuses on humans as self-interpreting animals, and stresses the role of language in making manifest understandings and self-understandings implicit in our practices, hence expressed in doings, thereby typically altering those conceptions and affiliated future behavior, if for no other reason than that such manifestations can clarify such meanings. The clarity here is essentially a hermeneutic and not a logical clarity.

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It is important to note at this point, however, that we are not simply equating sayings as such with doings. As the anthropologist William Hanks notes in his Language and Communicative Practices, an adequate account of lived language must give equal consideration to both the pragmatic aspects of language as action and the structure of grammar as conceived by Chomskian linguistic and other formal approaches. That is to say, the meaning of sayings depends both on the role those actions play in practices and on their internal structure. Those who wish to emphasize the former point are apt to highlight examples of simple utterances that fit neatly into a given practice, such as a basketball defender yelling, “Pick right!” to signal an oncoming pick to a teammate, or a builder commanding, “Slab!” to an assistant as an order to bring a slab hither. Those who wish on the contrary to stress the latter view will be more likely to consider the complexity of sentence- or paragraph- length utterances, or even more extensive texts, extracted from their sites of use. For our purposes in this essay it is important to acknowledge the distinctive modes of meaning made possible by grammatically structured sayings while always returning to social practices as the context in which such sayings find their home. There is no contradiction between the conviction that language is an inherently praxis-based condition and the view that human beings are genetically predisposed to understand and be able to produce grammatical utterances whose structure is underdetermined by the data he or she encounters.

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Practices thus provide the background against which, to use Schaztki’s terms, both “doings” and “sayings” have the meanings they do. The same physical action that would constitute a pick in a basketball game mean either something else or nothing at all in a board meeting, during spring cleaning, or on a night on the town. Similarly, the same utterance that would count as a challenge of another player’s foul call in that same game of basketball will mean either something else or nothing at all in any of these other contexts. Now, however, it is worth considering more carefully Schaztki’s distinction between doings and sayings. Doings are basic human actions or noteworthy refusals to act such as standing still or remaining silent. Sayings are a subset of doings, specifically those aimed primarily at expression, changing the intelligible environment without altering the physical environment. Utterances, including the conveyance of propositions usually studied by philosophers of language, are a subset of sayings, which in fact form a fuzzy continuum with non-saying doings. Indeed, it is difficult for a doing not to “say” something; or, to put the same point another way, the mere doings that carry out a practice express meanings that participants can and usually do “read” so as to understand what is going on. This is, in fact, precisely the sort of non-linguistic, praxis-based meaning we have discerned on display in the philosophies of the Founders and, in a somewhat different form, in that of the Pittsburgh Hegelians. On this account, then, to call a particular doing a “saying” is to signal that its principal function is to say something, as any doing could potentially do so. To return briefly to the basketball example, in the hurly burly of even the fairly slowly paced game in question, smooth play requires coordination between teammates largely without benefit of spoken instructions or requests. Instead, players quickly “read” the doings and anticipated doings of various other players on the court, and act against the resulting, instantaneously shifting background, on the basis of their “feel for the game.” Certain configurations of bodies mean “an easy basket” or “don’t drive there,” though those words need never be spoken or even thought. That this last point can scarcely be conveyed in the present context — that of writing a philosophical article — without use of language says much about the intelligible structure of philosophy, but not about the intelligible structure of basketball.

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Teleoaffectivity is one of the main means by which adult human life can be distinguished from that of other animals. Other animals, including human infants, have ends, as well as understandings. They lack, however, both explicit formulations specifying how they should behave and the complex and shifting interplay of ends and moods typical of adult human practices. This teleoaffectivity is the key to practice-based hermeneutics, as interpreting any given doing or saying involves discerning the practice or practices in which it plays a part, particularly the ends toward which it is directed and the moods it expresses. Our actions are transparent to ourselves and to others largely to the extent that the practices we are taking part in are familiar and apparent to all.

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It can also be the case,  though, that other major practices are active here. Several of the players could be co-workers, for instance, and their playing could be an expectation of, and thus an extention of, their work. Some of the players could be prisoners on home release, with this activity serving as their primary opportunity to leave their houses. One player could be a doctor who will act as the team physician in a time of need.  Two or more of the players could be in-laws using Saturday mornings as a chance to improve their family relationship. One player could be a heart patient following his doctor’s orders to get more regular, medium-stress exercise. All of these practices contain ends, of any of which various participants may or may not be conscious at particular times, that signify the actions it makes sense to do.

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In addition, it is typically the case that a particular series of human events takes part in multiple major practices. The practice of basketball itself of course can contain within it numerous minor practices, including such dispersed practices as asking questions, such more complex practices such as arguing attuned to basketball as arguing calls, and basketball specific practices such as setting picks that will most likely appear in other contexts only as jokes — setting ordinary actions in unexpected social settings is a simple and common comedic tool. Minor practices, however, are organized only by understandings and rules, and it is the teleoaffectivity expressed in major practices that most interests us here. In the practice before us winning need not be the only end. Staying in shape and making and maintaining friendships are other possibilities, and each can ultimately specify actions that conflict with the sole goal of winning, indicating safer plays for health’s sake and less competitive play in certain circumstances to maintain a collegial  mood.