"But in the night of thick darkness enveloping the earliest antiquity, so remote from ourselves, there shines the eternal and never failing light of a truth beyond all question: that the world of civil society has certainly been made by men, and that its principles are therefore to be found within the modifications of our own human mind."
     (Vico, 1744/1948: #331)

"Sithen I recouered was, haue I ful ofte
Cause had of anger and inpacience,
Where I borne haue it esily and softe,
Suffringe wronge be done to me and offence,
And not answerid a[gh]en but kepte scilence,
Leste [th]at men of me deme wolde and sein,
'Se howe this man is fallen in a[gh]ein.'"
     (Hoccleve, ca. 1420/1981: 81)


In his article Making sense on the boundaries: on moving between philosophy and psychotherapy, Shotter (1994) interprets three clinical examples from the perspective of Wittgenstein's thinking about language and grammar. He articulates very crisply the figure of `psychotherapy' as a reshaping of conversation. I want to extend his perspective on 'making sense on the boundaries' to the ground or social context of 'psychotherapy'. How does philosophy connect to 'boundary' in this wider scope?


Formation of society by social conditioning

Our commonplace has that some external circumstance, be it 'nature' or 'nurture', is the origin of social phenomena, and the pursuit of specialists in attending to such matters. Shotter (1994: 55-56) characterizes this thematic approach thus: The 'way of thinking about human activities in terms of practitioners putting theories of professional experts into practice' is entirely inadequate. Rather, people are 'involved' in what they do. "The world of civil society has certainly been made by men," and this obvious truth governs how we know things. Shotter (1993) describes a 'knowing of the third kind', or knowledge from direct involvement such as is appropriate for people understanding civil society given that people in fact made it.

Here I'm going to discuss some of the complexity of involvement as a process and will extend the implications of 'knowing from being involved', as I would put it. I "cannot avoid some working decision about the various phenomena intended by the term 'rationality'," as Garfinkel (1967) has it. This 'rationality' will have to illuminate the immanent experience of knowing. And part of what involvement entails is that sometimes we get terribly close to, or 'tangled up in' this immanent experience.

Vico's metaphor of Jove brings us to the immediate experience of originary social conditioning. "When at last the sky fearfully rolled with thunder and flashed with lightning .. a few giants .. frightened and astonished by the great effect whose cause they did not know .. raised their eyes and became aware of the sky .. and because .. their nature was that of men all robust bodily strength, who expressed their very violent passions by shouting and grumbling, they pictured the sky to themselves as a great animated body, which in that aspect they called Jove." (Vico, 1744/1948: #377) The mind-boggling experience of pairing the lightning bolt and the 'Jovian sky' shapes language, the very tropes of our expression, our 'social poetics' (Shotter, 1995a) itself. Shotter (1991: 4) describes the experiencing of this learning in the language of rhetoric, as a sensory topic. It feels like "a sensuous totality, combining thunder with the shared fears of the limits of one's being, along with the recognition of the existence of similar feelings in others because of shared bodily activities."

In order to comprehend fully the motion between philosophy and 'psychotherapy' on the 'boundaries', we should look at the prototypical 'boundary' situation that arises in the intense involvement above. At the point of social conditioning itself, how does the 'boundary' appear? Is it fair to say that the boundary is that traumatic understanding, is that limit we are thus conditioned to? How are we bonded to the conditioning? In Gestalt terms, if the conditioning is figure, what about its ground?


The alien experiment

Suppose that an alien team, for whom that Vichian fable of Jove is a commonplace, seeds an uninhabited planetary area with 'first people' who are sentient beings without language. These beings happen to be insect-related sapients whose biology is to show fear by their chittering antennae. Thus when the thunderbolts inspire a mutual recognition of fear and situation, it is the motion of the antennae which is the visual cue of the emotional response. So the first difference from Vico's 'giants' is in the cognition that accompanies the sensual experience of 'Jove'.

Now suppose that the unseen alien team adds another twist, that after the thunderstorm, piles of chocolates are found in special locations. Here on top of pairing 'Jovian sky' and 'lightning bolt' we tack on a pairing with 'chocolates'. Thereupon, following Vico's model, the common sense of this 'first people' is subject to a manipulation of timing by the alien team. In knowing social reality from involvement, they stand to be 'blindsided' because in fact they have more than the direct 'Jovian event', as such, to deal with. The chocolate- covered origin of this 'first nation' is totally originary for its people and a total artifice for the alien team.

How, in such a case, is everyday reality to be understood? How are any arcane phenomena to be figured out? Vico (1744/1948: #381) talks about the "theological poets, or sages who understood the language of the gods expressed in the auspices of Jove; and were properly called divine in the sense of diviners, from divinari, to divine or predict. Their science was .. defined by Homer as the knowledge of good and evil; that is, divination." In present-day terms, we are looking at the identification of the 'ontological difference' (Grassi and Lorch, 1986). That is, there is knowing from the 'calculus of beings' to explain the sensory topics (egoism) or there is direct connection to the Being of the situation (vision). Do you 'see' past the originary social conditioning, or are you its devotee? And what do you do about those piles of chocolates?

Thus, if the Jovian fable is metaphor for the origin of a social institution, then we must allow that there is a level in it where desultory aspects of the figure of the conditioning situation, such as the chittering antennae, not just the lightning bolt, becomes part of the originary material. If the possibility of artifice is also considered, then the way we are involved itself becomes problematical. As a crude approximation, the Aztec culture of human sacrifice and ritual cannibalism is so remote from us as to seem an alien design (Jennings, 1982). In fact, however, each social institution arises from a specific, unique context apart from itself. The task becomes that of divining in the murky circumstances aspects of the rationality and irrationality of origin. We conclude that the knowing experience itself has turned out to be invested with troublesome proclivities, to be wildly out of control!

Now we look at the self in the Vichian framework. His "first men, who spoke by signs" (Vico, 1744/1948: #379) remind us of G.H. Mead's (1934) metaphor of the two dogs fighting. Mead has it that the one dog sees itself, sees its self, in the way its gestures are responded to by the other dog. Their social condition is grasped as 'other', inasmuch as it is the ground of the second dog's action. In the case of the alien experiment, we must ask how it affects the `generalized other' for the 'first men'. When they perceive the lightning bolt, they imagine Jove and thereby impose a figure/ground construct on reality. The sight of the chittering antennae is particular to their figure of reality; it serves as an aspect of their 'calculus of beings'.

As we said, the kind of self that these 'first men' make may go beyond the egoism of involvement with beings to the vision of divining such as the mystery of the piles of chocolates. The quality of 'generalized other' they attain varies accordingly. The artifice of the experiment (thus, by extension, the condition of formation of a social institution) imposes a profound irrationality on their social condition. The kind of 'generalized other' appropriate to the visionary self is overwhelmed by irrationality, thus perforce mad. Consequently, the question of what we mean by 'boundary' in the context of this experimental manipulation becomes if anything more problematical.

When the other gets tangled