CHAPTER 8
Our Way of Coping: Symbols and Symboling

Ecological psychology stems from, and rests on, a revolutionary account of perception. But perception is common to all animals; so much is evident to every one but Descartes and his most fanatical followers. To most perceptionists and to many Darwinians, too, it would seem, then, that we are 'just like' any old animal. Yet, as I have recurrently been stressing, we are also rather odd animals. We cope with the world around us, as all animals do, by reliance on our perceptual systems. Yet, all the same, there also seems to be something rather different about us compared to our fellows in other animal populations. And certainly the way we make knowledge claims, while it is rooted in our animate being and our animate situation, also differs significantly from the way other critters manage.

What's the difference? Merleau-Ponty's distinction among the physical, vital and human orders may give us the locale for an answer, reminding us that we are not to be placed in sharp dichotomy over against other animals, but that we exhibit a different life style among others. Still, we need more than that. How shall we characterize what used to be called "the uniqueness of man'? Like many practitioners of philosophy (though, surprisingly, by no means all of them), I have tried from time to time to express some thoughts about this issue, back in 1947 in a paper in Ethics, (quaintly entitled 'On Some Distinctions between Men and Brutes'), in my Davis research lecture of 1971, 'People and Other Animals', in discussions of some European writers, and most recently in a book written with Niles Eldredge on the biological basis of social systems ( Columbia, 1992). For some years, indeed, as I mentioned earlier, I hoped to formulate a version of what is called in Europe philosophical anthropology, a philosophy of human nature that makes more use of apposite empirical knowledge than most philosophers in the Anglo-American tradition are inclined to do. Nothing came of this project; the present chapter is yet another attempt

-153-

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A Philosophical Testament
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • For My Family, Both Irish and American v
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction 1
  • Part 1 - Knowing 7
  • Chapter 1 - Knowledge, Belief, and Perception 9
  • Chapter 2 - Rereading Kant 29
  • Chapter 3 - Beyond Empiricism? 47
  • Part 2 - Being 65
  • Chapter 4 - Being-In-The-World 67
  • Chapter 5 - Darwinian Nature 89
  • Chapter 6 - The Primacy of the Real 113
  • Part 3 - Coping 127
  • Chapter 7 - Perception Reclaimed: the Lessons of the Ecological Approach 129
  • Chapter 8 - Our Way of Coping: Symbols and Symboling 153
  • Chapter 9 - On Our Own Recognizances 173
  • Index 191
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