Being Human and What Matters To Us

In my last few posts on Being Human I’ve looked at Archer’s account of emotionality. Integral to this is the internal dialogue through which first-order emotionality (natural, practical and social affectivity) gives rise to what Archer calls second-order emotionality. She represents this process  in terms of stages of discernment, deliberation and dedication. I initially found her thinking on this difficult to grasp but my understand of it, which she’s read and not disagreed with, is that this is intended schematically: the actual biographical movement through these ‘stages’ is messy and particularistic but it is nonetheless possible to analytically delineate distinct steps.

What renders this ‘internal dialogue’ necessary is the fact that our first-order emotions are commentaries “upon something independent from emotionality itself”. It is a “dialectic between our human concerns and our emotional commentaries upon them” in which “both elements will undergo modification because of the interplay between them” (Archer 2000: 23). This takes place through a conversation which is “passionate and cognitive through and through” in which “logos poses questions and pathos gives it commentary” but “both the present and the future self make use of each of them”. It incorporates a significant counter-factual element involving “interior examination of future scenarios to discover if and how the two can fit together and live together in alignment, were certain concerns to become designated as a person’s ultimate ones” (Archer 2000: 231). The notion of ‘internal dialogue’ here, refined over her next three books, should not be construed in a reductively linguistic or rationalistic way:

Procedurally too, just because the conversations takes place using words (the private use of the public linguistic medium), care must be taken not to stock the cards in favour of logos. Firstly, words themselves can be infuse with passion; they do not condemn us internally, any more than in our interpersonal exchanges, to being dispassionate conversationalists. Secondly, words themselves depend upon the non-verbal images they summon-up and often need supplementing with pictures of future reality. So too, part of the conversation will be wordless, as the various parts of the self jointly contemplate their past, present and future emotional reactions by reviewing, reliving or imagining the quality of their feelings. The ‘agenda’ of the ‘I’ and the ‘You’ is to produce a joint articulation of their ultimate concerns, as ones to which the self can be wholeheartedly attached: but since this is about caring, which entails an external ‘object’ and a subjective commitment, the outcome itself will be a blend of logos and pathos. (Archer 2000: 231)

Discernment is a process in which “the subject and object, the ‘I’ and the ‘You’, work together to review the projects in which they might invest their caring” (Archer 2000: 232). Emotionality leaves us with a (fallible) understanding of that to which we are drawn. But “however strongly we are drawn to a particular project, there are other concerns which have to command our attention, such as the state of our health, the need to earn a living and other people’s views of our relationships, actual and potential” (Archer 2000: 232). These do not constitute a ‘reality principle’ to which potential projects that matter to us are counterposed because these concerns also matter to us. Emotions provide the ‘shoving power’ which moves us to action (though what they move us to is not therefore moral, as Archer takes issue with Taylor’s account) but they do not prescribe what action should be or how the various projects (i.e. agential doings in the broadest sense)  which might emerge from our concerns can be made to cohere. Discernment involves a “preliminary review of those projects we have reason to deem worthwhile” (Archer 2000: 233). It involves a integrative evaluation of “the things we are doing, the things we have done and the things we could do” which aims to orientate us towards what would be satisfying and sustainable for us to do now.  There’s a lovely Zygmunt Bauman quotes which captures something of this: “In what we do we hardly ever start from a clean slate. The site on which we build is always cluttered: the past lingers in the same ‘present’ in which the future tries to take root“. Our past actions, choices and evaluations are sedimented in the present moment in a way which constrains and enables how we are able to orientate ourselves towards our futures:

The “i” is constantly engaged in a review of its current concerns, though this is rarely how people think of it themselves, but it becomes more recognisable if we put it in terms of the constant stream of internal awareness about our satisfactions and discontents – which are our emotional commentaries upon our present position. When living in any particular house, we continuously register its inconveniences and attractions which crystallise into decisions about home improvements or ceteris paribus into a decision to move. (Archer 2000: 234)

While I don’t that example has quite the universality she imagines, it nicely captures the continual and in motion nature of discernment. We recognise aspects of our present circumstances as significant and contemplate potential projects arising from these concerns, through appeals, aspirations, reproaches and challenges which we make to ourselves.

Deliberation involves the evaluation of the concerns and potential courses of action which we have discerned. It is a “matter of question and answer, of re-questioning and following-up, of amended questions and modified responses” (Archer 2000: 236). It can involve concerns being discarded as we interrogate ourselves about whether “I really care enough to keep doing this?” or “does X matter to me given Y and Z”, observable in our lives when “a skill falls into disuse, a practice is continued, a friendship lapses or a commitment is transformed” (Archer 2000: 236). These deliberations involve “a very provisional ranking of the concerns with which the self can live” as a process in which “concerns have been progressively compared and clarified and the relative worth of various projects has emerged” (Archer 2000: 236). It involves us considering how costly these various commitments might be and how they can be integrated into the overall fabric of our lives and made to live with our other concerns.

Dedication is the “emergent moment to which the previous two moments of dialogical interaction have been leading intra-personally. It entails an accommodation of concerns, as well as the courses of action to which they orientate the subject, which is satisfying and sustainable. It involves judgements of worth and determination of projects. The claim here is not that “subjects themselves will see their internal conversations in terms of a debate about objective worth” but rather that these are experienced in a much more particularistic way as considerations about what to do and who to be (within condition not of our choosing which impinge upon our deliberations in all manner of ways, some of which recognised but others not). It entails the establishment of a modus vivendi: “the prioritisation of the three orders, via an evaluation of concerns pertaining to them, and an accommodation of the concerns belonging to the other two orders, in such a manner that the subject believes this to be a working balance – one with which he or she can live with as their individual modus vivendi” (Archer 2000: 238). The most explicitly such a modus vivendi enters into a subject’s deliberations is in existentially orientated questions concerning “what am I going to do with my life?”. More often, this over-arching perspective is subsumed under the particular concerns at stake and the particular questions their prioritisation and accommodation pose within the context of the lived life.

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