Experimental Philosophy as Anthropology

It begins on the first day of teaching, now entering my thoughts as the new school year approaches…so rapidly. The course to come will be splendid, the best ever: I feel so “sharp,” so ready to espouse/spout the truth to come!

I note all the students sitting there, not merely at ease, or with various sorts of questioning appearances. Rather they are mostly staring at me, “their” teacher; rather staring “through me” looking to see…what, who? Am I, can I ever be, who they want somehow to penetrate; to be…?

In those instants, beyond the talk which I talk of the course to come, I wonder who they are, who they see in me. And who am I, runs so rapidly in my being, that I find it difficult – so difficult to grasp my own “presence” – and remain the teacher I would be, even as I am anthropologist to them and to my own being.

Writing in response to Christopher Kelty’s post on Savage Minds about Experimental Philosophy (x-phi), I am pleased, perplexed, pensive… I have lived (still do!) the life of the Anthropologist who would be doing philosophy, and imagine that we might one day find each other. Soon?! Maybe.

Trained principally, to study language and behavior and sociality/culture, I begin by including “myself” in the study of anyone’s language, culture, thought…Who am I, where am I, how did I get here, how to be the “measurer” of all things?

As a self-proclaimed “Anthropologist of the Ordinary,” I understand the temptations to study the “exotic,” but note that the ordinary human is much more exotic than we have noted. The human body which exists in the world with others’ bodies (the Pragmatism of G.H. Mead inserts itself into this approach) is a brilliant and ongoing piece of work, that we seem to want to underestimate as some derivative of the idea of mind.

This, to state that Experimental Philosophy which would be Anthropology, should begin not only be “asking” others, but observing others and oneself (asking). We note that the infant “attaches” itself to its m/other – survives and “emerges” to become a self. The infant, in effect “joins” or “becomes” its m/other; it is student, thence studies her presentation of the world and language.

On the questions of our being, not “cogito ergo sum.” Rather I “am” because; because m/other sees “somebody there” and the (philosophical) anthropologist observes the small and large of the persistent interactions between infant and m/other. “Eventually” the social child “emerges” from these intense interactions to become it-self. Be there, and try to see…

The locus/origin of morality is located here – out of the (moral) commitment which m/other invests in her child’s being: confirming that there is “somebody there” (as Elaine Morgan stated it), and engaging its being. The nagging question of “certainty” of knowledge is located here, as well as the locus of morality.

It is the m/other who confirms being until…until the child grows and become “dangerous to itself” as it moves, runs, jumps (especially with gravity). Her “job” – at this point – is to get her child to “take care of itself as she would” – the onset of morality, conscience, consciousness, which has perplexed us for…ever.

So, now we can begin to examine how each of us comes to trust oneself in the ordinary: driving on the freeway at 80 mph, knowing “where” one is and is going, whether the architects and builders of my 20th floor condo knew what they were doing – rises excitingly as each next storm floats into my vision’s sightings.

What is the human face – so complex – what does the face do when it sees others’ faces – a great deal! How do we “know” others: mainly by and as their faces! What is a face? – how do faces “happen” – get their shapes, genders, ages, beauty…? Very complicated, but essentially absent – so far – from the quest for knowledge?

How does a powerful person: body, facial presentation, “convince” anyone (students?) to hear what they want us to hear? Where is the locus of our integrity: how to tell oneself, trust one’s knowing? What is the nature of our “contract” with others and the world? – ask our m/others, whose contracts with each of us who got to here, was and remains powerful and enduring.

So, ask others, but also observe them, and oneself observing! Toward a “wedding” of Experimental Philosophy and an Anthropology (of the Ordinary)…