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Narrative and the knowledge of persons Methought I saw my late espoused saint Brought to me like Alcestis from the grave, Whom Jove’s great son to her glad husband gave, Rescued from Death by force, though pale and faint. Mine, as whom washed from spot of childbed taint Purification in the Old law did save, And such as yet once more I trust to have Full sight of her in heaven without restraint, Came vested all in white, pure as her mind. Her face was veiled; yet to my fancied sight Love, sweetness, goodness, in her person shined So clear as in no face with more delight. But, O!, as to embrace me she inclined, I waked, she fled, and day brought back my night. -- John Milton, “On His Deceased Wife”
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Narrative and the knowledge of persons Introduction In the second chapter, I argued that narratives have a contribution to make to analytic philosophy, which is blind to some things without the help of narratives. In the third chapter, I argued that there are things we can know which are philosophically significant but which are difficult or impossible to translate into knowledge that. I called this kind of knowledge ‘Franciscan knowledge’, and I argued that Franciscan knowledge includes much, if not all, of what has been subsumed under knowledge by acquaintance, and other things besides. In particular, I argued that a kind of knowledge of persons is philosophically significant Franciscan knowledge. But what is the knowledge of persons and what does it have to do with narratives? In this chapter, I want to finish the apologia pro methodologia mea by trying to explain more clearly what the knowledge of persons is and what the role of narratives is in conveying it.
Autism It is helpful to begin by considering autism. The rapid, perplexing increase in the incidence of autism has led to a correlative increase in research on it (or on ‘autism spectrum disorder’, as it is now often called, to indicate the variability of the disorder). One pair of researchers sums up the disorder by saying that “the chief diagnostic signs of autism are social isolation, lack of eye contact, poor language capacity and absence of empathy”.1 Trying to summarize his own understanding of autism, Peter Hobson, a developmental psychologist, says that these diagnostic signs of autism arise “because of a disruption in the system of child-in-relation-to-others”.2 He expresses himself in this deliberately unconventional and obscure way, because he is struggling to make a point which is at once scientific and philosophical. By way of explanation, he says,
Chapter 4: 3 of 35 “my experience [as a researcher] of autism has convinced me that such a system [of child-in-relation-to-others] not only exists, but also takes charge of the intellectual growth of the infant. Central to mental development is a psychological system that is greater and more powerful than the sum of its parts. The parts are the caregiver and her infant; the system is what happens when they act and feel in concert. The combined operation of infant-in-relation-to-caregiver is a motive force in development, and it achieves wonderful things. When it does not exist, and the motive force is lacking, the whole of mental development is terribly compromised. At the extreme, autism results.”3 Trying to capture what it was like for her to live with an autistic child, the mother of that child says that her daughter’s “eerie imperviousness, her serene self-sufficiency, belonged to those who, like the fairies, can live somehow untouched by the human experience.”4 Whatever ties together the different clinical signs of all the degrees of autism spectrum disorder, the most salient feature of the disorder is its severe impairment in the cognitive capacities necessary for what some psychologists call ‘social cognition’ and some philosophers call ‘mindreading’. This is the knowledge of persons and their mental states.
Autism and typically developing children Autism’s deficits as regards social cognition or mind-reading have made researchers increasingly aware of what typically developing children can do effortlessly. So, for example, numerous studies5 show that a pre-linguistic infant can know her primary care-giver as a person and can even, as it were, read the mind of her care-giver to some limited extent.6 Attempting to describe what it is that typically developing infants can do, Hobson says, “To be emotionally connected with someone is to experience the someone else as a person. Such connectedness is what enables a baby… to differentiate people from things.
Chapter 4: 4 of 35 I don’t just mean that it is used to classify people as one type of thing and objects as other types of thing. A baby could do this on the basis of a number of physical features such as size, the presence of arms and legs, spontaneous motion, and so on. I mean something deeper. It is through emotional connectedness that a baby discovers the kind of thing a person is. A person is the kind of thing with which one can feel and share things, and the kind of thing with which one can communicate.”7 In fact, it has become clear that a pre-linguistic infant’s capacity for social cognition is foundational to the infant’s ability to learn a language or to develop normal cognitive abilities in many other areas. The difficulty in learning language evinced by many autistic children seems to be a function of the fact that autism leaves a person severely impaired as regards the knowledge of persons. The knowledge which is impaired for an autistic child, however, cannot be taken as knowledge that something or other is the case. A pre-linguistic infant is not capable of knowledge that a particular person is her mother; but she can know her mother, and to one extent or another she can also know some of her mother’s mental states. Conversely, an autistic child can know that a particular macroscopic object is her mother or that the person who is her mother has a certain mental state. But the autistic child can know such things without the knowledge that comes with mindreading. For example, an autistic child might know that his mother is sad, but in virtue of the impairment of autism he is unlikely to have this knowledge that because he knows the sadness of his mother. An autistic child can know that the person he is looking at is sad because, for example, someone who is a reliable authority for the child has told him so. This is clearly not the same as the child’s knowing the sadness in the face of the person he is looking at.8 What is impaired in the cognition of an autistic child is a direct knowledge of persons and their mental states. What sort of impairment is this? Hobson gives a psychologist’s view of a philosophical controversy by commenting that, “developmental psychologists [and, he might have added, philosophers] have taken to calling a [normally developing] child’s growing understanding of people’s
Chapter 4: 5 of 35 mental life a ‘theory of mind’. In many ways this is a daft expression because it suggests that a child theorizes about the nature of feelings, wishes, beliefs, intentions, and so on. This is not what happens at all. The child comes to know about such aspects of mental life, and the way the child comes to know is mostly very unlike theorizing.”9 Some neurobiologists working in the area share this view. So, for example, Vilayanur Ramachandran and Lindsay Oberman put the point this way, “Saying that people with autism cannot interact socially because they lack a ‘theory of other minds’ does not go very far beyond restating the symptoms.”10 For his part, Hobson quotes Wittgenstein to help him explain the kind of knowledge which typically developing infants do have and with regard to which autistic children are impaired. He says, “’We see emotion’ -- As opposed to what? -- We do not see facial contortions and make
the inference that he is feeling joy, grief, boredom.”11 For Hobson, we know the mental states of others not as knowledge that but more nearly by direct awareness, in the manner of perception, as it were. As far as that goes, knowledge of mental states is conveyed not only by facial expression, but also by, for example, gesture and inarticulate vocal sound. The knowledge conveyed by these means, however, is also not always, or not entirely, translatable into knowledge that. Trying to explain what gesture adds to speech, one pair of researchers says, “because gesture is less codified than speech and has the potential to convey information imagistically…, meanings not easily encoded into speech can be conveyed in the accompanying gestural stream.”12
Chapter 4: 6 of 35 There is apparently some innate brain system for such non-linguistic communication by gesture. Congenitally blind children, who have never seen the gesture of another, tend themselves to develop patterns of gesture and to use them as a means of aiding communication by speech.13 Presumably, what one knows which one communicates by gesture is not propositional knowledge either. If it were readily translatable into propositional knowledge, it is hard to imagine why blind children would avail themselves of communication by gesture rather than communication by speech. It is also not surprising to learn from recent neurobiological studies that the production and interpretation of the affective elements of vocal sound are subserved by a brain system different from that which is responsible for the semantic and syntactic elements of language.14 What is it that we know when we hear a person groan or giggle? What is the difference between what we know when we hear a groan and what we know when we hear a giggle? How would we translate what we know when we hear a person giggle into knowledge that? That the person giggling is amused? Is nervous? Is trying to be flirtatious? Or that the person has a conjunction of some but not all of these attitudes? And how would those attitudes have been different if the person had chuckled instead of giggling? And so it is apparent now that normally functioning human beings have the capacity for a knowledge of persons and their mental states which is fundamentally different from knowledge that. Insofar as autistic children are deficient in their knowledge that something is the case as regards the mental states of other people, it is because they are first impaired in their capacity for a kind of knowledge which is not reducible, or not entirely reducible, to knowledge that. But what is this cognitive capacity? How are we to understand it and the kind of knowledge it makes possible?
Mirror neurons There is as yet no uncontested explanation of autism; but at present two lines of research seem particularly promising in their ability to illuminate it. Studies done by developmental psychologists and discussed also by philosophers highlight a deficiency
Chapter 4: 7 of 35 among autistic children in their capacity for engaging in what researchers call ‘attention sharing’ or ‘joint attention’. For purposes related to my larger project, I am reserving a consideration of this research for a later chapter.15 Here I want to call attention only to the second line of research, that having to do with mirror neurons. (It may be that the system of mirror neurons also explains the capacity of non-autistic human beings to participate in shared or joint attention, but consideration of the neural substrate of joint attention is outside the bounds of my project.) Recent studies have demonstrated that “newborn infants less than an hour old can …imitate facial gestures…. Even in circumstances of … delays (of 24 hours) infants clearly remember and imitate gestures. … Furthermore, the data… indicate that neonate imitative behavior involves memory and representation, since imitation can happen even after a delay.”16 Like an infant’s ability to recognize persons as persons and to know (some of) the mental states of other persons, an infant’s ability to imitate facial expressions is a perplexing phenomenon. As Shaun Gallagher says, “It is clear… that newborns do not have a visual perception of their own face…”17 It is also clear that a newborn is not able to know that the person whose facial expression she is imitating is a person, that that person shares with the infant the property of having a face, or any of the myriad other items of knowledge which seem necessary for a newborn to attempt to mimic the expression on someone else’s face. How is it, then, that neonates can imitate facial expressions? One hypothesis has to do with the recently discovered brain system of mirror neurons. In the 1990s, a team of Italian neuroscientists discovered that certain neurons -which they came to call ‘mirror neurons’ -- fire in the brain both when one does some action oneself and also when one sees that same action being performed by someone else. Since then, we have learned that, as Gallagher says, mirror neurons “constitute an intermodal link between the visual perception of action or dynamic expression, and the first-person, intrasubjective… sense of one’s own capabilities.”18 A neonate is able to imitate a facial expression on the part of another person because it has the capacity to know, as it were, from the inside what it is that the other is doing.
Chapter 4: 8 of 35 It now seems as if the mirror neuron system is the foundation for the capacity of all normal human beings at any age to know the mind of another person. When John sees Mary smile at him and pick a flower in a certain way, he knows that she is going to give the flower to him.19 How does he know what she is doing? How does he know what she is feeling and intending to do? The Italian team of researchers responsible for the discovery of mirror neurons says, “A decade ago most neuroscientists and psychologists [and, they might have added, philosophers] would have attributed an individual’s understanding of someone else’s actions and, especially, intentions to a rapid reasoning process not unlike that used to solve a logical problem: some sophisticated apparatus in John’s brain elaborated on the information his senses took in and compared it with similar previously stored experiences, allowing John to arrive at a conclusion about what Mary was up to and why.”20 The discovery of the mirror neuron system has made this sort of attempt at understanding the human ability to mindread look Ptolemaic. Trying to summarize their discovery, the Italian researchers say, “John grasps Mary’s action because even as it is happening before his eyes, it is also happening, in effect, inside his head. … mirror neurons permit an observed act to be directly understood by experiencing it.”21 This summary of theirs is not entirely perspicuous since it is not clear what it is to experience an observed act. Nonetheless, the research of these neurobiologists, as well as that of many others, has shown convincingly that mirror neurons underlie the human capacity to know not only someone else’s actions, but also her intentions and emotions. Describing their research on the role of mirror neurons in mediating the knowledge of intentions, another team of researchers says,
Chapter 4: 9 of 35 “the ability to understand the intentions associated with the actions of others is a fundamental component of social behavior, and its deficit is typically associated with socially isolating mental diseases such as autism…. Experiments in monkeys [have] demonstrated that frontal and parietal mirror neurons code the “what” of the observed action….The findings [of this study]…strongly suggest that this mirror neuron area actively participates in understanding the intentions behind the observed actions…. The present data show that the intentions behind the actions of others can be recognized by the motor system using a mirror mechanism.”22 Researchers in another study sum up their study of the mirror neurons in the inferior parietal lobule by saying, “these neurons not only code the observed motor act but also allow the observer to understand the agent’s intentions”23. And they generalize the results of their research this way: “Understanding “other minds” constitutes a special domain of cognition…. Brain imaging studies suggest that several areas might be involved in this function… Given the complexity of the problem, it would be naïve to claim that the mechanism described in the present study is the sole mechanism underlying mind reading, yet the present data show a neural mechanism [i.e., the mirror neuron system] through which a basic aspect of understanding intention may be solved.”24 Other research has shown that the mirror neuron system is also involved when a normally functioning person knows the emotion of another. One group of researchers exploring mirror neurons and emotion make it clear that, in their view, the mirror neuron system mediates one particular kind of knowledge of emotion. So, for example, as regards disgust, they say
Chapter 4: 10 of 35 “populations of mirror neurons in the insula become active both when the test participants experience the emotion and when they see it expressed by others. In other words, the observer and the observed share a neural mechanism that enables a form of direct experiential understanding.”25 Like many people working in the field, these researchers are concerned to distinguish a mindreading kind of knowledge from knowledge that. And so they put the results of their research this way: “Observing another person experiencing emotion can trigger a cognitive elaboration of that sensory information, which ultimately results in a logical conclusion about what the other is feeling. It may also, however, result in the direct mapping of that sensory information onto the motor structures that would produce the experience of that emotion in the observer. These two means of recognizing emotions are profoundly different: with the first, the observer deduces the emotion but does not feel it; via the second, recognition is firsthand because the mirror mechanism elicits the same emotional state in the observer.”26 It is not entirely clear what these researchers mean by saying that the mirror mechanism elicits the same emotional state in the observer. It is certainly not the case that every time a person observes the emotion of another, he comes to have that same emotion himself. But perhaps these researchers mean only that one can feel something of the emotion of another as that other’s emotion. Still other researchers try to explain the cognition in question by claiming that the mirror neuron system allows us to simulate the mental states of others. So, for example, one prominent team of neurobiologists says, “One of the most striking features of our experience of others is its intuitive nature…. in our brain, there are neural mechanisms (mirror mechanisms) that allow us to directly understand the meaning of the actions and emotions of others by internally replicating (‘simulating’) them…”27
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And in an effort to give their own philosophical explanation of what they take simulation to be, these neurobiologists say that the particular kind of cognition subserved by the mirror neuron system is achieved “without any explicit reflective mediation. Conceptual reasoning is not necessary for this understanding. As human beings, of course, we are able to reason about others and to use this capacity to understand other people’s minds at the conceptual, declarative level. … [but] the fundamental mechanism that allows us a direct experiential grasp of the mind of others is not conceptual reasoning but direct simulation of the observed events through the mirror mechanism.”28 This is not completely clear and accurate either, of course. It is not illuminating to try to understand the mirror neuron system in terms of simulation, in my view. 29 And it is not correct to describe the cognition subserved by the mirror neuron system as nonconceptual. When John knows the emotion Mary is feeling, he must know it by means of some concept, such as the concept of affection, say, or gratitude. But what all these researchers are struggling to describe is the knowledge of another person and of that other’s mental states when that knowledge shares features with the phenomenology of certain kinds of perception. Like the perception of color, for example, the knowledge of persons at issue here is direct, intuitive, and hard to translate without remainder into knowledge that, but very useful as a basis for knowledge that of one sort or another. John knows that Mary is going to give him a flower because he first knows Mary, her action, her emotion, and her intention -- but these are things which he knows by, as it were, seeing them, and not by cognizing them in the knowledge that way. This is, in effect, the phenomenon of the Franciscan knowledge of persons.30 And so these discoveries about the mirror neuron system help to explain the Wittgensteinian point Hobson made in the quotation I cited earlier. We see emotion, as we see intention, because the mirror neuron system gives us some sort of direct apprehension of someone else’s mental state. Or, as Hume put it, many years before the discovery of the mirror neuron system,
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“The minds of men are mirrors to one another, not only because they reflect each others’ emotions, but also because those rays of passion, sentiments, and opinions may often be reverberated.”31 And that is why Hume says of himself, "A cheerful countenance infuses a sensible complacency and serenity in my mind, as an angry or sullen one throws a sudden damp upon me."32
Mirror neurons and Franciscan knowledge No doubt, further research will demonstrate that, besides the system of mirror neurons, there are also other neural systems which enable the human capacity for mindreading.33 Whatever these neural systems may turn out to be, however, it does seem to be the case that the mirror neuron system has a large role in the brain processes which underlie the Franciscan knowledge of persons. Of course, this is not to say that the mirror neuron system is necessary for all varieties of Franciscan knowledge. Franciscan knowledge, as I attempted to capture it in the preceding chapter, is not confined to knowledge of persons; and chances are excellent that parts of the central nervous system other than the mirror neuron networks will be found to underlie those other abilities. So, for example, the noted Russian neurologist A. Luria reported the case of an early twentieth-century composer, Shebalin, who lost virtually all of his linguistic abilities as a result of a stroke; but while he was in this condition, he composed a symphony now highly regarded by musically literate listeners. Shebalin’s cognition of music was preserved in the face of his stroke because it was not mediated by a natural language and did not constitute knowledge that. In general, the basics of language are processed in the left cerebral hemisphere, but many elements of music are processed in the right. If at least some of the knowledge of music which allowed Shebalin to compose
Chapter 4: 13 of 35 after his stroke counts as Franciscan, then this Franciscan knowledge is subserved at least in part by the particular right-hemisphere systems involved in music.34 Furthermore, there are also neural systems which process the musical elements in the production and comprehension of ordinary, natural languages; these can be undermined or destroyed independently of other linguistic capacities. For example, the knowledge of whether an English-language question such as “Do you want coffee or tea?” admits of a yes-or-no answer depends on a direct intuitive understanding of the import of the intonation with which the question is uttered. The knowledge of the import of intonation seems to be a case of Franciscan knowledge too, and it is also processed in the right hemisphere systems involved in music.35 Or consider the case of the fine arts. In his insightful study of the knowledge mediated by the visual arts, Dominic McIver Lopes says, “Even Plato should grant that some knowledge can be obtained from pictures. Looking at Rembrandt’s painting Belshazzar’s Feast in the National Gallery…, you may learn that it is painted in oils, that there are paintings by Rembrandt in London, and that it depicts the divine hand. These are instances of ‘knowledge about’ a picture… We can know these facts about a picture just as we know similar facts about any object.”36 Lopes calls this sort of knowledge ‘knowledge about’ pictures. Obviously, however, knowledge about a picture does not exhaust the knowledge mediated by pictures. Lopes calls the special kind of knowledge mediated by pictures ‘knowledge in’, because it is knowledge which is seen in a picture, as it were. Struggling to give his own explanation of knowledge-in, Lopes says in frustration, “[knowledge-in] is not propositional knowledge amenable to analysis by the standard… account of knowledge. It is a different creature entirely. Nobody has managed a remotely clear description of the creature.”37 And Lopes goes on to ask,
Chapter 4: 14 of 35 “How can pictures convey knowledge-in if the contents of knowledge are propositions? … A still life by Chardin depicts a collection of objects as appearing a certain way, and a grasp of the picture requires only that its viewer see the objects in it; but seeing-in is arguably non-propositional.”38 Part of the problem here is that Lopes is trying to fit the knowledge gained through contemplation of pictures into the prevailing epistemological view which takes all knowledge (or virtually all knowledge) to be propositional knowledge or knowledge
that,39 and part of the solution to Lopes’s puzzle is just to accept that knowledge-in is not propositional. In fact, Lopes’s “knowledge-in” is analogous to the knowledge of persons, not only in the sense that it is not reducible to knowledge that, but also in the sense that it is immediate, intuitive, and difficult to articulate in language. Lopes tries to answer his own question about the non-propositional knowledge mediated by pictures with the help of contemporary virtue epistemology. He says, “a picture may… have cognitive merit because it fosters or reinforces an intellectual virtue”.40 This is a promising, if undeveloped, idea for an explanation of Franciscan knowledge of pictures, and it may be helpful for thinking about Franciscan knowledge in general. On this suggestion about the nature of Franciscan knowledge, Franciscan knowledge could be understood as the veridical delivery of a cognitive faculty when that cognitive faculty is aimed at veridicality and is functioning properly in its normal environment,41 where veridicality is a matter of an epistemic connection to things in the world which is correct but which is nonetheless not propositional.42 When the cognitive faculty in question is operating in this way at some particularly high or meritorious level, then its deliverances count as the manifestation of epistemic virtue of some kind. But these are very controversial matters which cannot be adjudicated in passing in a chapter, and I raise them here only to leave them to one side. Whatever the appropriately clear description is of the knowledge of pictures of concern to Lopes, or of Franciscan knowledge in general, no doubt this sort of knowledge is subserved by central nervous networks different from those involved in the knowledge of music and different from the mirror neuron system underlying the Franciscan
Chapter 4: 15 of 35 knowledge of persons. So the mirror neuron system is not the whole of the neural systems underlying Franciscan knowledge; for that matter, it is unlikely to be the whole even of the neural systems underlying the knowledge of persons. As far as that goes, it seems unlikely that experiences of an immaterial deity, if there are any, would be mediated in part or in whole by the mirror neuron system. Nonetheless, attempts by theologians and others to describe such experiences resemble descriptions of the ordinary experiences which are mediated by the mirror neuron system. So, for example, Martin Buber says, “The essential element in our relationship to God has been sought in a feeling that has been called a feeling of dependence… [T]he one-sided emphasis on this factor leads to a misunderstanding of the character of the perfect relationship. … [F]eelings merely accompany the fact of the relationship which after all is established not in the soul but between an I and a You.”43 The cognition human beings use in this I-Thou relationship is immediate, in Buber’s view. He says, “It is not as if God could be inferred from anything…. It is not as if something else were “given” and this were then deduced from it. This is what confronts us immediately and first and always, and legitimately it can only be addressed, not asserted.”44 Whatever cognitive capacities might underlie the sort of I-Thou experience of God Buber is concerned with here, it will have a substrate which is, at best, only analogous to the mirror neuron system.
A caveat: the fallibility of Franciscan knowledge Even if the Franciscan knowledge of persons is not mediated solely by the mirror neuron system, thinking of it as having a source in the mirror neuron system is propaedeutically helpful in various ways. For example, it renders unworrisome, because
Chapter 4: 16 of 35 familiar, the undeniable conclusion that Franciscan knowledge is fallible, however generally reliable it may be. Given the importance of Franciscan knowledge in the chapters that follow, it is prudent to say something more about this fallibility here.45 One team of Italian researchers introduce their overview of the mirror neuron system by saying, “Humans are an exquisitely social species. Our survival and success depends crucially on our ability to thrive in complex social situations.”46 Like the sensory system subserving perception, the mirror neuron system is built to enhance survival in the particular social circumstances in which it works reasonably reliably; but, as in the case of more familiar human cognitive capacities, there are undoubtedly also circumstances and conditions in which it will yield erroneous results. We can think of Franciscan knowledge of persons as very roughly analogous to perception in the nature of its reliability. Perception, too, is generally reliable, and yet it can go wrong in more than one way. So, for example, there are perceptual illusions: I think that I see water on the road ahead of me; but the appearance of water is an optical illusion, and there is no water there. There is also perceptual ambiguity. I think that I see a bear, but in fact the thing that is the object of my visual experience is a bear statute. In this case, I do see something that is really there, something bear-shaped; but the visual information is insufficient to determine what exactly it is which is bear-shaped, and I form a false belief on the basis of that perceptual information when I think that I see a bear. So, the perceptual faculties can give information about the object of perception that is ambiguous, and judgment based on this information can consequently be incorrect. Roughly the same sorts of things can be said about the brain systems and cognitive capacities that produce Franciscan knowledge of persons. Although for normally functioning people in normal circumstances, these systems and capacities are generally reliable,47 they can go wrong. When they go badly wrong, they yield not so much illusions as something which might appropriately be called ‘delusions’. There are perfectly ordinary cases of the fallibility of the capacities underlying Franciscan knowledge of persons. For example, a battered wife looks at her husband, in
Chapter 4: 17 of 35 the aftermath of a beating, and she apparently sees love in his face; but she is deluded. There is no real love in the batterer. Furthermore, there obviously is also ambiguous information which can yield incorrect results. A teacher confronting two students she believes to have cheated on an exam may get ambiguous information from her face-toface encounter with them, and that ambiguous information may not be sufficient to enable her to perceive which of them is lying in protestations of innocence. For that knowledge, the information she gets from her interaction with the students may well be insufficient. If she feels she knows which of the students is the cheater, she deludes herself, we might say.48 On the other hand, there are also core cases of perception in which, in ordinary circumstances, we find it virtually impossible to doubt a particular perception. In ordinary circumstances, I cannot be shaken in my belief that this in front of my eyes is my hand. There are analogous cases for Franciscan knowledge, too. In ordinary circumstances, when my daughter is immediately before me, I cannot be shaken in my conviction that
this before me is my daughter. In ordinary circumstances, a man coming home late and drunk to confront a furious wife has no doubts at all about her mental state. It is noteworthy that some religious believers have supposed that certain religious experiences carry with them conviction of this kind. So, for example, Teresa of Avila gives as one mark of a genuine religious experience of God that the person who had the experience is unable to doubt that she was in the presence of God during it.49 In the biblical stories examined in the chapters to follow, there are biblical characters who manifest such core cases of Franciscan knowledge in their interactions with God. Job's response to God's speeches, for example, strongly suggests that, in the narrative, for Job the experience of God that he had while God was talking to him gave him conviction of this sort of God’s presence and love. And so there are core cases of Franciscan knowledge, just as there are core cases of perception; and these somehow carry conviction of their veridicality with them. Furthermore, for the core cases of ordinary knowledge of persons, like the core cases of ordinary perception, it seems unreasonable not to accept the cognitive capacities in question as reliable. The fallibility of Franciscan cognition does not take away its general
Chapter 4: 18 of 35 trustworthiness. In subsequent chapters, I will therefore leave to one side questions arising from concern over the reliability of Franciscan cognition.
Second-person experience One group of neurobiologists try to explain the knowledge mediated by the mirror neuron system by relying on a familiar philosophical distinction. They say, “The novelty of our approach consists in providing for the first time a neurophysiological account of the experiential dimension of both action and emotion understanding. What makes social interactions so different from our perception of the inanimate world is that we witness the actions and emotions of others, but we also carry out similar actions and we experience similar emotions. There is something shared between our first- and thirdperson experience of these phenomena: the observer and the observed are both individuals endowed with a similar brain-body system. A crucial element of social cognition is the brain’s capacity to directly link the first- and third-person experiences of these phenomena…”50 These neurobiologists are here availing themselves of the distinction by now familiar in contemporary philosophy between a first-person and a third-person experience or point of view. But, contrary to their view, it does not seem right to take the knowledge of persons which the mirror neuron system subserves as a first-person knowledge of oneself, or a third-person knowledge of another, or some combination of both together. Rather, it seems to be something entirely different. Under one or another description, some philosophers are now drawing our attention to the importance of what can be called ‘a second-person point of view’ or ‘a second-person experience’.51 In my view, this is more nearly the notion which the neurobiologists need to express what is of interest to them. 52 For my purposes, I will understand a second-person experience in this way. One person Monica has a second-person experience of another person Nathan only if
Chapter 4: 19 of 35 (1) Monica is aware of Nathan as a person (call the relation Monica has to Nathan in this condition 'personal interaction'), (2) Monica's personal interaction with Nathan is of a direct and immediate sort, and (3) Nathan is conscious.53 These conditions are necessary for second-person experience and sufficient for a minimal degree of it. (It is clear that there can be more to a second-person experience than this bare minimum.54 It is evident that knowledge of persons comes in degrees.) Condition (1) implies that Monica does not have a second-person experience of Nathan if Monica is dumped unconscious on top of Nathan. Furthermore, if Monica is conscious but not aware of Nathan -- say, because Nathan is hiding and Monica does not know he is present -- then Monica does not have a second-person experience of Nathan. Finally, if Monica has perception of Nathan but is not attending to him, so that she is not aware of him in spite of her perception of him,55 then Monica does not have secondperson experience of Nathan. On the other hand, condition (1) can be met even if Monica does not have perception of Nathan.56 It is possible for one person to be aware of another as a person without seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, or tasting that other person. For example, if Monica and Nathan are engaged in an animated conversation with one another which they conduct by means of email, Monica is aware of Nathan as a person, even if she does not perceive Nathan.57 As for condition (2), I take Monica's personal interaction with Nathan to be mediated and indirect just in case Monica has personal interaction with Nathan only in virtue of having personal interaction with a third person Meredith. So condition (2) rules out cases of personal interaction which are mediated by one or more other people, but it does not rule out intermediaries which are machines or mechanical devices, such as glasses, telephones, and computers. If Monica's only contact with Nathan is by computer, but if the computer contact between them meets the other conditions for second-person
Chapter 4: 20 of 35 experience, then Monica's computer contact with Nathan counts as a second-person experience.58 On the other hand, Monica does not count as having a second-person experience of Nathan if her contact consists just in Meredith’s reporting to Monica something Nathan has said or done. In such a case, Nathan is conscious, and Monica is aware of Nathan as a person, in some sense; but this sort of awareness of Nathan is insufficient to count as a second-person experience of Nathan because it is mediated by a third person.59 Finally, condition (3) requires that Nathan be conscious for Monica to have a second-person experience of him. It is not necessary, however, that Nathan be conscious of Monica. Polonius has a second-person experience of Hamlet when Polonius is hidden from Hamlet behind the arras, watching Hamlet interact with his mother.60 So this is how I will understand a second-person experience.61 This characterization of a second-person experience makes clear that a second-person experience is different from a first-person experience. In a first-person experience, I am directly and immediately aware of a person as a person, but that person is only myself. It is also clear that a second-person experience is different from a third-person experience. For a third-person experience, one has knowledge of the states of another person but not in virtue of being conscious of that other person as a person. So a second-person experience is different in character from a first-person or a thirdperson experience because it is necessary for a second-person experience, as it is not for a first- or third-person experience, that you interact consciously and directly with another person who is conscious and present to you as a person, in one way or another.62 We are hardly in a position to give a clear and complete account of knowledge which is not knowledge that or even just of the knowledge of persons directly subserved by the mirror neuron system. But however we are to describe the knowledge of persons enabled by the mirror neuron system, in my view, it cannot be captured appropriately as knowledge of either a first-person or a third-person kind, contrary to the claims of the neurobiologists quoted above. It is more nearly accurate to describe it in terms of a second-person experience. Although the mirror neuron system no doubt also facilitates knowledge in ways which are variants of a second-person experience,63 the paradigmatic sort of experience in which one gains the kind of knowledge of persons subserved by the
Chapter 4: 21 of 35 mirror neuron system is a second-person experience. The mirror neuron system seems to be a brain system designed primarily to enable second-person experience and the knowledge of persons it generates.
Second-person accounts With so much clarification of the notion of a second-person experience, I want to consider the means by which the Franciscan knowledge communicated in a secondperson experience is shareable with someone who was not part of the second-person experience in question. It will be helpful to have some short designation for this vehicle for sharing knowledge. So call it ‘a second person account’, by analogy with the more customary notions of first-person or third-person accounts or reports.64 Why think that there is such a thing as a second-person account? What would differentiate it from either a first-person or third-person account? In a first-person account, I give a report about some first-person experience of mine. In a third-person account, I give a report about some feature or condition of someone else. What is there left for a second-person account to do? Why wouldn’t a report of a second-person experience simply be one more first-person account – if I report the conscious states which I had while in the second-person experience65 – or one more third-person account if I report something about some other person which I observed during my second-person experience of her? Why couldn’t a second-person experience be represented adequately in ordinary expository prose66 of either the first-person or the third-person variety? If everything knowable in a second-person experience could be expressed in terms of knowing that, either with regard to oneself or the others with whom one interacts, then no doubt a second-person experience could be captured by first-person and third-person accounts, and there would be no room for anything that could be considered a second-person account. But the cumulative weight of the evidence and arguments I have given about the knowledge of persons is sufficient to show its distinctive character. Second-person experiences cannot be reduced to first-person or third-person experiences without remainder, and so they cannot be captured by first-person or third-person
Chapter 4: 22 of 35 accounts either. As I have been at pains to show, knowledge of persons accessible in second-person experiences is not reducible to knowledge that. To some people, this conclusion might seem equivalent to the claim that a secondperson account is impossible. If the Franciscan knowledge of persons is difficult or impossible to express in terms of knowing that, how can any account of it be given at all? In one sense, the implied point of the question is right. There is no way to give an adequate account in expository prose (a Dominican account) of a second-person experience. But it does not follow that no account of it is possible at all. While we cannot express the distinctive knowledge of such an experience as a matter of knowing that, we can do something to re-present the experience itself in such a way that we can share it with others who were not part of it, so that the Franciscan knowledge garnered from the experience is also available to them.67 This is generally what we do when we tell a story.68 A story takes a real or imagined set of second-person experiences of one sort or another and makes it available to a wider audience to share.69 It does so by making it possible, to one degree or another,70 for a person to experience some of what she would have experienced if she had been an on-looker in the second-person experience represented in the story. That is, a story gives a person some of what she would have had if she had had unmediated personal interaction with the characters in the story while they were conscious and interacting with each other, without actually making her part of the story itself.71 The re-presenting of a second-person experience in a story thus constitutes a second-person account. It is a report of a set of second-person experiences which does not lose (at least does not lose entirely) the distinctively second-person character of the experiences. We can put the point the other way around by noticing what we lose if we try to reduce a narrative to expository (that is, non-narrative) prose. If we boil a story down to non-narrative propositions, so that all the knowledge it conveys is knowledge that,72 then we lose the knowledge that the story distinctively provides just because we cannot convey by means of expository prose alone even a simulacrum of a second-person experience.73 A real story cannot be captured in a set of non-narrative propositions; Cliff Notes, even ideally excellent Cliff Notes, are no substitute for the literary work itself. A
Chapter 4: 23 of 35 Cliff Notes summary of The Brothers Karamazov would lose what is best about the novel itself. How much of what can be known in a second-person experience is made available to others to learn by means of a story depends in part on the artistry of the storyteller. Harlequin romances no doubt give us something; the world’s great literature, drama, and film74 give us much more. If in her isolation Mary75 had had available to her not only science books but also, for example, the works of Eliot, Dickens, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Angelou, and Achebe, or an array of the best movies and films of theatre productions, it is indisputable that her first experience with her mother would have been less of a surprise.76 So far I have been considering the way in which the knowledge of persons in real or imagined sets of second-person experiences can be transmitted. But, for my purposes in this book, it is more important to consider how the knowledge of persons in fiction can be appropriated by the audience for that fiction. Philosophers have puzzled over audience reaction to fiction.77 In my view, consideration of the mirror neuron system lets us think about audience appropriation of fiction in a helpful way. We can begin by comparing the mirror neuron system with perceptual systems. Recent studies of the visual system, for example, have investigated what happens when a person sees a complex object and then watches that object rotating in space. Studies on visual imagery have shown that those parts of the visual system which are involved in the sight of the rotation of objects are also the parts of the system which are used when a person imagines the rotation of imagined objects.78 It is now clear that the visual system can be used for the actual visual cognition and inspection of objects in physical reality, or the same neural system can be used to form images of objects and to inspect the imagined rotation of those objects. Nothing keeps us from supposing that the mirror neuron system which subserves the knowledge of persons can also be used in this dual purpose way, for the appropriation of second-person experience either in actuality or in thought only. If this is right, then it might be that when we engage with fiction, we also employ the mirror neuron system, but in an alternate mode, just as the visual system is employed in an alternate mode when we imagine the rotation of an imagined object. If the mirror neuron system is like the
Chapter 4: 24 of 35 perceptual system in this regard, then the same system which explains our knowledge of persons in second-person experience could also explain our appropriation of the knowledge of persons through fiction.79 I am not claiming here that the mirror neuron system is used in the appropriation of fiction to give us actual second-person experience. The appropriation of fiction does not give us real second-person experience, any more than the imagined rotation of imagined objects gives us real visual inspection of such objects. I mean only that when fiction functions as a second-person account and we gain some knowledge of persons from fiction, one possible explanation for why we do so is that the mirror neuron system can also be used in an alternate mode, for the engagement with fiction.80 On this hypothesis, then, the Franciscan knowledge of second-person experiences preserved in narratives is communicable to those capable of exercising the cognitive capacities for Franciscan knowledge in engaging with the story. Excellence in interpretation, like excellence in narrative construction itself, will be, at least in part, a function of excellence in the exercise of the capacities for Franciscan knowledge of persons on the part of the interpreters of the narrative.
Caveat about literary form Finally, it is worth pointing out here that, strictly speaking, not every narrative is a second-person account, as I have described second-person accounts. In general, narratives have interactions among people as their centerpiece, but there are stories in which the narrator relates experiences which include only one person or even no persons except himself. Jack London’s story ”To Build a Fire” is a narrative of this sort. Even stories such as “To Build a Fire”, however, have this much of the second-person about them: in re-presenting for us what is in the narrative only the experience of one person, such stories turn that experience into something at least approaching a second-person account, insofar as one’s engagement with the single character of the story is analogous to a second-person experience. The author’s presentation of the character, if it is well done, makes that character available to us in somewhat the same way the character would
Chapter 4: 25 of 35 have been if he had in fact been directly and immediately present to us. The story thus contributes to our having and learning from something like a second-person experience. Conversely, it is also true that some forms of literature which, strictly speaking, do not count as stories can sometimes qualify as a second-person account. So, for example, some poems serve the same function as stories in portraying for us the interactions of persons;81 and even some poems which have very few features of stories may still be successful in re-creating for us an image of one person’s relations to others. So, for example, as I will discuss in a subsequent chapter, the poems which are God’s speeches to Job present for the reader a picture of God’s relations to his creatures, and the picture is vivid and lively enough to make it at least arguable that the poems are secondperson accounts, too. But the clearest examples of second-person accounts are stories (in one medium or another) involving more than one person.
Conclusion There is, then, a broad array of knowledge commonly had by human beings which cannot be formulated adequately or at all as knowledge that. Such knowledge is provided by some first-person experiences, especially those in which the qualia of the experience are among the salient parts of the knowledge. One important species of such knowledge is the Franciscan knowledge of persons. In normally functioning human beings, such knowledge has a source in the mirror neuron system, which enables a person to know the actions, intentions, and emotions of another person in a direct, intuitive way analogous in some respects to perception. Such Franciscan knowledge of persons is gained paradigmatically through second-person experiences. And although Franciscan knowledge of persons gained through secondperson experiences is not reducible to knowledge that, it can be made available to others who lack the second-person experiences in question by means of a story that re-presents the experience. A story is, then, a second-person account. Second-person experience and stories thus play a role with regard to the knowledge of persons analogous to the role played by postulates and arguments with regard to knowledge that. Experience and stories, on the one hand, and postulates and
Chapter 4: 26 of 35 arguments, on the other, are devices for the acquisition and transfer of knowledge, although the kind of knowledge acquired or transferred and the sort of acquisition or transfer involved differ. The Franciscan knowledge of persons which is not reducible to knowledge that but which is transmitted through stories is also philosophically useful. And this is why narratives have a role to play in philosophy, even philosophy of the analytic type. With this, my explanation of the nature of my project and my defense of the methodology I mean to employ in it is complete. No doubt, a great deal more needs to done to explain and defend the notion of Franciscan knowledge. But this is not a book on epistemology; it is a book on the problem of evil. I have tried to show the appropriateness of using narratives in the examination of philosophical issues and to give some idea of the reasons for that appropriateness; more than that I have neither the space nor the desire to try to accomplish. As I explained in the first chapter, my plan in this book is to present a representative medieval worldview and theodicy -- that of Thomas Aquinas -- and let it, together with the stories I examine, count as a defense, a description of a possible world in which there is suffering and also an omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good God. In the next section, I will begin the construction of this defense by presenting Aquinas’s account of the features of the possible world in question which are most important for my purposes: the nature of love and the obstacles to love. When I have laid out this basic Thomistic worldview, which I will take to be true in the possible world of the defense, I will then turn to the biblical narratives I have chosen to consider, proceeding Franciscanly in their examination to the best of my (Dominican) ability. The examination of these narratives constitutes the third section of this book. In the fourth section, I will examine Aquinas’s theodicy, with the narratives as test cases. The Franciscan knowledge mediated by these stories, understood in the context of the possible world embodying Aquinas’s philosophical and theological worldview, will be the basis for the defense I then construct.
Vilayanur S. Ramachandran and Lindsay M. Oberman, “Broken Mirrors: A Theory of Autism”, Scientific American, November 2006, p.64. 2 Peter Hobson, The Cradle of Thought. Exploring the Origins of Thinking, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), p.183. 3 Hobson 2004, p.183. 4 Clara Claiborne Park, The Siege, (New York: Little, Brown and Company, revised edition 1995), pp.5-6. 5 See, for example, the collection of papers in Naomi Eilan, Christoph Hoerl, Teresa McCormack, and Johannes Roessler, Joint Attention: Communication and Other Minds, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2005). 6 For a philosophical attempt to explain the nature of mindreading, see Shaun Nichols and Stephen Stich, Mindreading: An Integrated Account of Pretence, Self-Awareness, and Understanding Other Minds, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2003). 7 Hobson 2004, p.59. 8 See Derek Moore, Peter Hobson, and Anthony Lee, “Components of Person Perception: An Investigation With Autistic, Non-autistic Retarded and Typically Developing Children and Adolescents”, British Journal of Developmental Psychology 15 (1997) 401-423. 9 Hobson 2004, p.143. 10 Ramachandran and Oberman 2006, p.64. 11 Hobson 2004, p.243. 12 Jana Iverson and Susan Goldin-Meadow, “What’s Communication Got to Do with It? Gesture in Children Blind from Birth”, Developmental Psychology 33 (1997), p.453. 13 Iverson and Goldin-Meadow 1997, pp.453-467. 14 See, for example, Joseph B.Hellige, Hemispheric Asymmetry: What’s Right and What’s Left, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993), pp.38-40 and 50-54. See also Eric R. Kandell, James H.Schwartz, and Thomas M. Jessell, Principles of Neural Science, 4th edition, (New York: McGraw Hill, 2000), pp. 14-15 and 1182. 15 See the discussion of second-person experience and joint attention in Chapter 6. 16 Shaun Gallagher, How the Body Shapes the Mind, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2005), pp.70-72. 17 Gallagher 2005, p.73. 18 Gallagher 2005, p.220. 19 The mirror neuron system is predicated on recognition of a person as a person, but by itself it does not seem to facilitate that recognition, as we currently understand the workings of the mirror neuron system. So the knowledge of persons cannot be explained by the mirror neuron system alone, as far as we now know. For recent work on the neurobiology of social cognition, see, for example, The Neuroscience of Social Interaction: Decoding, Imitating, and Influencing the Actions of Others, ed. Chris Frith and Daniel Wolpert, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004). 20 Giacomo Rizzolatti, Leonardo Fogassi, and Vittorio Gallese, “Mirrors in the Mind”, Scientific American, November 2006, p.54. 21 Rizzolatti et al. 2006, p.56 and p.58. 22 Marco Kacoboni, Istvan Molnar-Szakacs, Vittorio Gallese, Giovanni Bucciono, John C. Mazziotta, and Giacomo Rizzolatti, “Grasping the Intentions of Others with One’s Own Mirror Neuron System”, PloS Biology 3 (2005) pp.1,4,5. 23 Leonardo Fogassi, Pier Francesco Ferrari, Bennor Gesierich, Stefano Rozzi, Fabian Chersi, and Giacomo Rizzolatti, “Parietal Lobe: From Action Organization to Intention Understanding”, Science 308 (2005) p.662. 24 Fogassi et al. 2005, p.666. 25 Rizzolatti et al. 2006, p.60. 1
Rizzolatti et al. 2006, p.60. Vittorio Gallese, Christian Keysers, and Giacomo Rizzolatti, “A unifying view of the basis of social cognition”, Trends in Cognitive Science 8 (2004) p.396. 28 Gallese et al. 2004, p.396. 29 For some of the papers influential in the early discussion of simulation, see Martin Davies and Tony Stone (eds.), Mental Simulation, (Oxford: Blackwell, 1995). In my view, the problem with trying to understand the cognition mediated by the mirror neuron system in terms of simulation is that it tries to turn into a first-person experience what is in its nature a second-person experience. For the notion of second-person experience, see the later sections of this chapter and the relevant sections of Chapter 6. 30 These results from psychology and neuroscience should prompt us to reflect more broadly about knowledge which is not knowledge that. Like the things proposed as objects of knowledge by acquaintance, the objects of Franciscan knowledge can be even inanimate things. So, for example, an infant knows a ball as a ball before the infant is in a position to know that this is a ball. As far as that goes, even for normally functioning adult human beings, there is a difference between knowing something as a thing of a kind and knowing that this is a thing of that kind. A person who has a visual agnosia might not be able to know a glove as a glove, but he might still be able to know that this is a glove, say, because his physician has told him so. (See Oliver Sacks, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat [New York: Summit Books, 1985]. For a helpful recent neurobiological study of agnosias, see Martha J. Farah, Visual Agnosia, [Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1990].) In fact, it seems as if knowledge which is not knowledge that must be primary. Without any knowledge of a thing as a thing, it is hard to see how anyone could have knowledge that this something-or-other has certain properties or stands in certain relations to something else. Aquinas makes this point by saying that the primary act of the intellect is the knowledge of the quiddity of a thing, that is, the knowledge of a thing as a thing; on his view, this sort of cognition is prior to the intellect’s having knowledge expressible in propositional form. [See the chapter on the mechanisms of cognition in my Aquinas, (London: Routledge, 2003. For a discussion of an analogous issue as regards reference, see John Campbell, Reference and Consciousness, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).] This broader claim about Franciscan knowledge is, of course, even more contentious than the claims about the knowledge of persons, and it cannot be adequately expounded or supported in passing here. 31 Hume, Treatise on Human Nature, Book 2, Pt.2, section 5. I am indebted to Annette Baier for this reference. As she herself makes clear, Hume’s philosophy emphasizes the importance of what he calls ‘sympathy’ for all of ethics. 32 Hume, Treatise of Human Nature, Book 2, Pt. 1, section 11. I am grateful to Annette Baier for this reference. 33 As far as that goes, it might turn out that future research somehow undercuts or invalidates the current work connecting mirror neurons and mindreading. The importance of the recent research on mirror neurons lies only in its showing a means by which mindreading could be subserved by neural mechanisms in the brain. What is important for my purposes is not the mirror neuron system itself. If some system other than the mirror neuron system should turn out to be the neural mechanism for mindreading, my conclusions would still hold, mutatis mutandis. 34 It should be said that mirror neurons have also been implicated in the knowledge of music. For a study of the neurobiology of the knowledge of music, see Daniel Levitin, This is Your Brain on Music, (New York: Dutton, 2006); for the mention of mirror neurons, see p.260. 35 For an interesting recent discussion of the brain systems involved in the processing of music and other significant sounds, see Steven Mithen, The Singing Neanderthals. The Origin of Music, Language, Mind and Body, (London: Phoenix books, 2006), esp. chapters 3 and 4. Luria’s report of the case of Shebalin is discussed in Mithen 2006, pp.33-34. 26 27
Dominic McIver Lopes, Sight and Sensibility.Evaluating Pictures, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2005), p.133. 37 Lopes 2005, p.144. 38 Lopes 2005, p.137. 39 For a brief discussion of prevailing epistemological views in analytic philosophy, see Chapter 3. 40 Lopes 2005, p.148. 41 Here, of course, I am adapting for my own purposes a rough outline of Al Plantinga’s account of knowledge. See his Warrant and Proper Function, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993). 42 . I take it that perception is a more common case involving the veridicality of cognitive capacities. To see a cup which is in front of one, even to see it as a cup, is to have a correct but nonpropositional connection to things in the world. A visual agnostic might not be able to perceive a cup, because his central nervous system defect renders some part of the relevant cognitive faculty dysfunctional. And yet the agnostic can know about some object in front of him that this is a cup – say, because he has perceived the cup through touch rather than vision or because the neurologist treating him has just told him so. What the agnostic lacks, even with the knowledge that this is a cup, is the knowledge of the cup, which his defective visual system no longer gives him. 43 Martin Buber, I and Thou, tr. Walter Kaufman, (New York: Touchstone Books, 1970), p.129. 44 Ibid. 45 I am indebted to Robert Pasnau for excellent questions that called my attention to the need to address this issue. 46 Gallese et al. 2004, p.396. 47 The caveat here is necessary since, clearly, there are recognized cognitive debilities in which these faculties do not function properly. Autism is undoubtedly the most well-known of these debilities. 48 Not only is knowledge of persons fallible, but neurological research has uncovered numerous syndromes in which the cognitive capacities correlated with Franciscan knowledge of persons are so defective that the delusions they yield are intractable. In Fregoli’s syndrome, a patient has the intractable delusion that he knows familiar people when he looks at the faces of strangers. In Capgras syndrome, a patient has the intractable delusion that he does not know the people he is looking at when he looks at the faces of persons who are in fact familiar to him. [For discussion of such syndromes, see, for example, Sandra Blakeslee and Vilayandur Ramachandran, Phantoms in the Brain, (London: Harper Perennial, 2005),chapter 8.] Both Fregoli’s syndrome and Capgras syndrome are a kind of loss, after neurological damage, of the capacity to know something as the thing it is. Although these syndromes have been described largely as they affect the knowledge of persons, there are also reported cases in which the lost capacity extends to the knowledge of familiar things other than persons. So, for example, some researchers describe “a patient who claimed his actual home was not his ‘real’ home, although he recognized that the facsimile home has the same ornaments and bedside items as the original.” [Todd Feinberg, John Deluca, Joseph T.Giacino, David M. Roane, and Mark Solms, “RightHemisphere Pathology and the Self: Delusional Misidentification and Reduplication”, in Todd Feinberg and Julian Paul Keenan (eds.), The Lost Self. Pathologies of the Brain and Identity, [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005], p.103; see also pp.105-106 and pp.114-125.] There are also cases where, as a result of neurological pathology, a patient fails to know a part of his own body as his own, in a way which is intractable to correction and delusional. [See, for example, Feinberg et al. 2005, pp.103-104.] One or another kind of right hemisphere damage seems to underlie the loss of the normal cognitive capacity in these cases. Feinberg et al. say, “right frontal hemisphere damage creates a disturbance in ego functions that mediate the relationship between the self and the world….” [Feinberg et al.2005, p.123.] It may be that such syndromes do not result from a malfunction of the mirror neuron system in particular. But these odd conditions illustrate one way in which neurological damage to a brain system underlying an intuitive faculty for the knowledge of persons can malfunction to yield 36
delusions in place of the Franciscan knowledge ordinarily provided by the normally functioning neural system. 49 Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle, tr. Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez, The Classics of Western Spirituality (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1979), p.89. 50 Gallese et al. 2004, p.396. 51 See, for example, Stephen Darwall, “Fichte and the Second-Person Standpoint”, Internationales Jahrbuch des deutschen Idealismus 3 (2005) 91-113; and The Second-person Standpoint: Morality, Respect, and Accountability, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2006). 52 In this chapter, I distinguish not only among first-person, second-person, and third-person experiences, but also among the corresponding points of view and accounts. I have no neat and precise definitions for any of these, but, put roughly, what I have in mind is this. A first-person experience is an experience I have with some degree or other of conscious awareness and which I could have by myself. A first-person point of view is my reflection on or observation of my (real or imagined) firstperson experience considered as a first-person experience (as distinct, for example, from considering that experience as a neurologist or some other third person might consider it). And a first-person account is my account to someone else of my reflection on or observation of my (real or imagined) first-person experience qua first-person experience. So, my wanting a cup of coffee when I am in a normal cognitive and conative condition is a first-person experience; I want the coffee, and the desire is a conscious desire in me. My conscious, introspective reflection on or observation of that conscious desire is a first-person point of view. I can have a conscious state without a conscious reflection on it or observation of it, as I do when I drive to work, conscious of the state of the road but focused intently on the news on the radio, so that I don’t attend to the conscious visual states which guide my driving. And my explaining my desire considered as a first-person experience to someone else is a first-person account. Something roughly similar distinguishes experience, point of view, and account for the second- and third-person analogues. 53 Insofar as consciousness comes in degrees, there is some vagueness in this condition. I mean to rule out only cases in which a person lacks sufficient consciousness to function as a person. Drowsiness is not ruled out; certain drugged states, such as the so-called twilight sleep, are. There are grey areas here. I am inclined to say that a mother has second-person experience of her newborn infant, but that a condition such as advanced Alzheimer’s precludes second-person experience. My intuitions are not strong as regards those cases, though. (I am grateful to Kathleen Brennan for calling my attention to the need to address these issues.) 54 I will discuss the question of the degrees of knowledge of persons in more detail in Chapter 6. 55 For some discussion of the role of attention in conscious awareness of something being perceived, see Campbell 2002. 56 It is hard to know how to make this element of condition (1) precise. It is possible for two persons to make some sort of mind-to-mind contact even if neither of them has sensory perception of the other; Monica’s having contact with Nathan through sensory perception of Nathan is not necessary for her having a second-person experience of Nathan. On the other hand, Monica’s just thinking of Nathan in Nathan’s absence does not count as Monica’s having a second-person experience of Nathan even if in thinking about Nathan Monica is conscious of Nathan as a person in some sense. Second-person experience requires conscious awareness of another person considered as a person; contact of that sort does not need perception, but it does take more than an image or a memory of a person. It might also be helpful to have a gloss on the phrase ”as a person”. The requirement that Monica be aware of Nathan as a person rules out cases of the sort made familiar to us from the literature on agnosia, where the agnosia patient is conscious and one of the objects of her consciousness is another person, but because of her agnosia she does not recognize the other person as a person; she takes him instead to be, say, a hat on a hat stand. (See the case which gives the title to Oliver Sacks's book The Man Who Mistook
His Wife for a Hat [New York: Summit Books, 1985].) This requirement also rules out cases in which Monica has conscious awareness only of some sub-personal part (say, a brain) or sub-personal system (say, the circulatory system) of Nathan. 57 The scientific descriptions of the mirror neuron system quoted above make it plain that the primary perceptual modality used in conjunction with the mirror neuron system is vision. Nonetheless, it must also be the case that the mirror neuron system can be engaged in conjunction with other perceptual modalities as well. If that were not the case, then congenitally blind children would be autistic. Although there is in fact a significant incidence of autism-like disorder among the congenitally blind, there are also many congenitally blind children who are not autistic. [See, for example, Rachel Brown, Peter Hobson, and Anthony Lee, “Are there ‘Autistic-like’ Features in Congentially Blind Children?”, Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 38 (1997).] Insofar as defects in the mirror neuron system are now thought to be implicated in autism, it must be the case that the mirror neuron system can be employed even in the absence of vision, through the sense of hearing, for example. And insofar as, for those who can read, written language can stand in for spoken language, it is possible that a secondperson experience based on written communication can also be facilitated by the mirror neuron system. 58 Although Monica does not have sensory perception of Nathan in the process of emailing him (she does not see, hear, touch, taste, or smell Nathan in email communication), that fact does not rule out email contact from counting as second-person experience, provided only that it really is Nathan with whom Monica is in email contact. If someone other than Nathan is emailing Monica in the persona of Nathan, then the email communication doesn’t count as Monica’s having a second-person experience of Nathan. There are grey areas here, too. If it really is Nathan who is emailing Monica but Nathan is systematically deceiving Monica on all points about himself, it is considerably less clear whether the email communication counts as a second-person experience of Nathan for Monica. I am grateful to John Kavanaugh for pointing out these complexities to me. 59 There are complications here. If Monica reads a letter sent to her by Nathan, Monica counts as having a second-person experience of Nathan on the conditions I have given. That remains the case even if Nathan dictated the letter to his secretary, since when Monica reads the letter, Monica does not have any personal interaction with the secretary. When she reads the letter, Monica is not aware of the secretary; or even if she is, it is not the case that she is aware of Nathan as a person only in virtue of being aware of Nathan's secretary. (Of course, if the secretary has written what Nathan dictated but then added voluminous editorial glosses of his own, disguised as Nathan’s own words, it becomes less clear whether this communication counts as Monica’s having second-person experience of Nathan. I am grateful to John Kavanaugh for making me attentive to this point.) But if the same message from Nathan to Monica were delivered to Monica orally by Nathan's secretary, then Monica would not count as having a second-person experience of Nathan, because in that case Monica's awareness of the secretary mediates her awareness of Nathan. This seems to me intuitively the right result. On the other hand, however, suppose that Nathan's secretary delivers orally a message to Monica, who gives the secretary a response, which the secretary delivers to Nathan, who in turn gives the secretary a message to deliver to Monica, and so on. In such a case, is it still true to say that Monica does not have a second-person experience of Nathan because condition (2) is violated? And there are many other complicated cases here. Suppose that Monica is not aware of Nathan himself but finds a stack of highly revealing love letters written by Nathan to someone else (that is, to someone who is not Monica). (I am grateful to Adam Peterson for calling my attention to the need to address this point.) Does Monica’s reading these letters constitute a second-person experience of Nathan? My intuitions are less clear in these cases. There may be boundary cases where adjudication regarding second-person experience could equally well go either way. 60 I am indebted to John Kavanaugh and Adam Peterson for helping me to see that there are complexities here, too. If Nathan sends Monica email communication but then dies in the period between when he sent it and when Monica reads it, so that he is no longer conscious at the time Monica
reads his message, does that communication count as Monica’s having second-person experience of Nathan? And if it does, is the third of my conditions on second-person experience violated in such a case? I am inclined to say that Monica does have second-person experience in such a case but that the third condition is not violated. It is possible for the presentation of a conscious person Nathan to reach another person Monica after some delay, as the email example makes clear. Nonetheless, the Nathan with whom Monica is in contact by this means is a conscious Nathan, not the Nathan who is unconscious at the time of Monica’s receipt of Nathan’s message. And in this way the third condition is not violated by this example. 61 I will return to the subject of second-person experience in Chapter 6, where I argue that secondperson experience is a component of joint attention. It is for that reason that the characterization of second-person experience includes the requirement that Monica be attending to Nathan in being aware of him. 62 In a subsequent chapter, I will explain that a second-person experience is a matter of one person’s being in a position to share attention with another person; it is a necessary but not sufficient condition for joint attention. 63 Annette Baier has suggested to me that one can mindread the mind of a person who is sleeping, to some limited extent, but the experience one has of a sleeping person is not a second-person experience, as I have described second-person experience. It may also be the case that the mirror neuron system enables us to have a quasi-personal experience of things which are not persons, as when one has a sense of the personality of a robot, for example, or even when one has a sense of the personality of a building. But such experiences would not count as second-person experiences on my account. So there may be a broad genus of experiences of persons and quasi-personal things which is facilitated by the mirror neuron system and which enables a person in such experience to mindread, and second-person experience may be only one species within this genus. If so, second-person experience nonetheless seems to be the exemplar on the basis of which the other species within the genus can be understood. I am indebted to Alan Musgrave for calling my attention to the need to make this point. 64 It is no part of my distinctions among first-person, second-person, and third-person experiences, points of view, and accounts to suggest that there is opposition among these so that an agent who adopts one of these about something is thereby precluded from adopting any of the others. So, for example, someone who has first-person experiences of beliefs and desires might also consider even his own beliefs and desires from a third-person point of view, as a neurologist would. It is also possible to combine first-person, second-person, and third-person perspectives in an iterative fashion. For example, I might tell you about my introspective experiences of listening to music; then you would have a second-person experience of me which included my first-person account. Or I might introspect reflectively on my second-person experience of you, considering how I really felt about what you said. Then I would have a first-person point of view about a second-person experience. Religious believers can consider religion from a first-person point of view, where that point of view includes reflection on what they take to be their own second-person experiences connecting them in some fashion with the person of God. I am indebted to Al Plantinga for prompting me to consider this issue. 65 . I am not here violating the explanation of first-person accounts given above, because, insofar as what is at issue is my conscious states, these are states I could have had during a hallucination of another person, when no other person was present. So the experience being reported in this first-person account is one I could have had by myself. 66 . For purposes of this chapter, I take 'expository prose' to mean prose which does not constitute a story and which does not fall into some other genre of literature (such as poetry) that is story-like in its artistry. I will describe accounts that are formulated in terms of knowing that something or other is the case as presented in expository prose. I am therefore using ‘expository prose’ as a term of art, faute de mieux.
. In this respect, a second-person experience differs from a first-person experience of the sort we have in perception. There is no way for me to convey to someone who has never seen colors what I know when I know what it is like to see red. 68 . I am not here implying that the only function, or even the main function, of narratives (in one medium or another) is to convey real or imagined second-person experiences. My claim is just that much less is lost of a second-person experience in a narrative account than in a third-person account, ceteris paribus. 69 . Someone might object here that any information which could be captured and conveyed by a story could also be conveyed by an expository account. I have no good argument against this claim, for the very reasons I have been urging, namely, that we can't give an expository description of what else is contained in a story; but I think the claim is false. Consider, for example, some excellent and current biography of Samuel Johnson, such as Robert DeMaria's The Life of Samuel Johnson: A Critical Biography (Oxford: Blackwell, 1993), and compare it to the pastiche of stories in Boswell's Life of Johnson, and you see the point. There is a great deal to be learned about Johnson from DeMaria's The Life of Samuel Johnson, but Boswell's stories give you the man as the biography can't. 70 The degree will be a function not only of the narrative excellence of the story but also of the sensitivity and intelligence of the story-hearer or reader as well. 71 I do not mean to say that the story teller or artist does not contribute something of her own in the narrative presentation. On the contrary, part of the importance of narrative is that its artistry enables us to see what we might well have missed without the help of the narrative even if we had been present as bystanders in the events recounted in the narrative. It is for this reason that the quality of the artistry in a narrative makes a difference to what there is to know on the basis of it. 72 Someone might suppose that we could turn any story into expository propositional form just be prefixing to the story the words ‘It is true in this story that’ and then filling out the remainder of the sentence with a conjunction formed from all the sentences in the story. But this swollen sentence would not constitute an example of expository prose since it would contain a story within it. And, in any case, it would not be true that all the knowledge in the story was conveyed by means of propositions that. The story would be embedded in a proposition that, but the distinctively Franciscan knowledge of the story would be conveyed by the story itself. 73 I can’t, of course, specify what that knowledge is, since to do so would be to translate it into terms of knowledge that. 74 It is clear that film belongs on this list, and yet it is also clear that film is a special category. In the first place, unlike narrative mediated only orally or in writing, film allows its audience visual perception of the story being told. On the other hand, unlike drama presented live in a theatre, film does not allow its audience direct sensory perception of human beings themselves; it gives access to human beings only through what the film captures of the actors’ performances. And so it may be that the mirror neuron system is activated by the perception of the actors in film; or it may be that the mediation of film somehow also undermines or diminishes what the mirror neuron system can do. In addition, it is perhaps worth pointing out that the great Puritans of all cultures, from Plato to Mao, have had considerable concern about the moral effects of theater; and some Puritans have worried about the moral effects of acting on the actors themselves. (Some wit has said that a Puritan is a person who is worried that somewhere in the world some human being is enjoying himself. I think that wit was illinformed about Puritans. For my part, I think a Puritan is a person who thinks that nothing is good unless it is useful, and that everything useful must ultimately serve the moral good.) The mirror neuron system helps to explain the concern about the effects of acting on actors. If mimicking an emotion uses the mirror neuron system, for example, then acting out a great evil will leave an actor (to one extent or another) with some intimate internal access to the emotions he would have had if he had done that evil in person; and that experience may have damaging psychological effects on the actor. Reporting on his 67
observations of Robert De Niro portraying an autistic man in the filming of a movie based on his book Awakenings, Oliver Sacks says that watching De Niro “was amazing… it was like overhearing a man thinking - but thinking with his body, experimenting, thinking in action. … I started to wonder how deep, with [De Niro}, acting might go. I knew how deeply he might identify with the characters he portrayed, but I had to wonder… how neurologically deep he might go -- whether he might actually, in his acting, become Parkinsonian, or at least (in an astoundingly controlled fashion) somehow duplicate the neurological state of the patient. Does acting like this, I wondered, actually alter the nervous system?” (Oliver Sacks, Awakenings, (New York: Harper Perennial, 1990), pp.383-383. 75 For the thought experiment involving Mary, see Chapter 3. 76 I do not mean to imply that knowledge gained through literature is equivalent to knowledge gained through second-person experience or that if Mary had only had access to great literature, nothing in her first encounter with her mother would have surprised her. I mean only what I say here: access to great literature would have lessened the surprise for Mary by some degree, however small it might have been. 77 In recent years some philosophers have considered the hypothesis that it can be explained by simulation For an attempt to capture audience reaction to fiction in terms of simulation, see Kenneth Walton, "Spelunking, Simulation, and Slime: On Being Moved by Fiction", in Emotion and the Arts, ed. Mette Jhorte and Sue Laver (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997). For a helpful discussion of the positions of Walton and others in connection with simulation, see Alvin Goldman, “Imagination and Simulation in Audience Responses to Fiction”, in Shaun Nichols, (ed.), The Architecture of the Imagination: New Essays on Pretence, Possibility, and Fiction, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2006), pp.41-56. For a discussion of the issue in connection with biblical narratives, see my “Second Person Accounts and the Problem of Evil” in Perspectives in Contemporary Philosophy of Religion, Schriften der Luther-Agricola-Gesellschaft 46, Timo Koistinen and Tommi Lehtonen (eds.), (Helsinki: LutherAgricola-Society, 2000) pp. 88-113; reprinted (among other places) in Faith and Narrative, Keith Yandell (ed.), (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001) pp. 86-103. (The original version of this paper was originally presented in my Stob lectures, which appeared together with subsequent Stob lectures in Seeking Understanding: The Stob Lectures 1986-1998 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans 2001), pp. 497-529.) 78 See, for example, Stephen Kosslyn, Image and Brain: The Resolution of the Imagery Debate, (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1994). 79 It can also help us understand the importance of pretend play in children. The predilection of children to engage in such play has been a puzzle to some philosophers and psychologists (See, for example, Peter Carruthers, “Why Pretend?”, Nichols 2006,pp.89-110.) But pretend play can be seen as the exercise of the mirror neuron system taken off-line, as simulation theorists say. In that case, the predilection for pretend play would be on a par with a predilection for ball-playing. It is a kind of play which trains the brain in a kind of coordination useful in adult activities. But, of course, this is simply a speculative suggestion. 80 Philosophers have puzzled over the experience of emotion in engagement with fiction. (For some recent discussion of issues involving fiction and emotion, see, for example, Shaun Nichols (ed.), The Architecture of Imagination. New Essays on Pretence, Possibility, and Fiction, [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2006] and Jenefer Robinson, Deeper Than Reason. Emotion and its Role in Literature, Music, and Art, [Clarendon Press, 2005].) Why does the monster in the movie, for example, inspire fear, or something like fear, in the audience, when the audience knows that the monster is not real? If the mirror neuron system is like the perceptual system with regard to its links to emotion, then it also helps to resolve this puzzle as regards emotional reactions to fiction. The mirror neuron system is like the perceptual system in being engaged by external stimuli. You just see the sadness in someone else’s face, in the same way that you just see the face. If the same system used for real second-person
experience is used in the appropriation of fiction, then it will be similarly engaged by the fiction, too. Now the visual system retains its connection to feelings and emotions whether it is used in vision or in imagery. That is why the feeling of thirst can arise both from the sight and from the conjured visual image of a cool beer on a hot day. In the same way, it is entirely possible that the mirror neuron system retains its connections to feelings and emotions whether it is used in real second-person experience or in the appropriation of fiction. Just as an object seen in imagination can prompt emotions analogous to those which would be prompted by the actual sight of such an object, so the second-person system engaged by fiction can prompt the emotions which would be elicited by an actual second-person experience of the same sort. On this hypothesis, we would not need to wonder that a person feels fear at the sight of a monster he knows to be unreal. We have no analogous surprise at finding that a person feels thirst in response to the image of a beer he knows he himself has conjured up. Furthermore, there is an explanation of the cognitive condition of the moviegoer who feels fear of the monster he knows to be fictional. On the hypothesis I am suggesting here, the moviewatcher’s mirror neuron system is engaged by the movie, so that he knows the monster and the monster’s hostile intent; and it is this which gives rise to his fear of the monster. That is why if we ask someone why he feels fear while watching the monster in the movie, he will explain himself by saying that the monster is frightening. There is a cognitive component to his emotion of fear, then, but it is the non-propositional second-person knowledge mediated by the mirror neuron system. If the mirror neuron system can be engaged by fiction as well as by actual second-person experience, as I am suggesting, then the movie-watcher can know the monster’s hostile intent even though he also knows that the monster is not real. 81 . And, of course, some poems, such as Homer's Iliad and Odyssey or Milton's Paradise Lost, are or at least include stories in an artistically complicated form.