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Explanation and Power

Explanation and Power: The Control of Human Behavior

Morse Peckham
Copyright Date: 1979
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    Explanation and Power
    Book Description:

    The meaning of any utterance or any sign is the response to that utterance or sign: this is the fundamental proposition behind Morse Peckham’s Explanation and Power. Published in 1979 and now available in paperback for the first time, Explanation and Power grew out of Peckham’s efforts, as a scholar of Victorian literature, to understand the nature of Romanticism. His search ultimately led back to -- and built upon -- the tradition of signs developed by the American Pragmatists. Since, in Peckham’s view, meaning is not inherent in word or sign, only in response, human behavior itself must depend upon interaction, which in turn relies upon the stability of verbal and nonverbal signs. In the end, meaning can be stabilized only by explanation, and when explanation fails, by force. Peckham’s semiotic account of human behavior, radical in its time, contends with the same issues that animate today’s debates in critical theory -- how culture is produced, how meaning is arrived at, the relation of knowledge to power and of society to its institutions. Readers across a wide range of disciplines, in the humanities and social sciences, will welcome its reappearance.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-5576-2
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xx)

    Often enough it is easier to grasp a book and what it is up to and what is going on in it if the reader has some notion of how and why it came to be written and what the issues were which impelled the author to write it. For such a book as this the appropriate perspective is not the personal life of the author but what might be called his cultural life. The very fact of the writing of the book is odd, particularly since the academic and intellectual world is today organized into separate disciplines, each of...

    (pp. 1-88)

    An inquiry into any area of interest yields, if one judges the effort to be successful, an explanation. But the difficulty of explaining human behavior lies in this: an explanation of human behavior is itself a mode of human behavior. No matter how carefully we may observe nonverbal behavior, no matter what safeguards for that observation we may set up, no matter how exacting the controls, we still must state our conclusions, our explanations of that nonverbal behavior, in verbal behavior. We must use the language of verbal behavior to talk about explanation, but then we must use the language...

    (pp. 89-154)

    Words are instructions or directions for behavior, and they may be responded to either appropriately or inappropriately, but the appropriateness or inappropriateness depends upon the judgment of someone. The appropriateness and inappropriateness are no more immanent in the response than the meaning is immanent in the words which are responded to. But words are only one discriminable aspect of language; verbal behavior is not linguistic behavior.

    This distinction is often neglected, and in philosophy it has always been neglected. What in the past few decades has been known as the “ordinary language” philosophy, or what have been known as the...

    (pp. 155-244)

    For human beings, the world consists of signs, and it is impossible for human beings to consider the world, or themselves, from a metasemiotic point of view or position. The world is an immense tapestry of innumerable threads, emerging and disappearing in the presentation and evanishment of indefinably innumerable designs, and human beings themselves form some of those same threads and patterns. We are figures in the tapestry we observe, and respond to, and manipulate. The old notion that the world is an illusion is sound, for no sign (configuration) dictates our responses. But it is sound only up to...

    (pp. 245-284)

    By “individual” I mean the individual organism as mere observable configuration—a mere sign—separable from its ground. There is no difficulty in the notion that the individual as an observable physiological organism is an entity. All the physiological processes subsumed by the category “individual organism” have at least one attribute in common; they all cease when the heart ceases to beat. (This does not mean, of course, chemical processes, but only those processes by which the individual organism is self-propelling.) An “entity,” then, is no more than such a conjunctive category, one which subsumes a set all members of...

  9. INDEX
    (pp. 285-290)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 291-291)