Mind and Body:
From René Descartes to William James

Writing Descartes:
I Am, and I Can Think, Therefore ...

Story Evolution
Heller/Grobstein

an exchange triggered by Grobstein's Writing Descartes ...
31 October 04

Heller followed Grobstein


I especially liked the Letter to René. The multilayered quality of the dialogue box on the right and the hypertext links as a new kind of supportive citation all were interesting to me. I like the fun of addressing René, or confronting him, with what he meant and where he "got into trouble."

But most of all I like the way the piece invites me to enter the conversation. I have thought quite a lot (but I am not sure very deeply), as probably most college instructors have, about the issue of thinking and being, and different ways of knowing. I have made notes toward an article about the difficulties of "bridging discourse communities" on our campus (in politics, ideology, academic disciplines, faith, and gender), and this letter is going to help me think forward. In several of our campus forums, I have spoken up to protest the mode of discourse that is all white-maleness and trusting in traditional logic (and which seems so obviously inadequate to me that I can't believe we are not more self-conscious about it). A friend I like a lot who is an art historian tells me that English professors drive her crazy when they talk about art because she objects to our discourse. As an English professor, I am interested in our inadequacies in that realm of discourse.

What you are describing is of course not unique to Roanoke College, and it would be useful to hear more about your experiences. My own sense is that discourse discordances are quite common, not only in academia but in pluralistic human communities in general. Simply establishing their generality might help people realize how destructive they can be. And by characterizing them in their diversity one might be able to come up with some explanation of why they occur and how they can be avoided.

One problem is my self-consciousness about making any claims about Descartes -- feeling self-conscious that I don't know enough to speak, at least in the eyes of our philosophy faculty. So I admire your campus dialogue and your ability and courage to take on the issue. I like the way the piece expresses how "Much of our lives reflects a whole host of things going on..." (3) and "We are, and . . . we think" (3). I like your para: "Now THAT's a perhaps scary thought..." (4) about not trusting sense data or logic or thinking or feeling. I especially like the two para's in praise of skepticism and the "appealing picture" of it all being part of an openness "to reconsideration and renewal," and then where it takes us to "I am, and I can think, therefore I can change who I am."

As with most things, the problems we have are almost invariably both out there and in here. My guess is that part of what contributes to discourse discordances is a belief in "authority," one that inclines people who think they have it to talk in ways that doesn't recognize input from others, and people who don't think they have it to be hesitant about talking. Yes, a central part of the essay is "skepticism" applied to ALL things, including one's sense of authority and/or lack thereof, with an associated commitment to "reconsideration and renewal" whoever is speaking/writing. One antidote, perhaps, to discourse discordance?


Conversation continues in the on-line forum




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