The reading for this session elaborates on the idea that experience may be understood in terms of a psychological or phenomenal field imbued with meaning—i.e. patterns of force that direct behavior. Like Koffka, Köhler was concerned with the role of meaning within a scientific worldview. Honing in on the normative character of meaning as the essential problem, he articulated his perspective on the place of norms in the scientific worldview in his William James Lectures, delivered at Harvard in the academic year 1934–5, subsequently published as The Place of Value in a World of Facts (1939). Our reading will be Chapter 3: “An Analysis of Requiredness,” and the full text is available here:
Chapter 3 develops Köhler’s view that value should be understood as a form of “requiredness,” and that this requiredness may be rigorously modeled as vectors within a phenomenal field. Claims he supports through phenomenological analysis.
Much of Chapter 3 develops this view using as a foil Ralph Barton Perry’s theory of value. Perry was a student of James, and advocated a subjectivist, yet realist, approach to value. In Chapter 2, Köhler examines a sequence of different theories of value, rejecting most of them on the grounds that they replace the notion of requiredness with some unilluminating alternative, or stipulate it as irreducible rather than explain it. Of particular interest to our group may be his discussion of Husserl’s approach to the norms of logic (pp 45–54). In discussing Husserl, Köhler also briefly addresses the method of phenomenology and the worry that it is “mere introspection,” pointing out that “The main objection against Introspection was not its interest in “things themselves,” but rather its arbitrary selection of some aspects of experience as genuine and others as artifacts” (47). So long as phenomenologists (and indeed Köhler himself) manage to avoid this trap, it seems their method is legitimate (c.f. Köhler, Gestalt Psychology, Ch. 3).
While not altogether unapproving of Husserl’s method, Köhler finds his (apparently neo-Platonist) solution to the problem of value unsatisfying, as it seems to place value entirely outside the realm of facts. Instead, Köhler argues, value exhibits an “amphibian” nature, equally at home in the ideal realm of mathematics and the everyday (factual) realm of engineering and psychology (p 54). This motivates his turn to more psychological theories, where he finds Perry’s view, that value should be understood in terms of “interest,” i.e. a striving or directedness towards various objects or outcomes, the most congenial. It is this perspective that he elaborates and defends in our reading, Chapter 3.
As usual, if you have trouble accessing the reading, please contact the list organizers for a copy.