VI: Köhler on Value in a World of Facts

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.


4 thoughts on “VI: Köhler on Value in a World of Facts

  1. A few reactions and possible talking points.

    1) I am surprised to see Koehler distinguish so sharply between, e.g., the phenomenal self/body and the physical body (pp.64-66, 69, 86). One of MP’s major complaints against gestalt theory (citing Koehler’s earlier work) is that this distinction is not upheld. FWIW, this distinction seems to me not to be maintained by proponents of many current-day varieties of enactivist and embodied cognition. Perhaps the underlying dispute concerns what biological science can reveal. Thompson, for example, would seem to disagree with Koehler when he says:
    “I assume that all biological statements refer to the organs
    of certain physical systems, the organisms, and to the physical operations of these organs, even if the organism “as a whole” is functioning. If this is accepted, no strictly biological observation has, as yet, discovered anything like conation. Biological science as such has only found what, under given conditions, actually happens in several parts of the organism.” (p.64).
    For Thompson, biological science seems to encompass much more than this.

    2) As far as I can see, Koehler’s strategy for placing values into the world of facts is to expand the domain of facts, and specifically, to resist a naturalistic-positivistic conception of facts, and more specifically, to resist the supposition that “all facts occur indifferently” (p.72). It is thus puzzling to hear him charge Husserl (in chapter 2) with “banishing all requiredness [and, e.g., truth] into a world by itself” apart from facts (p.53). Terminologically, this may be accurate, but Koehler seems not to understand that Husserl’s strategy for placing requiredness and truth into the realm of being (as I understand it) is to expand the domain of being. Husserl is by no means committed to the claim that to apprehend truth, one must “look into a world outside their lives” (p.53). Rather, Husserl’s claim is that the world of our lives contains more than isolated facta. This seems to be a largely terminological dispute over what “everybody would call facts” (p.54).

    3) Koehler seems to me to deny not only (a) the very possibility of intentional analysis in phenomenology, and (b) the very possibility of a constutive phenomenology, but also (c) the very possibility of what Husserl began to call a “genetic phenomenology,” when he writes that:
    “Where a thing has come from, to what its existence or that of its properties is due, is a valid question, but for the most part not a question for phenomenology. What properties the thing actually has this is the question
    of phenomenology.” (p.70).
    We might frame the disagreement as a dispute over what it means for phenomenology to investigate the “how” of the phenomena of conscious experience. At any rate, Koehler’s phenomenal world seeems much more “flat” than Husserl’s or even Merleau-Ponty’s: there seems to be little place for any kind of analysis of noesis.

    4) The relationship between physical body and experience is somewhat unclear. Koehler says all phenomena are “correlates of somatic processes in the nervous system,” that there is “dependence on the /physical organism/” (p.70). Perhaps there is what we would call a supervenience relation here, which would be different from Koffka’s suggestion that events in the psycho-physical field are *a cause of* events in the behavioral/conscious field. Both Koffka’s and Koehler’s claim seem to go beyond bare isomorphism between the physical and the phenomenal.

    5) Koffka’s remarks on p.81 remind me very much of Brentano’s rejection of introspection, understood as attentive awareness of a psychical phenomenon in his /Psychologie/, and his discussion of the impossibility of introspecting anger, for example.

    6) I wonder to what extent Koehler’s conception of “pathetic percepts” (p.91) might be supplemented or clarified with further attention to what is called, in the broader phenomenological literature, empathy.
    (I find Koehler’s footnote 27 here problematic: from a phenomenological standpoint, I am not certain whether we can so readily dismiss the cases he dismisses.)

    7) I am very much a fan of Koehler’s insistence on the primacy of phenomena, and against what we might call any attempt at ‘explaining-away’ a phenomenon (pp. 68, 71, 81-82, 83-84, 92)

    8) Koehler’s conception of the phenomenological self as, essentially, “a special complex of phenomena” (p.70), and his rejection of any “epistemological subject” as a mere construct (p.87), are reminiscent of Husserl’s own rejection of the pure ego and his thin conception of the “phenomenologically reduced ego,” as these were (mis-)understood in the /Logical Investigations/.

    9) It becomes especially clear on pp.95-100 that the core of Koehler’s analysis of requiredness is essentially contained in the Gestaltists’ Law of Prägnanz.

  2. Hello Ben,

    Many thanks for all the very instructive and stimulating comments you already posted on our previous readings. I will restrict myself to comment only few of your remarks.

    1) Concerning your first point I would generally say that the three first chapters are supposed to remain inside the borders of some kind of phenomenological analysis (chap. 4 is well entitled “Beyond phenomenology”). And it seems that Köhler tries his best to retain the cap, contrary to what Koffka did in our last reading (As you noticed, there was in Koffka – at least in that chapter – an oscillation between two realms of discourse which ends – in some ways – with the primacy of physics over psychology, even though he also said that there is no datum in physics but only constructum…).

    There is no doubt that Koffka and Koehler share the same conception of phenomenology as a purely descriptive and preparatory method for any further experimental investigations (even though phenomenology remains also integrated to the gestaltist way of experimenting) and physiological hypothesis. This appears clearly in other texts . For instance, in *The Growth of the Mind* Koffka states that *psychology has a method of observation all its own, dealing, not with the determination of real things and processes, but with experiences. We shall refer to this method as experiential observation or perception (…)* (pp. 10-11) or that *without the guidance of a descriptive point of view, the selection of an appropriate method in any psychological investigation is virtually impossible.* (p. 26) and finally that *The purely psychological method renounces all claim to natural-scientific observation, and is satisfied with experiential observation alone. The method as such is of greater importance to the psychologist than it is to psychology; that is to say, a contemplation of psychological phenomena will often suggest to the psychologist that certain hypotheses which have been framed to embrace these phenomena are incorrect. The psychologist will then seek to test his hypotheses by other, and especially by psycho-physical methods. For this reason, the psychological method is not to be rejected, because it may be very useful as a beginning, or as a preparation for a scientific investigation, and it may even set new problems, and suggest new hypotheses, as well as lead to the formation of new descriptive concepts. On the other hand, we can never be entirely content with this method alone, since it ever stands in need of a substantiation and a supplementation which can only be had by employing other methods.” (pp. 29-30)

    Sorry to give you many quotations to read but they fit quite well with what is said by Koehler himself and with what you seem to appreciate in your point 7. For example: *It may be granted at once that the final aim of science, including psychology, is explanation. It cannot be admitted, however, that for this reason psychologists should not be interested in phenomenal data. It seems natural to acquire at least some knowledge of those data which we intend to explain, which our constructs are expected to fit, before we begin the construction. Otherwise, why should the constructs fit? And it is not true that we know those data sufficiently. If I were a Positivist I should, for this reason, insist upon phenomenology as the genuine basis of all explanatory construction.* (p. 68).

    Of course, you could say the following. Given that it is only considered as a METHOD and as a PRELIMINARY stage in the whole scientific process, phenomenology seems to be very useful to uncover new phenomena or to provide the required description of the explanandum before the search of the explanans, but that its role is only instrumental and ultimately solvable. Accordingly, the *bodily or phenomenally* would be useful in a first time in the absence of anything better (scientifically speaking) and will have ultimately to disappear (so to speak) once we get the explanans (which has to be physiological for example).

    Consequently (if that interpretation was correct), it would be surprising, indeed, that Koehler keeps his distinction between the phenomenal body and the physical body (the first one being ultimately reducible or solvable to the second one with the help of new scientific discoveries and neurological explanations). But it seems to me that Koehler stays here in the limits of the phenomenological territory. Generally speaking, Koehler is very clear – at least in our chapter- when he switches from purely descriptive or phenomenological considerations to physiological ones. He knows when he is crossing the red line: *It is most essential for phenomenological statements that they never be confused with hypotheses or even with knowledge about the functional genesis of phenomenal data. Where a thing has come from, to what its existence or that of its properties is due, is a valid question, but for the most part NOT A QUESTION OF PHENOMENOLOGY. Personally – BUT THIS GOES BEYOND PHENOMENOLOGY – I share the opinion of those who contend that all phenomena without exception are the correlates of somatic processes in the nervous system.* (p. 69)

    So, it’s not his intention to explain your fourth point, that is to say the kind of relationship between physical body and experience.

    Moreover, I believe that for Koehler phenomenology is not reducible or solvable to something else. He seems to recognize the existence of an intrinsic level of phenomenological reality (so including the phenomenal body). There is an indirect evidence when, following up Husserl, he makes a sharp distinction between what we could call *structural laws* (*Purple is a visual quality which as such has its place between the red and the blue* , see pp. 50-51) and *causal laws* or *inductive laws (*no facts are evidently generated by other facts, … there does not seem to be any evidence of necessary sequence*, p. 51). See also p. 70 when he talks about the phenomenal objectivity which is independent of the physical environment.

    2) One peripheral remark on your second point. According to me, Koehler’s comments on Husserl’s phenomenology sounds very strange because his very concept of phenomenology doesn’t come from him, but from his teacher Carl Stumpf who developed a conception which is clearly an alternative to the one advocated by Husserl (so it’s not surprising that his phenomenology cannot be transcendental or constitutive etc. regarding your third point). I would be inclined to say that Koehler’s reference to Husserl is cosmetic or artificial (Herbert Spiegelberg, by the way, showed convincingly that most of the filiations with husserlian phenomenology claimed by psychologists or psychiatrists were mainly a matter of retrospective construction; see Phenomenology in Psychology and Psychiatry, 1972). Obviously, his understanding of husserlian phenomenology is superficial and very approximate. Just have a look to his explanation of Husserl’s slogan “Back to the things themselves” page 46: “Wait a moment, he [Husserl] seems to say, before you begin to hide it behind a veil of routine-ideas (…). Try to get a full view of what you intend to explain. Otherwise you may be led completely astray. Since, however, all of us tend to be carried away by naturalistic habits of thinking, and since, in this manner, the very basis of philosophical meditation becomes mixed up with doubtful hypotheses, looking at things themselves is a difficult art which we have to develop first of all. It is this art which Husserl calls phenomenology”. What is properly husserlian in that statement? Honestly, I have no answer. It looks like the brentanian distinction between descriptive and genetic psychology. Not surprising, you could say, given that Husserl still works in the brentanian framework (even critically) in his *Logical Investigations* which constitute the main materials used by Koehler in his comments. The only one way to understand his weak explanation of Husserl’s slogan is that Koehler interprets it as a very general phenomenological principle which is acceptable not only from Husserl’s viewpoint, but also from any phenomenological perspective. Koehler suggests such a possibility when he mentions *Husserl’s very radical procedure when making use of the phenomenological principle* (p. 47)

    However, I think that Koehler is right at least on one important point concerning Husserl when he writes that *Husserl has evidently pictured the world of facts as much poorer than it really is* (p. 53) This can be first applied to Husserl’s underestimation of psychology as a science: According to Husserl *psychology is a science of facts as they really happen* (p. 48), nothing more. It maybe useful to recall here that in his whole work Husserl constantly (mis-)interpreted scientific psychology as dealing with matter of facts. See Stumpf’s decisive criticism in his *Erkenntislehre* 1939, §13, section 5 in which overlaps many points which are only sketched by Koehler. See for example, his scepticism regarding the possibility of an eidetic intuition (without mentioning it explicitly) when he writes : *Once more, it is true, we find intrinsic requiredness located in some particular realm, and once more we find this realm adorned with dangerous words. However, the location as well as the application of such attributes are, in this instance, based on a certain type of observation, curios though it may appear to us*(p. 52). He implicitly criticizes once more Husserl’s *jargonism* on p. 68.

    There would be many other points to discuss I stop for now.

    • Dear Charles — thanks for your reply!

      I think I understand everything you say in your point 1), and can take it on board. This helps clarify for me, somewhat, the methodological role of “phenomenology” for the Gestaltists. I grant that perhaps my worries about Koffka (is there a primacy to perceptual consciousness or not?) are not aptly raised againt Köhler here (though I still worry about them). And I grant that perhaps Köhler is not intending to address my point #4 in great detail — perhaps he does not seek to /explain/ the relation between the phenomenal and the physical.

      I also appreciate your clarification, via appeal to Stumpf, of what you aptly call Köhler’s “cosmetic” discussion of Husserl. I think we are generally in agreement here.

      I’m not certain if we are in agreement regarding your final remarks: I am not convinced that Husserl has so thin a conception of psychology as Stumpf suggests, and I am not convinced that Stumpf’s criticism in the /Erkenntnislehre/ is decisive. And so again, I am not convinced that Husserl “pictures the world of facts as much poorer than it is.” One way to put the point, briefly, is that when Husserl says that psychology is a /science of/ matters of fact, or a /science of/ realities, he might well permit everything that Stumpf wants. What follows is a very long way to put the point, which I enjoyed puzzling through, and which I’ll post for the benefit of future digital archaeologists.

      I don’t think Husserl thinks that a science of matters of fact is confined to cataloging isolated matters of fact: they are quite free to employ induction to arrive at general statements or laws about how matters of fact unfold (Ideen I, §2). Husserl makes several points in contrasting any such “science of nature” with a /pure/ eidetic science.

      H1) Husserl thinks that the “laws” which natural science formulates still, at first pass, involve an element of contingency. (This would perhaps be a “Humeanism” about laws as we understand this position today). The only way to attain a necessary law is to construct a regional ontology and to appeal to essences. On all this see /Ideen I/, §2.

      H2) Husserl thinks that in a pure eidetic science, no experience which posits a reality plays any justifying role, whereas this is justificatory role is necessary for any science of facts (/Ideen I/, §7).

      Husserl does not, it seems to me, deny that sciences of fact aim at necessary laws. For just these reasons Husserl claims:

      H3) every science of facts “has essential, theoretical foundations in eidetic ontologies” which clarify the essences involved (/Ideen I/, §9). (Of course, this does not make a science of fact /the same as/ a pure eidetic science: one studies nature, the other does not).

      One of Husserl’s major points is that a simplistic empiricism cannot coherently support an appeal to necessity without recognizing that:

      H4) the domain of things is not limited to (experienced) matters of fact: there exist also (intuited) essences (/Ideen I/, §19).

      My reading is that Husserl is not especially interested, in Ideen I, in clarifying end-goals of any science of nature (i.e., the formulation of laws), but is rather focused on clarifying their starting point (i.e., the assumption of the natural attitude) and their structure of justification (i.e., the necessity of appeals to facts as justification) so as to contrast this with what a pure eidetic science would look like.

      I have only skimmed Stumpf’s /Erkentnisslehre/. But I do not see Stumpf explicitly denying much of this in his §13. In fact, especially in§13c, Stumpf seems to be largely arguing in favor of both H1 and H2. Sorry for the long quote:

      “Realitäten, Tatsachen im Sinne von Humes “matters of fact,” braucht sie [i.e. Psychologie] nur als /Unterlage/ für denjenigen Teil ihrer Gesetzlichkeiten, der daraus induktiv mit mehr oder weniger Wahrscheinlichkeit ershlossen wird; und darum freilich kann sie sich nicht genug tun in der Sammlung, Ordnung, Vergleichung und Deutung von Tatsachen. Aber Gesetze bleiben ihr Ziel. Überdies kennt sie seit Aristoteles Zeiten ausser den induktiv erschlossenen auch Wesensgesetze oder Strukturgesetzke, die direkt durch Beobachtung und Analyse der psychischen Funktionen ermittelt werden. Diese sind der besondere Gegenstande der /deskriptiven Psychologie/ im Sinne Brentanos, aber auch schon Lotze und aller Früheren. Diese beschreibende Psychologie ist nichts anderes als eine regionale Phaenomenolige oder Ontologie in Husserls Sinne, und er selbst hat in den “Logischen Untersuchungen” Verdienstliches dazu beigetragen.” (Erkenntnislehre p.194)

      And sorry for the long attempt at a translation, I could use the practice and you’re all stuck coming along for the ride:
      “[Psychology] needs realities, facts in the sense of Hume’s “matters of fact”, only as a /basis/ for that part of its laws which are inductively derived with them with more or less verisimilitude. And therefore of course it cannot do enough in the collection, ordering, comparison and interpretation of facts. But laws remain its goal. Moreover since the time of Aristotle [psychology] also knows, apart from the inductively developed [laws], also essential laws or structural laws, which were ascertained directly through observation and analysis of psychical functions. These are the special objects of /descriptive psychology/ in Brentano’s sense, but also [in the sense] of Lotze and everyone before. This descriptive psychology is nothing other than a regional phenomenology of ontology in Husserl’s sense, and he himself has contributed to it in the /Logical Investigations/.”

      With this it seems to me that Stumpf is admitting that psychology is just what Husserl calls a science of matters of fact: it is a science that relies upon facts for justification (see H2). It does not matter, in Husserl’s view, whether it relies on those facts as an inductive basis or if it relies on them “directly.” Likewise Stumpf seems to be granting that if psychology is to attain laws, it must seek out a regional ontology (see H1) — thus presumably the laws which Stumpf thinks are the goals of psychology are necessities, not mere generalizations. On all this I do not see much substantive disagreement between them.

      The claims (H3) and (H4) highlight 2 related points which provide a possibility of substantive disagreement, though both bring with them many further opportunities for misunderstanding on merely terminological grounds.

      (A): Stumpf might deny (H4), and might balk at countenancing essences as (irreal) things. Then (i) he’d have to provide some alternative conception of the grounds of necessity; but (ii) he would have to at least admit that /Husserl/ recognizes essences as having being. At this point we’re back to what I regard as the terminological dispute between Köhler and Husserl. For Hussserl, necessity and requiredness are bound up with an eidos, whereas matters of facts all involve contingency (/Ideen I/, §2). But Husserl surely does seek to bring all requiredness into the domain of being, by countenancing the (irreal) being of essences. We’re just haggling over the reference of “facts” if we say that this means Hussel has an “impoverished view of the facts.”

      (B): Stumpf might reject (H3), after a fashion, by insisting that empirical psychology /itself/ is in part an enterprise in pure eidetics, going about the business of constructing its regional ontology. Husserl would probably not say this. He would distinguish between “sciences in the dogmatic attitude and sciences in the philosophical attitude” (/Ideen I/, §26). He would say that to the extent that “psychology” proceeds with implicit reliance on a regional ontology without clarifying or justifying it, it proceeds as a natural science of fact does (and ought to do). But he would say that to the extent that “psychology” sets about clarifying and justifying its own regional ontology, it becomes a specifically *philosophical* kind of psychology (which, of course, it was in practice for Aristotle, Brentano, Lotze, and for “all who came before”). Here we get into some nitty-gritty stuff about the relationship between phenomenology/philosophy on the one hand, and psychology on the other, which Husserl continues to wrestle with as late as the /Krisis/. One might start to worry that Husserl’s distinction between sciences in the dogmatic vs philosophical attitude drives an analytical wedge between investigations which are, in practice, closely intertwined. But I’m not certain that this worry should lead us to say that Husserl has made some great error in drawing the distinction, and I’m not certain that Stumpf’s complaints go beyond a terminological dispute. I don’t think Husserl denies that people-who-are-working-psychologists can adopt the philosophical attitude; his suggestion is that in doing this work, they are doing something interestingly different than what he calls psychology as a science of matters of fact.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *