Psychiatry

Acts of Meaning (Four Lectures on Mind and Culture - by Jerome Bruner

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By Jerome Bruner

Jerome Bruner argues that the cognitive revolution, with its present fixation on brain as "information processor;" has led psychology clear of the deeper goal of knowing brain as a writer of meanings. in simple terms by way of breaking out of the constraints imposed through a computational version of brain will we grab the distinctive interplay in which brain either constitutes and is constituted through tradition.

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But lest this seem like a preface to a new optimism about humankind and its furore, let me make one point before ruming, as promised, to the issue of relativism. For all its genera- , tive inventiveness, human culture is not necessarily benign nor is it notably malleable in response to troubles. It is still , customary, as in the fashion of ancient traditions, to lay the , blame for the failings of human culture on "human nature"-whether as instincts, as original sin, or whatever. Even· Freud, with his shrewd eye for human folly, often fell into.

Are values only preferences? If not, how choo~c between values? There are two seductively misleading psychological views on this question-one of them seemingly rationalist in apparatus, the other romantically irrationalist. The latter holds that values arc a function of gut reactions, displaced psychic conflicts, temperament, and the like. Insofar as the irrationalists take culture into account, it is as a source of supply, a cafeteria of values from which one chooses as a function of one's individual drives or conflicts.

And so too, in a less formal way, is the conduct of marriage, kinship, friendship, and colleagueship. It works in both directions. "-just as the meaning of action is interpretable only by reference to what the actors say they are up to-"So sorry" for an inadvertent bwnping. After all, it 18 • The Proper Study of Man has now been a quarter-century since John Austin's introduction of speech act theory. 26 To those who want to concentrate upon whether what people say predicts what they will do, the only proper answer is that to separate the two in that way is to do bad philosophy, bad anthropology, bad psychology, and impossible law.

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