Exposing the background: Deep and local

Daniel Hutto

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Humans engage with the world and one another in sophisticated ways that (arguably) creatures lacking language cannot. Language (again, arguably) enables us to communicate meaningfully, to form contentful attitudes and intentions, and to design and execute plans so as to satisfy our needs and desires. Yet, for this to be so, a great deal that is not captured in terms of explicit content, necessarily, informs everything we expressly say, explicitly think and deliberately do.
Although many regard my first two claims about the importance of language in making possible unique forms of human speech, thought and action as contentious, the truth of the third claim is almost universally accepted in some form. Disagreements crop up, however, as soon as attempts are made to explicate the nature of just what it is that informs what we say, think and do and what, precisely, this involves on the part of speakers, thinkers and doers. In what follows, I defend an anti-intellectualist, non-representationalist account of what lies in the background of, and makes possible, our explicitly contentful speech, thought and action.
Taking Searle’s classic discussion of the Background as the point of departure, Section 1, stakes out the questions to be explored and motivates the investigation. Section 2, develops an argument for a non-representational account of the deep, biological Background in radically enactive terms. It promotes the idea that the sorts of embodied capacities that constitute this aspect of the Background must be understood in intentional but nonetheless non-contentful terms. Not only is this possible, I argue that it is well motivated by recent and unfolding developments in the new wave of cognitive science. Section 3, shifts gear and considers a central sort of understanding that is fixed by local, cultural Background. It is argued that the critical frame for our everyday understanding of the explicit actions of ourselves and others is derived from stable, socio-culturally based narrative practices but without there being any rules for engaging such practices and without these ever being explicitly represented, learned or acquired.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationKnowing without thinking
Subtitle of host publicationThe background in philosophy of mind
EditorsZdraavko Radman
Place of PublicationBasingstoke
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
ISBN (Print)978-0-230-28513-2
Publication statusPublished - 2012


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