Situated normativity: The normative aspect of embodied cognition in unreflective action

Mind 117 (468):973-1001 (2008)
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Abstract

In everyday life we often act adequately, yet without deliberation. For instance, we immediately obtain and maintain an appropriate distance from others in an elevator. The notion of normativity implied here is a very basic one, namely distinguishing adequate from inadequate, correct from incorrect, or better from worse in the context of a particular situation. In the first part of this paper I investigate such ‘situated normativity’ by focusing on unreflective expert action. More particularly, I use Wittgenstein’s examples of craftsmen (tailors and architects) absorbed in action to introduce situated normativity. Situated normativity can be understood as the normative aspect of embodied cognition in unreflective skillful action. I develop Wittgenstein’s insight that a peculiar type of affective behaviour, ‘directed discontent’, is essential for getting things right without reflection. Directed discontent is a reaction of appreciation in action and is introduced as a paradigmatic expression of situated normativity. In the second part I discuss Wittgenstein’s ideas on the normativity of what he calls ‘blind’ rule-following and the ‘bedrock’ of immediate action. What matters for understanding the normativity of (even ‘blind’) rule-following, is not that one has the capacity for linguistic articulation or reflection but that one is reliably participating in a communal custom. In the third part I further investigate the complex relationships between unreflective skillful action, perception, emotion, and normativity. Part of this entails an account of the link between normativity at the level of the expert’s socio-cultural practice and the individual’s situated and lived normativity.

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Erik Rietveld
University of Amsterdam