More about Persons and Capacity, Part 1

Please note that almost everything in this and the next post has already been discussed in my comment last evening in response to W. Schwartz and C.J. Stone.  I had prepared this two post sequence before submitting that comment, but I decided to comment anyway in the context of community discussion.  I’ll post the second part in the next couple of days.

Please click-through only if you’re interested in some more extended but now redundant thoughts on  “Original Capacity.”

Please note that the second paragraph of item 3 was edited and modified from the original post in order to clarify further one of the arguments.

1. Providing for behavioral competence. As suggested by K. Davis and elaborated by T. Putman, “Provide for” is a way of talking about human capacities being embodied, such that the behaviors that express those capacities only have significance in a behavioral world.

For example, it may be that certain neurological systems provide necessary capacities for understanding facts about other people, such as the capacity to recognize the actions of others in ways that we describe as empathy.  The neurological system “provides for” this behavioral competence.  The competence is acquired through practice and experience.

However, certain Personal Characteristics may be described by the Critic as certain sorts of Powers.  These are personal characteristics for which “success is purely and simply attributed to the individual rather than to the circumstances, BOP, p. 85.”  In other words, these are PCs that cannot be explained based on prior experience.  Ossorio refers to these capacities as “Original Capacities.”  An Original Capacity is one for which “successful participation in the pattern of behavior which results in the acquisition of a PC is not accidental” (BOP, p. 85, italics added.).

2. Original Capacity supports a conceptually sound way of talking about neurological embodiment.  I’ve suggested that the achievement of being a Person represents an application of the concept of Original Capacity.  Becoming and being a person are not accidental in this way.

The statement that being a person is an expression of an Original Capacity is an instructive tautology.  Rephrased as a Maxim, this statement might read: “To be a person is to have the Original Capacity to be a person.”  However, there is also a component of this relationship that is not tautological.  The embodied capacity to be a Person must be sufficient to do that job.  In a world of persons we recognize Personal Characteristics.  In a world of neuroscience we recognize neurophysiological processes, and organizational and functional patterns.  In a world that conceptually bridges the two we recognize what must be the case about the neurological system for there to be Persons at all, including being able to assign the statuses of Person and non-Person (or any status).  I believe that in this way, a Descriptive Psychology perspective provides entrée to neuroscientific conceptual and empirical inquiry.

3.  Original Capacity and behavioral deficiencies.  Original Capacity is a limiting case for recursive operations based on the developmental schema.  Achieving the status of person, given Original Capacity, requires a sufficient developmental history and a world of other persons.  Not all individuals achieve this status and many achieve what a Critic might describe as being a Person with a degraded or deficient status.  Deficient versions of being a Person may be attributable to a variant of  Original Capacity (in a world where the only way to communicate is by singing, being tone-deaf is an impairment, not just a disability) or may be attributable to the capacity constraints based on specifics of an individual’s developmental history (in a world where the only way to communicate is by playing the piano, having lost one’s fingers is an impairment, not just a disability.)  What counts as being a deficiency depends on the communities of which a Person is a member, but a Community will recognize both types of broad categorical impairments, expressed by a Critic who represents that Community.

I believe, that this logic is not just a restatement of  the “Nature-Nurture” debate.  Embodiment is not the “cause” of achievements that a Critic might claim to be deficient or not deficient and behavior does not merely “supervene” on capacity.  Alterations of Original Capacity provide for a different range or quality of behaviors that a person can achieve.   However, more than just a body is required to be a Person.   The achievement of being a Person also requires other Persons.   To paraphrase Ossorio, embodied Persons engage with a world of embodied Persons and their ways, who themselves engage as embodied Persons with a world of embodied Persons and their ways.  Developmental histories, interpersonal states of affairs, limited opportunities for practice and experience, as well as many other facts about a person can alter the expression of capacity in ways that have significance in communities.  Delineation of the histories that actually may limit or enhance these expressions are empirical questions.

As noted earlier, and will be reviewed again in a subsequent post, we only know what our capacities are by observing our behavior; just as we only recognize exceptional or deficient capacity by observing behaviors that count as exceptional or impaired in our communities.  Capacity makes possible what behavioral worlds make actual.  To recognize a case of something, within any community, is to logically require that there be the capacity for that case of something.  When there is no history that can account for that case of something, then embodiment as Original Capacity conceptually serves as the capacity required.

If this reasoning is itself deficient, which may certainly be the case, there must be some alternative that will do the job.

Additional thoughts regarding these issues will follow in the next post.

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3 Responses to More about Persons and Capacity, Part 1

  1. cj stone says:

    When I read your replies, I often feel like my post has missed your point. If so, I hope this is not another instance of that.

    Clams can see. I doubt they have a spherical orb filled with a vitreous humor leading to a series of rods and cones, etc. But they have the capacity to see–they can participate in seeing things. I have the same capacity. I don’t have the same embodiment; therefore, capacity is logically prior to embodiment.

    In addition, we could follow on with a series of capacities that don’t exist for humans (like “seeing behind yourself”) and imagine embodiments that would provide for the non-existent capacities, perhaps several embodiments for each capacity. So again, the capacities logically precede any particular embodiment.

    You say, “To recognize a case of something, within any community, is to logically require that there be the capacity for that case of something. When there is no history that can account for that case of something, then embodiment as Original Capacity conceptually serves as the capacity required.” In the second sentence, I find it problematical that you seemed to have abandoned the communitarian restriction of the first sentence. I would correct it to read, “When there is nothing in a community that can account for that case of something, then the community must find a way to explain this (apparently) Original Capacity. In some communities, genius or daimon might do it; in others, past lives might do it; and so on, community-by-community. In the neurological community, embodiment is the account for Original Capacity.”

    In that sense, then, I want to think about embodiment as I think about the boundaries in football. The boundaries don’t create the game “football”, but without those specific boundaries, it isn’t plain, old football any more. It’s some other game. If we took the embodiment boundary away from neurology, it would be some other game.

    Neurologists are studying physiology. Psychology is not physiology; physiology is not psychology. To reach across that divide is to reach between communities, between games. There will always be people who will say, “In that reach, you have stopped doing our thing,” and stop listening. Disagreement is central to persons, not agreement, so having other neuro professionals disagree is the way things are. To escalate disagreement into dismissal is another thing.

    • nlkirsch says:

      I’m not sure what you’re getting at by your last paragraph. I’m sorry if my responses seem dismissive or if you feel we’re talking at cross purposes. I’m doing the best I can to communicate my perspective and respond to your posts, and others. My perspective is that I have fundamental disagreements with your arguments and I’ve done the best I can to communicate that. I feel that the reach of DP needs to be expanded so that it is not necessary to say that “Neurologists are studying physiology. Psychology is not physiology; physiology is not psychology.” There’s a wide world out there that sees things differently, including me, and I feel that DP has something important, critical and very fundamental to offer to those other discussions. I value your comments and your perspective, but where it leads me is that neuroscience is not a legitimate consideration for DP. Perhaps I’m misunderstanding that. If I’m not misunderstanding, then it just may be that broadening the reach of DP in that way is just not conceptually possible. I would be quite unhappy with that, but perhaps that’s how it is. I don’t have much more to say, and am going to back off for a while because I’ve spent so much time with these posts that it’s detracted from my other responsibilities. If anyone else cares to chime in, please do.

  2. Pat Aucoin says:

    Perhaps a few examples will be helpful (or not).

    A father decides his kid might want to play in Little League. He throws some balls to the kid and half of them end up hitting the kid. The kid can’t throw well enough for the balls to come anywhere near the father. The father decides to get his kid’s eyes checked, starts him on a weight training regimen, enriches his diet, perhaps initiates shots of growth hormone, and engages his kid in coaching sessions for throwing, fielding and catching. He also undergoes sensitivity training to help him deal with the nasty games that kids indulge in. A year later, the kid tries out for Little League and makes the team.

    What would be Original Capacity here? A year ago, the kid had never played baseball so we can’t say ‘ability to play the game of baseball’ although we can say that his prospects were dim a year ago.

    After a season, the kid decides he would rather play tennis. He is able to make the tennis team, even though he had never played tennis before. I suppose we could say his Original Capacity for that ability is partially determined based upon his other abilities when he made his exit from baseball!

    An NFL player decides to retire from playing and become an announcer (use Troy Aikman as an example.) Ossorio has stated that players aren’t necessarily good announcers. Given a year or so of elocution lessons and practice at working smoothly with other announcers and spotters and statisticians, the player may develop proficiency. After a few seasons, Aikman, for example, was an announcer at the Super Bowl.

    Now we have extensive prosthetic devices. Artificial hands, legs, arms etc. I take it that these count toward embodiment. Those persons successfully fitted with these devices might sustain abilities in some applications even with those who do not need them.

    Stephen Hawking has the ability to think at a high level about astrophysics and communicate his thoughts to his colleagues using a voice simulator. Also, he has a necessary support staff to enable him to carry on and even live day to day. In terms of his being a person in the astrophysical community, how do we count the support staff?

    Along with modern-day advances in prosthetics, what are we prepared to say about advances in repair and enhancement of neural activity?

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