Part / Whole




Part                            -                       Whole




Juarrero points to how the quantum level - those things that "go without saying" - affects the everyday level. For the most part we can ignore it, especially within a cohesive culture in which everyone shares "the same historical background and contextual setting." 

But when humans seek to explain each other, neither comes context free. Each brings their own case history, their own biases, prejudices, etc. 




[…] absolutism of conduct can be secured only by means of an absolutism of doctrine, by means of the doctrine that good and evil traits and actions are inherently distinct from one another and that their character does not depends on the character of those who manifest and engage in them on each particular occasion.

[…] this approach creates the view that “there are actions that are good and bad in themselves,” whereas in reality, according to Nietzsche, “an action in itself is perfectly devoid of value: it depends on who performs it,” for what reason and with what effect.

[Alexander Nehamas]
Nietzsche: Life as Literature, p. 213-14




[General systems theory’s] fundamental claim is that when living things are embedded in an orderly context, properties emerge that are not present when the things exist as isolated individuals. 

Picking up where Darwin left off, systems theory continued the revival of relational or secondary properties by reminding us that context matters.

[Alicia Juarrero]
Dynamics in Action, p.108




[…] Zeleny (1980, 20) suggests that the lesson to be learned from the theory of autopoiesis is precisely "the lesson of holism." 

Far from being an inert epiphenomenon, the dynamics of the autopoietic whole serve as the orderly context that structures the behavioral characteristics and activities of the parts, a clear formulation of one of Bunge's (1979, 39) characteristics of a holistic point of view: the dynamics of the global level control the functioning of components at the lower level. 

The whole as whole most assuredly acts on its parts: self-cause - but not, as some would have it, qua other - one part forcefully impressing itself on another. Instead, complex adaptive systems exhibit true self-cause: parts interact to produce novel, emergent wholes; in turn, these distributed wholes as wholes regulate and constrain the parts that make them up. 

[Alicia Juarrero]
Dynamics in Action, p.130




I propose that explaining complex systems, including human beings and their actions, must […] proceed hermeneutically, not deductively. 

In textual interpretation "the anticipation of meaning in which the whole is envisaged becomes explicit understanding in that the parts, that are determined by the whole, themselves also determine this whole" (Gadamer 1985, 259). Interpreters must move back and forth: the whole text guides the understanding of individual passages; yet the whole can be understood only by understanding the individual passages. 

This interlevel recursiveness, characteristic of hermeneutics, is thus "a continuous dialectical tacking between the most local of local detail and the most global of global structure in such a way as to bring both into view simultaneously" (Geertz 1979, 239). The interlevel tacking of the hermeneutic "circle” reproduces the self-organization of complex dynamical processes. By showing the dynamics of complex adaptive systems, hermeneutical narratives are uniquely suited as the logic of explanation of these strange-loop phenomena.

The logic of explanation of hermeneutics is therefore appropriate for explananda whose very nature is a product of that strange circle of whole and part. 

In contrast to covering laws and algorithms and deductions therefrom, that is, interpretation or hermeneutics reproduces the very logic of nature's open, adaptive dynamics. Like intentional actions, interpretations are characterized by strange-loop, interlevel relations and are, in consequence, essentially contextual and historical. Interpretations therefore explain by showing those nonlinear, interlevel processes at work. 

The threat of relativism lurking in the hermeneutic circle has often encouraged philosophers to reject it.

By drawing the explainer and the explanation into its strange loop, hermeneutics appears to forestall the possibility of any claim to truth and certainty. If we live in a dynamical universe, the novelty and creativity such complex systems display do indeed signal the end of eternal, unchanging, and universal certainty. 

Unlike modern science, however, dynamical systems theory provides an understanding of both the construction and integrity of wholes that does not dissolve their unity at that level. According to Gadamer (1985), the resolution to the circularity of hermeneutics is found in Heidegger's recognition that “the circle of the whole and the part is not dissolved in perfect understanding but on the contrary, is most fully realized"

[Alicia Juarrero]
Dynamics in Action, p.223




Nineteenth-century hermeneuties failed to take into account that the explainer, as much as the phenomenon explained, is embedded in time and space. Twentieth-century students of hermeneutics, in contrast, have finally come to appreciate that interpretation is doubly historical. 

The phenomenon being explained has a history, and so must be understood within that history; but interpreters, too, are situated within history, within a tradition, which their interpretation both reflects and influences. 

This double historicity affects the pragmatics of explanation. When the subject is planetary orbits and billiard balls, that is, when interactions can be ignored, the role of interpreter recedes in importance; not so when the subject is either quantum processes or human actions. Dynamical systems have therefore brought the interpreter back into the pragmatics of explaining action (if not into the metaphysics of explanation, as quantum processes have).

In dynamical terms, the tradition in which interpreters are situated is itself an attractor. As social beings, interpreters are embedded in its dynamics. As Gadamer (1985, 216) notes, "[t]he anticipation of meaning that governs our understanding of a text is not an act of subjectivity, but proceeds from the communality that binds us to the tradition." Jurors as well as the rest of us are located within a tradition, which frames our interpretation. This fact, which even the popular media harp on, need not lead either to paralysis or to the deconstructionist's conclusion that any interpretation is as good as any other. As Umberto Eco (1990, 21) insists and our discussion of top-down constraints has shown, context constrains the range of plausible interpretations. "A text is a place where the irreducible polysemy of symbols is in fact reduced because in a text symbols are anchored in their context."

Following Eco's lead, I submit that two contexts provide an action's "literal" meaning: the historical background and contextual setting in which the action was performed, and the context established by the "small world" of the action itself. Two contexts likewise frame the meaning of a hermeneutical explanation: the historical background and contextual setting in which the interpretation is offered, and the context established by the "small world" of the interpretation itself. 

When both the explainer and the agent whose action is being explained share the same historical background and contextual setting, interpretation usually proceeds smoothly. Not so in a society whose members bring with them radically different backgrounds and perspectives. 

If explainers are as much situated in a context (a tradition) as the phenomenon they are trying to explain, bringing this background-that-goes-without-saying to the foreground is a valuable contribution to the pragmatics of explanation: it helps determine how much the explanatory context itself has contributed to the explanation. 

[Alicia Juarrero]
Dynamics in Action, p. 237