A Dream of Reason II. Part 2 Entering through Direct Examination of Foundational Concepts

Entering through Direct Examination of Foundational Concepts (1986)


We examine some transdisciplinary concepts in their relevance to the reconstruction of sociology-psychology.

2.On the Clarification/Evaluation of “Meaning Constellations”


Meaning is “the substance” of our life together and apart, not an area within it.

The clarification/evaluation of meaning constellations requires mediation between their full existential-historical resonance and relevant contextual (e.g., disciplinary) requirements.

All disciplinary perspectives are partial…. Awareness of partiality and absent unity assists cumulative disciplinary development and interdisciplinary dialogue.

3.2 (1986)

The clarification/evaluation of meaning constellations includes a problem J.N. Findlay designates “the problem of generic and specific essences” (1966, 47) and we term “the problem of primary generative meaning constellations.”

The basic problem of generic and specific essences is…how we distinguish a genuine eidos (a unique, indispensable, fundamental type) from thought contents which are merely factitious or complex or derivative, or which represent a merely deviant or imperfect case. In dealing with the structure of our experience we shall again and again have to say that this or that is not part of the “idea” of something, or that the “idea” of something requires or excludes or favors or is unfavorable to the instantiation of some other “idea.” (1966, 19)

The possible combinations permitted or favored by a notion, and the extensions it rules out or frowns upon, often affect us with the same shock of surprise as do the shades and contours of an observed object, even thought the latter is revealed by ordinary sight and the former by what we may call a “seeing” use of language. (1967, 19)

I was, for example, surprised that sociology desires dialogical integration in a unified sociology-psychology, and that sociology-psychology insists on recognition as a distinct species of theoretical reason.

In social and behavioral science there is an institutionalized pride in toughness towards language (an aggressive willed blindness and deafness)…. We would approach the precision of poetry. Yet in the winter air of theoretical reason language closes in upon itself.

4.Immanent/Natural Dynamics [1](1989)



Of things that exist…by nature…each…has within itself a principle of motion and of stationariness (in respect of place, or of growth and decrease, or by way of alteration). [McKeon, 122; (Physics: Bk II: 192, 1-17)]

And recently in the sociological tradition, Sorokin:

A pile of sand, bricks or fallen leaves is a passive conglomeration without its own (causal) force controlling its functions, change and development. It is at the mercy of external forces. A wind can blow off a part of the leaves; dogs or children walloping in the pile rearrange it…. Different is the situation with the causal-meaningful system. It has its own self-directing force that keeps its unified integrity in different conditions, that controls its functions, that determines (from within) the direction and character of its change, and gives to it a margin of autonomy from all external forces that try to disrupt its units, influence its functions, and condition its changes. (1947, 154-155)

Within our life together and apart as a phenomenal domain, that is immanent/natural to a unit x which co-constitutes it (e.g., as process or “substance”) and/or directly occurs from it (e.g., as event and/or artifact).

An infant will naturally develop into an adult, yet if entirely deprived of external support s/he will die…. “To occur from itself” is not necessarily to occur in total isolation (as a plant up rooted and relocated in a vacuum). X may occur from itself in its normal enabling flow of relationships.


In sociology-psychology, propositions of immanent/natural dynamics explain directly yet rarely explain completely.

Expectations based on hypotheses of immanent/natural dynamics strategically influence the specification and exploration of opposed dynamics. (For example, if improvisation is an immanent/natural species potentiality, then extreme conformity suggests an opposed dynamic. – If “category creativity” is a rarely actualized immanent/natural species potentiality, one seeks inhibiting and triggering constellations.)

Exploration of dynamics in these foundational essays will focus on immanent-natural processes.

5.Sociology-Psychology as an Autonomous Discipline (2000)


It is not the project of sociology-psychology to actualize itself as a social and/or behavioral science. If unique existence, inwardness and I-Thou concern are exiled from science they are not necessarily exiled from sociology-psychology.

Mechanical (e.g., cybernetic) and biological metaphors, while useful, need not dominate discourse.

Interpretation of face-to-face interaction need not focus obsessively on organizational “accountability” and/or freelance manipulation (e.g., con games and hustles) and/or rule bound conformity.

Models of human existence need not one-sidedly reproduce the drama of technical rationality.


I-Thou concern and inwardness are exiled from social-behavioral “science” by obsession with prediction and control.

One path out of exile is the question, “What is one’s (your or my) unique existence in relation to species potentialities (e.g., for love, courage, justice and beauty)?”

This question directly engages inwardness. It is “cognitive,” relatively abstract and phenomenally relevant.

It is not tied to prediction and control…. It is not about dynamics. – Yet it opens dynamically relevant explorations into the inhibiting and enabling conditions for love, courage, justice, beauty, etc.

Species potentialities can be explored through their compromised distorted institutionalizations, their ephemeral ambiguous appearances in our most intimate relationships, and their relatively precise and permanent embodiment in art.

It is no more (and no less) problematic to take the position of “humanity” than that of “the social system,” or of any other theoretical construct.

That which is “collapse” for “the system” can be breakdown or liberation for the person and renaissance or regression for humanity


Autonomy from science is not opposition to science. Both science and sociology-psychology participate in theoretical reason…. Exploration of dynamics, dominant in science, is relevant to sociology-psychology.

Sociology-psychology should learn from scientific commitment to disciplinary autonomy and

self -knowledge.

6.Immediate lived existence[2] (2000)

“In the same river, we both step and do not step, we are and we are not” (Heraclitus 49a).


“Concrete existence” and “immediate lived existence” are related transdisciplinary terms. I find “immediate lived existence” more suggestive for sociological-psychological inquiry.

The following excerpts directly address immediate lived existence.

“Dream Walk”

I am walking down the street. My head moves up and down and left and right. Scenes appear ahead and then are left behind.

I see discontinuous fragments yet am “located.” Even deep in reverie I do not “loose my place.”… A swimmer only requires a short gasp of air to live: an almost instantaneous glance restores me immediately to the world (and this connection can survive the loss of sight).

I am haunted by an appointment I missed. Walking, I rehearse for the hundredth time an apology I might remain too shy to give. My lips begin to move. I gesture. – ­ Suddenly memory: a homeless man, saturated with himself through loneliness as his clothes are saturated with his secretions and excretions, waving his arms, talking to someone or something no one else can see.

I make a “poker face” and walk on quickly, staring straight ahead.

I soon slip back into a waking dream.

“On Looking Out the Window while Preparing to Write About Looking Out the Window”

Clear day: bright sky, sweet smell, brisk wind…. Leaves dance among dark branches. [Cézanne captures this (improves it?)…. Yet this sky is more in Raphael’s style…wash on wash (completely there and yet in no way solid).]

I wish I were painting. Escape? No! Write! Now! Nervous. Do the job. A wall outside. Enough? Why not?


A wall as an instance of experience: rough brick, orange surface – I’m thirsty. Coke? Look! Nervous! Write! A field of “acid rock” sharp orange, with gray, black, purple, passages: “field” suggests yellow flowers in “waves of grass”: “wave” suggest all that is green-blue and flows.[3]

From Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, here is Mrs. Ramsay presiding over her dinner table and planning a match between Lily Briscoe and William Bankes[4]:

Foolishly she had set them opposite each other. That could be remedied tomorrow. If it were fine, they should go for a picnic. Everything seemed possible. Everything seemed right. Just now (but this cannot last, she thought disassociating herself from the moment while they were all talking about boots) just now she had reached security; she hovered like a hawk suspended; like a flag floated in an element of joy which filled every nerve of her body fully and sweetly, not noisily, solemnly rather, for it arose, she thought looking at them all eating there, from husband and children and friends; all of which rising in this profound stillness (she was helping William Bankes to one very small piece more and peered into the depths of the earthenware pot) seemed now for no special reason to stay there like a smoke, like a fume rising upwards holding them safe together. Nothing need be said, nothing could be said. There it was all around them. It partook, she felt, carefully helping Mr. Bankes to an especially tender piece of eternity; as she had already felt about something different once before that afternoon; there is a coherence in things, a stability; something, she meant, is immune from change, and shines out (she glanced at the window with its ripple of reflected lights) in the face of the flowing, the fleeting the spectral, like a ruby; so that again tonight she had the feeling she had had once today already, of peace, of rest. Of such moments, she thought, the thing is made that remains forever after. This would remain. (178-179)

In James Joyce’s Ulysses, Stephen Dedalus walking in the street sees the midwife, Mrs. Florence MacCabe:

Mrs. Florence MacCabe, relict of the late Patk MacCabe, deeply lamented of Bride Street. One of her sisterhood lugged me squealing into life. Creation from nothing. What has she in the bag? A misbirth with a trailing navelcord, hushed in ruddy wool. The cords of all link back, strandent wining cable of all flesh. That is why mystic monks. Will you be as gods? Gaze in your omphalos. Hello. Kinch here. Put me on to Edenville Aleph: alpha: nought, nought, one. Spouse and helpmate of Admon Kadmon: Heva, naked Eve. She had no navel. Gaze. Belly without blemish, bulging big, a buckler of taut, vellum, no, whiteheaped corn, orient and immortal, standing from everlasting to everlasting. Womb of sin. (140-141)

Charles Baudelaire’s Correspondences directly addresses the underlying fabric of our life together and apart.

Nature is a temple whose living pillars

Sometimes give forth a babel of words;

Man wends his way through forests of symbols

Which look at him with their familiar glances.


As long-resounding echoes from afar

Are mingling in a deep dark unity,

Vast as the night or as the orb of day,

Perfumes, colors and sounds commingle.   (182)

Each person’s experienced worl­d is inexhaustible. – Nuances of light and shadow are infinite, and are along one of infinitely many lines of variation…. Images stand out sharply or merge into their backgrounds. Love and anxiety mute or sharpen colors.

The potential complexities of experience co-present in groups (a multiplicity of infinities) are beyond analysis…. Imagine a painting – a landscape with figures – in which Van Gogh’s brush strokes mingle with Rembrandt’s, meteor showers in resonant darkness.


Michael Polanyi remarks, “We know more than we can say” (23), and continues:

It appears…that to know that a statement is true is to know more than we can tell and that hence when a discovery solves a problem it is itself fraught with further intimations of an indeterminate range, and that furthermore, when we accept the discovery as true, we commit ourselves to a belief in all those as yet undisclosed, perhaps as yet unthinkable, consequences. (Ibid.)

The advance of theory should never overwhelm immediate lived existence: no final triumph of facticity over potentiality…no final actualization beyond all surprises.


Immediate lived existence influences life directly. It also grounds all other constellations of our life together and apart.

All other constellations of our life together and apart naturally flow back into and influence immediate existence.

Immediate lived existence is a “cross roads.” It is the complex, fertile “background” of our lives…. Immediate lived existence is “the ocean of voices.”

7.Unique Existence (2005)

The sentence “Consideration of unique is crucial to sociology-psychology” is outside English usage…. One can substitute “the unique” or “uniqueness.” Yet both distort “unique” by presenting it as a general property… I select “unique existence” and “unique existent” to represent “unique” in sentences where it is relevant but cannot go.[5]

“Unique existence” is a co-constitutive aspect of immediate lived existence. It abstracts and emphasizes the discontinuous and new.

Unique existence and repetition interpenetrate [e.g., the routinization of charisma (explored by Weber) founds repetition on openness to a unique presence].

8.Openness and its Immediate Family

8.1. Open


Collingwood distinguishes between craft and art. In “craft” means and ends are mutually

distinct, and are specified in detail prior to action. In “art” goal and path, context and action, emerge in interplay together.

Art is a discipline. Collingwood’s distinction is analytic to all disciplines… to all positions and situations. We rephrase it as a distinction between “closed” and “open.”


The generically human concerns of sociology-psychology do not require the possibility of human completion.

Humanity is an open “work in progress.” Art and sociology-psychology directly mediate the dialogue of dialogues that is “our life together and apart”: they code our life together and apart back into itself.

As human history is naturally incomplete it is at each moment relatively open (whether this is recognized or not).

8.2 Openness

In so far as x is open it exists in “openness.”

Openness is opposed to routine, to hierarchical order…and to break down …Openness is ambiguous, equalitarian and co-creative, as jazz musicians jamming.

8.3 Opening/Opens


 We will refer to x as “opening” in so far as it becomes more open. An alternative formulation is “x opens.”


Opening is a species of beginning.

A “standard” chess opening (e.g., the Guico Piano, the Roy Lopez) selects a range of alternatives from the universe of all possible chess games…. The choice of an opening in chess enters the game from outside the order with reference to which conditioning is charted: it is in that sense freely chosen.

The opening of a play is a unique event that potentially, not necessarily in outcome, is the first of a series. (An opening may also be a closing.)


One can open so completely to a unique complexity as to cut off all routes to return (e.g., in Nabakov’s fictions obsession is often a repetitive ritual reenactment of a unique open childhood moment).

Opening is shadowed by breakdown…. Yet the immanent/natural completion of opening is openness, and the immanent/natural outcome of openness is reconstruction.

9.On Reason


Sociology-psychology is a discipline of reason.

Reason, in its relevance to sociology-psychology, is intuited as dialogical, as “the compassionate friend and just judge who listens to all voices” and as “measure of measures.”… “The Socratic moment” is founding and exemplary yet subject to critique.

From the admittedly partial perspective of sociology-psychology, the constitutive problematic of reason includes:

  1. Mediation between opposed positions through persuasion, without recourse to violence and without ceding ultimate authority to tradition.
  2. Discovery-invention and actualization of disciplinary potentialities.
  3. Recognition and preservation of the dialogue between unity and diversity (e.g., by contributing to the search for a vital recognizable humanity in and through historical discontinuities).

The struggle for disciplinary self-knowledge is crucial to reason. Procedural transparency is crucial to self-knowledge.

For reason to appear inquiry must proceed, at least in part, in dialogue with itself (i.e., “through awareness-in-the-act”).


Against some Socratic-Platonic tendencies, we resist interpreting reason as world creating, world sustaining.… The mythological resonance of this resistance is Buddhist. Buddha did not create a world in which “involvement is suffering.” He is a compassionate healing intervention.

Reason as “court of final appeal” can assign totalitarian powers to itself or even, as in some positivist and neopositivist formulations, to a species of itself…. If reason worships itself, it endangers its potentiality for mediation: it denies itself as reason.

It is reasonable for reason to open dialogue beyond itself. – One cannot follow reason as its slave… The struggle for self-knowledge seeks potentialities and limitations.


The statement “sociology-psychology is a reasonable discipline” does not assert that professional sociology and psychology are in fact reasonable, only that they should and could be.

Continue an examination of Avron Soyer’s A Dream of Reason II. Part 3 Entering through the Methodology of Foundational Discipline Reconstruction


[1] In this manuscript, when the term “natural” is used in the phrase “natural science” it is merely a conventional designation.

[2] Influences include Monet’s paintings and the Taoist notion of “the unbroken clod.”

[3] These notes suggest both that the human mind does not always and everywhere focus on a definite object of attention and that there is an almost irresistible compulsion to answer the question “What are you seeing?” by specifying something

[4] Here we carry to an extreme the technique of extensive quotation, suggested by Pound and Elliot.

[5] These formulations are clumsy. Yet for present purposes “they work”: They hold in language a crucial aspect of our life together and apart…. Resolving “unique” in its full resonance is an interdisciplinary task outside the scope of this manuscript.

A Dream of Reason- Direct Examination of Foundational Concepts


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