The Action Book:

Living in Spin: Narrative as a Distributed Ontology of Human Action

For paper copies, here is Amazon's page for the book.

Full text of the action book, Living in Spin, is online. It is a .pdf file, doha.pdf.

It is copyrighted by the author, me, Andrew P. Porter, and all rights are reserved.

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This page needs an abstract of the book,
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What's in the book

    All the hard questions about human action are about 
    	what to include in a story, 
	what can be left out, 
	and how to characterize what gets included.

    A narrative selects from all the world's contingencies which ones are
    part of or relevant to an act, and so narratives give us what
    narratives have already shaped: the relation is circular.

    Many narratives can be told of an act, not all consistent, and
    they don't stop with the act itself.

    As a consequence,
    - events "off-stage" determine what's happening "on-stage";
    - many actions "pass through" motions in view;
    - an act can be changed after the fact;
    - action presupposes language;
    - what an act is can be highly ambiguous;
    - we judge acts (and narratives) because we have a stake in them.

    Andrew Porter holds doctorates in computational physics 
    and philosophical theology, and has taught in the 
    Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, CA. 

More about the argument:

The task is to reconceive action in the perspective of narrative rather than on Aristotelian model of intention-initiated motion.
The chapters:
   	1. Posing the problem 
        2. Phenomena that do not fit the analytic (or Aristotelian) pattern of action
	        in which an act is a motion or change caused from within the actor
	3. Some philosophical preliminaries, lemmas, that will be needed later
	4. Some resources available from the technical literature
	5. The basic features of action if one starts from a narrative orientation
	6. Some applications in historical-covenantal religion
	7. Applications in Catholic liturgical theology
	8. Appendices: selected issues touched upon but not explored above
Aspects of human action that show themselves in elementary features of narrative: 

*  Narratability arises where there is contingency that affects someone's interests.
*  Narratability, rather than a told narrative, is what matters: 
        We sometimes spell out an act (Fingarette, Self Deception, 1967)
	but more often do not, and don't need to.  

*  Circularity of narrative and action:
        narrative gives us what narrative has already shaped,
	not something that was there before there was a narrative:
	for narrative selects from all the motions of all the bodies in the world
	the motions that are part of, relevant to, 
	or illustrative of (because similar to) the act narrated. 

*  What an act is can be changed by changing its circumstances: 
        its motions would be a different act in other circumstances. 

        What at act is depends on what you include, what you leave out, 
        and how you characterize what's included. 

	It accordingly has a redaction ontology, 
	inasmuch as what you include is a matter of editorial choice.
	Though it may not be an arbitrary choice,
	if there are liberties permitted in redactional choices,
	then the act may be different acts for different purposes.

*  Multiple narratives, multiple acts:
        Many narratives can be told of some motions in view,
	and so many narratives, many acts ``pass through'' those motions.

	One true narrative may be used to deflect attention from another,
	as in cover stories (Fingarette, 1967).  

*  Trajectories are not the same thing as motions:
        A trajectory (e.g.) solves a differential equation, and has no human meaning.
	A trajectory is framed in the categories of some natural science,
	and is not a narrative.  
*  Motions are meaning-laden, and abstract from the particulars of trajectories.
        It is the meaning that enables humans to discriminate 
	which trajectories qualify as a particular motion.

	Of two narratives of the same act, one may give ``just the motions,''
	while the other adds more meaning.

*  Acts can be transformed after the fact: 
        Inasmuch as acts are defined by larger narratives,
	later events, events later in those narratives, 
	can change what an act in view is.  
	(Danto, Analytical Philosophy of History)

*  Ambiguity of language entails ambiguity of action.
        It is language that enables us to consider things not immediately present before us now,
	and language has a selective function: it selects some things for consideration, and omits others.
	That selective function is the root of the ambiguity of language. 
	Language both creates ambiguity (it opens up for us many possible goals for an act)
	and to some extent enables us to resolve ambiguity (it enables us to say which one was intended).

*  Language is a prerequisite for actor-narratable action because narrative requires language.
	Non-linguistic animals exhibit only animal behavior, not actor-narratable action.
	Acts of nature, of animals, and of God are acts only by analogy to human actor-narratable action. 

*  The ambiguity of language creates an ambiguity in the good,
        and that ambiguity is one origin of sin, or one root of original sin:
	Language enables an actor to discriminate between good and evil,
	to call some things good and others evil, as in Genesis 2.17 and chapter 3.  	

*  We judge narratives and acts because we have a stake in them: human beings have stakes 
        in each other, not just in themselves (to amend one of Heidegger's definitions of Dasein).
	We can ask what contributes to human good, and despite a large liberty in answering,
	the answers are open to responsible criticism. 

        This rescues the circularity of narrative and action from arbitrariness.

*  What lies beyond the motions of an act in immediate view can tell us what this act is.
	When in this kind of mode of being, we say that what a thing is is constituted by other things beyond it,
	those other things we call (here, at least) foils.
	They may illuminate it by their similarity or difference 
	(hence borrowing the term foil from literary criticism);
	or they may be directly relevant:
	consistent with some intentions and not others.  

	When we are not sure what an act is, 
	not sure what someone was doing or intended, 
	we search for ontological foils that will resolve the ambiguity.

*  A turn to larger contexts is another way to conceive the resolution of ambiguity:
        In the hermeneutical circle, we make sense of texts and their parts
	(Gadamer, Truth and Method)
	as reciprocally related, and iterate between wholes and parts until a stable reading is reached.
	As with texts, so with actions (cf. also Ricoeur, "The model of text"): 
	we draw on relevant larger contexts in order to make sense of actions.

	The larger context may be history, nature, or some cosmological construct.
	It is a confessional choice.

Some Implications:

    Choices in basic life orientation begin with what to do with the pains of life
	and how to shape narratives of lives, how to fit them into a larger context. 
	If the larger context is taken as history, and the pains are handled positively,
	the resulting basic life orientation could be called ``world-affirming historical religion'',
	or ``historical-covenantal religion'' (Westphal, God, Guilt, and Death).
	If narratives are crafted to make nature the ultimate actor, 
	a nature-oriented life results.  (There are other possibilities, needless to say).

    The question of coherence of a life 
        probably needs more than these elementary features of narrative can give.

The Table of Contents:


  1 Posing the Problem 

  2 Phenomena 
  2.1 Colloquial Usage 
  2.1.1 When is Intention? 
  2.1.2 The Offstage Matters 
  2.1.3 Changing an Act After the Fact 
  2.1.4 Reinventing the Wheel 
  2.1.5 Humor 
  2.1.6 No Language, No Actions 
  2.1.7 Evading Responsibility 
  2.1.8 Multiple Narratives, Multiple Acts 
  2.1.9 Journalism, Spin, and Truth 
  2.2 Literary Examples 
  2.2.1 Frank and Ernest 
  2.2.2 Lady Marchmain's Reproach 
  2.2.3 Football on the Sabbath 
  2.2.4 Rabbis and Wives 
  2.2.5 ``Through you and your act'' 
  2.2.6 One Movie in Light of Another 

  3 Preliminary Studies 
  3.1 Systems Ontologies and Distributed Ontologies 
  3.1.1 Heidegger's Zuhandenheit 
  3.1.2 Definitions and Distinctions 
  3.1.3 Examples of Systems Ontologies 
  3.1.4 Examples of Distributed Ontologies 
  3.1.5 Observations 
  3.1.6 Distributedness Beneath Systems Ontologies 
  3.2 Aristotle, Pro and Con 
  3.2.1 The Four Causes 
  3.2.2 Substance and Accidents 
  3.2.3 Nominalism and Moderate Realism 
  3.3 Redaction Ontologies 
  3.3.1 ``Yes, But Which Ones?'' 
  3.3.2 Materialism 
  3.3.3 Psychologism 
  3.3.4 The Sciences 
  3.3.5 Editing Made Visible 
  3.4 Anthropological Resources 
  3.4.1 Heidegger's Dasein and Other People 
  3.4.2 Kierkegaard's Self-Relating Self 
  3.4.3 Hobbs on Suffering for Others 
  3.4.4 Niebuhr on Meaning in History 

  4 The Philosophical Literature 
  4.1 The Problem, Unsolved: Troeltsch 
  4.2 Scattered Resources for a Distributed Ontology 
  4.2.1 Danto and Anscombe 
  4.2.2 Gettier Problems 
  4.2.3 Fingarette's _Self Deception_
  4.2.4 H. L. A. Hart and Ascription 
  4.2.5 Niebuhr: Acts in Conversation 
  4.2.6 Soloveitchik's  _Halakhic Man_
  4.2.7 Eliade and Westphal 
  4.3 The Distributed Ontology Emerges: MacIntyre 
  4.4 Gadamer's Hermeneutical Circle 
  4.5 Ricoeur on Narrative 
  4.5.1 Texts and Actions 
  4.5.2 Time and Narrative 

  5 Some Features of Human Action 
  5.1 Taking Stock 
  5.1.1 Initial Features of Action 
  5.1.2 A Redaction Ontology 
  5.2 Narrativity 
  5.2.1 Presuppositions in Narratives 
  5.2.2 The Priority of Language 
  5.2.3 Acts in General and Performative Speech Acts 
  5.2.4 Ontological Foils 
  5.2.5 Multiple Narratives, Multiple Acts 
  5.2.6 Narratability 
  5.3 Claims of Acts and Narratives 
  5.3.1 Criticizing Narratives: the Faculty of Analogy 
  5.3.2 Acts of Nature, Acts of God 
  5.3.3 The Agent Patient 
  5.3.4 Ethics in Narrative 
  5.3.5 The Ambiguity of The Good 
  5.4 Action in the World 
  5.4.1 Larger Contexts 
  5.4.2 Choices 
  5.4.3 Tradition-Bound Rationality 
  5.4.4 Responsibility in Community and Narrative 

  6 Developing the Distributed Ontology 
  6.1 Narrative, Meaning, and Motions 
  6.1.1 The Problem of Meaning and Motions 
  6.1.2 Meaning and Motions in the Exodus 
  6.2 The Problem of Historicism 
  6.2.1 The Beginnings of Historical Religion 
  6.2.2 The Medieval Synthesis and After 
  6.2.3 The Crisis of Historicism 
  6.3 The Past in the Present 
  6.3.1 Out of Historicism, Heidegger 
  6.3.2 Zakhor 

  7 Action, Liturgy, Community 
  7.1 Language, Action, Morals, History 
  7.1.1 Animal Behavior 
  7.1.2 Origins of Action in Language 
  7.1.3 Original Sin in Historical Religion 
  7.2 Ontological Foils in Historical Religion 
  7.2.1 The Work of Christ 
  7.2.2 The Claims of Critical History 
  7.2.3 Jesus and Rabbinic Judaism 
  7.3 Biblical and Liturgical Language 
  7.3.1 Paul's Conflicted Self 
  7.3.2 Collects 
  7.3.3 The Mourner's Kaddish 
  7.3.4 The Eucharist 
  7.4 Coherence of Life and Action 
  7.4.1 Failure, and Success 
  7.4.2 The Unity of a Life 
  7.4.3 Living in Spin 
  7.4.4 Transforming Acts After the Fact 
 8 Appendices 
  8.1 Systems Action from a Distributed Perspective 
  8.2 Volokinesis 
  8.3 Revisiting the Question of Truth 
  8.4 Escaping the Platonism Cycle