Wednesday, April 6, 2011


In my previous entry I wrote about a concept, commitment, that's very important to both the moral and spiritual sides of my philosophy. Today I want to say a little bit more about the similarly important concept of engagement.

I originally began scrutinizing this concept because I wanted to give the clearest possible expression to my idea of appreciation. The more I am openly engaged with my situation, the better able I am to appreciate what I have. To the extent that I am accepting of the realities that I am faced with, that I am ready to let go of old ideas and assumptions, and that I can really let things be what they are without casting about for rationalizations and excuses, I am openly engaged with my whole situation, and able to appreciate what I have within it. To the extent that I cling to an image of myself or my future, that I refuse to accept the realities I am facing, or that I flee from circumstances that I know I'll have to deal with eventually, I fail to engage openly with my situation, I neglect and abuse what I have, and I thereby generally fail to appreciate it.

If this sketch of the relationship between engagement and appreciation seems more poetic than philosophical, it is because engagement is most easily expressed metaphorically, depicting relatively abstract attitudes toward perceived circumstances and possibilities as though they were physical interactions with concrete objects. I don't think this is a coincidence; I think that engagement in general is understood and experienced through metaphor, because we begin to internalize these gross physical behaviors at a very early age, and build our understanding of and inclination toward abstract concepts through a kind of imaginative interaction based upon them. I'm currently working on a speculative developmental account of engagement that can give a more solid sense to the concept, and to the essential roles it plays in motivation, appreciation, and love.

In the broadest sense, my engagement with a state of affairs is just the totality of my behavior toward it. This is an extremely general sort of relation that straddles the divide between the subjective and objective, as it encompasses perception, attention, construal, appraisal, and deliberation, as well as physical and social interaction. My innermost subconscious behavior toward the most abstract conceptions and my strenuous efforts toward concrete goals are both kinds of engagement. Engagement can be said to take place at many levels; a useful classification might label them sensory, perceptual, evaluative, imaginative, deliberative, verbal, physical, social, institutional, economical, and ecological. While I am awake, I am constantly engaged with concepts, memories, possibilities, expectations, my own self-image, my immediate physical environment, and all of the circumstances that constitute my total situation. For the purposes of this blog, I'll usually be writing about more subjective levels of engagement with persons, possibilities, or situations. At that level, it is almost always better to be more openly engaged than less so.

An attitude, in this context, is a pattern of engagement.

In all honesty, I don't know if all of this terminology is helping or hurting me, and I'll be a little surprised if anyone has read this far. Much of what I've said here may ultimately be a kind of scaffolding that I can safely cast off once I've found my way to a message that need not be expressed so tortuously. Until then, I'll be trudging along with these ideas in tow.

I really need to go to bed.

Parts of this account are based, however crudely, on the theory of conceptual metaphor, which falls within the very successful paradigm of embodied cognition that characterizes much of contemporary cognitive science.

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