From: Joe E. Dees (
Date: Fri Feb 11 2000 - 16:04:29 MST

Excerpted from Gurwitsch, Piaget and Recursive Equilibration, by
Joe Dees
The phenomenology of perception (wherein all perception is an
intending of its perceptual object), was built upon the foundations
laid by not only Franz Brentano (PSYCHOLOGY FROM AN
CONSCIOUSNESS), but by his more famous student Edmund
CONSTITUTION - (Dees: how we constitute perceptual objects)
TRANSCENDENT LOGIC), Maurice Merleau-Ponty (THE
PERCEPTION (Dees: a landmark work), SENSE AND NON-
Gestaltists, and Jean Piaget, and reaches its fully elaborated state
in the work of Aron Gurwitsch (THE FIELD OF CONSCIOUSNESS,
MARGINAL CONSCIOUSNESS). The main contribution which the
Gestaltists (mainly Franz Koffka, Wolfgang Kohler and Max
Wertheimer) made to the phenomenology of perception was their
concept of context-dependence, and Gurwitsch took the gestaltists
to heart on the issue of stimulus-sensation constancy. Contra the
assertions of the "naive introspectionists", the light from an apple
cannot be considered atomistically, without reference to its gestalt,
or surrounding environs; there is an interdependence between each
part of a perception and its neighbors, the effect of which is to,
among other things, cause the perceived hue of the selfsame
object to appear differently to the perceiver, depending upon
contiguous hues. Whereas naive introspectionists asserted that
such perceived differences were learned illusions, Kohler argued
that hues, among other perceptions, are context-dependent (1947:
67-99). On the basis of his critique, Gurwitsch rejected the
constancy hypothesis (1964: 161-173), and devoted an entire
section of THE FIELD OF CPONSCIOUSNESS to an analysis of
the gestalt concepts of proximity, closure and good continuation,
finding each of them to be an example of context-dependence
(1964: 85-183). Gurwitsch also saw Henri Bergson's concept of
qualitative multiplicity in this light (1964: 140-144).
        The influence the early Piaget had upon Gurwitsch may be
seen in his acceptance of assimilation and accomodation in the
formation of schemata. He rejects Piaget's attempt to organize
perception by means of this process, but accepts it as a means by
which functional meanings, or uses, are acquired, maintaining, I
believe correctly, that organization is an autochthonous feature of
experience (1964: 30-36). Let me try to mediate between the two.
Given that the visual field organizes phenomena, and precisely
phenomena in focus, it is nevertheless necessary to learn to focus
our lenses, to co-ordinate the two lines of sight, to correlate
focusing with binocularity (which are not innately linked, for we can
separate them), and to synthesize vision with our other perceptual
        Husserl's contributions, of course, are many. The most
seminal of these, however, did not originate with Husserl himself,
but with his teacher, Franz Brentano. These include the
characterization of perception as (1) intentional, and (2) pre-
reflectively self-aware (1874: 153-189). These descriptions obtain
whether the object apprehended is psychic, somatic, or in the
physical world. Reflection is, according to Brentano, the wresting
away of intentionality from its primary object in order to thematize
the act itself. Husserl, building upon Brentano, asserted that all
worldly phenomena are grasped from a spatiotemporal perspective
(1913: 101-132). This entails that all worldly perception is
necessarily incomplete, presenting us with visual objects the back
of which we cannot see, sounds whose origin we cannot ascertain,
touch which does not completely enfold and permeate tactile
objects, etc., nor can we grasp their full historicity all at once. In
fact, we can never grasp any transcendent object in its entirety,
precisely because we cannot behold it from tne infinite number of
possible spatiotemporal perspectives upon it in all modalities of
worldly perception or even in any one of them; it is inexhaustible.
This means that we cannot determine any worldly object
absolutely. The character of worldly perception as contingently
(rather than absolutely) determining is the basis for its ambiguity
and grounds the possibility of multistable interpretations of its
objects. However, since objects are context-dependent, the co-
presence of context further determines the object, partially resolves
ambiguity, and numerically decreases multistable possibilities.
Context is part of what is known as outer horizon.
        The object is also more fully grasped by mens of a series of
perceptions which are positionally or modally distinct. That this is
true indicates that the determinations gained within each act of
perception may be retained in memory and reflectively integrated
with the determinations made by subsequent perceptual acts.
Furthermore, if the perceptions are modally and serially
contiguous, as when I circle around an object while maintaining my
gaze upon it, rather than glancing elsewhere and back again or
substituting touch for vision, the determinations are not discrete or
discontinuous. Rather, they flow smoothly into one another, each
blending seamlessly with its precursor and successor, and imbue
me with a synthesis; a perception informed by memory, fromwhich
I may imagine, by extrapolation, the determinations to be grasped
from other perspectives not yet assumed. Although not
necessarily correct, these extrapolated determinations are, in
principle, correctable by assuming the positions in question. Thus
each perception is bound simultaneously by an inner horizon,
which refers to perspectives upon the object not yet and no longer
assumed, and an outer horizon, which refers to perceptual fields
not yet or no longer assumed, and which may or may not relate to
the object presently perceived, as well as the contextual field which
surrounds the presently perceived object, and from which it
emerges (1913: 91-95, 124-128, 133-135). We may distinguish
between these two types of horizons by calling the first the world
horizon and members of the second type field horizons. The world
horizon contains all field horizons, and is reflectively approachable
but not apprehensible in its totality.
        Husserl's contributions to Gurwitsch's thought are by no means
limited to those discussed here; these are merely the main themes
that gurwitsch uses (1964: 155-305), excepting the
phenomenological reduction, or epoche, which is the bracketing, or
placing in abeyance, of the existential belief in the intention-
independent reality of the phenomenal world.
        Merleau-Ponty's main contribution to Gurwitsch is his close
correlation between world-perception and body-perception. To
perceive the world is to perceive by means of the body, hence to
perceive the body as well. Both the existence of the body and its
position relative to the perceived object are implied in the
perception of every extrasomatic object, in its correlation with
proprioception. Likewise, both the presence of the object and its
position relative to the body are implied in every proprioception, in
its correlation with the extrasomatic object. In other words, world-
perception and body-perception are mutually correlative and
mutually grounding (1945: 203-206).
        Gurwitsch, in THE FIELD OF CONSCIOUSNESS, presents the
thesis that there is a structure common to all perception and
conception - the theme/thematic field/margin structure (1957: 56).
Within a perceptual or conceptual field, there is always a theme, or
focus of intention, surrounded by a thematic field, or context, which
is in turn bounded by a margin, or fringe. In vision, this structure is
mainly spatial; in audition, it is primarily temporal (although both
aspects of spatiotemporality are present in all perceptions and are
equipresent in our most primordial sense, taction). If our focus is a
concept, its thematic foeld is composed of other concepts relevant
to it. Since our acts may themselves be made objects of our
intention, we may, instead of thematizing a particular object within
the somatic or extrasomatic field, thematize the act of somatic or
extrasomatic perception itself, which discloses the tripartate
structure of perceiver-perceiving-perceived.
        In MARGINAL CONSCIOUSNESS, Gurwitsch asserts the
omnipresence of three orders of existence in at least marginal
form. These are "(1) a certain segment of the stream of
consciousness, (2) our embodied existence, and (3) a certain
sector of our perceptual environment" (1985: xlv). The
omnipresence of these three existential orders is said to
"constitute an a priori necessary condition of consciousness" and
to be the foundation of Husserl's "natural attitude" which, prior to
the phenomenological reduction, assumes an intentionality-
independent existing world, for they incessantly provide evidence of
this world to consciousness (1985: 56-59).
        Also, somatic awareness and the perceptual world, or noesis
and noema, mutually imply each other (1985: 59-63), as do figure
and ground for the Gestaltists. One may begin either with somatic
perception and be led to its referent noematic horizon, or with the
distal perceived world and be drawn to its noetic central nexus. It
is Hubert dreyfus' contention that the same type of relationship
exists between embodied awareness and self-consciousness
(1992: 235-255). Alfred Schutz, a long time friend and colleague of
Gurwitsch, insisted upon a fourth omnipresent existential order:
"intersubjectivity, i.e. our knowledge of others is always in the
margin" (1952: letter quoted in 1985: xxxvi-xxxvii). In other words,
Schutz maintained that our knowledge of ourselves as sociocultural
and language-bearing beings among similar others never entirely
leaves us.
        Building upon Husserl and Merleau-Ponty, Gurwitsch
designates the body as a "peculiar, specific, and special object".
There are two reasons for its privileged status. First, it is the only
object of which we are aware not only through "external"
perception, but also through proprioception. Second, it is the only
material object which is always perceived, and which forms the
center of reference, and orientation from which we externally
perceive all worldly objects (1985: 59-62).
        As there is a world horizon, such that a sector of the world may
be perceived but not the perceptual world at large, so there ar
somatic and psychic horizons. Thus I may become aware of being
embodied as the "confused horizon" to which any particular
kinesthetic or "vital" feeling (vigor, langour, etc.) refers (1985: 34-
37), and of my ego as the horizon enclosing a section of my
stream of consciousness. In either case, the horizon may be
reflectively approximated, but never completely grasped (1985: 20-
23). We may also lose our bearings in all three horizons. For
instance, I may begin walking due north in a strange town on a
cloudy day and, after several curves and turns, suddenly realize
that I know neither where I am nor in which direction I am going.
Liklewise, when I first stood on one foot with my eyes closed and
attempted to hold my other foot sideways at a forty-five degree
angle to the floor, I was surprised by how far I was off. Finally, I
may be working through a problem and completely lose my train of
thought. Practice will improve my ability to maintain my bearings,
but perfection is not achievable.
        Richard M. Zaner, a student of Gurwitch's, advanced his
teacher's work in at least two ways (in THE CONTEXT OF SELF).
First, he further develops Gurwitsch's description of the
theme/field/margin macrostructure of perception/conception by
means of a desceiption of the fine-grained system of intrinsic
simple, complex, double and multiple self-and cross-reference by
means of which constituents configure into a gestalt theme. There
are, in addition, such referencings present between constituents of
the theme and constituents of its thematic field, but these
theme/field relations do not demonstrate the degree of relevancy
present in intra-thematic relations. A change in focus, however,
may change the character of the theme by promoting field
constituents to the status of theme constituents, by demoting
theme constituents to field status, or both, as well as by similar
promotions and demotions between field
and margin (1981: 67-91). Second, Zaner expands the concept of
contexture, stating that not only is extrasomatic perception
organized into a gestalt contexture, but also that somatic
perception/action comprises a second contexture, and mental life
comprises a third. He goes on to assert that these three
distinguishable yet inseparable contextures are related, through the
same type of intrinsic referencing system found in eachn of them,
into a larger system which he equates with the self and terms the
complexure of life (1981: 92-109). My addition to this is that the
complex referencing
structure of contexture is, on the level of definition rather than
positionality, also the structure of sign/sign relations in sign
systems, and that the relations between these symbolic
contexture maps and the territories of the perception/action
contextures are sign/signified relations. Self-onsciousness
learns/constructs, utilizes and traverses these systems.

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