From the Journal for the Anthropological Study of Human Movement Vol. 26, Issue 2.
Drid Williams: An Appreciation for a Pioneer in the Discipline of Anthropology


My discussion of Drid Williams’s pioneering moment will take the form of a philosophical appreciation of her distinguished contribution to our understanding of the fundamental reality of embodiment in human cultural being. Her 1982 paper, reprinted in this issue of JASHM, is a quintessential statement of Williams’s major contribution––an entirely new field of study within social anthropology called ‘the anthropology of human movement’ grounded in a theory Williams called “semasiology.” The full presentation of this new field was first presented in Williams’s 1975 doctoral dissertation, “The Role of Movement in Selected Symbolic Systems: Three Volumes.”

It is of paramount importance for the reader to understand that, by the 1980s, the topic of ‘the body,’ with its cardinal property of human action, burst on the scene of all three social sciences. However, as I argued in an earlier paper about Rom Harré and Merleau-Ponty (Varela 1994), by the mid-1990s it was time for the study of the human body in the social sciences to get beyond the absent moving body. In other words, Drid Williams was, to say the least, way ahead of the game of social science in the study of human action and embodied practice. However, even by the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century, the study of action in the social sciences as movement practices (signifying movement) had still not arrived. Brenda Farnell and I made that explicitly clear in a paper for the Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior with our explication of “The Second Somatic Revolution” (Farnell and Varela 2008).

I shall begin this presentation of Williams’s contribution with the following three statements about semasiology as a theory of human movement

1. As a radical approach to human-movement studies, agency [is] seen as a causal power (Williams 2017: i).

2. Semasiologists are solely concerned with human bodies, because they see human beings as powerful persons—not merely powerful bodies. Persons (not bodies) are causal agents, and social actions (not behavior) constitute agentive discourse, whether that discourse is spoken or moved (Williams 2017: iv).

3. This is an attempt to apply Saussurian ideas to human movement, which results in a theory of human action which is linguistically tied, mathematically structured and empirically based. The theory was developed out of the conviction that new anthropological methods and techniques of reconstituting and interpreting data in the field of human movement would ultimately be of value in comparative studies of human systems of actions (Williams 1975: i).

The unifying theme of the above is that semasiology is a radical approach to the study of human beings. It can be characterized in three realms as follows:

  1. Generally: human movement is produced by causally empowered personal agents.
  2. Specifically: social actions are produced by discursive agents speaking and/or gesturing.
  3. Scientifically: by theorizing embodied social action as:
    • a) linguistically tied
    • b) mathematically structured
    • c) empirically based

The theoretical point of these assertions is what Farnell and I have called the principle of “dynamic embodiment” (2008; Farnell 2012).

The aim of this tribute is to explicate the special value of this principle in the history of social scientific theory rather than the history of semasiology per se. 1 I shall argue that the principle realizes a robust conception of personal agency previously absent from social scientific theory. The principle of dynamic embodiment is thus directly relevant to sociologist Anthony Giddens’s discussion of the problem of the relationship between ‘structure’ and ‘agency’ in the social sciences (1976).

The radical dimension of semasiology’s approach is that, in its ambition to be a science, it provides an indirect refutation of ‘positivism’ in science by virtue of the fact that its naturalism is grounded in, and informed by, Rom Harré’s realist philosophy of science. It is Harré’s “Anthropomorphic Model of Man” in conjunction with his explication of “causal powers” that are the principle sources of Williams’s idea that the agency of the person is a genuine causal power (Harré [1971] 1999; Harré and Madden 1975). However, it is the uniqueness of Williams’s theoretical intelligence to exploit Harré’s realism and thus to point out systematically that it is the power of the embodied person and not simply the body itself that is critical for semasiology’s emphasis on movement as action.

In the ensuing discussion, we will come to see that the person/body distinction is of absolute importance for theorizing embodiment. This is because the person/body distinction presupposes a crucial differentiation between the biological organism (body) and the embodied person, and that distinction permits us to overcome what is perhaps the deepest difficulty of Cartesian dualism—the mind/body split and thus the relationship between immateriality and materiality.

Part I: Dynamic Embodiment and the Structure/Agency Problem

Let us begin with an enticing historical contingency. In 1975, Drid Williams completed the three volumes of “The Role of Movement in Selected Symbolic Systems” for her doctor of philosophy degree at Oxford University. In 1976, Anthony Giddens published New Rules of the Sociological Method. While the close appearance of these two scholarly works is a matter of historical contingency, the significance that binds them is certainly not. I contend that we can locate semasiology at the ontological center of the social sciences in virtue of its special relationship to the problem of structure and agency, a central topic of Giddens’s New Rules.

I will now explain my former assertion that the semasiological principle of ‘dynamic embodiment’ is of cardinal importance to the solution of the structure/agency problem. Since it is the agency of the person that makes action possible, there is a presumption that the human body is the mechanism for that possibility. However, human agency requires that the person is dynamically embodied, not simply embodied. The difference lies in the contrast between a ‘positivist’ and a ‘realist’ theory of embodiment.

In the history of the social sciences, it is necessary to distinguish between ‘embodiment’ as it is understood from a positivistic standpoint, which is deterministic, and ‘embodiment’ as it is understood from the realist standpoint of freedom. From a deterministic standpoint, as physical beings, human beings are energized, driven, and so motivated. From a realist perspective, as personal beings, human beings are agents using their bodies in the making of meaning.

Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory provides us with the exemplar of a positivist theory of human embodiment. Speaking technically, from the logic of Freud’s theory, it’s predominate reference is to ‘personality’ and not to the ‘person.’ And it is precisely because Freud’s theory of personality presumes that “in the beginning there is the body” (Wrong 1961: 191) that his biologically dominated theory violates the realist idea indicated above. That can be seen in the fact that the Freudian body is defined in terms of three layers of meaning: first and foremost by Newtonian ‘energy,’ then, by its transformation into Darwinian ‘drives,’ and, finally, by a Cartesian transubstantiation of drives into ‘motives’ that are the basis for an anti-Cartesian but deterministic conception of the human mind. In other words, for Freud, the embodied mind is a biologized mind, and, as such, it is an impersonal pseudo-‘agency’ of unconscious motives that determine the thoughts and actions not only of the individual but also of the interactions of individuals (Sulloway 1979). Here is Freud’s expression of that idea: given his commitment to determinism without exceptions, he can make the following observation from his psychoanalytic practice:

It is very remarkable that the Ucs [unconscious] of one human being can react upon that of another, without the Cs [conscious] being implicated at all (Freud and Freud 1986: 165).

In this strict sense, the Freudian theory of the embodied human being violates the realist theory of dynamically embodied human being: in reifying ‘personality,’ the unconscious mind becomes the agent and the ‘person’ is the patient! Furthermore, it is the personality structure so constituted that is said to govern culture and social structures. Here is a classic example from Freud’s last word on the matter four years before his death in 1939; it is in a 1935 Postscript that was added to later editions of his Autobiographical Study (1925):

I perceived ever more clearly that the events of human history, the interaction between human nature, cultural development and the precipitates of primeval experiences (the most prominent of which is religion) are no more than a reflection of the dynamic conflicts of the ego, the id, and the superego, which psychoanalysis studies in the individual—are the very same processes repeated upon a wider stage (Freud [1925] 1952: 138).

In contrast, according to the realist case for embodiment, human agency is returned to the person whose embodiment provides resources (capacities, skills, techniques) that serve the purposes of meaning-making for the living of a sociocultural life with others. As Williams makes clear in the quotations above, under the auspices of Harré’s realist theory of science, the conception of dynamic embodiment brings into the open this freedom-centered agentic view of embodiment.

We can now summarize the distinction between ‘realist’ and ‘positivist’ views of embodiment: the person uses the body, rather than the body uses the person. This is a variation of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s principle that ‘people use rules; rules do not use people.’

The Connection between Kant, Giddens, and Williams: Freedom, Agency, and Embodiment

Let us now examine carefully the substance of the above discussion in reference to three historical facts, namely, the scientific revolution, the Enlightenment of the eighteenth-century, and the rise of the social sciences in the nineteenth century. The following framework will provide an orientation for examining those historical facts, at the center of which is Immanuel Kant’s theory of freedom in nature. The realist theme of Kant’s theory was that freedom is possible in nature because, as agents, human beings are one kind of causal power in a world of other kinds of causal powers. A solution to Giddens’s aforementioned problem of structure and agency is thus to be found in Kant’s theory of freedom in nature, one that Giddens himself called for:

I think that it would be true to say that most of the contributions to the debate [on causality and reasons] have been made . . . within the framework of Humean Causality. A detailed discussion . . . is impossible . . . [in this] . . . study, and here I shall dogmatically assert the need for an account of agent causality, according to which causality does not pre-suppose a “law” of invariant connection . . . but rather (1) the necessary connection between cause and effect, and (2) the idea of causal efficacy. The action is caused by an agent’s reflexive monitoring of his or her intentions in relation to both wants and appreciation of the demands of the “outer” world, supplies a sufficient explication of freedom of conduct for the needs of this study; I therefore do not oppose freedom to causality, but rather “agent causality” to “event causality.” Determinism in the social sciences, then refers to any theoretical scheme which reduces human action solely to “event causality.” (Giddens 1976: 91–92)

The connection between Giddens’s agent causality and Williams’s embodied persons is not only Harré’s conception of causal powers. In addition, grounding the human being in Giddens’s ‘agent causality’ gives us a robust theory of personal agency that supports the dynamic embodiment of persons. Farnell has captured the robustness that clarifies exactly why Williams’s theory of embodiment is dynamic: “Human being is moving being—persons using bodies; not physical being—bodies using persons” (Farnell, personal communication). Now we are ready to enter a discussion of significant details in the history of the social sciences in relation to the Kant/Giddens theory of personal agency and its robust realization in the principle of dynamic embodiment.

Kant, the Enlightenment, and the Social Sciences

When the word ‘science’ came on the scene in the early nineteenth century, it signified a differentiation between ‘religion,’ ‘philosophy,’ and ‘science’ as forms of knowledge. It became quite clear that a major feature of the rise of science was its metaphysical revolt against the Judeo-Christian paradigm of ‘supernaturalism’ in the name of the new paradigm of ‘naturalism’ (Manicas 1987: 7-23). The idea of naturalism is that ‘nature’ explains itself, and it does so as follows. Newtonian physics unified the cosmos and the earth according to three interdependent laws of motion, in terms of which ‘nature’ was taken to be a deterministic clockwork machine. This idea of a closed system of matter in inexorable (necessary) motion in relation to the human world of social life was enshrined in the new set of philosophical terms supplied by Kant. There is

Thus, for Kant, while science engages with the phenomenal world of nature, social science engages with the noumenal or intelligible world of culture.

Furthermore, in strict reference to Kant’s fundamental involvement with theories of human freedom, the above terms were complemented by two important related philosophical terms: transcendence and transcendental. As we shall see, Kant’s theory of freedom as the agency of persons is a transcendental theory but not a transcendence theory (Varela 2009: 6-11).

At the center of the naturalist paradigm is Isaac Newton’s ‘law of inertia,’ namely, that material bodies determine each other’s motion. According to this law, a body in whatever state it is in––at rest or in motion––will change that state only because [be-causal] of another body that interacts with it. There were two separate ideas here, both of which came from Aristotle. The first was that objects were self-actional, that is, they each had their natural purpose of action: for example, heavy objects move downward, light objects move upward, and so on (see Bronowski and Mazlish 1960: 107-26). 2 The second idea (somewhat obscured in the history of modern philosophy) was that of material entities as causal powers. Note the following statements by Kant and Newton to that effect:

The moving forces of matter are powers, either purely dynamic or mechanical. The latter are based on the former. (Kant [1771] 1985: 58, cited in Varela 2009: 80)
All bodies are movable and endowed with certain powers (which we call the inertia) of preserving in their motion. (Newton in Cohen and Westfall 1995: 117, cited in Varela 2009: 80)

Unfortunately, by the mid-eighteenth century, there was a profound change in the understanding of what ‘inertia’ signified. Peter Manicas suggests that

[a] crucial false belief emerges from the historical event that between Descartes’ Discours de la methode (1637) and Hume’s Treatise (1739), there was a remarkable shift in the understanding of what Newton and the new ‘experimental philosophers’ were up to. I want to argue, first, that while both Newton and Locke (along with Boyle and others) held to a realist theory of science, at least by the time we get to Hume, Newton was read as holding to what must be a positivist theory of science. (Manicas 1987: 9)

It is necessary to see exactly how and why David Hume’s view of the nature of the causational process that defines inertia converted Newton’s law (and Kant’s precise understanding of it) from a realist to a positivist law. Hume himself provided both a realist and a positivist reading of causation. His commentary starts from the fact of an “experience of the constant conjunction of certain bodies” that has to be interpreted for the purpose of a scientific understanding of the very idea of causation.

Such an object (causal) is found to produce another. It is impossible it could have this effect, if it was not endowed with a >power of production. The power necessarily implies the effect; and therefore there is a just foundation for drawing a conclusion from the existence of one object to that of its usual attendant. The past production implies a power: the power implies a new production: and the new production is what we infer from the power of the past production. (Hume [1748] 1999: 137, emphasis added)
It were easy for me to show the weakness of this reasoning [the above], were we willing to make use of those observations I have already made, that the idea of production is the same with that of causation, and that no existence certainly and demonstratively implies a power in any other object. . . . [Let us allow] that the production of one object by another in any one instance implies a power; and that this power lies not in the sensible qualities of the cause; and there being nothing but the sensible qualities present to us; I ask, why in other instances you presume that the same power still exists, merely upon the appearance of those qualities? Your appeal to past experience decides nothing in the present case. (Hume [1748] 1999: 137-38, emphasis added)

Having rejected a realist reading for a positivist view of ‘the constant conjunction [regularity] of certain bodies,’ causation was now lost to mere correlation: two such objects are in relations of association (conjunction) and not in relations of production.

A simple concrete example of two events in a regular relationship will help illustrate this point. When a water tap is turned on (object 1), water flows (object 2); when it is turned off, water does not flow. From the standpoint of what you ‘see’ or ‘perceive’ (observation), and not what you ‘think’ and ‘conceive,’ there is only the succession of the event of object 2 following object 1. According to Hume and what became the positivist standpoint, there are no ‘powers’ that become ‘forces’ that necessarily ‘produce’ an effect because they cannot be observed.

This is precisely a positivist reading of Newton’s law of inertia: matter is composed of material entities (objects) subject to laws that make for the contingent regularity of their passive-reactive interrelated motions. In other words, material entities in motion, whether physical, chemical, biological, or human, are patients (passive/reactive: relations of association) and not agents (active/proactive: relations of production). According to this interpretation, ‘causes’ do not exist except as correlations among material entities (actually reduced to events) in motion. The fundamental message here is that ‘freedom’––agency as the power of production––will have to be rescued from a phenomenal (natural) world because it is a world without freedom.

The importance of the Judeo-Christian supernaturalist paradigm for the possibility of freedom in such a phenomenal world now should be clear. What is supernatural––superior to nature—is the power of a spiritual reality that is in-but-not-of a world of matter. God’s ‘freedom of the will’ is thus transcendent––supernatural (otherworldly); that spiritual power of the will is given to humankind with the gift of a soul—the mind. The transcendent nature of human will is thus a way that freedom can be rescued from the phenomenal world of nature—God’s spirit is in matter but not of it, and, correlatively, a person’s soul is in the body but not of it. It is important to understand the philosophical character of this idea of transcendent freedom as free will: Kant argued that since freedom of the mind to will means that the mind is ‘in the body but not of the body,’ the ‘mind’ as spirit then is neither in space nor in time. Only bodies are––as material entities.

This paradigm of naturalism, one of the hallmarks of modernity, constitutes the secularization of the rationality and imagination of eighteenth-century European thought, defining a period that became known as ‘The Enlightenment.’

A deep message of that century was that the natural scientific revolution should provide the example for a social scientific revolution, and thus the basis for the emergence of sociology, anthropology, and psychology in the nineteenth century. The revolutionary goal for the social sciences was that of uniting the world of natural beings (inanimate [physical] and animate [biological]) with the world of human beings, and doing so explicitly and systematically as a science under the paradigm of naturalism, with its machine model and deterministic laws.

It was precisely the social scientific acceptance and consequent implementation of the intellectual directive of subsuming human being under natural being under the authorship of natural science that led inevitably to the fundamental debate between those who were in favor of a ‘science’ of human beings at the risk of losing freedom and those who were in favor of ‘humanism’ against science because freedom was not to be lost. The deeper question, however, was this: how can there be the possibility of scientific knowledge of human behavior and at the same time the possibility of the freedom of human behavior?

For the purposes of this discussion, I take the position that the ensuing “science and humanism” debate has specifically centered on the long-standing problem of how to reconcile human freedom in a natural world of determinism (Varela 2009: viii-xi). The ancient Greeks understood this very well in their terrible yet wonderful perception that even the gods cannot contravene natural laws: the gods too were subject to determinism! Hence did they fear, and glory in, the myth of Prometheus, who dared to defy the necessity of the law in the face of inexorable punishment for so doing. This illustrated the paradoxical philosophical promise of freedom in relation to an inexorable determinism. In Greek tragedies, the message of that paradox came through very clearly, as Freud too had learned in the story of Oedipus Rex. In fact, classical psychoanalytic theory was the realization of the paradox that freedom was the promise of revenge from a determinism implemented by the Freudian unconscious. Thus, you may appear to be free to defy necessity, but in reality that freedom is an illusion, for you are not free of the punishment that will inexorably follow (which, for Freud, would be neurosis).

The Jews of the Hebrew Bible faced up to that same problem, as revealed in the story of Job––a man looking into the jaws of existence as he knelt before his magnificent and mysterious ethical God who created nature and its laws. However, as I articulated above, the development of Christianity and the New Testament, followed by the theology of Augustine and Aquinas, meant that God, as the creator of humankind in addition to all of existence, was in-but-not-of a cosmos governed by the natural laws of his creation. This transcendence, again, provided the religious promise of freedom for human beings. What was happening here––in the living, the experience, and the formation of the Judeo-Greco-Christian tradition––was an emerging recognition of the fundamental problem of how (and if) freedom could be possible in a world of determinism.

The Greeks, that is, gave us the brutal revelation of a determinism whose necessity, in reality, subtly denied what turned out to be only the appearance of the freedom of defiance; and yet, and yet, that negative solution was not definitively settled, if only because Prometheus was first of all himself a god. And second, as a god he was therefore displaying an act alone (proactive not reactive), one that was being executed in the name of a mysterious power, in its own right, nevertheless. In other words, between the appearance of defiance and the reality of determinate punishment, there seemed to be some metaphysical wiggle-room for the existence of some measure of a power to act. After all, Prometheus’s punishment was not the only reality: the defiance was real, and therefore so too the power. Again, it was an act-ion, not re-action.

A classic example at the cusp of modernity is Shakespeare’s story of Hamlet. By the eighteenth century, he was viewed by leading critics as a patient not an agent. This is especially revealed at the end of the play when, finally, Hamlet kills the king, and that act, according to the critics, was a forced choice—Hamlet was merely reactive not proactive (Varela 2009: 102-3).

What remains in all these cases is the mystery of determinism: that is, how can there be this very power to act in the existential teeth of the iron necessity of cosmic laws? Instead, Jews and Christians alike emphasized a freedom whose power was not the mystery of determinism, but the mystery of transcendence. The ancient world and its supernatural paradigm thus left us with the complex problem of how to reconcile human freedom in relation to determinism without supernaturalism.

As I indicated above, the scientific revolution, as understood philosophically by Immanuel Kant in his critique of reason in science (1771) and in his critique of practical reason in the social sciences (1776), meant that the traditional problem––that freedom is impossible in a deterministic world and must therefore be rescued––was to posit a secular version of ‘transcendence’ as “noumenal” which was transcendental, a human world of intelligibility according to the employment of rationality––but no longer transcendent in the spiritual sense. This was transformed into the modern problem of how to conceptualize the possibility of freedom in a natural and social world of deterministic structures.

The new possibility was that freedom no longer has to be rescued from the phenomenal world, for it could actually be recovered from it given a new conception of causal powers. During his lifetime, Kant was unable to connect his transcendental theory of freedom with his metaphysical naturalist understanding of inertia as the causal powers of material bodies. It was Rom Harré’s revolution in the philosophy of science that made it possible to recognize that a philosophy of realism had, in fact, arrived between the 1960s and 1990s (Harré 1970). This enabled us to make the connection for Kant and thus to see that, in fits and starts, he was in the process of articulating an interpretation of structure/agency that addressed the traditional problem of freedom and determinism. The recognition of that articulation and its transformation into a realist philosophy of science took place only after Giddens’s version of the freedom and determinism debate (1976, 1979) replaced that of the American sociologist Talcott Parsons (Varela Ibid: 65-77). To understand clearly the transformation that Giddens achieved, beyond Parsons, we have to return to the history connecting phenomenology to Parsons that preceded it.

From Phenomenology to Parsons: The Stalemate of the Freedom/Determinism Debate

In the history of the social sciences, from the nineteenth century to the last quarter of the twentieth century, the problem of freedom and determinism was at the center of every major theory in sociology, anthropology, and psychology. Solutions were framed in terms of the traditional idea that human freedom had to be rescued from a deterministic natural world. In a variety of ways, in each of the social sciences, the transcendent theory of ‘free will’ was the exemplar for that rescue. To see this clearly, we will consider three classic statements on the issue from the father, son and one of the grandsons of the phenomenological tradition in Western philosophy: Wilhelm Dilthey, Edmund Husserl, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. That tradition provides one of the direct links between Kant’s theory of freedom, and the humanist commitment to freedom against the determinism of positivist science in the history of the social sciences. In some quarters, Kantian freedom was taken to be merely a German philosophical variety of western free-will theory––‘transcendental’ was thought to be merely a terminological variant of ‘transcendence’. It is not.

Here we only want to emphasize what we find in our own lived experience, namely, that the will can direct our representations and set our limbs in motion, and that it has this capacity even when it is not exercising it. Indeed, in the event of an external restraint, this capacity can be immobilized by a similar or greater force, but is nevertheless felt as present. Thus we grasp the representation of an effectuating capacity (or a power) which precedes the particular effective act; particular voluntary acts and deeds flow from a sort of reservoir of effective force . . . [a] productive force [thus a power]. (Dilthey 1989: 20-21)

Since the rise of the mechanistic conception of nature, literature has preserved the great feeling of life in nature, which is mysterious and inaccessible to explanation. Similarly, poetry everywhere protects the content of lived experience which cannot be conceptualized, so that what is experienced will vanish in the analytic operations of science. (Dilthey 1989: 206)

The crisis of European existence can end in only one of two ways: in the ruin of a Europe alienated from its rational sense of life, fallen into a barbarian hatred of spirit; or in the rebirth of Europe from the spirit of philosophy, through a heroism of reason that will definitively overcome naturalism. Let us “good Europeans” do battle with this danger of dangers, with the sort of courage that does not shrink even the endless battle. . . . If we do . . . the phoenix of a new inner life of the spirit will arise as the underpinning of a great and distant human future, for the spirit alone is immortal. (Husserl [1935] 1970: 192)

There is no freedom without some power. (Merleau-Ponty [1945] 1962: 438)

Husserl’s first directive to phenomenology . . . to return to the “things themselves” is from the start the forswearing of science. I am not the outcome or the meeting-point of numerous causal agencies which determine my bodily or psychological make-up. I cannot conceive of myself as nothing but a bit of the world, a mere object of biological, psychological or sociological investigation. I cannot shut myself up within the realm of science. (Merleau-Ponty [1945] 1962: 434)

Note carefully what has happened here: Dilthey asserts, against Kant, that freedom, the heart and soul of lived experience, is in space and in time, but, as a lived experience, it is in the realm of the phenomenological and not the realm of the phenomenal; Husserl presumes that thesis, and he and Merleau-Ponty leave us with the idea of freedom as a power to act that is stranded between ‘power as spirit’ and a ‘power outside of the phenomenal realm’; as such, the power to act is not grounded in the phenomenal world of natural material entities. The problem is this: if freedom must be a power but a power that has no place in nature, and if it is not spiritual, how can it be anything? The phenomenological theory of freedom is, then, conceptually empty: from transcendence to transcendental to phenomenology, the humanist argument against determinism is a philosophical dead-end. In other words, in its sacred or secular format, this tradition of rescue for freedom is over.

By the mid-1970s, the freedom\determinism problem had gone through two twentieth-century critical formulations. In keeping with the above phenomenological tradition of rescue, from the 1930s up to the mid-1970s, Talcott Parsons’s vocabulary of ‘system’ and ‘voluntarism’ dominated sociological discourse, at which point it was replaced by Anthony Giddens’s concepts of ‘structure’ and ‘agency.’ Initially, it was not clear why Giddens came up with a new set of terms—there seems to be no substantive difference between them. After all, as sociologists, Parsons and Giddens are both referring to the problem of reconciling social structure with the freedom of the individual; choosing voluntarism or agency to represent freedom seems to be purely a matter of terminology. However, on closer scrutiny, it turns out that this is not at all the case.

Although Parsons’s voluntarism and Giddens’s agency are certainly related, they are not the same. And the difference makes all the difference, since it represents a sea change in the history of the social sciences with regard to the science and humanist debate concerning the freedom and determinism problem.

In his 1937 masterpiece, The Structure of Social Action, Parsons started out with a notion of freedom that is complementary to Kant’s. As a philosopher committed to and trained in Newtonian science, Kant’s theory of freedom began with a rejection of the religious theory that a human’s will is free because the mind that wills is spiritual, not material. Kant, therefore, had to face up to a Newtonian material world in which any ‘thing,’ human or otherwise, as a being in space (as a body, somewhere) and in time (as a body, at some moment), must therefore be subject to the causal laws of determinism: for any effect (a motion), there is a cause (a motion external to it); for any cause (external motion), it is also an effect of another cause (some other external motion), and so on. The idea that we are free is based on the idea that, while the object of a subject (the body of a human being) is empirically ‘somewhere’ and ‘some when’ (there given in space [for example, I am in front of my computer] and when at a given time [I’m using my computer at 10:22 a.m.]), the subject of that body, the self and its mind, is ‘no when,’ that is, ‘not in time.’ For the idea of ‘not being in time’ Kant gave us the term mentioned above, the noumenal, in contrast to the idea of ‘being in time’ and its term, the phenomenal:

[When] Kant takes up . . . the notion of the noumenal cause [in discussing certain technical philosophical problems] there is causality in its ‘empirical character’ restricted to appearances [phenomenal], and causality in its intelligible character—causa noumenon—of freedom: the same subject can be determined in one aspect, but free in the other. This noumenal application of the category of causality and the noumenal object of freedom marks the transition between Kant’s theoretical and practical philosophy. (Caygill 1995: 303)

The verdict of modern philosophy is that Kant’s theory of freedom may be intelligible (believable)—it does not violate logic (it’s not self-contradictory, for instance, like the idea of a square circle)––but nobody understands it scientifically because it is not empirically conceivable! If something is in space, how can it not be in time (Varela 2009: 6)? The same has been true for many social scientists. In Parson’s case, in agreeing with Kant that we are somehow free in a deterministic material world and in agreeing with philosophy’s verdict that Kant’s theory is not scientifically understandable, Parsons’s novel take on Kantian freedom in relation to space and time landed Parsons in a similar theoretical predicament. Examine Parsons’s own statement on the matter:

On an analytical basis it is possible to see emerging out of this study as a whole a division into three great classes of theoretical systems. They may be spoken of as the systems of nature, action, and culture. . . . Only the first two are systems of empirical scientific theory in the usual sense; the third occupies a special status. This is because empirical science is concerned with processes in time. The problematical data of the theories of both the nature systems and the action systems concern such processes; those of culture systems do not. The line of distinction which may be drawn between the first two is that the nature systems involve systems in relation to space in the frame of reference, the action systems in relation to the means-end schema. Physical time is a mode of relationship of events in space, action time a mode of relation means and ends and other action elements. . . . Action is non-spatial but temporal. (Parsons [1937] 1949: 762-63, cited in Varela 2009: 242).

Parsons has merely reversed Kant’s view of the space/time conditions of freedom: by locating the mind in time but not in space, Parsons believed, we are free. Perhaps the most that can be said for this strange philosophical move by Parsons is that, in 1937, his reverse Kantian standpoint was an argument against behaviorism and its reduction of mind to the organism as a stimulus/response reflex machine; but that is 'cutting your nose off to spite your face.' Whether Kant or Parsons, how can such a position be understood? (Indeed, I know of no eminent Parsons scholar who has even bothered to point out this oddity). To the very end of his life, in his last work Action Theory and the Human Condition (1978), Parsons remained a self-proclaimed man of religion and a self-proclaimed Kantian. This is why his conception of voluntarism continued Kant’s original (mis)take of trying to rescue freedom from the material conditions of nature, despite assimilating his idea of voluntarism to the promising idea of free action from the cognitive behaviorist Edward Chance Tolman. That idea of action could be easily understood as assuming, ontologically, something like a conception of ‘agent causality,’ that is, that causation exists, and it is agency. This would mean that the conception of ‘voluntarism’ would be grounded in a conception of causality (Varela 2005). If so, then freedom as voluntary action would be a real force in nature because the force of that action would be a genuine causal act. However, as I have indicated above with regard to the Humean (mis)reading of the law of inertia, ever since the late eighteenth century in philosophy and social science and up to Parsons’s time, no such idea of ‘agent causality’ was available to philosophers and social scientists. Hence, nature was understood to be a world of patients, not agents–––there are only events, their regularities, and passive things subject to them.

One can understand what Parsons was, in effect, up against and opposed to, although he was not in a historical position to see it this way. He was trying to forge a conception of voluntarism in opposition to the Humean positivistic view of science. He was, therefore, stranded between Kant’s strange theory of freedom and Tolman’s scientifically ungrounded theory of cognitive freedom. This theory of freedom was presupposed in Parsons’s concept of system and voluntarism, and it constituted his solution to the problem of the relationship between social structure and personal agency. Clearly, it was not a solution: it was, rather, the continuation of a stalemate in the history of the science/humanism, freedom/determinism debate.

Giddens, No Longer Parsons: The Call for a Realist View of Determinism

In order to solve the problem of how best to conceive of the relationship between social structure and personal agency, Giddens rejected the determinism of positivist science (event determinism) and explicitly called for a new theory of causality that was non-Humean in origin. As we have seen, he was calling for a concept of “agent causality,” upon which he intended to forge a conception of the agency of a person. In so doing, Giddens broke free of Parsons’s imprisonment in the traditional science/humanism encounter described above.

In the strict sense of natural scientific practice, the term ‘agent causality’ is redundant––causality is agency, whereas event regularity is not causal: it is merely correlational. The point of correlational observations is to prepare both the natural and social scientist for the search for causal mechanisms. We have seen that Hume understood this perfectly: in speaking of the experience of regularities as constant conjunctions, he said, “Such an object is always found to produce another,” and that object is, he continued, “a power of production.” Philosophical discussions typically declare that Hume rejected the realist view of “agent causality” in favor of the positivist one of “event causality.” However, Galen Strawson’s 1989 study of Hume on causation defeated this position by cogently arguing that ‘Hume was not a Humean’––he was actually a realist! With Hume’s alleged positivist reading of causality in Newton’s law of inertia out of the way and the contemporary understanding that scientific practice is realist and not positivist, we are completely free to acknowledge that the emergence of realism in the philosophy of science has finally won the day.

This establishment of the realist turn in the philosophy of science was presupposed by what I elsewhere refer to as “Giddens’ Call” (Varela 2009). A realist understanding of Giddens’s vocabulary shift, in fact, allows us to move beyond his structure/agency formulation of the problem of freedom and determinism. I will do so in two steps. First, we can generalize the sociological problem of how to conceptualize ‘social structure and personal agency’ to a broader social scientific problem of how to conceptualize ‘deterministic structures and personal agency.’ The theoretical interests of each social science have given us social, psychological, and cultural structures. I now propose that a theoretical thread which can connect these into a fundamental scientific metaphysical problem is based on biology and language. Biology can resolve two internally related concepts: the organism and the body. Language can resolve into two internally related concepts: discourse(s) and practice(s). With these two theoretical moves, we can derail any determinisms attached to biological and linguistic structures.

I can now take the second step: the general problem adhering to structure(s) and agency is a problem of deterministic structures and embodied discursive agency. Now we can directly enter Drid Williams’s theoretical world of the anthropology of embodiment. We do so, by virtue of the second step, with the clear understanding that a suitable theory of embodiment is fundamental to a robust solution to structure and agency problem.

I will now work out, step by step, how the concept of “dynamic embodiment” realizes Giddens’s Call in just that robust sense. This takes place via the philosophy of science, and in reference to the realist paradigm of scientific practice. My analytic focus in this presentation is scientific rigor: that of the precision of meaning rather than the accuracy of measurement.

Semasiology and Giddens’s Call

I contend that semasiology exemplifies Harré’s cardinal principle of the metaphysical foundations of the realism that constitutes the practice of science: To be is to have a place among the beings of a world, not to be the value of a variable (see Harré 1986: 320). This declaration not only deepens Williams’s conviction that semasiology is a science, but, precisely because of this understanding, it is also one of the humanities! The realism of science bridges and thus overcomes the divide of C. P. Snow’s “two cultures,” and it does so in two ways.

Jacob Bronowski (1965) conveys the commonplace understanding that work at the highest levels of both the sciences and the humanities is united in their common resource––the imagination. However, Harré has gone deeper in this regard. He illustrates how analogy and especially metaphor are used to construct models––fictional/symbolic images and pictures––for the purpose of investigating realities seen (the visible) and, most particularly, unseen (the invisible). The most important realities, he tells us, are the invisible: the elementals of nature—powers, energy, forces—and the fundamentals of culture—agency, meanings, actions. Above all, however, the unification of these natural and cultural dimensions of reality is in their material incarnation in the movement of signifying beings of a human world. Hence, we must decisively enrich Harré’s realist principle: “to be is to have a place among the moving beings of a world.”

However, since we have pointed out the crucial distinction between positivist embodiment (behaviorism and psychoanalysis) and realist embodiment, due regard must be given to the historical fact that both behaviorism and psychoanalysis locate themselves in the naturalist framework of Newton and Darwin, so they presume the principle of ‘matter in motion’ (Newton) and the principle of ‘animals in adaptive physical activity’ (Darwin). The point, of course, is that they would (and do) see themselves in accordance with the first degree of enrichment of Harré’s principle. In virtue of that eventuality, we therefore require a second degree.

The relevance of the first enriched principle to the human case can be accomplished (against behaviorism and psychoanalysis) with this proviso: from the realist standpoint, the human moving being presupposes the Darwinian evolution of Homo Sapiens Sapiens and the subsequent arrival of human cultures and their histories. Human agency is the theme of our Darwinian evolution: the agency of human being enabled the emergence of symbolic/relational intelligence, the neuroanatomical structure for which replaced the neuroanatomical structures that had earlier made instinctive species possible (for example, ants). Personal agency affords the social construction of culture and its consequent generation of historical development. Thus, for the human instance of Harré’s principle, we have “to be is to have a place among the moving signifying beings of a human world.” These two additions to Harré’s realist principle seem to locate the principle of dynamic embodiment firmly and coherently at the center of any scientific endeavor to study human beings.

To appreciate this achievement adequately, we now must take up the challenge presented by the phenomenological tradition of Dilthey, Husserl, and Merleau-Ponty (Varela 2009: 3-41). Earlier we saw that, in the history of twentieth-century social science, phenomenology was taken into theoretical thinking about the human being and the structure/agency problem. By the early 1980s, Bryan Turner (1984) in sociology and Michael Jackson (1983) in anthropology were preserving personal agency against deterministic structures by resorting to the phenomenological tradition of Merleau-Ponty (Farnell and Varela 2008).

I shall present the challenge to phenomenology by arguing that its theory of embodiment can never take us to the moving body of signifying persons. Consequently, phenomenological embodiment cannot realize a robust theory of personal agency. This, then, brings into sharper relief the central thesis of this address that only the theory of dynamic embodiment can realize this goal.

Phenomenological Embodiment: The First Somatic Revolution

I will return briefly to my discussion of the history of the social sciences and my suggestion that the various responses to the problem of deterministic structures and the freedom of human agency can be understood as being a series of footnotes to Kant. Their overall theme is not that of rescuing human freedom as ‘free will’ from a deterministic nature (the transcendent theory), but rather the rescuing of freedom as agency from a phenomenal world of deterministic structures (the transcendental theory). The new theme, as expressed by Dilthey, Husserl, and Merleau-Ponty, was that human freedom is not transcendent or noumenal, for it is immanental, being in space and in time. Now labeled “phenomenological,” this is offered as somehow an alternative to “phenomenal.” That is an astonishing thesis. How is this nothing more than an appeal to the magic of words? We can refer to Dilthey’s declaration that phenomenological freedom is a mystery that defies scientific explanation under the protection of poetry. Husserl followed suit with an appeal to such freedom as a spiritual reality once more under the protection of “heroic reason” standing up to naturalism. And, finally, Merleau-Ponty arbitrarily restricted their post-Kantian freedom to a groundless free-floating power, while claiming that he cannot conceive of himself shut up within the phenomenal realm as merely a “bit of the world” ([1945] 1962: 10-11).

Freedom here appears in a new form of purity, no longer that of transcendence but now an ascendance “from within” into the immanence of human Being. In Husserlian terms, it is the essential feature of the phenomenological structure of human consciousness. In ordinary parlance, we might say “lived freedom” or “experienced freedom.” While Kant himself was self-conscious of freedom, Husserl presents freedom itself as the Being of consciousness. Hence, our freedom is, supposedly, in and of this world. However, precisely because of this new mystery of freedom and consciousness as one and the same Being, a new difficulty has arisen, and, indeed, another impossibility; for, the phenomenological region of freedom is now dangerously juxtaposed to the phenomenal region of determinism—next-door neighbors, so to speak. Against determinism (without exception) the human Being is mystically announced as a new epiphany for modernity. Certain well-worn crucial distinctions––such as external and internal, interior and inward––that are being highlighted here are puzzling. We are abandoned to the task of understanding how we can crash through the Cartesian barrier of interiority: if the primacy of our being is originally external, we are yet free because freedom is. . . what? “inward?” If ‘phenomenological’ no longer refers to interiority, what else can ‘inward’ mean but a code for accounts in the self-referential idiom of ‘experience,’ feeling, and ‘perception’? Existential anxiety is just around the corner.

Here Merleau-Ponty, skipping over Sartre, faces that anxiety, and takes phenomenology through Heidegger’s vision of our being-in-the world and grounds it in the existential experience and feeling of the human body. This is the essence of what Farnell and I have referred to as a “second somatic revolution” (2008), wherein the phenomenological body replaces the Hull/Freud phenomenal (mechanical) body. Picking up Kant’s (and therefore Dilthey’s) idea that human freedom is not free will but rather the power to act, Merleau-Ponty theorizes that power anew as the phenomenological reality of the “lived-body.” The problem of how that reality is to be made hermeneutically intelligible without a realist philosophy of science remains. This is Merleau-Ponty’s actual difficulty. If he cannot conceive of himself as merely a phenomenal object (an agent-less thing) in light of the existential phenomenological experience of being an agentive thing, then what theoretical concept can account for this, especially in light of his rejection of science?

It is now clear that Merleau-Ponty was trapped in the tradition of conflating all science with positivism and adopting its misreading of inertia as material patients, along with the correlative notion of embodiment in its traditional deterministic formula—bodies use people. Existential phenomenology, arguing from within a phenomenal world of ‘matter in motion’ and ‘organisms in movement,’ cannot get us to ‘moving personal being’ because its taken-for-granted idea of ‘experience’ is based on the empiricist tradition of Berkley and Hume with its principle that the experience (perception, feeling, sensation) of the world is of world of patients—agent-less things and their regularity of events. In other words, the phenomenological tradition has no philosophical resources for a conception of causation as genuine agency. As a result, an existential phenomenological approach to the traditional determinist reading of ‘bodies using persons’ cannot give us an agent/causal reading of ‘persons signifying by the use of their moving bodies.’

We have now come full circle, having returned to the Kant/Giddens problem of structure and agency but having done so with a new understanding of that problem. For we now know that Merleau-Ponty ended up in the predicament of a conceptual imprisonment from which he could not escape. On the one hand, he was identifying freedom as the power of a person via the experience of the power of the ‘lived-body’ of that person, but the reference to “power” in both cases––person and lived-body––is philosophically problematic. On the other hand, having honored the Continental philosophical tradition (that is, existentialism and phenomenology) of rejecting science, he is left without any way of grounding the power of a person or the power of the lived-body in the phenomenal world of deterministic bodies. If deterministic bodies are interpreted according to positivist science, no such grounding is possible, since the very idea of powers is rejected: phenomenal bodies are mechanistic, not embodied powers. As a result, and contrary to the goals of the phenomenological tradition, the “lived-body” remains a phenomenal body and the ‘experience’ or the ‘feel’ of that body, which is taken to be giving us the experience and feel of power, is a delusion. In addition, the strategy of distinguishing the human body as ‘subjective’ and nonhuman bodies as ‘objective’ because the former is ‘lived’ does nothing, absolutely nothing, to challenge that fact (except by believing in freedom—a leftover of the transcendence tradition).

If, however, ‘subjectivity’ is understood as the ‘activity of a subject’—that is, agency—there is no reality of a ‘subjective’ left over. Thus, the existential phenomenological resort to the “lived-body” to rescue freedom and agency from the phenomenal world simply will no longer do. Merleau-Ponty has not provided us with an argument against the determinism of positivist science but only a defiant antidote––the defiance of existence married to the defiance of phenomenological experience, informed by the religious tradition in its sacred (Dilthey and Husserl) or secular (Merleau-Ponty) varieties. That has failed from within its own theoretical logic, since freedom as a power without any place among the beings of a world is powerless. After all, as a throwback to free-will theory, the power to act in the phenomenological tradition is located neither in time nor in space. The hyphenation within the “lived-body” of existential phenomenology turns out to be an empty gesture. At this point, we can appreciate that a second somatic revolution was necessary.

An understanding of the scientific character of the above problem and its direct relevance to a solution points us to a way forward. Given that the structure/agency problem is one of deterministic structures versus the freedom of embodied agency, there is only one kind of conception of embodiment that can provide a theory of agency capable of defeating the fact that the human “lived-body” is still a phenomenal body. Enter Williams’s anthropological theory of embodiment, at the very heart of which is the conception of the “semasiological body”––a principle of dynamic embodiment that allows us to move beyond the dead end of the phenomenological body. This connection between the Kant/Giddens problem of structure and agency and semasiology affords the opportunity to locate precisely the importance of Dr. Williams’s anthropological theory of human movement.

Part II. Semasiology and Science: Theories of Matter and Embodiment

As a first approximation, I contend that the semasiological principle of dynamic embodiment is a theoretical principle that is continuous with the dynamic theory of matter that centers modern-day field theory in physics. Rom Harré has shown us that the theory of “causal powers” internally connects Newtonian mechanics and field theory and that, under the auspices of a Kantian realist metaphysic, causal powers theory entails the idea of dynamic embodiment (Varela 2009: 267-92). Thus, Williams’s semasiological theory of the body is continuous with the dynamic theory of material bodies in the strict sense of being a special variation of it. In view of the aforementioned scientific ambition of semasiology to be linguistically tied, mathematically grounded, and empirically based, there are important implications. That is, the dynamical theory of matter (as material bodies in motion) and the dynamic theory of persons as human bodies in signifying movement are internally related to each other. They are at different evolutionary levels of being natural kinds of powerful particulars. However, I will argue that, although the realist theory of causality provides the idea for a principle of dynamic embodiment, only semasiology has transformed that idea into a principle of dynamic embodiment.

With this in mind, we must now carefully consider the essential thrust of Kant’s theory of freedom. First, as an act of “spontaneity,” Kant refers to as the “efficient causality of freedom.” Second, as such, spontaneity is the “primacy of autonomy.” What has never been mentioned in discussions of Kantian theory is a third feature: spontaneity as “a kind of free motion” (Kant [1771] 1985: 84, emphasis added).

In this regard, the phenomenological tradition certainly announced such a conception of spontaneity: for instance, in the work of Dilthey, repeated obliquely and hence unsuccessfully in Husserl’s search for structures, lost by Sartre’s extreme concern for an existential freedom of all the constraints of essence (so much so that one suspects he favored Cartesian mentalism in a revulsion of Cartesian materiality), and reappearing in Merleau-Ponty only to be subordinated to the feeling and to the experience of bodily being.

The entire discussion to this point, which brings to light the very different cardinal feature of dynamic embodiment, justifies my granting Williams’s anthropology of human movement a uniquely important place in the history of the social sciences. The special place of semasiology in the history of the debate on deterministic structures and embodied agency I define as a pioneering moment. And such a moment I call a second somatic revolution. The special place has to do with the vitally important idea that internally relates Newtonian mechanics, field theory, and Williams’s semasiology: the bodies of the natural world are the bodies of causal powers, and such bodies are the bodies of moving powers. This is best expressed in the terms of my earlier enrichment of Harré’s central realist principle: “To be human is to have a place among the moving powers of a world.” This is ultimately why, as I asserted at the beginning of the paper, dynamic embodiment is a theoretical principle that is continuous with the dynamic theory of matter.

Part III. Science and Humanism: A Changing Relationship

I want to exploit a truly remarkable comment made by social theorist Douglas Porpora: “realism is humanism” (Porpora 2001: 264). That remark has inspired me to claim that the relationship between science and humanism has radically changed, such that we can say science is humanism. I will present the idea that causal powers theory is the humanistic component of modern natural science by virtue of the fact that, since causal powers theory is the basis for the establishment of agency at the center of the physical and biological worlds, it follows that human—and thus personal—agency is at the center of the world of human culture.

Let us first return to the three components of Kant’s realist theory of freedom: in particular, the second one––the primacy of autonomy. Kant understood this to be relevant strictly to human being, but consider instead the following statement by Mario Bunge, the first philosopher of realism to publish a philosophy of science text in 1959:

Self-movement is by now a solid philosophical acquisition of the sciences. In no department of science are scholastic patients recognized. On the contrary, material objects at all levels of organization are more and more regarded as entities having an activity of their own, conditioned but not entirely determined by their surroundings. (Bunge [1959] 1979: 176-78, emphasis added)

An important implication here concerns the now-familiar strategy of rescuing agency, but this time not solely in reference to human beings. It is now an interest in the recovery of agency for the natural world from the natural world. Even more important is the unavoidable implication that the recovery of agency in nature is necessarily the recovery of human agency in culture.

This is the meaning of a phrase I now want to introduce: Humanism from Science. In short, the recovery of natural agency makes possible a humanism from science which, via the recovery of human agency, makes possible a science for humanism, and it is the principle of dynamic embodiment that provides the most direct and complete connection between the two.

The recovery of natural agency can be located as follows. The classic formulation of a metaphysics of nature, since Kant’s own work on that topic in 1785, is not the standard philosophy text version, “matter in motion” and its tacit positivist reading, but Newton’s and Kant’s:

All bodies are movable and endowed with certain powers (which we call the inertia) of preserving in their motion. (Newton, cited in Cohen and Westfall 1995: 117, emphasis added)
The moving forces of matter are powers, either purely dynamic or mechanical. The latter are based on the former. (Kant [1771] [1985]: 58, emphasis added)

The recovery of natural agency is clear here: the power to preserve motion—primary autonomy—is the intrinsic feature of entities moving in nature. And it is right here that we find the twin recovery of natural and human agency.

The recovery of natural agency along with cultural agency remains vulnerable to a residual Cartesianism via the alleged metaphysical gap that separates the materiality of nature (physical and biological particulars) from the immateriality of culture (persons living their normative realties). The crucial connecting link is in the defining of the ‘body’ of things––as physical, biological, and personal.

Kant’s idea of transcendental/noumenal freedom merely postponed facing up to the unavoidable problem that came from the breakaway to phenomenological freedom. If nonliving, living, and lived things are in the phenomenal world, how can the ‘body’ of the former two be determined and not free, while the ‘body’ of the latter is undetermined and free? Merely because of human consciousness displayed in its fine textured description in terms of ‘experience’ and ‘feeling’? Which is to say, why are we free just because we self-consciously experience our body in the life we live with others? The human body is the body of a thing, after all, biology and consciousness notwithstanding. I have shown that the concept of a “lived-body” cannot change that.

This returns us to the deep message of Freud’s psychoanalytic theory of the unconscious: that the conscious experience of freedom, either being conscious (a la Descartes) or being conscious of the body (a la Merleau-Ponty), is an illusion of appearance. Behind that appearance is the reality of the deterministic ‘body’: first, determined by the Darwinian reality of the biological (drive); second, the deeper Newtonian reality of the physical (force), and third, the deterministic reality of force as drive transformed into the deterministic reality of the psychological motive forces of superego, ego, and id.

So, what is at issue here is still the materiality of the person––the ‘body’ or the ‘organism’––but saying it that way implies that ‘body’ and ‘organism’ are the same ontological thing. This is in keeping with the traditional social scientific way of speaking about the question of embodiment. Behaviorism and psychoanalysis are the exemplars here. For Freudian psychoanalytic theory, there is no such problem: organism and body, then body and mind, are ultimately ontologically identical as a complex deterministic unconscious structure. 3

For realist social science, on the contrary, the issue is precisely the problematic identification of organism and body. The problem is how to articulate the relationship between the human organism and the human body as interpenetrating but yet distinguishable realities. As a component of dynamic embodiment, Williams’s semasiological body is centered on the principle of the primacy of human movement that links the physical being of things (materiality/corporeality) with the moving being of persons (action). Harré’s doubly enriched realist principle can be enriched once more––to be is to have a place among the material beings of immaterial moving powers. The metaphysical gap has been overcome.

In that link between corporeality and action, the conception of the semasiological body already presupposes an analytic distinction between the human organism and the human body according to this principle: body movement is a resource that persons in their powers of intelligence, imagination, and discursivity socially learn to use under the auspices of their culture. The organismic substrate that enables body movement is the site of those resources in the form of neurophysiological capacities. Organismic and personal capacities are complementary powers, for they are the resources of persons. It is from the moving body that personal agents signify.


1 I will not be examining dynamic embodiment as it emerges from the history of semasiology. For that, there is no better place to begin than the three volumes of Williams’s doctoral dissertation (1975).

2 This has been highlighted in the modern history of philosophy as a key idea, but one that was rejected by modern science (Bronowki and Mazlish 1960).

3 A good example of this can be seen in Else Frenkel-Brunswik’s defense of the unconscious in her 1954 monograph, “The Confirmation of Psychoanalytic Theories,” where she makes the following astonishing connection of identity between psychoanalysis and behaviorism:

We may add that, from the standpoint of logical analysis, there is no alternative but to be behavioristic in any psychological endeavor; neither the so-called “subjective phantasies” in which psychoanalysis is interested, nor “introspective” events of any kind in others, can be constituted except by inference from the manifest physical observation of organisms. (Frenkel-Brunswik 1954: 106, emphasis added)
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