Action, Embodied Mind, and Life World

Focusing at the Existential Level

By Ralph D. Ellis

Subjects: Philosophy, Psychology, Hermeneutics, Spirituality, Phenomenology, Social Philosophy
Series: SUNY series in American Philosophy and Cultural Thought
Hardcover : 9781438494722, 260 pages, October 2023
Paperback : 9781438494715, 260 pages, April 2024

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Table of contents

Introduction Interpreting Reality Presupposes an Understanding of Emotion

1. The Subterranean Role of Enactive Meaning: “PANIC,” “SEEKING,” and the Action Trajectories of Valuation

2. Focusing, Enactivity, and the Opacity of Directionality

3. We’re Not in Behaviorism Anymore: Panksepp and Damasio on the Enactive Structure of Motivation

4. The Extended Value System and the Place of Instrumentality

5. Hannah Arendt and the Curious Nihilism of Grand-Scheme Value Systems

6. The Symbolic Dimension: Gendlin’s Embodied Symbolization and the Limits of the Static Image

7. Total Failure of Inspiration: Lessons from the Sudden Murderer and the Family Annihilator

8. Lessons from Alexithymia: The Role of Phenomenological Reflection in Understanding Enactive Motivation

9. The Hot-Cold Meter: Unlocking Internal Conflict by Updating Hermeneutical Worldviews

10. A. J. Ayer’s Stepchildren: Relativism, Truth, and the Crisis of Postmodernity

11. The Hermeneutic Circle: A Story of Internal Conflict

Conclusions The Embodied Mind and the “That for the Sake of Which”

Combines phenomenology with the "enactivist" approach to consciousness theory and recent emotion research to explore the way self-motivated action plans shape selective attention, exploration, and ultimately the mind's interpretation of reality - in philosophy, psychology, cultural awareness, and our personal lives.


Action, Embodied Mind, and Life World combines embodied consciousness research, existential phenomenology, Gendlin's "focusing" concept, and recent self-organizational work on basic emotions (e.g., Panksepp, Frijda), to explore the way patterns of motivated action shape our interpretations of reality—personally, biologically, and within a sociopolitical community. Like a bat projecting sonar, we understand our world by sensing patterns of resistance against our own self-initiated actions. If hammering is the action, we find "nails" and "non-nails." Actions in turn express a self-organizing process rooted in motivational structures that presuppose values. These patterns of motivation therefore prefigure the shape of what we think or perceive. But the emotions, feelings, "sensings" through which we discern motivation are never just about what they seem, especially given ample incentives to distortion and self-deception. The "trigger" is the tip of an iceberg. This book works toward a coherent method for getting at the basement level of the action trajectories that motivate exploration, selective attention, and thus interpretations of reality—a crucial question in an age of motivated disinformation.

Ralph D. Ellis is Professor of Philosophy at Clark Atlanta University.


"This is a further step in the development of a new understanding of meaning, not derived from language and concepts, but from the actual process of living. This is of more than academic interest: it is at the root of many of today's most pressing problems. The discussions of the authoritarian personality, enactivism, and denials of intrinsic meaning are particularly interesting." — Rob Parker, the International Focusing Institute