David Kolb

Filling in the Blanks

Publication: Language Beyond Postmodernism: Saying and Thinking in Gendlin’s Philosophy, ed. by David Michael Levin. Northwestern University Press, 1998, 65-83.

Eugene Gendlin claims that he wants “to think with more than conceptual structures, forms, distinctions, with more than cut and presented things” (WCS 29).1 He wants situations in their concreteness to be something we can think with, not just analyze conceptually. He wants to show that “conceptual patterns are doubtful and always exceeded, but the excess seems unable to think itself. It seems to become patterns when we try to think it. This has been the problem of twentieth-century philosophy” (WCS 29). As a result he has “long been concerned with what is not formed although always in some form” (TAD 1). In this essay I would like to explore some of the issues surrounding the relation of the unformed and the formed. Gendlin says that “we get beyond the forms by thinking precisely in them” (TAD 1). The two emphasized words have to be considered separately as well as together. In many essays Gendlin’s main concern is with the “precisely”: can something that is not fully formed and definite still direct us as we carry forward language and action? My discussion begins with that issue; I suggest ways that Gendlin’s proposal connects with and differs from some current ideas in epistemology and the philosophy of language. Then my discussion moves to the “in”: what sense can we make of the formed being unformed? Finally, I suggest that Gendlin’s program runs into some difficulties in this connection.

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