Week 6: Sense making as a type of integration

Time flies when you’re having fun! Classes and conversations have kept me from posting but not from thinking about this project. My ideas have been ripening, like a bushel of berries. Here are the first fruits of the sense I’ve made of sense making so far:

Ripening Ideas
Ripening Ideas

Sense making

seems to be

the integration

of reasons

into an argument

for believing 

what something means.

Here’s why I think this is true:

  • This is how it seems to me. My disclaimer is up front: this is a tentative belief, an exploration, a well-educated guess. Please comment below!
  • Sense making is a type of integration. Watch a few minutes from the middle of my interview with Emily Roberts and you’ll witness sense making in action. Emily realizes that her music therapy and flute performance are connected by her love of serving others. She integrates her two occupations with a third framing concept: service. Comment-conversations about that week’s post were lively, poking and prodding the nature of integration in sense making. We decided integration in general definitely goes beyond sense making but also that sense making definitely requires integration: sense making is a kind of integration. This is evident in the words we use to describe sense making, such as “fitting,” “connecting,” and even “making” itself. The essence–the core–of sense making is a kind of integration.
  • Reasons are what gets integrated. I used to talk about making sense of  “data,” but most people don’t think in terms of “data” and I think that label restricts my imagination to bits produced by science. I like the term “reasons” because it implies a direction to the information: it’s aimed at something, and several readers reminded us that sense making is aimed at action or resolution. Now, I don’t have a crystal clear definition of what counts as a “reason,” but I basically think of it as “evidence.” Evidence can come in lots of forms: propositions, hunches, body sensations, emotions, and values. All of these can be entered into our calculus of “to believe or not believe, that is the question.” Exactly how we do that multimodal calculation is what I so desperately want to understand. But let’s keep going.
  • ad council leadconsumption
    Example of visual argument about lead poisoning

    Reasons get integrated into an argument. This is the philosopher in me coming out to play, but I’m going to dance all over the boundaries of traditional philosophy with this one. Traditionally, philosophers define an argument as a set of logically interdependent wordy-premises intending to support a wordy-conclusion. But more recent work in philosophy is beginning to query the argumentative power of visuals–so why not also body sensations, hunches, and other non-word carriers of information? Michael Polanyi’s work on tacit knowledge points us in the right direction, but I never saw him say that tacit knowledge could be entered as premises in an argument. I think he would be okay with my extension, though. If we ditch the traditional commitment to “words only,” an argument at its core is a set of logically interdependent statements that aim to support a conclusion. These statements need to be truth-apt (that is, it won’t help to use, “Bethany, go clean your room,” as a statement in an argument, unless you mean a verbal fight–in which case I’ll offer you beer and a conversation instead.) But sense-making reasons don’t need to be written down or even writeable at all. They just need to carry some kind of information in a way that you, the knower, can comprehend, and these statements need to be logically interdependent. (I think metaphysicians call this a “grounding” relationship. I’m learning about that this week and I’ll get back to you).


(1) **experience feeling like thirst or hunger**

(2) “I haven’t had any water since morning,”

(3) “Usually I need water every hour or else I get thirsty,” therefore

= (4) “It makes sense that I’m thirsty.”

  • So-whatThe argument is an attempt to believe what something means. Firstly, arguments are always aimed at belief. I mean, what is the purpose of a conclusion except to accept or deny it? Secondly, the sense making argument is an argument aimed at believing what something means (and I don’t think there is any other way to believe something than through an argument, though it may not be explicit). It is not merely the belief in the truth or falsity of something–yes, no. Those arguments exist, but those are arguments for believing facts, data, little pieces of information that are untethered from any purpose, context, or use. Sense making arguments are attempts to believe in the larger meaning of these facts–they are arguments for wisdom. This is determined by entering into the argument statements about purpose, context, or use of the facts. There must be some kind of “So what” premise in there else we feel dissatisfied, cheated, adrift, lacking guidance for action in using facts for wise living. In the sense making literature, there is a lot of talk about the necessity of “framing,” as in fitting facts into a “frame of reference.” (Classic example: do you frame the glass as half full or half empty? That frame determines what you take the glass’s water level to mean.) I think when these scholars talk about “framing,” they are actually talking about entering these meaningful “So What” statements into the sense making argument. This is the only way to get a meaningful conclusion from an argument. Statement (3) in the example argument above is, I think, an example of such a framing statement. Finally, the feeling of grounded, logical interdependence between the argument’s statements and its conclusion is the satisfying feeling of something Making Sense.


And you know you’ve made real sense, not imaginary sense, when your conclusion is fraught with future possibilities (Meek 2011). There’s a domino effect to real sense making.

So what’s next, readers?


6 thoughts on “Week 6: Sense making as a type of integration

  1. This is great! You’ve piqued my interest in the role of “propositions, hunches, body sensations, emotions, and values” in argumentation. That being said, my first instinct is to question the role of premise 1 (**experience feeling like thirst or hunger**). This is a good example of the non-traditional premise proposed, but I don’t exactly understand the work it is doing in the argument. I feel that the conclusion is grounded in premise 2 and 3. Is there a further conclusion, perhaps “I should drink some water”? Can this help us integrate our desires and so help us provide normative/prescriptive arguments? Help! 🙂

    Great post!

    1. I think we could rephrase premise (1) into an equivalent word-statement: “I feel either hungry or thirsty.” The conclusion (4) is “It makes sense that I’m thirsty” (implying, “I am not hungry.”) Does that help?

      To elaborate, a further argument could then be made,
      (5) I should take care of my bodily needs.
      (6) Therefore, I should drink some water.

      Interesting the guide to action is not inherent in the original sense making argument (1-4). Maybe not all sense making ends in action-guidance.

  2. Ahh…I see what premise 1 is doing. I somehow overlooked the ‘thirsty or hungry’, which was an integral part to the argument. This helps a lot. I am still grappling with ‘sense-making’ overall, but this is helping immensely.

    The normative jump is a bit shaky to me, but there is an intuitive appeal to concluding ‘it makes sense to do x’ which seems to have a substantial normative component. A compelling guide to action from a sense-making argument would be phenomenal for public discourse….

  3. I think so, but only because I hesitate to use a normative premise since justifying the premise of what we ‘should do’ can be tricky. I would have to think about it more, but my knee jerk reaction is to convert premise 5 into a phenomenological or doxastic premise similar to premise 1. Perhaps I feel (or believe) that I should do the thing that my body needs”. If we are so inclined to accept this premise as justified (which I believe I would), then we may remove the worry.

    That all being said, my thoughts on this are incomplete. I do like thinking about the role of “propositions, hunches, body sensations, emotions, and values” in argumentation. You have got me thinking!

    1. Interesting! My inclination is to allow normative premises that are justified, though I agree this can be tricky. Maybe we end up justifying them by some phenomenological “I feel” statement anyway so why not just put that in there? Although I don’t think “is” statements alone can ground “ought” statements. Eventually, aren’t “ought” statements grounded in some self-grounding or axiomatic “ought”? So why not just lean on them? I seem to recall you have some thoughts on this subject 🙂

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