David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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Journal of Critical Realism 9 (2):155-171 (2010)
Much of the interest of critical realists in the hermeneutic character of social inquiry has been shaped by debates with critics. Critical realists insist that the meaningful character of societies does not exclude the possibility of treating them as objects that have causal powers and that these objects are more than the sum-total of their meanings. In what follows, I want to go beyond this debate. Working within critical realist ontology, the question I want to ask is what kind of hermeneutics is required for the study of the causal powers of meaningful objects. If hypotheses about the causal powers of such objects can be confirmed only in dialogues, then what kind of dialogues and with whom are necessary for the understanding of causal powers? The question of the interpretation of causal objects is not merely a methodological one. Social structures are ontologically different from natural ones, and the nature of our understanding of meaningful objects is in part dependent on the way we come to apprehend them in thought. I argue that the approach to the understanding of the causal power of meaningful objects that has emerged in the debate between critical realists and their critics tends to view the study of causal powers as a dialogue between experts in the service of a more democratic society. Against this view, I suggest an understanding of the study of causal powers as a dialogue between critical social science and the public, a dialogue that takes place in the public sphere
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