Habermas meets science Content Type Journal Article Category Essay Review Pages 1-5 DOI 10.1007/s11016-011-9560-2 Authors Stephen Turner, Department of Philosophy, University of South Florida, Tampa, FL 33620, USA Journal Metascience Online ISSN 1467-9981 Print ISSN 0815-0796.
Tacit knowledge is both a ubiquitous and puzzling notion, related to the idea of hidden assumptions. The puzzle is partly a result of the conflict between the idea that assumptions are in the mind and the apparent audience-relativity of the "fact" of possessing an assumption or of the tacit knowledge that is articulated. If we think of making the tacit explicit as constructing a certain kind of inference repairing explanation for a particular audience "on the fly" we come closer to (...) an explanation of what happens when we "make our tacit knowledge explicit." We can account for our capacity to construct such statements for particular audiences by reference to our non-conceptual capacities to understand others. This approach avoids problematic assumptions about shared representations that are common in cognitive science, and the equally problematic notion that tacit knowledge is sentence-like content that we retrieve when we articulate something based on our tacit knowledge. (shrink)
Abstract There is a core conflict between conventional ideas about “meaning“ and the phenomenon of meaning and meaning change in history. Conventional accounts are either atemporal or appeal to something fixed that bestows meaning, such as a rule or a convention. This produces familiar problems over change. Notions of rule and convention are metaphors for something tacit. They are unhelpful in accounting for change: there are no rule-givers or convenings in history. Meanings are in flux, and are part of a (...) web of belief and practical activity that is in constant change. We can perhaps salvage some point to appeals to fixed frameworks if we treat them as “as if “ constructions designed as crutches to enable us to improve on literal readings of the texts by making more sense of the inferential connections and practical significance of their content at the time. (shrink)
Louis Mink wrote a classic study of R. G. Collingwood that led to his most important contribution to the philosophy of history, his account of narrative. Central to this account was the non-detachability thesis, that facts became historical facts through incorporation into narratives, and the thesis that narratives were not comparable to the facts or to one another. His book on Collingwood was critical of Collingwood's idea that there were facts in history that we get through self-knowledge but which are (...) nevertheless objective, his account of re-enactment, and his notion of absolute presuppositions. It is illuminating to compare Collingwood to Weber with respect to these puzzling arguments, for the same issues arise there in different form. Recent work in social neuroscience on mirroring allows a different approach to these puzzles: mirror system “knowledge“ of others and simulation fit, respectively, with Weber's idea of direct observational understanding and Collingwood's re-enactment account. This account allows for the detaching of historical facts about thoughts and action from narrative. (shrink)
Charles Perrow used the term normal accidents to characterize a type of catastrophic failure that resulted when complex, tightly coupled production systems encountered a certain kind of anomalous event. These were events in which systems failures interacted with one another in a way that could not be anticipated, and could not be easily understood and corrected. Systems of the production of expert knowledge are increasingly becoming tightly coupled. Unlike classical science, which operated with a long time horizon, many current forms (...) of expert knowledge are directed at immediate solutions to complex problems. These are prone to breakdowns like the kind discussed by Perrow. The example of the Homestake mine experiment shows that even in modern physics complex systems can produce knowledge failures that last for decades. The concept of knowledge risk is introduced, and used to characterize the risk of failure in such systems of knowledge production. (shrink)
Robert Merton's essays on theories of the middle range and his essays on functional explanation and the structural approach are among the most influential in the history of sociology. But their import is a puzzle. He explicitly allied himself with some of the most extreme scientistic formalists and contributed to and endorsed the Columbia model of theory construction. But Merton never responded to criticisms by Ernest Nagel of his arguments or acknowledged the rivalry between Lazarsfeld and Herbert Simon, rarely cited (...) the philosophical and methodological literature, and responded to critics with ambiguous concessions, leaving the Mertonian legacy profoundly ambiguous. Key Words: Robert Merton • Paul Lazarsfeld • theory construction • middle range theory • causal modeling • Émile Durkheim. (shrink)
Historical explanation after Hempel came to be discussed in terms of a contrast between nomic explanations and rationalizations, and later between cause and narrative. This period can be taken as an historical parenthesis, in which the notion of cause narrowed and the notion of historical understanding as empathic dropped out. In the present philosophical landscape there are different models of cause available, especially in the causal modeling literature, and a revived appreciation, through the philosophy of mind and in light of (...) such discoveries as mirror neurons, of empathy. The newer causal modeling literature foregrounds the problem of confounding or overdetermination, but solves it in ways inimical to historical explanation. Empathy, however, represents an alternative solution, available to the historian, in which causal relevance can be assessed and established in terms of its role in the reenacted experience of the historical subject. This suggests the idea that the art of history is using historical evidence to show what people might have thought and felt under past circumstances, in ways that engage our capacities to mind-read - capacities established by cognitive science. (shrink)
In this reply, I raise some questions about the account of "normativity" given by Joseph Rouse. I discuss the historical form of disputes over normativity in such thinkers as Kelsen and show that the standard issue with these accounts is over the question of whether there is anything added to the normal stream of explanation by the problem of normativity. I suggest that Rouses attempt to avoid the issues that arise with substantive explanatory theories of practices of the kind criticized (...) in The Social Theory of Practices leads to a result that is uninformative, and the strategy raises the question of whether there is anything there to explain and thus whether there is any necessity to appeal to the kind of anomalous explanations the normativist offers. Key Words: Kelsen normativity Mauss naturalism practices. (shrink)
Practice relativism is the idea that practices are foundational for bodies of activity and thought, and differ from one another in ways that lead those who constitute the world in terms of them to incommensurable or conflicting conclusions. It is true that practices are not criticizable in any simple way because they are largely tacit and inaccessible. But to make them relativistic one needs an added claim: that practices are "normative", or conceptual in character. It is argued that this is (...) not supportable by any explanatory necessity, and that the differences in outcomes, though real, are not instances of relativism. /// El relativismo de prácticas es la idea de que las prácticas sirven de fundamento para cuerpos de actividad y pensamiento, y que difieren unas de otras de maneras que llevan a aquellos que constituyen el mundo en esos términos a conclusiones inconmensurables o contradictorias. Es cierto que las prácticas no son criticables de ninguna manera simple porque en general son tácitas e inaccesibles. Pero para que sean relativistas hace falta una tesis adicional: que las prácticas son normativas o conceptuales. Aquí se arguye que esto no puede sustentarse en ninguna necesidad explicativa, y que las diferencias en resultados, si bien son reales, no son casos de relativismo. (shrink)
This volume concerns philosophical issues that arise from the practice of anthropology and sociology. The essays cover a wide range of issues, including traditional questions in the philosophy of social science as well as those specific to these disciplines. Authors attend to the historical development of the current debates and set the stage for future work. · Comprehensive survey of philosophical issues in anthropology and sociology · Historical discussion of important debates · Applications to current research in anthropology and sociology.
In this discussion, the author asks the question if Oakeshott’s famous depiction of a practice might be understood in relation to contemporary cognitive science, in particular connectionism (the contemporary cognitive science approach concerned with the problem of skills and skilled knowing) and in terms of the now conventional view of "normativity" in Anglo-American philosophy. The author suggests that Oakeshott meant to contrast practices to an alternative "Kantian" model of a shared tacit mental frame or set of rules. If cognitive science, (...) in its connectionist forms, allows us to give a naturalistic though nonreductive sense to his words, Oakeshott, like other philosophers who have employed the concept of tradition, expanded his discussion into a broader reconsideration of the nature of theorizing, a metaphilosophy. And this extension can be understood in relation to such recent thinkers as McDowell and, in particular, to the problem of the acquisition of the normative. Key Words: idealism • Oakeshott • connectionism • normativity. (shrink)
The phenomenon of expertise produces two problems for liberal democratic theory: the first is whether it creates inequalities that undermine citizen rule or make it a sham; the second is whether the state can preserve its neutrality in liberal ’government by discussion’ while subsidizing, depending on, and giving special status to, the opinions of experts and scientists. A standard Foucauldian critique suggests that neutrality is impossible, expert power and state power are inseparable, and that expert power is the source of (...) the oppressive, inegalitarian effects of present regimes. Habermas argues that expert cultures make democratic discussion impossible. Analogous problems arise with ’cognitive authority’, understood in Mertonian terms. Cognitive authority, as Merton sees it, allows us to ask about the democratic legitimacy of this authority, which appears to solve the problem (or part of the problem) because it returns ultimate ’authority’ to the people, who reject or accept the experts’ claims. And many claims to expertise in fact do fail to gain acceptance. Through an examination of the type of expert that appears to evade the demands of legitimation, it is shown that expertise and liberal democracy can in principle co-exist, contrary to the claims of the critics. (shrink)
Edward Shils was a widely recognized but misunderstood thinker. The original contexts of his thought are not well understood and greatly distorted by associating him with the concerns of Parsons. Shils provides a fully comparable alternative to the thought of Habermas and Foucault, with essentially similar roots: practice theory, the dissolution of Marxism in the twenties, and Carl Schmitt. Though Shils was indebted to the American sociological tradition, with respect to these issues his sources were outside it: in Hendrik de (...) Man, T. S. Eliot, and Michael Polanyi. It is shown how Shils responded to Schmitt's argument about the inherent conflict between democracy and liberalism in terms of an account of civility and tradition, and how this argument results in a critique of Foucault, Habermas, and collectivistic liberalism. (shrink)
Walter Gulick criticizes The Social Theory of Practices for its non-Polanyian views of the problem of the objective character of tacit knowledge, its insistence that there should be plausible causal mechanisms that correspond to claims about tacit knowledge and its “social” transmission, and its denial of the social, telic character of practices. In this reply it is asserted that the demand for causally plausible mechanisms is not scientistic or for that matter non-Polanyian, that the book has a view of objectivity (...) that parallels Polanyi’s own, and that the idea of telic practices is subject to the same problems over mechanism as non-telic ones, with the additional problem that telic concepts need supra-individual feedback mechanisms, of which no plausible examples exist. In each case, the non-social or personal explanations of the phenomenon of “practice” are better than the “social” ones. The discussion concludes by posing the challenge of connectionism to Polanyi, as well as the opportunity it presents. (shrink)
Examining the language and paradigms of science as rhetorical, that is, arising from the sociocultural forces that shape ideology, reveals androcentric assumptions that tend to thwart democratic public policy as well as effective methodology. This paper applies some recent feminist critiques of the biological sciences to the current research on the possible hormonal and genetic factors contributing to homosexuality, clarifying how this research perpetuates hierarchical binaries and suggesting ways to reconceptualize human sexuality through revised research protocols.
Michael Polanyi and Edward Shils shared a great many views, and in their long mutual relationship influenced one another. This memorial note examines the relationship and some of the respects in which Shils presented a Polanyian social theory organized around the notion of tradition.
The concept of "practices"--whether of representation, of political or scientific traditions, or of organizational culture--is central to social theory. In this book, Stephen Turner presents the first analysis and critique of the idea of practice as it has developed in the various theoretical traditions of the social sciences and the humanities. Understood broadly as a tacit understanding "shared" by a group, the concept of a practice has a fatal difficulty, Turner argues: there is no plausible mechanism by which a "practice" (...) is transmitted or reproduced. The historical uses of the concept, from Durkheim to Kripke's version of Wittgenstein, provide examples of the contortions that thinkers have been forced into by this problem, and show the ultimate implausibility of the idea. Turner's conclusion sketches a picture of what happens when we do without the notion of a shared practice, and how this bears on social theory and philosophy. It explains why social theory cannot get beyond the stage of constructing fuzzy analogies, and why the standard constructions of the contemporary philosophical problem of relativism depend upon this defective notion. This first book-length critique of practice theory is sure to stir discussion and controversy in a wide range of fields, from philosophy and science studies to sociology, anthropology, literary studies, and political and legal theory. (shrink)
The major emphasis of the "sociology of scientific knowledge" has been on the natural sciences. Recently, however, the field has taken a reflexive turn. I examine the relation between this kind of reflexivity and that in the history of the sociology of knowledge generally with an eye to assessing its place in social theory. Although reflexive adequacy, like other criteria for choice of theory, is not an absolute and overriding cognitive good, reflexive considerations often are critical in assessing the prospective (...) claims of a research program and in evaluating the intellectual honesty and seriousness of these claims. (shrink)
The lack of "progress" in theory is often contrasted to progress in statistical methodology. The relation between the two bodies of thinking is itself problematic, however, for the particular advances in method that have occurred in quantitative sociology reflect a trade-off in which the results are characterized by the radical underdetermination of models by data and a high level of slack between measures and theoretical concepts. Both of these problems are usually understood as matters of "error," and thus as potentially (...) eliminable, but this claim is highly questionable, on grounds evident from Pearson's philosophy of science. The implications of large ineliminable error for the project of theory construction, particularly the "formal theory" of Blau and the California Positivists, is discussed. The ease of producing statistical results is an achievement, but one that leads away from theory rather than toward it, and, because the fact of underdetermination prevents these results from establishing clear cognitive superiority over the results of other "approaches," theoretical diversity is, in a sense, a consequence of the properties of the dominant statistical tradition in sociology. (shrink)
Language is the tradition of nations; each generation describes what it sees, but it uses words transmitted from the past. When a great entity like the British Constitution has continued in connected outward sameness, but hidden inner change, for many ages, every generation inherits a series of inapt words — of maxims once true, but of which the truth is ceasing or has ceased. As a man’s family go on muttering in his maturity incorrect phrases derived from a just observation (...) of his early youth, so, in the full activity of an historical constitution, its subjects repeat phrases true in the time of their fathers, and inculcated by those fathers, but now true no longer. (shrink)