File spoon-archives/bhaskar.archive/bhaskar_1996/96-05-20.182, message 60

Date: Tue, 30 Jan 1996 12:23:45 +0000
Subject: Re: the ontological status of structures

Is not the point somehow different from the way Heiiki put it?

>1. Hans' points would certainly be worth of a detailed scrutiny. But let me
>here only ask this question: It may well be that Bhaskar says that=A8
>"a structure may survive *without* any human agency, and even despite
>any human agency". But what does this sentence mean? In many
>senses of the term "agency", it is not -- and cannot be -- true. Only if the
>term 'agency' is specified in a particular way, can it be true. 'Saying
>hello' or a 'marriage' are often used as examples of institutionalised
>practices that go unnoticed most of the time for almost all actors.
>But do these practices exist without agency and actions?
>        They can, of course, survive despite *some particular* agents
>because others are reproducing them anyway or are even actively and
>consciously defending those practices. This is all the more true for
>many religious rituals.

It seems to me that Bhaskar's statement, that "a structure may survive
*without* any human agency and even despite any human agency" is basically
correct. The confusion, I think, stems from the fact that actions of agents
have unintended consequences. Thus the actions of certain agents and the
conceptualisations they have of what they are doing may in fact sustain
structures of which they have no knowledge of and no wish to sustain. The
example I gave in a previous posting about the power of the British state to
put down insurrection is pertient here. No-one at this particular historical
juncture perhaps sees their actions as being structured to this end. But the
structure endures nonetheless and has real effects. Bhaskar's example about
marrying for love, and in the process reproducing the nuclear family and
thus captalist relations of production etc., is also relevant. This is
basically the "accordian effect". Of course, we would all accept the 'no
people, no society' argument. But what people think they are doing and what
the resultant outcomes of what they do are two different things. For
example, I always worry about giving to charity (I still do it). Am I, in my
wish to help, merely helping to replicate the captialist economic order that
relies on such mechanisms and thus sustaining western aid programs that do
more harm than good. I don't know!

A brief word on the metaphor of mechanisms. Heikki writes:

>After all, according to the innovative non-Humean conception of causality
>Harré, Secord and Bhaskar have been developing, the socially/
>intersubjectively meaningful (real) reasons are causes for actions, and
>there would be no society without these -- in a certain sense *always free*,
>independently of  whether any emancipatory process has taken place
>(and in the latemodern world, many emancipatory processes have taken
>place) -- actions.

The issue for me is that these reasons would be probably what I would call
causal 'mechanisms', but the existence of a reason/mechanism, as we are all
probaly aware, do not mechanistically determine what we do, because there
may well be other reasons/mechanisms in the equation. But since I accept RBs
thesis on 'ubiquity determinism' as opposed to 'regularity determinism' this
is unproblematic. There must be some cause, some mechanism to every event,
but the existence of such a mechanism does not entail that the event _will_
happen. Or that that mechanism and that mechanism alone is either necessary
or sufficient for the event to happen.

>I suppose we all understand what epistemological relativism means and
>can admit that there is no, nor can be, any definite, final argument pro or
>con of this metaphor of 'mechanism'. But it is precisely this relativism that
>also makes this kind of dialogical, peaceful and mostly non-fallacious
>discussion possible....

Oh yes, i accept this, often in discussions like this the issue appears to
be one of winning or losing the argument. I tend to think of it in terms of
seeing your/mine own trees through someone else's wood.

Best wishes,



Colin Wight
Department of International Politics
University of Wales, Aberystwyth
SY23 3DA




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