File spoon-archives/bhaskar.archive/bhaskar_1996/96-05-20.182, message 79

Date: Wed, 14 Feb 1996 11:15:28 +0000
Subject: Re: technical problems (bhaskar-l*st)


I didn't receive your original posting vis-a-vis this subject but from the
following some things spring to mind.

>B.t.w. I think I have lost a message as well. Did
>anybody see the message where I tried to start to
>discuss the issue along the lines: there is a tendency
>towards tautological definition if everything (causally
>effective) is supposed to be a mechanism; 

To say that such and such a 'thing' which 'tipped the balance', as Bhaskar
puts it, was the generative structure or causal mechanism is not
tautological. Unless of  course, the statement that "in reality there are
causes" is tautological. Which of course there are. The fact that you placed
a sub clause in your sentence - causally effective - stops it from being
tatutological. Without the sub-clause in parenthesis the sentence
"everything is supposed to be a mechanism" is tautological and nigh on
useless (similar to Foucault's notion of power being everywhere), unless
criteria are specified about how we might distinguish between what was a
mechanism in one instance, yet not in another; in effect, a critical realist
account of causation, without being mechanistic and/or subscribing to
regularity determinism.

In this respect your statement about there:

being good 
>reasons to use human, intersubjective intentionality as a 
>criterion for distinguishing 

Seems correct, and it's exactly this allied to the use of model building,
creative interventions, conjectures, hypothese etc., which constitute
science. But why are:

> and causally 
>efficient reasons & complexes; 

Not mechanisms? Because of a residual commitment to mechanism=mechanistic
perhaps? And a wish to keep this notion out of the social world? It still
seems to me that the whole of RTS can be read as one long attempt to show
how we can still talk of causal mechanisms without accepting the commitment
to regularity determinism, even in the natural world. It just seems strange
to me that you view "causally eficient reasons & and complexes" as 
not being mechanisms but then go on to say that:

>there are mechanisms that
>are efficient in the social worlds, too (like
>unconscious mechanisms and syntactic structures).

I just wonder what the "good" reasons are for the distinction? I don't think
we should get hung up too much on the notion that talk of mechanisms is
alright in the natural world but not, at least so much, in the social world.
There are surely generative mechanisms operative in the social world. Even
some of the more fashionable poststructuralist work in my own particular
field can't help but make causal claims, despite their attempt to
collectively purge the notion of cause from their vocabulary. Bradley
Kleins, book on 'Strategic Studies and World Order', Heikki, is a classic
example. He is trying to show how exsting theories and research in strat
studies have helped to shape the world, and this is a straightforward causal
claim, with theories and research bieng the postulated mechanisms implicated
in the way the world is now.

>And even if these distinction as such are not acceptable,
>we should take seriously the possibility of a tautological
>def. of 'mechanism' and make it possible to distinguish
>between mechanisms and non-mechanisms.

The absence of a mechanism perhaps?




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




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