File spoon-archives/bhaskar.archive/bhaskar_1997/bhaskar.9708, message 5

Date: Fri, 01 Aug 1997 14:42:23 +0100
To: bhaskar-AT-jefferson.village.Virginia.EDU
Subject: BHA: Re: Theories and things!!!!!

Hi Marshall, 

You wrote:

>Do you mean there are causes that produce the theory or that the theory
>causes something else?

Well, it seems to be this is not an either or choice, theories are defintely
causes (ubiquity determinism) and _can_ have causal effects. The latter
however, seems to me to be a contingent matter. I can certainly develop an
elegant theory of 'perpetual peace' but if I die before making it known, and
it dies  with me, then it's probably going to have a small chance of being

>>  Quite conceivably witchcraft in some specific society is not at
>>all ideological, it may simply be they have no better theory and, if
>>presented with appropriate information, would readily drop witchcraft as an
>Re. my earlier remark.  I worry about the implicit rationalism here.  If
>theories and their acceptance have causes, then it may be that people would
>not adopt a theory even if it could be demonstrated to be superior.

In such instance of course, the issue of rationalism does not simply go
away. Why are theses folks holding onto a theory they know to be false? What
is causing this. The rejection of a better theory, requires explanation. It
may be perfectly rational to reject the better theory but these grounds
would require arguing for. 

>Indeed, going back to _Capital_, all of us engage in the ideology of value
>when we buy bread even though we may know better.

But this is only because we can only work within the conditions of
possibility as proscribed by prevailing structures. KNowledge, in and of
itself, is not sufficient for emancipation (Oh, BTW, and nothing to do with
the present discussion, I came across a great quote by Derrida the other
day, in a book called 'Deconstruction and Pragmatism', where Derrida replies
to some points made by Rorty and argues that the 'discourse of emancipation'
is something that he sees as vital to his work, and that he gets "really
irritated" by those who deny the validity of such a discourse).

Some kinds of ideology
>are PRACTICES rather than purely abstract thoughts.

Surely both, can we practice without thoughts (concept-dependence of social

  We can critique such
>practices with other thoughts (produced through scientific practice --
>i.e., Althusser's theoretical practice?), but we can transform the
>ideological practice only with something more than science (e.g., revolution).

But surely you would accept that revolution backed by good, not final, but
good arguments, is better than simply revolution for any end? Without the
former it seems to license any old revolution. 
>The whole notion of ideas having causes is perhaps the most thorny issue in
>the structure-agency debates and in any theory of science. 

I tend to agree, but unless we concede that ideas are caused we seem
dangerously close to a dualistic world view. After all, if ideas aren't
caused where do they come from?

 We may be able
>to justify an account of science, but the possibility of causes underlying
>the production and acceptance of scientific explanations necessarily temper
>any claims about science's rationality.

Absolutely, often we don't want to see certain things for all sorts of
reasons. But sometimes the way the world shocks us shows us that we need not
simply dogmatically hold onto our beliefs. Beliefs can be shaken by a
scientific advance.

 A scientific theory can only be
>rational within the range that its causes allow. When comparing two
>theories, adoption of one over the other may simply reflect its underlying
>causes rather than its relative truth.  

This sounds very much like the more radical (though incorrect) readings of
Kuhn. But even Kuhn later came to introduce notion of accuracy, honest,
measurement, evidence, etc. to theory choice. Often, however, two theories
are equally supported by the evidence, in such case we need to make an
informed choice. (More often than not in the social world however, theories
don't really clash) We can get it wrong. But, hell, after all, we're only human.

Indeed, Marx's whole analysis of
>ideology rooted in material practice would be unintelligible if this were
>not so: e.g., people accept religion because of their material conditions
>of life rather than because of its intrinsic theoretical superiority.

This is a perfect example. This is a theory that explains why another theory
is necessary, but false, and as such we should begin to inquire as to why
this theory (religion) is necessary.



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


     --- from list ---


Driftline Main Page


Display software: ArchTracker © Malgosia Askanas, 2000-2005