File spoon-archives/bhaskar.archive/bhaskar_1998/bhaskar.9802, message 14

Subject: Re: BHA: causal criteria of meaning
Date: Mon, 9 Feb 1998 09:55:21 +0000

Since my name is being mentioned, I thought I had better say something. I
really am too busy to give the exchange the time it requires, so I apologise
for the lack of real engagement with the issues. My general reluctance to
get involved with Aristotle's account of cause is more a result of my lack
of knowledge of it. However, we did debate just this issue at some length
last year, albeit in a different guise. Still, since I'm no ecpert on
Aristotle I may have misunderstood how the terms are being deployed here. If
so, simply bin this drivel.

The key problem that I have with Tobin's way of talking (I don't think he
really think this is the case) is that it seems to absent human agency, or
at least make this a potential possibility, from analysis. That is, that it
can seem that the meaning caused the door to be slammed. But the ontological
point is that while a particular meaning may be necessary (and even this is
debatable) it is not sufficient. In order for a door to be slammed an agent
must slam it. The meaning itself cannot slam the door. Moreover, the fact
that insult is a social form, still requires that it be interpreted. Hence,
if my partner calls me a B*****D, I may slam the door; but if my five year
old son calls me B*****D I would probably lecture him on the use of such
langauge, at such an age (he would probably tell me to "get a life" - but
that's a different story).

As Howard notes, this is really part of the agent-structure problem and we
discussed this issue in relation to whether or not the state should be
considered an agent. In terms of my discipline the state doesn't just get
treated as an agent, but as a person. Indeed, the most important scholar in
my discipline to use RB's scientific realism writes: "I shall argue that
states are also purposive actors with a sense of Self - "states are people
too". He goes on, "The issue of how states get constituted as the "people"
of international society..." and so on. Can this really be critical realism?
Aren't the powers of one entity being ascibed to another? Isn't Tobin also
close to giving meanings the power to slam the door?

People slam doors for reasons, certainly, but it seems incorrect to say the
reason slammed the door. 



Colin Wight
Department of International Politics
University of Wales, Aberystwyth
Tel: (01970) 621769


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