File spoon-archives/bhaskar.archive/bhaskar_1998/bhaskar.9802, message 41

Date: Tue, 17 Feb 1998 20:28:18
Subject: Re: BHA: Re: Aristotle and all that

Hi Wallace,

I take your question to ask about conditions that allow the emergence of a
society.  Presumably a society cannot emerge from just any set of prior
conditions that include the existence of people.  I am tempted to say that
societies are like pornography: I know them when I see them!  That is, I
know social relations when I see them (or at least some of them), and I
know they are reducible, but exactly what the empirical conditions for
emergence of society are I cannot say, or at least not well.  I am not
familiar with the works you mention - sorry to be so unhelpful, but I wager
there are more than a few on the list who have something to offer.


>You say that Bhaskar "views society as emergent from the individual actions
>of its members, in which case society has some causal features that cannot
>be reduced to those of its members.  Social relations embody causal features
>that were not present prior to the emergence of society, and individual
>actions are no longer what they were insofar as they participate in social
>I agree with this, but I have a question. Would it be an accurate paraphrase
>of the above position to say that societies are not merely emergent from
>individual actions but are _emergent from individual actions occurring in
>the context of human populations (of a certain size and/or density)_? Seems
>obvious enough to me, but anyway, if this is the case, how do we know when a
>society has emerged? For instance, how large a population is necessary
>and/or sufficient? And if it depends not only on population size and/or
>density but also on other factors (which is in fact what I would expect),
>what other factors are relevant?
>If these questions are too broad to be answered effectively by email,
>perhaps you could suggest a few books or articles that might help me to get
>a handle on this from a CR perspective (or a perspective compatible with
>CR). Do you have any opinions, for instance, about Jared Diamond's recent
>book "Guns, Germs, and Steel" or about anthropologist Marvin Harris's
>"cultural materialism"? In his book "Cultural Materialism," Harris
>characterized his position as being based on positivism, but I've always
>thought his approach was in many ways compatible, at least, with
>philosophical realism, and perhaps even with critical realism. From what
>little I've read so far, Diamond seems to me to be an inheritor of cultural
>materialism, though he rarely if ever mentions Harris's work. Anyone else
>care to venture an opinion on this topic?

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