File spoon-archives/bhaskar.archive/bhaskar_2000/bhaskar.0002, message 53

Subject: BHA: RE: Re: How is New York Today- fate of [Social Science]?
Date: Mon, 28 Feb 2000 09:36:54 -0500


Thanks for your comments. I thought I understood the T/IT distinction
before, but you gave me much more insight into it. Perhaps part of the
justification for using the term "transitive" is that this term recognizes
the theory-laden nature of thought, so that THOUGHT always "creates" its
object IN THOUGHT (cf. Althusser's distinction between the real concrete and
the concrete-in-thought or Lipietz's comments on conceptual realism in
Mirages and Miracles).


> -----Original Message-----
> From:
> []On Behalf Of Tobin
> Nellhaus
> Sent: Sunday, February 27, 2000 3:37 PM
> To:
> Subject: BHA: Re: How is New York Today- fate of [Social Science]?
> Hi Mervyn and Marsh--
> Mervyn, you wrote:
> >              The transitive/intransitive distinction has
> > been adapted from grammar. A transitive verb changes its object
> > ('expresses an action which passes over into the object' according to
> > the Concise OED), an intransitive verb does not. Is not this the exact
> > distinction between the two dimensions Bhaskar wishes to convey - one is
> > changed by ongoing human action, the other not?
> I had considered the linguistic reference as well, but it worries me for a
> couple of reasons.  The first may be a triviality, but I'm troubled by
> suggestions that we can understand reality or some part of it in terms of
> linguistics (except of course language itself).  Bhaskar himself has noted
> the "linguistic fallacy" (particularly the linguistic model of
> society) as a
> variant of the epistemic fallacy.  Now I'm not at all saying Bhaskar is
> sliding into that with these terms, but at the same time I do
> have to wonder
> why linguistic terms seemed the most appropriate.  But as I say,
> this qualm
> is secondary.
> The other, more serious reason is that I find it hard to describe as
> "intransitive" a domain which has been specifically designated as
> consisting
> of real entities, possessing various powers and susceptibilities.  Real
> entities *do* affect things other than themselves, which is the very
> opposite of "representing action confined to the agent; i.e. having no
> object" (to quote the definition of intransitivity that Colin
> gave us).  I'm
> almost tempted to say the words have gotten switched.
> Moreover, your very elucidation, which states that "A transitive verb
> changes its object," implies that the transitive dimension changes the
> intransitive dimension, and so thought changes reality (as the objects of
> study)!  This surely is not whatever RB means.  So I still think the
> terminological choice is problematic.
> Marsh: my comments about quasi-intransitivity were rather elliptic, my
> apologies.  Thoughts can and do (eventually) change society, but that is a
> separate matter from the TD/ID distinction.  RB makes the point clear in
> PON2, p. 47, where he distinguishes between, on the one hand, "existential
> intransitivity," which is a condition of an investigation of any object
> (natural or social), because this is inherent in being the *object* of
> analysis; and on the other hand, "causal interdependency," which is a
> feature of society resulting from the fact that society is in a specific
> sense concept-dependent (the sense being that the concepts involved are
> principally those of the long-dead--RB incorporated Archer's
> point in DPF).
> This is why I pointed to the "time lag": it takes a while for ideas to
> become embedded within social relations and material constructs
> (say, urban
> systems).  Society doesn't change the instant somebody has an
> idea about it.
> The transformation of society by theory and culture is a question
> of causal
> processes, which operate through space and time--not one of conditions for
> investigation, in which an object (no matter how it was produced)
> becomes an
> object of study (no matter if for whatever reason it later changes).  The
> latter is what the TD/ID distinction describes.
> To take one of your examples, then, epistemology is created,
> reproduced and
> transformed by human practice, just as you say.  But that is a causal
> process.  However, the moment one undertakes the study of a particular
> epistemological theory (let's say, when RB critiques positivism), that
> theory is intransitive, for the fundamental reason that it is the
> object of
> study, and no amount of critique will ever stop it from being the
> object of
> study.  The critique *makes* it an object.  Intransitivity is positional.
> The only thing that can remove the epistemology from this intransitive
> position is to not think *about* it and instead think *through*
> (analyze by
> means of) that theory.  In that situation it then becomes transitive,
> because it is (so to speak) the thinking in action.
> Another example: X is talking with Y and thinks, "Hey, this
> person is great,
> I hope we become friends."  The thought affect's X's behavior
> toward Y, and
> the two indeed become friends.  This is a causal process, and the
> friendship
> is causally dependent on those thoughts.  But that has no bearing on the
> fact that when X thought about Y, Y became the object of thought.  X could
> decide that Y is a creep, but Y's position *as the object of thought* is
> exactly the same, even though the social relationship between them has
> altered.
> Hope that makes sense.  Best, T.
> ---
> Tobin Nellhaus
> "Faith requires us to be materialists without flinching": C.S. Peirce
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