File spoon-archives/bhaskar.archive/bhaskar_2003/bhaskar.0312, message 302


Subject: RE: BHA: Voloshinov etc - response to Jamie/Marshall
Date: Fri, 19 Dec 2003 22:26:36 -0500


Hi Tobin,
 
Well put.  As I understand it, one of the reasons for the "critical" in "critical realism" is precisely in the recognition that we have to be explicit about the differences between our socially constructed descriptions and explanations and the realities to which they refer.  A further dimension of being critical is in the recognition that there are different aspects of "the real," including the actual, the potential, and the empirical.
 
Dick

	-----Original Message----- 
	From: Tobin Nellhaus [mailto:nellhaus-AT-gis.net] 
	Sent: Fri 12/19/2003 8:14 PM 
	To: bhaskar-AT-lists.village.Virginia.EDU 
	Cc: 
	Subject: Re: BHA: Voloshinov etc - response to Jamie/Marshall
	
	

	Hi Steve--
	
	Believe it or not, I'm actually sympathetic to certain aspects of
	constructivist theory, but only certain aspects.  Sometimes it's rather hard
	to tell whether constructivist language is literal, imprecise, or simply
	hyperbolic.  Consider this passage:
	
	>                     A scientific entity can often take
	> hundreds of years of empirical and theoretical effort to invent and
	> locate, sometimes even to find them.  From an anti-realist understanding
	> you state that a scientific entity is an invention, created within very
	> obvious social and historical moments.
	
	Taken in one sense, there is nothing that I find objectionable in this
	claim, insofar as it says that scientific (or for that matter, any)
	knowledge is a sociohistorical product.  CR supports this position.  The
	problem though is the term "invent": what exactly does it mean?  That there
	literally was no (say) gravity until someone came up with the idea? or, that
	the concept "gravity" is a social invention without any basis in concrete
	reality whatsoever? or, that the concept "gravity" is a social-rooted theory
	that is a serious effort to understand concrete reality (whether or not the
	theory is correct)? or something else?
	
	Or, to return to the Mt Fuji example, do you mean that Mt Fuji is a human
	invention, or that "Mt Fuji" is a human invention?  I consider the former
	claim false, but the latter one true.
	
	I'm also a bit skeptical about the position you relay:
	
	>         As a high energy physicist once said to me over espresso and
	> vodka "... no no there is nothing inevitable about the atom...".
	
	The quote sounds terribly out of context, and I'd be interested to know what
	the context was.  As we have it, it could be referring to the same issue as
	does the statement "there is nothing inevitable about homo sapiens."  All
	sorts of material contingencies are/were involved, and the universe doesn't
	require us to exist.  (And the way we're destroying our planet, we may well
	cease to.)  The physicist could also mean something like "the atom is an
	artifact or creation of human perception," alluding to the Copenhagen
	Interpretation of quantum mechanics, which (as is well known) Bohr advocated
	in order to preserve positivist conceptions of reality -- in other words,
	one needs to attend to the truly *ideological* character of the physicist's
	assertion, and not take it at face value (which, I'm sure you'll agree,
	would be naive).
	
	This is related to another difficulty, which is that people often conflate
	"scientific" with "true."  The theory of phlogiston *was* a scientific
	theory -- but it was wrong.  Things certainly get dicier with social issues,
	and I have little doubt that lots of mainstream economic theory consists of
	apologetics and rationalisms for capitalism, and that it's both wrong and
	wrongheaded; nevertheless I think it's reasonable to claim that mainstream
	economic theories are scientific.  Critical realists, at any rate, have to
	take seriously the implications of fallibilism, one of which is to
	acknowledge that false theories may nevertheless be valid scientific
	efforts.  One can say the same thing about the concept of a "gay gene,"
	which you hold up to scorn.  I don't know if there is or isn't a gay gene,
	but I do know that there are plenty of gays out there who believe that there
	is -- that their homosexuality is not a "lifestyle choice" or a "sin" or an
	"illness," but instead was something they were born with which caused them
	much pain and hardship but is not subject to "curing," "deprogramming," or
	"moral teaching."
	
	Meanwhile, I still would like you to respond to my question about the
	possibility of error.
	
	Thanks,
	
	T.
	
	---
	Tobin Nellhaus
	nellhaus-AT-mail.com
	"Faith requires us to be materialists without flinching": C.S. Peirce
	
	
	
	
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