File spoon-archives/bourdieu.archive/bourdieu_2000/bourdieu.0002, message 75


Subject: Re: Simon's interesting position
Date: Fri, 11 Feb 2000 16:56:29 -0500


>There's a problem here.  A theory may be internally consistent, and yet
>be unable to be empirically tested.  That is, it may have a strong
>internal language of description, but a weak external one.  Maths is
>internally consistent.  By this I mean that each of the languages of
>maths which are the result of how the problem they attend to is defined,
>is consistent internally.  But the theories of maths cannot be
>*empirically* tested in the manner suggested by the above.  (Unless
>we're going to restrict theory to mean statements of how the world
>works.  Boudon notes how many ways 'theory' is used in sociology, so
>we're not the first or last to find we might be speaking of different
>things.  But to me, it seems that theories are not 'statements of how
>things are' - this sounds like description - but explanations).


True. But I wasn't suggesting that internal consistency was _sufficient_ to
make a theory a good one. The point (whether right or not) was that it is
necessary).

>I'm probably not making this very clear or precise (and so giving
>hostages to fortune with my wording) due to having been up all night
>writing (again!), but the point I'm trying to get across is related to
>my concerns about how the above might suggest that we remain locked
>within the confines of a single theory.  It seems to suggest that
>theories, like paradigms, are incommensurable. And this can result from
>a one-sided emphasis on how theory constructs the object.  For the
>object itself may enable the commensurability of theories.


I took Simon to be suggesting that the very point of theorizing is to come
up with a coherent position that is, by definition, clearly distinct from
its competitors (though perhaps not on every single point). This could be
the case without these theories being "incommensurable" in any deep sense.
(Although this all depends on how you understand "commensurability"...I'm
afraid I don't have a rough and ready definition with which I'm comfortable)

>>     This is simply the theoretical portion of the scientific method, the
>> part that succeeds and precedes the perpetual gathering of empirical data
>> (at least in the social and natural sciences -- in philosophy one is
>> allowed, even encouraged, to simply "reflect" on the world and make up
>> whatever data one needs).
>
>I don't think this is fair to philosophy.  IT might describe certain
>types of philosophy, but there are many which don't simply make up the
>data or just reflect.

Fair enough. Perhaps I should have emphasized that this little aside was
coming from a philosopher -- one all too familiar, for good or bad, on how
little empirical evidence is required in most philosophy, and what passes
for evidence in its stead. I didn't, incidentally, say that this was in
itself a bad thing. Or a good thing.

>Take, for example, realist philosophies of
>science.  They have data - the practices of science, its position within
>society, etc.  And they use definite methods - e.g. retroduction.  They
>have an empirical, a methodological and a theoretical side to them.

Fair enough again. And of course, the philosophies of science you mention
are often not so terribly distinct from the sciences of which they are the
philosophies. But this is, of course, only a very small portion of
contemporary philosophy, and not, for instance, what I believe Bourdieu is
usually referring to when he uses the word.

Brandon Claycomb
Springfield College



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