non-discursive and Critical Realism

HANS DESPAIN HANS.DESPAIN at m.cc.utah.edu
Sat Jul 15 12:41:08 MDT 1995


I would like to follow up on John Walker's  very nice insights on Howie's
and Leo's discussion.  Since, John W. has suggested that their
commonality is that a non-discursive world exists and the conculsions
draw from this notion differ.  I want to suggest three modern
"conculsions" or stances, viz. extreme radical relativism, radical
relativism and robust relativism (this termology follows Margolis).

It seems to me that Leo wants to suggest that there are limits to human
knowledge, but not (like Kant) that there exists two world, one that we can
know empirically and one that is unknowable.  As John W. suggested this
(kantian fallacy) is commoningly rejected.  Thus, its seem to me that Leo
position is "less than" Kantian and toward "post-structualist" thinking.

Now if this characterizes Leo position (?), and if it is Critical Realism
can be said to characterize Howie I would like to make some comments.

It seems that Howie protests to Leo are against the extreme versions of
post-modern theory.  That is to those thinkers committed to a "redundancy
theory of truth."  This tradition is rooted in the work of Nietzche, and
does not deny a realm of non-discursive, but argues that objectivity or
a  claim of a non-discursive is redundant in that truth lies in authority
or convention (this I would term *extreme radical relativism* of
knowledge).  Thus, this extreme version does not reject that a real world
exists, but that science only accidently says anything meaningful about it.

A less extreme version argues that science is meaningful, but that claims
for truth and falsity are meaningless, not in the sense that there does
not exist truth, but that we (science) cannot know precisely or exactly
what and where it is.  This position is represented by Feyerabend,
Rorty, and Foucault, and to an even more humble stance by H. Putnam's
internal realism (which he has re-formulated).  Against the "redundancy"
theorists, this tradition is not against science as an authoritian
mechanisms, but "radically" committed to epistemological relativism, in
direct oppostion to positivism, logical empiricism, and critical rationalism
(it seems to me that Leo's position hovers around here, but toward
Putnam's internal realism).

Before moving on to Critical Realism, let me say something of Putnam's
"internal realism."  He calls it internal realism as oppossed to say
'external realism', in that he wants to be committed to realism, that is
real things about the world exist (i.e., the non-disursive), but also that
projection is part of our conception of the world.  So that there is no
meaningful distinction between projection and things-in-themselves.  The
conculsion for Putnam is that science is meaningful, but that its
authority of and over truth must be taken cautiously.

Whereas, it can be said that the redundency theorists are against
science, and the "post-modernist" against claims of scientific method,
thus, a philosophy against science, Critical Realism is a philosophy for
science.  Oppossed to "radical" relativism, Critical Realism, is
committed to "robust" relativism (both terms borrowed from Margolis).
Robust relativism "merely attenuates our thoery of science as far as
possible, once such doctines as the correspondence theroy of truth,
foundationalism, essentialism, the demaraction of the analytic-synthetic
distinction, and the like are rejected" (Margolis, 1986:22).

Robust relativism accepts that truth and falsity are constraints which
face science, but un-like the radical relativist, aruge that our
scienitific models, theories and judgements can (and somehow do) distingish
between truth and falsity (that is scienitific models, theories and
judgements approach or describe the non-discursive).

The critical realist comes to this conculsion on two "pragmatic"
grounds.  First, is historical, or that science has been more successful
than other dicsplines for producing knowledge about the world.  Bhaskar
puts it this way "the philosopher will have to draw upon this experience
in appraising the weight to be placed on arguments from science as against
arguments from other historically materialised practices (magic,
religion, etc.) where the activities and\or their presuppositions are
incompatible.  Clearly at this point we appear to have reached an
immanent barrier to immanent critique.  In the final resort this is indeed
so; and there is no alternative but to openly take one's stand with
science ... it would be impossible, or at any rate unreasonable, to deny
the historical significance of science [versus magic, religion, etc.]"
(1986:18).

Rom Harre, Bhaskar's mentor, makes the point this way: "The scientific
enterprise has always attracted criticism.  Its claims to provide
trustworthy knowledge have been attacked by sceptics and its claims to
moral hegemony have never gone undisputed.  yet if the achievements of
the scientific community are set against those of any other moiety of
Western civilization, one can hardly fail to be impressed both by the
vast store of knowledge that has been accumulated on almost every
conceivable aspect of the natural world and by the extraordinary
stability and rigid implementation of the scientific morality (1986:1).

The second "pragmatic" grounds against "radical" relativism, is that for
example Feyerabend and Rorty, can say nothing significant about
scienitific method or epistemology.  Bhaskar emphasizes this flaw against
radical relativism.  And it is here where Putnam should not be identified
as a radical relativist, for he says they make a "miracle" science.

Based on my interpretaion of Leo's and Howie's correspondence, the
questions to ask them both to address is what is the significance of
scienitific knowledge?  And how should this knowledge be used?  Accepting
their positions on the non-disursive, where does ideology and morality
fit in their notion of "truth."

Hans Despain
despain at econ.sbs.utah.edu
hans.despain at m.cc.utah.edu


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