Re: [OPE-L] Anita's Chocolate Cake

From: Jerry Levy (Gerald_A_Levy@MSN.COM)
Date: Sat Nov 19 2005 - 10:38:18 EST

> The first problem here is the limit of Steve's target of attack -- we've 
> learned a lot about causality in the last half century and people no 
> longer limit their observations about it to studying Hume in a pool hall.  
> Billiards has never worked in social theory anyway, and Marx 
> understood that.
> So if Steve is going to challenge levels and layering, he will have to 
> take on not just empiricist forms of positivism, but also realist forms of 
> emergent materialism.    At least some of these forms will make 
> constitutive causality exactly the thing that best explains emergence.

Hi Howard, 

I see this as a call for an exchange of perspectives between postmodern
materialism and critical realism.  I agree that such a discussion would be
interesting and might help us all to learn more about both perspectives.

My focus in this exchange has been different -- I wanted to see whether there
are post-paradigmatic similarities and, if so, what they are.  Your focus
has been on the articulation of differences -- this is OK with me, but 
perhaps we're talking at cross-purposes.   The *point* that I have been
trying to repeatedly make is that how we examine a particular subject, in 
terms of how and whether we can assign rankings to variables which
have  "explanatory power", depends in large part on the nature of the
subject itself and the "level of abstraction" of the analysis.  From that
perspective, we might employ very different research methods when 
conceptualizing an  abstract subject from when we are examining a
very particular, historically-contingent, concrete subject.  

> You support Steve's equation of the constitutent elements of a cake -- 
> both the flour and the chocolate are essential and you can't say one is 
> more important than the other.  This example though disintegrates 
> pretty quickly.  Suppose  I make an apple pie.  The butter is contingent.  
> I can substitute other oils, etc.  But apples are pretty indispensable to 
> constituting that which I'm trying to make.  

I wouldn't say that the example "disintegrates" -- I would say, rather, that 
there _are_ problems if we attempt to generalize for other cases based on 
the example of the cake.  I view the point you are making as being
complimentary to my own: it depends on the subject one is trying to
understand. (btw, I mentioned the issue of  "substitutes" re Anita's cake
in a recent post dated 11/9).

> We can never situate the social sciences if we don't take on board the 
> levels and layers of the natural order.  Layering and levels are a way of 
> giving expression to the fact that we explain some aspects of the world by 
> giving an account of others that generate them or cause them or from 
> which they are emergent.

While there is obviously some relation between the "natural order" and the
"social order", I am not comfortable with the idea that in order to "situate"
the social sciences we must take "on board" the "levels and layers of the 
natural order": we can not assume that the social order can be grasped
using the same methods used by scientists who seek to comprehend
the natural order.  

in solidarity, Jerry

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