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

From: Howard Engelskirchen (howarde@TWCNY.RR.COM)
Date: Sun Nov 20 2005 - 17:47:41 EST

Hi Jerry,

Yes, I think we are talking past each other a bit, although there have certainly been intersections.  For one, I do not agree with your characterization of my intervention as "a call for an exchange of perspectives between post modern materialism and critical realism," nor have I been searching out differences.  My concern has been to defend levels of organization and emergence in nature and society from the perspective of broadly scientific realism.  This is a point that was directly put in question by Steve's post.  Also, while I will defend Bhaskar's contribution to the philosophy of science, which I think is substantial, the challenge posed by the contemporary philosophy of science to the way we think about marxism and social theory cannot be pigeonholed or limited or reduced to an 'ism' associated with him.  Nor does that characterize my own efforts.

You comment on my concluding sentences as follows:  "I am not comfortable with the idea that in order to 'situate' the social sciences we must take 'on board' the [quoting me] 'levels and layers of the natural order' : we cannot assume that the social order can be grasped using the same methods used by scientists who seek to comprehend the natural order."  My point really was only to say that if the natural order reflects levels of organization and if the social order is emergent from it, then we have to appreciate and appropriate this understanding of the natural order in order to situate the social one.  Wouldn't you agree that if so understood conclusions about the sameness of methods are a non sequitur?  Anyway I agree with you we can't assume the methods are the same and we should even be surprised if they were.

I agree that explanatory power may vary with the level of analysis and that different research methods will often be required depending on the level under investigation.   You write:

JERRY:  That is, there
is a different role for chance and surprise depending on the level
of abstraction of the analysis, i.e. as we proceed to reconstruct a
subject matter in thought the role of chance which is often assumed
not to exist except as potential at a more abstract level of
abstraction,  must be considered when we analyze a phenomena
in its most concrete, specific form. END QUOTE.

If it's legitimate for me to substitute "surprise" for "chance" in your second use of the word "chance", I'm interested in what it means for surprise (or chance) to exist only "as potential at a more abstract level of abstraction."  This is interesting.

In solidarity,


  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Jerry Levy 
  Sent: Saturday, November 19, 2005 10:38 AM
  Subject: Re: [OPE-L] Anita's Chocolate Cake

  > 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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