[OPE-L] Overdetermination

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Wed Dec 28 2005 - 16:49:51 EST

Hi Antonio,

Actually I owe you an apology for being too polemical in a previous
exchange, it was really out of order for OPE-L. Anyway, to get to the
point - the discussion hinges I think crucially on what you mean by
"mind-independent" and "objective". Take for example a kinship structure -
it contains relations which exist independent of any particular awareness,
inasmuch as you cannot choose your genealogy and so on. If Bob's your uncle,
Bob's your uncle even if nobody knows that Bob's your uncle. But if there
are hidden structures, this presupposes that we could in principle reveal
their nature - if hidden structures remained perpetually hidden, they're an
object of metaphysical speculation only, and not much use.

From a statistician's point of view, there is nearly always a vantage point
from which something can be perceived objectively. But perceiving something
objectively does not necessarily imply a neutral viewpoint, we might view
something objectively but with a very partisan response, and moreover we
cannot perceive in any way other than is possible for a human to perceive.
Difficulties arise when objectivity and partisanship conflict, but they need
not do so. Two scientific colleagues with rival theories might perfectly
well agree about all the evidence there is pertaining to a question, but
draw different conclusions from it.

Of course it is possible for a social structure to exist without people
having the foggiest about its real nature, but it's unlikely most times,
it's rather that people have different gradations of awareness of it, as the
young Marx says, it may be the task to "awaken people from the dreams they
have about themselves" through research and critique.

To some extent you can identify objective social structures independently of
cultural biases, inasmuch as some things just are the same for every human.
But presumably objectivity does not require anybody to be totally free from
biases, but rather to acknowledge what their biases (or assumptions) are,
i.e. qualify that objectivity. Perfect objectivity rarely exists, precisely
because we are subjects, we cannot very well "squat outside the social
world" in order to view it "objectively", even an astronaut in space is
still linked to the social world (cf. Jurgen Habermas).

Problem with Althusser seemed to be that he wanted to reach for a vantage
point that is in some sense epistemically privileged in advance. But it
doesn't exist, as Marx says, humans have to "prove the veracity of their
thinking in practice". Does the inner circle of the politburo of the central
committee of the communist party have an epistemically privileged vantage
point, armed with the subtleties of Marxist doctrine? Most probably not.
Philosophy cannot supply it either.

At best you can say that, if the leadership successfully centralises the
experiences of the members, it has potentially a better insight into what is
going on overall, but there are no a priori guarantees there either, it
remains a continuing dialogue. It would be nice to think that we could
quickly skim the sublime summits of all wisdom by picking up a mobile phone,
and calling the sages or experts - but the more we aim for "royal roads to
science" in this sense, the more it turns out we have to do some
investigation of our own, in order to know what it is that we really have to
know anyway. As they say, "it takes one to know one".

I take it to be a task of social science to study the aggregate effects or
results of particular interactions of many people as objectively as
possible, but our ability to do so depends a lot on how specific our
questions are, and how we go about generalising, the methods we use to
obtain knowledge - a practical issue really, since some vantage points will
yield knowledge, and others will not. Even then, some truths are best
captured with an artistic metaphor or symbol.


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