Tuesday, May 04, 2004

more temporary-emergent meaning...

My response on a sociology list I subscribe to:

To clarify my statement about empiricism a bit…(consequence for writing in haste)…

I don’t see a distinction between empiricism and humanism, although I would hazard a guess that committed positivists/empiricists would. I personally base my use of empiricism as an epistemology on humanistic values – I do not see it as an end in itself. I suspect that some, if not all, positivists would disagree with this and argue that positivism is value-free and objective (despite that fact that ALL IRB approved research is based on humanistic values).

I think that this strikes at the heart of the recent discussion. The notion that empiricism is somehow trans-cultural and therefore demonstrably universal and “objective” is intellectually untenable, IMO. Again, I refer to our inability to know, through the use of symbolic systems, anything that allegedly exists independently. I think it is absurd to consider that this kind of knowing is possible (a symbolic system – language – is an inherently CLOSED system – it is bounded). “Knowledge” of anything is inherently cultural – anything that is inherently cultural is not, by definition universal and/or objective. Again, I think that ethno points this out in spades (as does feminist literature – at least feminist sociological literature).

So, I see the limitations of empiricism and truly do not believe that the application of the scientific method, sans values leads anywhere – especially since it is not possible in the first place. The application of empiricism is a value-based action (valuing sensory data over some other kind of data).

I think that this is the distinction that needs to be acknowledged, i.e., the ridiculousness of claiming some kind of knowledge is objective and exists independent of culture. I am very much in favor of using empirical methods. I do not see then as producing knowledge, however, but UNDERSTANDING. I think that this is another crucial distinction that we neglect in social science. Again, I value verstehen as a methodology. Is it empirical? Of course. Is it objective and does it produce objective knowledge? Nope. Can and does it further understanding of self and others? If done properly, yes.

I see any type of methodology as being an iterative process that never arrives at any REAL (i.e., independent) solution. Can we as humans grow in the process of applying the scientific method and the values that underlie it? I think so…and I think that this is the true value of our discipline. Not some ridiculous notion that we are creating independent knowledge about the social world.

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