[Not exactly Highway 61, but bear with me…]
Here’s the foil for the article: Stephen Turner, Paul Roth, and David Henderson characterize their debate opponents, Joseph Rouse (for Turner), Karsten Steuber (for Roth), and Mark Risjord (for Henderson and Roth) as “normativists” (only Turner uses the term, but it fits nicely with Henderson’s and Roth’s critiques), implicitly distinguished from their own views as “naturalists” (none of these authors uses this term to characterize themselves, but it tracks well with their basis for arguing against the normativists). In short, the Turner-Roth-Henderson axis views itself as defending the social sciences and its adjunct philosophy from the “supernaturalism” of projects such as those pursued by Rouse-Steuber-Risjord, that attempt to insert “normativity” as, TRH allege, a form of non-causal causality into the causal workings of the natural world.
One point that strikes me about this presentation is that all three of TRH’s foils (RSR) take pains to defend their positions as consistent with naturalism. I won’t argue here whether I think they’re successful or not (though I definitely lean RSR’s way), but will instead simply offer a more complex, quatrite range of positions. In lieu of the binary of naturalist – normativist, I propose:
postivist – naturalist – normativist – supernaturalist
The distinction between the positivist and naturalist camps is debatable, but certaintly TRH all are aware of the failings of positivism, and see themselves, I take it, more as post-Quineans. The critical question is whether their conception of naturalism is really rich enough for their distinction from positivism to make a difference. If TRH reduce the ontology of human social world to the operations of efficient causality, then their recommendations for the methods of the social sciences and for the philosophy of social science aren’t likely to depart dramatically from that of, say, Carnap and Hempel. It seems they could only advocate a sort of polished positivism, employing more contemporary forms of causal and ontological analysis — a “compassionate conservativism” for this subdiscipline.
Conversely, TRH similarly try to collapse the positions of the normativists into those of supernaturlists. I think “obiwanky” won’t mind me lifting part of one of his earlier comments here (thanks for the contribution):
“What is wrong with supernaturalism? The Lakota Sioux, for instance, make a distinction between the natural and supernatural, but the supernatural pervades the world. Obviously, supernatural is equivocated here, but the point I’m pushing is that the rejection of the supernatural is systematically Modern-European.”
Obi states clearly here the sort of neo-Winchean view that either (a) that some sorts of supernatural “causes” are at work in the world, (b) that because certain people believe (a), doing justice to their social worlds requires some sort of non-judgmental acknowledgement of those beliefs, or both. Winch certainly argued this way, and it’s hard to read Risjord, Steuber, and Rouse without noting the care with which they try to make thier positions consistent with naturalist approaches. They have an interesting task. In key respects they are philosophically closer to the naturalists than to the supernaturalists, yet they can’t make sense of the social world without appealing to normativity. And for their trouble, they are booted from the naturalists camp, into a supernaturalist camp that probably wouldn’t accept them either.
So, is the normativist position the truly principled one, the view that takes the best of the other two main camps and provides a satisfying synthesis that opens up new vistas for philosophical and scientific investigation? Or is it neither fish-nor-fowl (perhaps like the “squirrel fish” I saw on a menu for a Chinese restaurant near the West Virginia – Virginia border long ago, which the server could only clarify was neither squirrel nor fish), a soulless, successless attempt at a fool’s compromise?
I’m enough of a naturalist to want to avoid accepting Obiwanky’s suggestion that there’s nothing wrong with embracing supernaturalism (though I acknowledge some of the problems to which he alludes), but simply can’t make sense of the social world on purely causal terms. So I’m rooting for the normativists. They’re my peeps, as it were.
So, how to make this case best? I will grant TRH that RSR haven’t really made that case yet, for all the honor of their attempts. What’s the next step?