Hermeneutics, not Erotetics

December 31, 2007

After writing the outline I presented in the last post, I was reading Sherrat’s Continental Philosophy of Social Science and had the following thought, which might focus the whole essay: what I like most about Risjord’s approach is that he is trying to provide a methodology that would allow social scientists and philosophers alike to make flexible use of the various sorts of research that we all perform on ourselves and each other — intentional, causal, and otherwise. It struck me near the end of the hermeneutics section of Sherrat’s book that, though this goes against some tenets of the hermeneutic tradition, I see no reason why hermeneutics could not provide just such a methodology. That is to say, in interpreting others’ behavior (and my own), I attempt to make sense of that behavior as a unified whole, synthesizing the various components by moving back and forth from part to whole. Traditionally this approach has confined itself to synthesizing those components that are meaningful to those being interpreted, but that need not be the case. And in practice, of course, contemporary human beings do actually perform just the sort of synthesis I’m talking about, though typically not systematically or even very carefully. That is, in trying to make sense of ourselves and each other, we mix together disparate sorts of analysis and anecdote. For instance, if someone is acting irritable we might explain her behavior by noting that she has been ill, that this is the time of year that her child died, or that the pressures on women in her profession are much greater than those on men, and furthermore that the same behavior from a man in her position would not even be considered an outburst. The “logic of everyday ethnography” can be extraordinarily heterogeneous.

The question is, Can hermeneutics do this work rigorously?


Outline of our “Naturalists, Normativists, and Supernaturalists”

December 31, 2007

I’m clearly in full-on “eating cheesy poofs” vacation mode today, so I’ll make my promised post on our article idea brief.

First, here’s an outline of our article that I came up with last week. It’s a bit telescoped, but I think that the key ideas can be discerned:

Review the terms of the debate (naturalists vs. normativists), indicate alternative Review how history does and does not feature in the articles in question           

  • Turner’s triumphalist archaeology           
  • Roth’s reduction to Winch and criticism on Davidson           
  • Henderson’s contemporary focus, use of examples (MLK)Risjord’s appropriation of  Davidson and other tools           
  • Rouse’s contemporary focus, drawing on literature           
  • Stueber’s contemporary focus, drawing on literature 

Allows us to introduce a different history (Droysen and Dilthey) in order to reframe the debate 

  • This is the explanation vs. understanding debate, the universal vs. local debate.
  • The great virtue of Risjord’s approach (whatever his Davidsonian sins) is his marrying of explanation and interpretation (shared in a way by early Roth).  

There are two tied issues here: one of scientific and philosophical methodology, the other of the corresponding complex of epistemology and ontology, best cast as a matter of anthropology.  

  • Two options: reductive (Turner’s epiphenomenalism or Dilthey’s and Winch’s “socialism”) and integrative. 
    • Risjord provides part of the methodology.
    • Roth’s and Henderson’s rejections of that methodology are rooted in their rejection of the anthropology (or so we claim).  
      • Consider some basic examples (trying to buy liquor in a dry county) and the everyday and formal ways we make sense of these examples (arguing, debating, myth-making, bullshitting), including presenting at philosophy conferences. These ways determine both what our ends are (something up for infinite re-consideration) and how we will pursue them. In the order of things, only then does causality “kick in” (though in practice of course this is seamless).  

There are good purposes for “strictly explanatory” and “strictly interpretive” approaches to human life, but philosophically there is no basis for holding either as ultimate. They must be married, and there are different ways to do so.  

[This is part of Risjord’s point: to say that X did Y because he believes Z is not just to give an explanation, it is also to engage in social magic. This means that this answer tells us as much about the group to which X must give justifications as it does about X’s causal makeup.]  

Challenging point: what should we make of belief Z? There are the following possibilities: “We” 

  • recognize and endorse Z (in our actions and/or explicitly)
  • recognize but do not endorse Z
  • do not recognize Z 

Especially in the third case, we will be inclined to appeal to other explanations of X’s behavior. Other explanations are always possible, however, and the need to synthesize and/or debate is always possible. Writing constitutions is difficult.