Archive for April, 2012

Kantianism as negative instruction or negative anthropology is the very gist of  scientific method against Cartesianism: 

So many people are stuck with Descartes; well, of course you can go up to a heap of stones, declare it is a house and sit on top of it, and freeze to death when winter comes. No the good Kantian. A good Kantian who goes to a heap of stones, says, ‘look a heap of stones’ s/he makes a plan (architecture/theory) how to build a house and builds it, sitting in front of a comfy warm fire place in winter, thinking “A good to have tried that architecture thing, dude”. It is puzzling (I am intrigued by the problem as a STS research question), why so many scientists and philosophers (specifically in and around the zone of biomedicine) are stuck with a Cartesian sitting on a heap of stones, even while the Kantians “Cry winter!”.


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Turncoats: Linguistic, Iconic, Medial

The metaphoric guideline of the latter half of the twentieth century social science and philosophy was the so-called linguistic turn. Toward the end of the 1990s, another major shift occurred, the iconic turn. The world is no longer text-in-word, as was the suggestion of the linguistic turn, that every information and cognition could be rendered and reduced to textual information, but the world is text-as-pictures (text, because the ‘(social) nature’ and agency of pictures is still construed to be textual, fictitious, signal) – it is important to note, however, that the methodological premises, with the boundary work we do, can be transformed to work with our insights. Sociology had begun to heed this intellectual shift towards accepting the mutual dynamics of the social construction of pictures and the pictorial construction of the social. In the widest sense, visual sociology involves the use of photography and film both as tools and/or subject matter for sociology.

In the linguistic turn, the philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein can be considered the founding event of the focus in the humanities and social sciences on language. There is a component to his rise to fame and influence, which demarcates a shift in institutional history of science: Before Wittgenstein, before the British logicians of the brand of Bertrand Russell or Jevons, and American thinkers such as John Dewey, the majority of influential scholars in Europe and the US were educated in an interdisciplinary range, involving not only studies in philosophy, psychology, and physiology, but also hands-on laboratory training, at times, traveling or exploration. Therefore the focus of this earlier generation of scholars inherently involved the body, its expressions and functions (including above all the relation of vision and cognition)and its relation to its environments. Whether in the works of the Germans Rudolf Hemann Lotze, Hermann Helmholtz or Wilhelm Wundt, the American Transcendentalists like Ralph Waldo Emerson or the early Pragmatists such as William James or Edmund Burke Delabarre, their scholarship and their use of metaphors and analogies betrayed a strong debt to physiological studies, visual perception, and bodily movements.

With Wittgenstein and Russell et al, the focus shifted. And, eventually, in the mid-1960s American philosopher Richard Rorty edited a collection of landmark essays which focused on this transition. The title of this collection “The Linguistic Turn” (1967) coined the guideline for a program that would steer the humanities and social sciences for decades to come. In various aspects ( and unlike the critical realism/idealism of lab-savvy natural philosophers like Wolff, Kant, Schelling, Lotze, or James), this followed in the footsteps of a contemplative philosophy hermeneutics (of ficition), originally made fertile for philosophy in a long clerical tradition of exegesis of the bible by Schleiermacher (1768 – 1834), which became a new leading paradigm for the social sciences and philosophy with Martin Heidegger and his student Hans-Georg Gadamer, whose seminal “Truth and Method” became an interdisciplinary bestseller and guide for generations (see the discussion in Habermas EI und “EI after 30 years”). In France, this type of contempaltive hermeneutics was discussed and improved intensively by Paul Ricoeur and turned into an ethical movement with Emmanuel Levinas and then launched the method of Deconstruction with Levinas’ disciple Jacques Derrida.

Around the same time in France though, the Kant-inspired, critical realist works of historian Michel Foucault, philosophers Francois Laruelle and Gilles Deleuze, psychologist Felix Guattari, philologist Roland Barthes, and sociologist Pierre Bourdieu re-launched an interest into the body which culminated in the iconic turn in the 1990s, and which is now, finally, becoming re-evaluated, synthesized and moves ahead.

Of some interest is the role of the work of the so-called ‘founding father’ of American Pragmatism Charles Sanders Peirce (1839 – 1914). Textual Hermeneutics have initially claimed Peirce within the linguistic turn, in the most sophisticated version in the work of Karl-Otto Apel and Umberto Eco. However, Peirce’s work on semiotics can also be used to work in favor of the scholarship of the iconic turn. Semiotics is the study of signs. Peirce focused on the sign as a relation between three entities: The sign itself always represents. That is its function. The object can be considered to be the entity that is the subject matter represented by the sign and referred to by the interpretant which is the meaning of the sign, its truth-condition, so to speak. Peirce also considered different classifications of signs. The most famous distinguished between icon, index and symbol. The icon is a sign that has a quality of its own, while the index must have some real connection to its object, the symbol designates a rule that lies with the interpretant. This can be reconstructed as either a minimalist or a reductive account, leading to both branches of methodologies. As Peter Janich has argued, with regard to information theory, Shannon/Weaver display an undercurrent of Peirce, which was introduced through the adoption and appropriation of Peirce through Charles Morris.

This appropriation also leads to a more fertile off-shoot in close proximity to social phenomenology, which, however, profited from its founders’ discourse with the Kantian realist Talcott Parsons. The school of Ethnomethdology which was founded by Harold Garfinkel in 1967, is another derivate of phenomenological sociology. But other than Schuetz, the Harvard trained Garfinkel ought to bring Husserl, Schuetz and Parsons under one theoretical umbrella. He integrated the motivations of the actor into his thought, which is a prominent idea in Parsons, but not in Schuetz, since for Parsons these motivations are also influenced by the process of socialization. Analyzing tapes of jury procedures, Garfinkel speculated that jury members were using a methodology of their own, but that it was rooted in their individual common sense knowledge as specific to their society and thus also different from scientific knowledge.

Social facts, the object of sociological study, according to Durkheim, are yet not facts out there, as Durkheim suggested, but are more take-for-granted facts by the actors, which they use as means of interpreting situations and therefore reintroduce into the process. People each order their experiences in ways they think social reality is like.

Social Phenomenology has also experienced its “feminist critique” by Dorothy E. Smith (°1926). She conflated social phenomenology with critical conflict theory. She is interested in exploring how women construct and experience the world of the structures of male domination in their everyday experiences and how they react to these situation emotionally and cognitively. Se thereby hopes to “give women a voice” by giving them a sociology.

In 1995 John Searle, a famous philosopher concerned primarily with language published his seminal The Construction of Social Reality. This investigation followed on a career build on the investigation of speech acts, a theory postulate by John Austin in How to do things with words.

Austin’s insight rested on the fact that words can actually accomplish changes in reality. In a very simple aspect, a priest’s phrase “I hereby pronounce you husband and wife”, invokes a whole set of changes in the actual world.

Following this theory and deconstructionist philosophy and psychology, literature critic Judith Butler has alerted us to the fact in her study Gender Trouble, that with a speech act as simple as “it’s a boy”, a series of events can be set in motion that constructs the psychological gender identity. In many ways, George Canguilhem in 1943 in The normal and the pathological illustrated the dependence of medical and scientific practice on the way think of truth. What we treat as normal and what as pathological is strictly depending on our social practice. For example, a person does not have cancer, if he o she is not told so. If he or she does not experience physical pain, she/he will feel normal, even if there may be a tumor existing or growing in the body for a long time. Not until the tumor is discovered – say in a routine check – does this person actually have cancer, until then the person and her body are considered to be normal and healthy by herself and her environment. The declaration of the cancer enables social scripts to be applied that completely change the reality of this persons life. He or she may even reinterpret the recent past fro the cancer perspective, completely reconstructing a past reality from the new social situation of herself as a cancer patient.

On the other hand, Searle also addresses the question of language and its effects. He explicitly deals with the concept of intentionality and the effects that speech acts have in the real world. His work preceding Intentionality (1983) established that from the point of view of the illocutionary act, the speech act that actually effects real changes, truth is rendered problematic. He begins to revise and update this position by pointing to the fact that for a speech act to become illocutionary valid, it implies certain conditions that need be satisfied for it to count. One condition that he then introduced to be a condition of satisfaction was for certain types of speech acts, they must actually be true. This is the case for a sentence like “Angie bought her dog Olivia a new toy”, which is satisfied only I it is true. An order like “Angie, buy your other dog Coco a toy, too” is only satisfied I she actually goes and does as told. The first example is called by Searle “word to world direction of fit”, the second example is called “world to word direction of fit”.

In Intentionality, he speaks of intentional states in a sense as if they accompany speech acts. Saying that Angie has a new toy entails a intentional state which encompasses a belief on the side of the actors psychology and the actual content of Angie having a new toy.

There is, Searle has argued, a so-called background of dispositions, tendencies, capacities and potentials, which are not part of the intentional states. For example if we are ordered to drive to the store, we know that have to use a car.

In The Construction of Social Reality, he introduces the distinction of collective and individual intentionality. Both are distinct, but the collective intentionality cannot be thought of as some kind of group think or collective consciousness. Group decisions still rest on individual intentions hat refer to the world, which for Searle is the question of how it can be that in a world of physical matter and forces, constructs like a car, money, a painting, e. can actually exist.

And while philosophers would point out many differences between Schuetz, Husserl and Searle from a more pragmatic point of view of applying their approaches to sociological analysis it must be said that the differences are not that substantial.

The future of social phenomenology seems to hinge on the fact that it has “sunk into” the academic mainstream. There are very few today who would deny that in part people “construct” what they think of as real. Practiced as a “strict” approach it has only very few followers left today. Symbolic Interactionism or Ethnomethodology would appear to be better equipped to do justice to the complexity of the Real, simply because they do not employ the reductionist baggage of contemplative hermeneutics, Shannon/Weaver signal fixation, Husserlian phenomenology, and the Schuetzean fictionalism. Although it should be noted that in neurocognition and neuro-philosophy, there is currently an intersting effort under way for a fertile Husserlian reconsideration, because some experimental results cannot be accounted for by the current concepts, but resonate with subjective philosophies, these interesting and actually fertile apropriations have been created by the equally studios and creative Evan Thompson and Dan Zahavi.

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Social Holism, now, reconstructs how social practices provide the determination of meaning (as comes into play in our beliefs) according to a set of steps that leave certain areas unsatisfied once exposed to the consequences of knowledge economies in the age of biological citizenship, of narrative empathy, and of the civil sphere. These steps are as follows(see:Esfeld,Michael[Holismus.Frankfurt,aM: Suhrkamp] 2002: 109 – 114; 127 – 132 ):

  1. Although every definite set of examples can be expanded and continued in an infinite number of ways, every finite being is generally dispositioned to conclude such a set in a specific way.

  2. Persons sharing a common biological equipment and a physical environment will not have “bizarrely” different dispositions.

  3. Dispositions of people with a common biological equipment and shared physical environment include a disposition to coordinate one’s own behavior, at least partially, with that of others. (Second Order Disposition)

  4. The disposition of minimally partial coordination leads to persons reacting to their actions by mutually sanctioning them through affirmations or restraint.

  5. Sanctions are a means to generate the conditions that allow persons to achieve a consensus in the way that a given set of examples is to be concluded.

  6. As a consequence of the process that generates the conditions for such a consensus, a rule can be considered the element that constitutes the convergence of persons to conclude a given set of examples.

As a necessary prerequisite for this process, Esfeld introduces as a (bizarrely Habermasian-like) criterion of transparency: It (the process) must be transparent for all the participant persons whether or not their reactions toward the environment, at any particular time, converge or not.

7a. Since pure social holism would be inherently normative and deterministic – respectively, persons would be “judgmental dopes” –, a lesson from inferential or belief holism must be introduced as a prerequisite so that people can follow different and differing rules1: Just knowing how to follow a rule does not tell us anything about the content of the rule. Therefore we need to accept that…

7b. …mutual sanctioning as a form of judging one another’s actions can determine the conceptual content of a rule only iff the content is determined for an open number of further rules; further rules comprise the inferential context for the beliefs that are constituted by following the rule currently in question.

Respectively, conceptual belief is based in social interaction, which would relieve us from “translating” another persons beliefs, for these would be determined and individuated by “the same external factor”. In the most radical suggestion, translation of any kind of conceptual content is defined as a melting of the communal contingencies (of two or more communities) into one community practice that can be successful or not (Esfeld 2002: 131).

In an empiricallyreal society, this melting can take many forms, which are each not without preconditions and that take the shape of a public discourse, that must have a forum or sphere where it can take place, which has – in itself – preconditions (for example status positions, knowledge access, etc.) that are shaping the various interactions and the participating actors, not all of them are individual persons but groups or networks. Esfeld (and his interlocutors) remain suspiciously vague on defining “community” against “person”. Jeffrey Alexander, in contrast, describes and defines the civil sphere quite exhaustively;also and at the same time, the kind of “melting”, that Lance/O’Leary-Hawthorne refer to, appears explicitly in Alexander’s account, even though it is flavored in three different modes of incorporation. Reference to any “external factor” is, therefore, problematic because such a factor would have to rely on shifting accountability to an anonymous transcendent realm that – with Wittgenstein – we simply could not speak about but must be silent about. Up to this point and a little bit further, Esfeld’s otherwise brilliant discussion remains also “just a description” of the “knowing how” rather than saturating his discourse with an actual account of agency2. This is the very problem that Breithaupt’s empathy concept can hep us resolve.

1The good old question whether Parsons’ social theory leads to constructing persons as “judgmental dopes” hinges, in my opinion, therefore, on the condition what type of holism Parsons would have to followed based on his construction of agency. Following a Kantian concept of autonomy in having learned it from American Pragmatism, Meiklejohn and Karl Jaspers, Parsons’ persons are anything but judgmental dopes. But then again, those critics who stick to the dopey-account would probably like to declare all „Kantian persons“ judgmental dopes, too.

2Since his study aims at comparing holism in the philosophy of mind with holism in philosophy of (quantum) physics, he needn’t go into the “civil” dimension.

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Care of and for the self is the ability….

…..to create a climate in which all actors in the sphere of care and health care can make and give consent to decisions with access to all abilities necessary to understand what it means to be included and to actively participate in this sphere of care in the form of narrative empathy.

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