Tag Archives: Weber

Foucault—Technologies of the Self

Technologies of the Self

by Michel Foucault

[Foucault, Michel. 1988. Technologies of the Self: A Seminar with Michel Foucault. Edited by Luther H. Martin, Huck Gutman, and Patrick H. Hutton. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.]

I

  • “Max Weber posed the question: If one wants to behave rationally and regulate one’s action according to true principles, what part of one’s self should one renounce? What is the ascetic price of reason? To what kind of asceticism should one submit? […]
  • I posed the opposite question: How have certain kinds of interdictions required the price of certain kinds of knowledge about oneself? What must one know about oneself in order to be willing to renounce anything?” […]
  • “Thus I arrived at the hermeneutics of technologies of the self in pagan and early Christian practice” (17).

Four major types of “technologies” (truth games)

  1. technologies of production—manipulation of things
  2. technologies of sign systems—signs, symbols
  3. technologies of power—policing individuals, politics
  4. technologies of the self—transformative operations on bodies, thoughts, souls
    • tech of power + tech of self = domination
    • “This contact between the technologies of domination of others and those of the self I call governmentality” (19).

THE DEVELOPMENT OF TECHNOLOGIES OF THE SELF

“I wish to sketch out the development of the hermeneutics of the self in two different contexts which are historically contiguous:

  1. Greco-Roman philosophy in the first two centuries A.D. of the early Roman Empire and
  2. Christian spirituality and the monastic principles developed in the fourth and fifth centuries of the late Roman Empire” (19, bullets added).

epimelesthai sautou

  • to take care of yourself
    • the concern with self
    • to be concerned, to take care of yourself
  • “When one is asked “What is the most important moral principle in ancient philosophy?” the immediate answer is not “Take care of oneself” but the Delphic principle, gnothi sauton (“Know yourself”)” (19).
  • “In Greek and Roman texts, the injunction of having to know yourself was always associated with the other principle of having to take care of yourself” (20).
    • you have to deal with your self before you can know yourself (go to an oracle)

“To summarize: There has been an inversion between the hierarchy of the two principles of antiquity, “Take care of yourself” and “Know thyself.” In Greco-Roman culture knowledge of oneself appeared as the consequence of taking care of yourself. In the modern world, knowledge of oneself constitutes the fundamental principle” (22).

II

ALCIBIADES 

Analyzing care of the self in three aspects:

  1. “How is this question introduced into the dialogue? What are the reasons Alcibiades and Socrates are brought to the notion of taking care of one’s self? (23).
    • They make a pact-Alcibiades will submit to his lover, Socrates, not in a physical but in a spiritual sense. The intersection of political ambition and philosophical love is “taking care of oneself” (24).
      • I’m honestly not sure I get this leap
  2. “In that relationship, why should Alcibiades be concerned with himself, and why is Socrates concerned with that concern of Alcibiades?”
    • “Concern for self always refers to an active political and erotic state.”
      • Again, not sure
  3. “The rest of the text is devoted to an analysis of this notion of epimelesthai, “taking pains with oneself.” It is divided into two questions:
    1. What is this self of which one has to take care, and of what docs that care consist?” [para]
      1.  “First, what is the self? Self is a reflexive pronoun, and it has two meanings. Auto means “the same,” but it also conveys the notion of identity. The latter meaning shifts the question from “What is this self?” to “What is the plateau on which I shall find my identity?” […]
      2. ” When you take care of the body, you don’t take care of the self. The selfis not clothing, tools, or possessions. It is to be found in the principle which uses these tools, a principle not of the body but of the soul” […]
    2. “The second question is: How must we take care of this principle of activity, the soul? Of what does this care consist? One must know of what the soul consists.” […]
      1. “The effort of the soul to know itself is the principle on which just political action can be founded, and Alcibiades will be a good politician insofar as he contemplates his soul in the divine element” (25).
  • Plato’s text sets out eternal problems:
    1. “First, there is the problem of the relation between being occupied with oneself and political activity.” […]
    2. “Second, there is the problem of the relationship between being occupied with oneself and pedagogy.” […]
    3. “Third, there is the problem of the relationship between concern for oneself and the knowledge of oneself.” […]
    4. “Fourth, there is the problem of the relationship between the care of self and philosophical love, or the relation to a master” (26).
  • “This theme of taking care of oneself was not abstract advice but a widespread activity, a network of obligations and services to the soul” (26-27).
    • oral culture—Socrates letters
    • written culture—Augustin’s Confessions
      • also Marcus Aurelius’s letter to his lover, Fronto (about what he did that day)
    • The letter is the transcription of that examination of conscience. It stresses what you did, not what you thought. That is the difference between practice in the Hellenistic and imperial periods and later monastic practice. In Seneca too there are only deeds, not thoughts. But it does prefigure Christian confession” (30).

III

“In my discussion of Plato’s Alcibiades, I have isolated three major themes:

  1. first, the relation between care for oneself and care for the political life;
  2. second, the relation between taking care of the self and defective education; and
  3. third, the relation between taking care of oneself and knowing oneself” (30, bullets added).
  • in the Imperial Period, end of dialogue—beginning of silent listening
  • For Plato—”themes of contemplation of self and self care are related dialectically through dialogue” […]
  • “in the imperial period we have the themes of, on one side, the obligation of listening to truth and, on the other side, of looking and listening to the self for the truth within” (32-33).
    • “For Seneca it isn’t a question of discovering truth in the subject but of remembering truth, recovering a truth which has been forgotten. […]
    • The subject constitutes the intersection between acts which have to be regulated and rules for what ought to be done. This is quite different from the Platonic conception and from the Christian conception of conscience” (34).

IV

STOIC TECHNIQUES OF SELF

  1. “letters to friends and disclosure of self;
  2. examination of self and conscience, including a review of what was done, of what should have been done, and comparison of the two.
  3. Now I want to consider the third Stoic technique, askesis, not a disclosure of the secret self but a remembering.”
    1. “For Plato, one must discover the truth that is within one. For the Stoics, truth is not in oneself but in the logoi, the teaching of the teachers. One memorizes what one has heard, converting the statements one hears into rules of conduct. The subjectivization of truth is the aim of these techniques” (34-35, bullets and bold added)
    2. we assimilate truth, we do not master it.
  • Melete (premeditatio mallorum)—imagining the worst case scenario and experiencing it (virtually!)
  • Gymnasia—making up a challenge to actually experience (abstinence, fasting, etc).

V

EARLY CHRISTIANITY

  • In transition form pagan to Christian belief, the church cooked up Illumination—the disclosure of the self.
  • exomologesis – recognition of fact – public recognition of faith
    • Penitance was at first a status – not an act or a ritual
    • “To prove suffering, to show shame, to make visible humility and exhibit modesty—these are the main features of punishment. Penitence in early Christianity is a way of life acted out at all times by accepting the obligation to disclose oneself” (42).
    • rub out sin and restore purity – show sinner as he is – revealing while rubbing out
    • how did early Christians explain this paradox to themselves:
      • medical: show one’s wounds in order to be cured
      • trinbunal: judgement – confession of faults
      • death: martyrdom, preference for death over abandonment of faith – refusal of the self – a break with one’s past identity, a new self.  revelation = destruction
  • “The difference between the Stoic and Christian traditions is that in the Stoic tradition examination of self, judgment, and discipline show the way to self-knowledge by superimposing truthabout self through memory, that is, by memorizing the rules. In exomologesis, the penitent superimposes truth about self by violent rupture and dissociation. It is important to emphasize that this exomologesis is not verbal. It is symbolic, ritual, and theatrical” (43).

VI

“During the fourth century we find a very different technology for the disclosure of the self, exagoreusis, much less famous than exomologesis but more important” (44).

  • “The well-developed and elaborated practice of the self-examination in monastic Christianity is different from the Senecan self-examination and […] must be understood from the point of view of two principles of Christian spirituality: obedience and contemplation” (44).
    • Obedience—”John Cassian repeats an old principle from the oriental tradition: “Everything the monk does without permission of his master constitutes a theft.” Here obedience is complete control of behavior by the master, not a final autonomous state. It is a sacrifice of the self, of the subject’s own will. This is the new technology of the self” (44-45, bold added)
    • Contemplation—considered the supreme good, with the goal of permanent contemplation of God. “Seneca had placed his stress on action. With Cassian the object is not past actions of the day; it’s the present thoughts. Since the monk must continuously turn his thoughts toward God, he must scrutinize the actual course of this thought” (45).
  • three analogies:
    1. mill—thoughts are like grains, sort the bad from good
    2. military—we must be officers ordering good soldiers to the right, bad to the left
    3. money—conscience is the money changer degree of purity, effigy, origin

BIG FINISH!

  • “In conclusion, in the Christianity of the first centuries, there are two main forms of disclosing self, of showing the truth about oneself. The first is exomologesis, or a dramatic expression of the situation of the penitent as sinner which makes manifest his status as sinner. The second is what was called in the spiritual literature exagoreusis. This is an analytical and continual verbalization of thoughts carried on in the relation of complete obedience to someone else. This relation is modeled on the renunciation of one’s own will and of one’s own self” [para]
  • “There is a great difference between exomologesis and exagoreusis; yet we have to underscore the fact that there is one important element in common: You cannot disclose without renouncing.”
  • “This theme of self-renunciation is very important. Throughout Christianity there is a correlation between disclosure of the self, dramatic or verbalized, and the renunciation of self. My hypothesis from looking at these two techniques is that it’s the second one, verbalization, which becomes the more important.  From the eighteenth century to the present, the techniques of verbalization have been reinserted in a different context by the so­ called human sciences in order to use them without renunciation of the self but to constitute, positively, a new self. To use these techniques without renouncing oneself constitutes a decisive break” (48-49).

Continue reading Foucault—Technologies of the Self

Kohn—How Forests Think

How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human

by Eduardo Kohn

[Kohn, Eduardo. 2013. How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human. Berkeley: University of California Press.]

Points

“How other kinds of beings see us matters. Th at other kinds of beings see us changes things. If jaguars also represent us—in ways that can matter vitally to us—then anthropology cannot limit itself just to exploring how people from different societies might happen to represent them as doing so” (1).

“This book is an attempt to ponder the Sphinx’s riddle by attending ethnographically to a series of Amazonian other-than-human encounters. Attending to our relations with those beings that exist in some way beyond the human forces us to question our tidy answers about the human. Th e goal here is neither to do away with the human nor to reinscribe it but to open it. In rethinking the human we must also rethink the kind of anthropology that would be adequate to this task. Sociocultural anthropology in its various forms as it is practiced today takes those attributes that are distinctive to humans—language, culture, society, and history—and uses them to fashion the tools to understand humans. In this process the analytical object becomes isomorphic with the analytics. As a result we are not able to see the myriad ways in which people are connected to a broader world of life, or how this fundamental connection changes what it might mean to be human. And this is why expanding ethnography to reach beyond the human is so important. An ethnographic focus not just on humans or only on animals but also on how humans and animals relate breaks open the circular closure that otherwise confines us when we seek to understand the distinctively human by means of that which is distinctive to humans” (6).

“I seek to contribute to these posthuman critiques of the ways in which we have treated humans as exceptional—and thus as fundamentally separate from the rest of the world—by developing a more robust analytic for understanding human relations to nonhuman beings. I do so by refl ecting on what it might mean to say that forests think. I do so, that is, by working out the connection between representational processes (which form the basis for all thought) and living ones as this is revealed through ethno-graphic attention to that which lies beyond the human. I use the insights thus gained to rethink our assumptions about the nature of representation, and I then explore how this rethinking changes our anthropological concepts. I call this approach an “anthropology beyond the human” (7).

“But symbols, those kinds of signs that are based on convention (like the English word dog), which are distinctively human representational forms, and whose properties make human language possible, actually emerge from and relate to other modalities of representation. In Peirce’s terminology these other modalities (in broad terms) are either “iconic” (involving signs that share likenesses with the things they represent) or “indexical” (involving signs that are in some way affected by or otherwise correlated with those things they represent). In addition to being symbolic creatures we humans share these other semiotic modalities with the rest of nonhuman biological life (Deacon 1997) … though signs may be extralinguistic (with the consequence that language can be treated as something more than symbolic) the contexts that make them meaningful are human sociocultural ones” (8).

“Life is constitutively semiotic” (9).

“This way of understanding semiosis can help us move beyond a dualistic approach to anthropology, in which humans are portrayed as separate from the worlds they represent, toward a monistic one, in which how humans represent jaguars and how jaguars represent humans can be understood as integral, though not interchangeable, parts of a single, open-ended story” (9).

“In sum, an anthropology beyond the human is perforce an ontological one. That is, taking nonhumans seriously makes it impossible to confine our anthropological inquiries to an epistemological concern for how it is that humans, at some particular time or in some particular place, go about making sense of them. As an ontological endeavor this kind of anthropology places us in a special position to rethink the sorts of concepts we use and to develop new ones. In Marilyn Strathern’s words, it aims “to create the conditions for new thoughts” (1988: 20)” (10).

“My argument is that we are colonized by certain ways of thinking about relationality. We can only imagine the ways in which selves and thoughts might form associations through our assumptions about the forms of associations that structure human language. And then, in ways that often go unnoticed, we project these assumptions onto nonhumans. Without realizing it we attribute to nonhumans properties that are our own, and then, to compound this, we narcissistically ask them to provide us with corrective reflections of ourselves … Forests are good to think because they themselves think. Forests think. I want to take this seriously, and I want to ask, What are the implications of this claim for our understandings of what it means to be human in a world that extends beyond us?” (21-22).

“Signs don’t come from the mind. Rather, it is the other way around. What we call mind, or self, is a product of semiosis. Th at “somebody,” human or non-human, who takes the crashing palm to be significant is a “self that is just com-ing into life in the fl ow of time” (CP 5.421) by virtue of the ways in which she comes to be a locus—however ephemeral—for the “interpretance” of this sign and many others like it. In fact, Peirce coined the cumbersome term interpretant to avoid the “homunculus fallacy” (see Deacon 2012: 48) of seeing a self as a sort of black box (a little person inside us, a homunculus) who would be the interpreter of those signs but not herself the product of those signs. Selves, human or nonhuman, simple or complex, are outcomes of semiosis as well as the starting points for new sign interpretation whose outcome will be a future self. They are waypoints in a semiotic process” (34).

“We need to provincialize language because we conflate representation with language and this conflation finds its way into our theory. We universalize this distinctive human propensity by first assuming that all representation is some-thing human and then by supposing that all representation has language like properties” (39).

“To summarize: signs are not exclusively human affairs. All living beings sign. We humans are therefore at home with the multitude of semiotic life. Our exceptional status is not the walled compound we thought we once inhabited. An anthropology that focuses on the relations we humans have with nonhuman beings forces us to step beyond the human. In the process it makes what we’ve taken to be the human condition—namely, the paradoxical, and “provincialized,” fact that our nature is to live immersed in the “unnatural” worlds we construct—appear a little strange. Learning how to appreciate this is an important goal of an anthropology beyond the human” (42).

“Thinking with images, as I do here with the Sphinx’s riddle, and as I do throughout this book, with all kinds of images—be they oneiric, aural, anecdotal, mythic, or even photographic (there are other stories being “told” here without words)—and learning to attend to the ways in which these images amplify, and thus render apparent, something about the human via that which lies beyond the human, is, as I’ve been arguing, also a way of opening ourselves to the distinctive iconic logics of how the forest’s thoughts might think their ways through us. How Forests Think aims to think like forests: in images” (222).

Continue reading Kohn—How Forests Think

Luhrmann—Persuasions of the Witch’s Craft

Persuasions of the Witch’s Craft: Ritual Magic in Contemporary England

by Tanya Luhrmann

[Luhrmann, Tanya M. 1991. Persuasions of the Witch’s Craft: Ritual Magic in Contemporary England. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.]

Points

  • based on 4 years of participant observation among magicians (Wiccan, Pagan, various occult groups) in London in the 1980s
  • “This study looks at ordinary middle-class English people who become immersed in a netherworld of magic and ritual, and asks a classic anthropological question: why do they practise magic when, according to observers, the magic doesn’t work?” (4).
  • “Magicians are ordinary, well-educated, usually middle-class people. They are not psychotically deluded, and they are not driven to practise by socio­economic desperation. By some process, when they get involved with magic—whatever the reasons that sparked their interest—they learn to find it eminently sensible. They learn to accept its core concept: that mind affects matter, and that in special circumstances, like ritual, the trained imagination can alter thephysical world” (7).
  • “The real issue is not that magicians become comfortable practising an irrational activity, but that when someone becomes a specialist, he finds his practice progressively more persuasive through the very process of interpreting and making sense of his involvement; this changing understanding may become progressively more opaque to outsiders” (7-8).
  • Magical ideas begin to seem normal in the process of becoming a magician: in this way, the involvement is more similar to becoming a certain sort of specialist than to producing a new theory” (312).
  • “How can a magician take his ideas seriously? Part of the answer is that the very process of learning to be a magician elicits systematic changes in the way that the magician interprets events. Interpretation depends upon a complex set of assumptions, biases, conceptual frames, knowledge, heuristics and attributive tendencies—intellectual habits in paying attention, in organizing what one notices, and in remembering it” (115).
  • “There seem to be three outstanding changes in intellectual habits.
    1. The magician learns what events count as evidence that the ritual has worked, and begins to find new patterns in sets of events, to see connections where previously he has only seen coincidence.
    2. Then, he acquires the knowledge shared by fellow practitioners—their common knowledge—which gives a depth and complexity to his practice, and allows him to discriminate between events in new ways, armed with these new categories and distinctions.
    3. Finally, he begins to use a battery of new assumptions—some of them explicitly formulated, others implicit in the conversation—which alter the types of remarks he takes for granted and does not question. The cumulative effect is as if the magician acquires new spectacles.” (115 numeric points added).
  • “I would argue that the rift between magician and non-practitioner is carved out by the very process of becoming a specialist in a particular kind of activity. Becoming a specialist often makes an activity seem sensible. The specialist learns a new way of paying attention to, making sense of and commenting upon her world” (115-16).
  • Becoming this type of specialist is important, “But as, if not more, important are the unsystematic experiences which, although they may have little to do with intellectual analysis, make the magician want to justify the practice, and which motivate him in the end to rationalize his commitment. These are the experiences which create bias” (176).
  • “Certain aspects of magical practice turn it into an engagement which many practitioners find compelling. They find the rituals deeply moving, the pre-ritual ‘homework’ engrossing, they dream with the images of magic’s potent symbols” (177).
  • There are four “distinctive categories of experiential response” to ritual magic practice. (All pg. 179).
    1. meditation and visualization—”the two techniques which magicians always learn upon becoming involved in practice. These are remarkable techniques: they change the practitioner’s phenomenological experience in relatively well-understood ways, and magicians are notably affected by their use.”
    2. magician’s language—”the linguistic style with which magicians describe their rituals and meditations. This style evokes a significant imaginative involvement with the ritual’s narrative and gives the magician concrete experience of the abstract terms of magical theory, like ‘contact’ or ‘power’. At the same time, the magician is told that no understanding of magical theory is complete or accurate: she can have confidence that the term refers to something, but she need not state unequivocally what it is.”
    3. ritual—There are three specific strategies a magician goes through to plan a ritual
      1. He is concerned to create a separate space and time,
      2. to exploit mind-altering techniques like chanting,
      3. and to alter the personality of the ritualist.
        • All these techniques take their central task to be setting ritual apart as something different, to be experienced almost as if it involved a different reality superimposed on the everyday.
    4. symbolism—”The use of symbolism is the most important element of the magician’s magical engagement. Symbolism plays many roles, and evokes many responses, and probably bears most responsibility for magic’s excitement. Magicians invent a mythopoeic history, talk about intimate feelings in symbolic terms, therapeutically reorganize their lives with symbolic ‘archetypes’. They also create a secrecy-shrouded mystery religion and talk of the ‘esoteric knowledge’ which their rites provide.”
  • “Throughout all this, the implication should be clear: magic is far more than a theory, and the pleasures of these other aspects—difficult to verbalize, difficult to forget—wed the magician more strongly than any intellectual analysis to a commitment to the validity of his practice” (179).
  • So… “Systematic changes in the style of intellectual interpretation make the ideas seem more believable; the satisfactions of involvement make the desire to justify the involvement even greater. Nevertheless, despite magic’s growing appeal, at some point in their practice – for some, throughout their practice – magicians confront scepticism, other people’s or their own” (270).
  • “magicians do not produce an elaborate philosophy which would describe all their beliefs, actions and desires as consistent, and substantively rational—oriented towards a genuinely desirable goal in the most effective manner possible. Instead, they justify the inconsistency with a range of arguments and make efforts to separate magic off and make efforts to separate magic off from the mundane by ritual and metaphor. Through practice, theory and styles of arguments, magicians insulate their magic from hostile criticism, real or imagined, and they acquire reasons to explain this separation … People rationalize rather than acting rationally, and strive for local consistency with a patchwork job of post hoc rationalization” (273).
  • “people tend to conceptualize themselves as unitary selves, coherent and all-of-a-piece. In order to understand their actions as part of that self, directed towards an end suitable to that self, they talk about ‘beliefs’ and ‘attitudes’ and ‘desires’, proposition-like assertions which explain why someone performs an action. If you see an aborigine eating grubs, you assume that he believes that the grub is nourishing, delicious, or imbued with sacral power” (307).
  • “In order to function effectively, humans—these interpreters of culture—must act as if humans do not act randomly, but in a way they can learn to anticipate and to which they can learn to respond. This involves attributing to them a set of proposition-like assertions about the state of the world – he is carrying an umbrella, he must believe that it will rain this afternoon – which they maintain over time” (307).

“the ethnography presented on modern magic and the persuasiveness which the practice obtains elicits three observations about belief. Let me summarize” (309).

  1. “First, it is optimistic to think that people have an ordered set of beliefs abouta particular endeavour which forms a consistent set with other beliefs which together describe the totality of thought and action. People are much fuzzier, and more complex, than that. The ethnographer can legitimately identify something like a belief when someone argues for a proposition, at least during the period when they are doing the arguing. But magicians argue in different ways at different times; some of them claim to believe one thing when practising magic, and another thing when not practising magic; others seem to be firmly committed to their practice, and produce arguments about relativism which do not seem entirely plausible in the face of their behaviour. “
  2. “Second, it is hubris—and bad ethnography—to assume that people act first and foremost because they are motivated by belief. The material on modern magic suggests particularly dearly that people often argue for a belief as a means to legitimize, and even to understand—to rationalize—the practice in which they have been involved … If someone goes to church as a regular part of his life, he is likely to argue for a belief in God. If he feels deeply spiritual when praying to God, he is more likely to be persuaded that God exists, for the religious framework provides a way to interpret that unusual feeling.”
  3. Third, magicians have beliefs; it is not true that becoming a magician simply involves learning to speak a new ‘language’ … That is more than a bow towards relativism: the assertion claims that apparently strange beliefs say nothing startling, but simply express conventional beliefs in new and surprisingways. Or, the assertion can be that in becoming a shaman, a Scientologist, a believer in something, someone is simply acquiring new terms to describe new experiences” (309).

interpretive driftslow, often unacknowledged shift in someone’s manner of interpreting events as they become involved with a particular activity. As the newcomer begins to practice, he becomes progressively more skilled at seeing new patterns in events, seeing new sorts of events as significant, paying attention to new patterns … there seems to be a slow, mutual evolution of interpretation and experience, rationalized in a manner which allows the practitioner to practise. The striking feature, I found, was how ad hoc, how seemingly unmotivated, this transformation became. Magicians did not deliberately change the way they thought about the world”

cognitive dissonanceIn the fifties, Leon Festinger (and others) developed a sociological theory of ‘cognitive dissonance’ to understand intellectual discomfort. Its most famous application concerned an American flying saucer cult which predicted that the world would end on 21 December. On 22 December—after the prophetic failure—the adherents began to proselytize, for the first time, claiming that the world had been miraculously redeemed. Festinger interpreted this as an attempt to reconcile their considerable commitment to their belief with the embarrassing evidence of its falsity by creating social support for a somewhat transformed version of it” (271).

Continue reading Luhrmann—Persuasions of the Witch’s Craft

Winch—The Idea of a Social Science

The Idea of a Social Science

by Peter Winch

[Winch, Peter. 1970. “The Idea of a Social Science.” In Rationality, edited by Bryan Wilson, 1–17. Key Concepts in the Social Sciences. London: Basil Blackwell.]

Points

The book as a whole represents an intervention into the ‘reasons and causes’ argument—the basic premise being that

  1. there are rules that regulate human activities. These rules “rest on a social context of common activity”
  2. In physical science, you are studying objects, these rules define how the scientists deal with the objects of study and how scientists relate to each other when involved in the study
    1. scientists understand these rules because they are developed through the process of doing science as scientists (regularities)
  3. In the social sciences, however, the object of study is not an object, but instead another layer of complex rules regulating human activity, which leads to the problem:
    1. Social scientists understand the rules of the social sciences—the rules that govern interactions with each other and the study but how can they claim to understand the rules regulating the subjects of their study?
  4. So, when we talk of “reasons,” we can really only talk about the rules that inform intention toward a particular act
  • “A regularity or uniformity is the constant recurrence of the same kind of event on the same kind of occasion; hence statements of uniformities presuppose judgements of identity. But this takes us right back to the argument according to which criteria of identity are necessarily relative to some rule: with the corollary that two events which count as qualitatively similar from the point of view of one rule would count as different from the point of view of another” (1).
  • “Even if it is legitimate to speak of one’s understanding of a mode of social activity as consisting in a knowledge of regularities, the nature of this knowledge must be very different from the nature of knowledge of physical regularities” (4).
  • “In the course of this argument I have linked the assertion that social relations are internal with the assertion that men’s mutual interaction ‘embodies ideas’, suggesting that social interaction can more profitably be compared to the exchange of ideas in a conversation than to the interaction of forces in a physical system” (12).
  • “So, even where it would be unnatural to say that a given kind of social relation expresses any ideas of a discursive nature, still it is closer to that general category than it is to that of the interaction of physical forces” (12).

Questionable: “a historian or sociologist of religion must himself have some religious feeling if he is to make sense of the religious movement he is studying and understand considerations which govern the lives of their participants” (4). Continue reading Winch—The Idea of a Social Science

MacIntyre—The Idea of a Social Science (Symposium)

vThe Idea of a Social Science (Symposium)

by Alasdair MacIntyre

[MacIntyre, Alasdair. 1967. “Symposium: The Idea of a Social Science.” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volumes 41 (January): 95–114.]

Points

In very simple terms—MacIntyre takes Winch’s argument to be that we cannot go beyond a society’s self-description. MacIntyre has a couple of problems with this

  1. By focusing on the rule systems of agents involved in particular acts, Winch ignores the creative ways in which humans subvert, break, and disregard rules.
    1. Winch assumes obedience to these rules, thus missing a large part of human activity and misrepresenting the aims of social science in the first place.
  2. While descriptions of societies should begin with the societies’ own understandings, the social sciences need not (should not) stop there.
    1. By “translating” these rules and concepts, we can attempt to understand them ourselves
  3. These translations come at possible cost—in creating typologies and conceptual schemes, we run the risk of ending up with a bunch of lists with little contextual meaning
  • “One can set out Winch’s view of understanding and explanations in the social sciences in terms of a two-stage model. An action is first made intelligible as the outcome of motives, reasons, and decisions; and is then made further intelligible by those motives, reasons and decisions being set in the context of the rules of a given form of social life” (98).
  • “Winch’s contrast between explanation in terms of causal generalisations and explanations in terms of rules turns out to rest upon a version of the contrast between explanations in terms of causes and explanations in terms of reasons” (99).
  • “I can put my general point as follows. We can in a given society discover a variety of systematic regularities. There are the systems of rules which agents professedly follow; there are the systems of rules which they actually follow; there are causal regularities exhibited in the correlation of statuses and forms of behaviour, and of one form of behaviour and another, which are not rule-governed at all; there are regularities which are in themselves neither causal nor rule-governed, although dependent for their existence perhaps on regularities of both types, such as the cyclical patterns of development exhibited in some societies; and there are the inter-relationships which exist between all these. Winch concentrates on some of these at the expense of the others” (105).
  • “Unless we begin by a characterisation of a society in its own terms, we shall be unable to identify the matter that requires explanation. Attention to intentions, motives and reasons must precede attention to causes; description in terms of the agent’s concepts and beliefs must precede description in terms of our concepts and beliefs” (107).
  • “if we treat seriously, not what I take to be Winch’s mistaken thesis that we cannot go beyond a society’s own self-description, but what I take to be his true thesis that we must not do this except and until we have grasped the criteria embodied in that self-description, then we shall have to conclude that the contingently different conceptual schemes and institutional arrangements of different societies make translation difficult to the point at which attempts at cross-cultural generalisation too often becomes little more than a construction of lists” (113).

Continue reading MacIntyre—The Idea of a Social Science (Symposium)

Latour—We Have Never Been Modern

We Have Never Been Modern

by Bruno Latour, (Translated by Catherine Porter)

[Latour, Bruno. 1993. We Have Never Been Modern. Translated by Catherine Porter. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.]

Points

  • The act of purification is key to being modern, however, we are increasingly creating and coming up against hybrids. For instance, a discussion of the ozone layer combines science, technology, politics, and nature, blurring the modernist distinctions and continuing the proliferation of quasi-objects.
  • Latour is not arguing that we are entering a new era of hybridization, but instead that we have always created these hybrids and their quasi-objects and have never been “modern” to begin with.
  • Latour hopes to replace what he calls the modern “constitution” with a nonmodern version that does not separate nature and society and brings the genesis of quasi-objects to light (see below).

Purification—making a clear distinction between the ideas of nature (science, non-human, objects) and society (culture, human, subjects)

Hybridization—mixing nature and culture (non-human and human, object and subject)

Quasi-object—the products of hybridization; objects that can influence the social action of subjects (soccer balls, tools, diagrams, etc.)

1.1

“The hypothesis of this essay is that the word ‘modern’ designates two sets of entirely different practices which must remain distinct if they are to remain effective, but have recently begun to be confused. The first set of practices, by ‘translation’, creates mixtures between entirely new types of beings, hybrids of nature and culture. The second, by ‘purification’, creates two entirely distinct ontological zones: that of human beings on one hand; that of nonhumans on the other. Without the first set, the practices of purification would be fruitless or pointless. Without thesecond, the work of translation would be slowed down, limited, or evenruled out. The first set corresponds to what I have called networks; the second to what I shall call the modern critical stance” (10-11).

2.1

“We can keep the Enlightenment without modernity, provided that we reintegrate the objects of the sciences and technologies into the Constitution, as quasi-objects among many others – objects whose genesis must no longer be clandestine, but must be followed through and through, from the hot events that spawned the objects to the progressive cool-down that transforms them into essences of Nature or Society” (135).

5.2 Continue reading Latour—We Have Never Been Modern

Daston & Galison—The Image of Objectivity

The Image of Objectivity 

by Lorraine Daston & Peter Galison

[Daston, Lorraine, and Peter Galison. 1992. “The Image of Objectivity.” Representations, no. 40 (October): 81–128.]

Points

The current meaning of “scientific objectivity emerged only in the mid nineteenth century and is conceptually distinct from earlier attempts to be “true to nature” in its methods (mechanical), its morals (restrained), and its metaphysics (individualized).” (83)

Objectivity as a concept has gone through phases (as seen in anatomical atlases):

  • 17th to mid-19th century—two types
    • ideal image – attempts the perfect version of the type
    • characteristic image – reveals the typical attributes within an individual specimen
    • in both types, the atlas maker’s subjective views (perspectives) were involved
  • mid-19th century forward
    • truth to nature – representing specimen exactly as it exists, without subjective input
    • ‘true’ reproductions became a “talismanic”guard against fraud but also a paragon of morality
    • How to ensure this?—mechanical objectivity! (x-ray, photography, etc) Not only does a machine reproduce exactly, without interpretation, but it saves human atlas makers from having to exercise the moral duty of restraint.

Working objects – atlases, type specimens lab processes – “manageable, communal representatives of the sector of nature under investigation” (85) Continue reading Daston & Galison—The Image of Objectivity