Cognitive Dissidents discussion

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message 1: by [deleted user] (last edited Feb 17, 2008 09:33AM) (new)

I'm still having touble with the "comment" button, so please excuse what appears to be my diasporatic method of posting.

It seems that I was very much mistaken in claiming Chomsky's contentment in leaving his political philosophy & his linguistic theories unbridged-- at least according to an article I found on line by Chris Knight at the following address: http://homepages.uel.ac.uk/C.Knight/c...

I recommend reading it there-- but basically Knight documents the fact that Chomsky found in both domains of thought an optimism of the inherent spontaneity & self-organizational abilities of the human mind.

As always, of course, read this article critically-- there are several issues upon which Knight fudges. His claim, for example, that Chomsky's attack on Skinner's behaviorism & his willful avoidance of constructivists like Lev Vygotsky was motivated by opportunism & a desire to frame the linguistic debate in his own terms-- that argument is simply anachronistic. Vygosky's work was repressed in the Soviet Union because of accussations of political dissention and his great work on language was not published in English until 1962-- ironically, at least in the context of this discussion, by the M.I.T. Press (-- which, I merely speculate not knowing Russian, mistranslated its title "Thinking & Speaking" as "Thought & Language"-- perhaps a trivial detail, however, the latter translation is more suggestive of such scientific systemic approaches as advanced by Chomsky & even much earlier by Saussure, whereas "Thinking & Speaking" brings Vygostsky's constructivist approach a bit closer to the pragmatist philosophers-- perhaps to Peirce's early work on signs-- & even to the work of phenomenologists like Merleau-Ponty.)

Considering the matter further, what I think Deleuze & Guattari objected to as oppositional to anarchist principles within Chomsky's grammar is precisely what he found to be supportive of them. D & G are reading the grammar as an extrinsic set of rules imposed from the outside on the language learner-- "You will construct grammatically correct sentences"-- whereas Chomsky's very definition of grammar is entirely different-- it's always already inherent & innate in the subject. So for Chomsky such a grammar demonstrates that the external regime of order & imposed "rule making" is unnecessary since there is a self-organizing, self-generating system within every human mind possessed with the ability not only to create communicable utterances, but presumably also to argue, analyze, synthesize, structure, & act according to a naturally evolving & self-directed sense of ethics & values.

Within Knight's article there's an interesting quote from Chomsky on the subject of scientific thought:

‘Within the anarchist tradition, there’s been a certain feeling that there’s something regimented or oppressive about science itself, that we should break free of the oppressive structures of scientific thinking, and so on. I’m totally out of sympathy with that attitude. There are no arguments that I know of for irrationality. I don’t think the methods of science amount to anything more than being reasonable, and I don’t see why anarchists shouldn’t be reasonable’ (1988a: 22).

I don't want to come across here as being flippant-- particularly in regard to someone whose commitment to a set of ideals, dedication to struggle, & courage to take on the bastions of capital, I do respect & admire greatly-- however, I can't swallow the idea that whatever falls outside the forms, methods, structures, processes, & purposes of scientific thinking is simply "irrational"-- or that all "irrationalities" are one & the same & can be reduced to the absurd.

My biggest argument with Chomsky's linguistic & scientific paradigm isn't that it is too constructivist, but that in its sense of language as innate, inherent, & natural, it isn't constructivist enough. So as far as linguistic theory is concerned, I still feel more drawn to a historical & developmental thinker like Lev Vygotsky, who writes: 'The history of language clearly shows that complex thinking with all its peculiarities is the very foundation of linguistic development.' Emphasis here on that little word in the middle of this sentence--"peculiarities"-- which I prefer to "irrationalities."


message 2: by Brian (new)

Brian | 16 comments As a biophysicist I have become more and more intrigued with the self-organization of matter, and particularly living systems. I think this is a very interesting topic and also an important paradigm for our era. It is part of what I always harp on - complexity, nonlinearity, pattern formation, emergence, connectivity. So I quite like what you have reported about Chomsky and see the connection. I always begin talking about it by saying, "what happens if you remove god"? How can physical systems organize themselves. There is something quite powerful and beautiful in all of this. That physical systems self-organize into more complex systems just by the nature of their components and the truly fundamental (and perhaps only valid) system of rules - the laws of physics, chemistry, etc. These "laws" are just observations anyway and the can change.

So I like the notion that Chomsky puts forth that a small number of simpler things produces more complex ones and that these building blocks make up the bigger structures. The important point is the connectivity - it is the interrelationships that are important and where the emergence happens. When I heard this it made me think that Chomsky's approach was much like that of evolutionary biology. What he may be missing, as you have pointed out, is that in evolution there are all sorts of bizarre things that come about. Some are dead ends, others serve a purpose for a while and then are no longer needed. Some pretty strange and inefficient ways to go about things have occurred. And then there are the by-products, things which can't necessarily be said to confer some kind of evolutionary benefit but exist anyway. So why is this not so with thought? I am trying to build a case for "irrationalities" here - they seem a natural part of the system to me. There are also plenty of systems of thought that are logically consistent but fundamentally irrational. I'm not sure how these fit in here, actually, but thought I'd mention them.




message 3: by Jona (new)

Jona | 7 comments Chomsky's theory is not structuralist enough by default and never claimed to be. It is informed by his mathematical background, hence his attachment to scientific approach. I am not interested in ideological debates so I won't go into discussing the degree to which a theory adheres to one paradigm or another (paradigms are guidelines for semantic cohesion, not ultimate realities). Chomsky advanced the idea of a sort of a mental black box where language is "self-generated" by empirically observing that children produce more linguistic output than they have received as input in a particular time-span. His theory is only a hypothesis to explain this phenomenon and, it seems to me, a crude one at that. However, his findings are worth considering in any language theory, despite the baffling tendency of structuralists to omit inconvenient empirical data.

Regarding the scientific vs. constructivist paradigm (which i'd call the positivist vs. the structuralist), as i said earlier, these are only guidelines and the moment they are taken as anything more than that, we're in trouble. One important note I'd like to make is that those two paradigms are not by any stretch as divergent and opposing as they are usually thought to be since they both aim to flatten the world into a surface description. In that sense, they serve the same purpose of streamlining the thought process into dynamic reflection, away from in-depth contemplation, hence the military dynamic of most contemporary approaches to knowledge and life in general. I am far from trying to discredit those approaches, on the contrary, they have greta merits, but just providing a critical glimse at their dark side , rarely if ever addressed in this collective manner. They seem to lash at each other at levels that are only further obscuring this "enframing" platform they both share.


message 4: by [deleted user] (last edited Mar 25, 2008 05:26PM) (new)

Thanks Jona. There is quite a bit to address here, so I'll attempt to address one issue at a time. However, since I am very much interested in ideological debates, I will challenge some of what you write here not simply in epistemological terms but in political & historical ones as well.

First to the conflation of structuralism & constructivism. For me, these terms are in no way synonymous. I can see how they can to be conflated in the work of a thinker like Jean Piaget-- who explored the definition of structuralism early on in his career and opened that term up to what he imagined to be a process orientation to human growth, development, & learning.

Yet I would argue that the extent to which Piaget failed to envision constructivism as an open-ended and ambiguous process of dialectical (trialectical?) interchange between individual, social context, and historical change was a function of his continued investment in an opposing structuralist project. It limited his sense of process to a linear orchestration of "discrete stages," it limited his expression of human potential to a model defined by his culture as "scientific thinking," and it confined his methodology to a laboratory in which a rather slim degree of human diversity was actually measured.

To my mind, Lev Vygotsky breaks more ground as far as essentially constructivist priciples are concerned. Constructivism "wants to be" social & historical-- & certainly scientific too-- if science is defined as a model in which observable phenomenon can be abstracted into theoretical models which validate specific methods and practices of engaging the world-- creating understanding, generating useful tools & technologies, engaging meaning, & interacting with others.

So for me, constructivism & structuralism are two very discrete mindsets.

Secondly, which I think I already started toward, science itself can be thought of in constructivist terms. Alchemical science was hardly positivist & niether is quantuum physics-- at least to the extent that it admits to the fact that perception & conception challenge, change, & transform their objects of inquiry.

In a very real way all of these paradigms can all be subsumed under science-- positivism, structuralism, constructivism, alchemy, bloodletting. Christianity was scientific according to Thomas Aquinas-- like Oedipus was historal according to Aristotle.

Onwards to a definition of "paradigm"-- & here is where my constructivist impulse will address your desire to remain outside the debate over ideologies. I think paradigms are more than "guidelines for semantic cohesion"-- they are systems which not only effect & have consequences related to our social organization, they are also constructs that result as the outgrowth of such social organization. Our epistemological context, our intellectual development within a particular zeitgeist- these predispose us to a sense of what is "cohesive" & what is not. Subsituting "coherence" for "truth" doesn't really take us all that far. Okay, we say, yes this is not objective-- perhaps we can't arrive at that-- but we can still orchestrate an epistemological system "stable" within its regime of signification-- unburdened by internal contradiction, in which part follows part without rupture & aporia. But that in itself is merely an ideological projection of a certain order. The system appears stable, cohesive-- just as the sun appeared to revolve around the earth to those scientists who couldn't follow Gallileo's breakthrough beyond its apparent madness.

Perhaps Wittgenstein was correct in observing that the semantic cohesion he went looking for in his Tractacus left him in a universe so devoid of the inassimilable detritus of experience that one could no longer recognize its relationship to universe at all.

All of this having been said, I would look for a definition of paradigm more in keeping with what I often counsel my clients-- "If an idea or a concept is troubling you, recognize that you can change it. Don't worry so much about what is true or false (or in this case cohesive)-- concern yourself with whether this concept or idea is working for you or against you. Then you can decide whether to keep it or throw it away."

That is what being a constructivist means to me.

See also the following Wikipedia site (yes-- I am very much aware of how extremely anti-constructivist it is to suggest turning to Wikipedia for information-- as always, read critically what is there) for a brief overview of constructivism:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Construc...


message 5: by Jona (new)

Jona | 7 comments Bruce, I would like to continue this conversation but I jumped in without any consideration of the time it would demand should it begin to snowball, which it seems to have done.

I was not referring to Piaget when I used structuralism and constructivism interchangeably (but by no means synonymously). I did so strategically because I see constructivism as an offshoot of more paradigmatically complex theories than structuralism and therefore not entirely equatable (although historically enmeshed) with the emergence of the paradigm we've been referring to. Likewise, I use positivist in lieu of scientific precisely because pre-positivist science (all else referred to as arts, such as in the art of alchemy) does not adhere to that paradigm. The positivist paradigm is the paradigm within which quantum physics worked towards its findings, e.g. the observation that elementary particles behave differently when an observer was eventuated by empirical procedures of laboratory experimentation. Although, since Popper, the positivist paradigm has been often called post-positivist, I tend to deliberately avoid such terminology, since any post- thinking is the historical development of the particular paradigm it works to elaborate. (I am not post-Jona now in relation to the Jona I was when 15 for instance).

That said, it baffles me how epistemoly is turned into an ideological battlefield. To say that one paradigm is more correct or truer than the other is akin to saying that the laws of Newton are not valid because of Bohr's findings, for instance, which is obviosuly not the case. Space-time and matter tend to behave differently on different levels, and the fact that an elementary particle may cross a mirror does not mean that on the level of objects (object-ive conglomeration of particles) a human being, a dog or even a fly, in the conditions of reason through which we have assembled our conventional reality, can pass through a mirror. I am not saying this is entirely impossible (or possible for that matter), but if that were to be corroborated as a universal possibility, it could be done so only insofar as we have collectively assembled the world through a completely different range of parameters that do not adhere to the current sensorium, etc., etc.

I know this perhaps throws more stones in a pond whose waves I may not be able to come back to contain, but in an ideal world I'd have the time and disposition to do so. Until that ideal world comes upon us, please excuse me if it takes me a while to resurface with any more thoughts on the subject.


message 6: by [deleted user] (last edited Mar 08, 2008 07:57AM) (new)

I looked up the last word in my American Heritage dictionary & it turned out to be "zymurgy." So then I typed in the words "zymurgy" & "positivism" into a google search engine & one of the few non-wordlist sites which came up was a study titled: Building a Future-- An Evaluation of Process and Outcomes of Service to Young People in Planned Residential Care Within Social Services Children's Homes.

I'm only halfway certain that there's really a connection between this result & our discussion above, & yet, even though I can't quite make it out, the mere suggestion of such a connection pretty much assures me that epistemologies & methods are indeed battlegrounds of the ideological.

There is a difference between saying "This paradigm is true & that one is false" versus saying "This paradigm supports this social organization of human life & that one another." Both paradigms & epistemologies invariably do the latter, even if the means by which they do so remains invisible to those who utilize them-- probably, in fact, by very means of that invisibility for the most part.

So one could say, I suppose, "Therefore, all social organizations are created equal, are equally valid means of organizing human life, &--at least in so far as they conform to a coherent & cohesive set of conceptual principles-- at least in so far as they manifest an epistemology which governs a smaller subset of congruent paradigms-- their forms & functions are beyond critique."

That would be the position of sociological relativism. Is there also an epistemological relativism? Well, there would have to be in order to support how & why all societies are valid means of human organization.

How can we refute the type of thinking that supports a position of social relativism? At the outset of The Sane Society, Erich Fromm proposes that we can do so by first studying the "objective needs" of humanity, defining the nature of humanity, & then comparing these with the actual condition of humanity in any given society. Fromm considers himself part of the scientific tradition, & even beyond that espouses the importance of reason in a manner that aligns him with certain aspects of enlightenment thinking-- specifically, in the manner in which he emphasizes the connection between reason & the constitution of ethics & moral principles. In that aspect of his thought he follows a thinker like Spinoza.

Without rejecting the idea of reason altogether, I'd like to suggest that we can arrive at the same place-- at the summit from which a notion of sociological & epistemological relativism can be viewed & critiqued-- from a more intuitive & experiential route. I believe that as human beings, we intuitively recognize that, in addition to being individuals, we are also part of a collective & collaborative fabric of being: this one's pain is also my pain, that one's joy makes me happy. I learn this-- I experience it on a daily basis, but I may never put it into an intellectual or epistemological framework-- it remains intuitive-- perhaps on the unconscious level if my society has done a sufficient job of casting me into the mold of robopath. But from here, from this place of intuition & experience, I can note what is wrong-- I can comprehend the meaning of exploitation, injustice, oppression, degredation-- of all sorts of harm to others. I may not be capable of ideology critique just yet, but I can still see the imperfections of my community, my society, my culture-- & I can project myself as an agent of change & transformation.

My understanding of the purpose of this discussion group is that it explores a variety of means through which these transformations might take place & how we might all become more effective agents of such change & challenge. Once we begin to regard systems of thought as ideologically "neutral"-- as simple frameworks for knowing, thinking, & modelling outside of the network of their social consequences, we accept the limitations of our vision. In doing so, that which requires invisibility in order to confine & regulate our existence, simply remains invisible.


message 7: by Jona (new)

Jona | 7 comments Bruce,

I'm not sure you're responding to me in your last post or just expressing thoughts, but in the likely possibility it is the former, you seem to go off on a tangent that has little to do with what I've said and deliberately, or not, either misread it, overead it or entirely divert it. In this case I don't see much potential for a constructive dialogue.

I am thoroughly familiar with the range of ideologiacl interpretations of the existing paradigms, so no need to give me any sort of intorduction. When I said I'm not interested in such dialogue, I though it implied I situated myself from an informed position. I believe that reality and the corresponding paradigms themselves are much more complex and polysemic than a single ideology can derive from them. Moreover, ideology tends to strategically undermine said ocmplexities. Therefore, although incidentally (but not as vehemently) I do use predominantly constructivist aproaches in my work, I don't embrace a single one of the established paradigms. I tend to be a methodological anarchist in the sense Feyerabend postulated, believing that subscribing to a single methodological outlook is necessarily (as you point out yourself) meta-ideological. Subscribing to an outlook, no matter how radical one believes it is, is doing little more than what society has been fostering all along. In other words, it means participating in a dynamic that is already implicitely prescribed within an order determined to sustain itself. I see nothing subversive in such an approach. For me a true subversion is to strive to establish a free relationship, in the Heideggerian sense, to key phenomena, theories, paradigms, etc.


So, I hope you'll understand (and excuse me) if I choose to abstain from engaging in dialogues that would lead me no further than reiterating what I already explicitely know.


message 8: by [deleted user] (last edited Mar 23, 2008 02:22PM) (new)

Well, if the life, thought, & action of Martin Heidegger is your paragon-- or, forgive me, idea/l-- of "true subversion," I can certainly see why we are having a difficult time communicating.

I suppose the "lucky numbers" for such a system of subversion mught be 27 & 28-- 27 being the year Heidegger published Sein und Zeit-- the volume which ensured his institutionalization within the tradition of western philosophy-- & 28 being the sum total of all of the digits appearing on his National Socialist registration card-- unless my math is wrong--add it up for yourself to confirm my numerological accuracy: 312589.

I myself "explicitely know" very little & so the act of communicating my processes toward understanding to self & others is still of some value & consequence to me.

At least we both agree that further discussion would be utterly pointless.


message 9: by [deleted user] (last edited Mar 24, 2008 07:30AM) (new)

... or perhaps not so utterly pointless. Perhaps ultimately pointless to one end-- to you, Jona, & I coming closer in our ability to communicate & discover some principle of agreement. But perhaps not so pointless for the purpose of communicating to ourselves & others why this conversation has devolved into a debate rather than proceeding as a purposeful quest for common ground.

Language is neat that way: when one makes an error, one can attempt to correct it & go on from there.

Jona, let me trace to that end & analyse some of the difficulties that I have had in following your comments.

1. In your first post you substitute the term "positivism" for "science"-- "science" being a term that Brian & I were using & attempting to decode from Chomsky's own use of the term. Chomsky seemed to use it as a code for a particular method of investigation fundamentally rationalist in nature. Brian opened up the discussion with an observation that even within scientific discourse there is room for the exploration of irrationality & irrational systems. We were also discussing the idea that certain aspects of evolutionary biology does account for "misdirection," & redundancy in a manner in which Chomsky's sense of the efficiency of the human mind does not. "Positivism" seemed to harken back to the idea of science we began with from Chomsky-- & which, in my mind at least, the discussion was moving away from toward a more radical understanding of both the fragmented nature of systems of thought & their interconnections.

2. We had seen Chomsky's rejection of behaviorism as positive & valuable, but I was trying to push a point still further-- that his construction of a single unifying grammar as universal to all human minds across cultures & time-- did not adequately account for human variablity & the openenedness of human thought-- this is why the conversation began to speak of "constructivism" & those philosophers of language less dependent upon a construct of universality.

By substituting "structualism" for "contructivism" you lost the distinction-- since structuralism's basic tenents are that there are human universals governing the underlying structure of thought & that these appear as binary oppositions.

3. You then used a structuralist approach to set up such an opposition between structuralism & positivism-- though I would think structuralism has more in common with positivism than it has in opposition to it. You then dismissed this opposition-- rhetorically situating it as part of the early discussion rather than promoting it as part of your own apparatus.

4. After I attempted to tease out the differences between structualism & constructivism (& I actually thought I was being generous by noting how one might confuse the terms if Piaget were one's point of reference)-- you wrote "[I used structuralism and constructivism interchangeably..] because I see constructivism as an offshoot of more paradigmatically complex theories than structuralism and therefore not entirely equatable (although historically enmeshed) with the emergence of the paradigm we've been referring to." I'm sorry, but that just doesn't make sense to me. I think you misidentified structuralism with constructivism at the outset & that no amount of rhetoric or sophistry can get you out of it.

5. Then you defined a paradigm as a set principles demonstrating internal cohesiveness designed at interpreting the world. Okay-- but you also suggested that it "baffled" you that such a system could be interpreted from an ideological perpective. I took that literally & attempted to explain why & how such discourses arise. You responded "I am thoroughly familiar with the range of ideologiacl interpretations of the existing paradigms, so no need to give me any sort of intorduction. When I said I'm not interested in such dialogue, I though it implied I situated myself from an informed position." Sorry, that wasn't at all obvious to me & once again I thought I was being pretty generous & patient in teasing these ideas out.

6. In your first post you stated that the contructivist paradigm " aim[s] to flatten the world into a surface description. In that sense, [it] serve[s] the [] purpose of streamlining the thought process into dynamic reflection, away from in-depth contemplation, hence the military dynamic of most contemporary approaches to knowledge and life in general." This seems to be your argument against it, but you never demonstrate how this particular paradigm does this. The same can be said about your similar claims that ideology also flatten the complexities of the world as well as the complexity-- if I follow you-- of paradigms themselves. In any case, isn't your dismissal of the constructivist paradigm-- according to your own logic-- a flattening of its dynamics & complexities? Why, for you, are some paradigms "repproachable" & others not?

7. You also write "For me a true subversion is to strive to establish a free relationship, in the Heideggerian sense, to key phenomena, theories, paradigms, etc." Without returning, since I have already gone there, to how detestable I find Heidegger-- on almost every level imaginable-- doesn't your very penchant for debate rather than communication aimed at reaching a common ground belie the thinness of this claim? "I am not interested in ideological debates..." "I won't go" [discussion as] "snowball" "lash out at each other" "strategically" "battlefield" "stones in a pond" "go off on a tangent"-- these are the expressions & metaphors that you use to comment upon this discussion & on conversation in general. Do they really seem to you in keeping with the "potential for a constructive dialogue"-- with a "free relationship" to the world? Or does the "etc" not include such discussions as this one? One's basic metaphor for conversation-- however critical-- needn't be warfare.

Furthermore, I'm not certain as to whether subversions can be "true" or "false"-- or how "true" one might need to be to qualify. For me, subversion is not measured by the theoretical or philosophical complexity or sophistication of an outlook-- but rather by the measure of the actions & behaviors which it inspires. If your argument here at the end really is supporting those sorts of "connectivities" which Brian & I began to discuss earlier-- then why begin by constructing such an elaborate rhetorical fortress AGAINST such a notion? (I'm reappropriating your own metaphor of conversation as battle.) Why not begin with connectivity, openness, & "free relationships" from the very outset?




message 10: by Jona (new)

Jona | 7 comments This comment illustrates succinctly my point of finding your comment off the mark. I never said Heidegger was "my paragon", I used a concept of his as a shortcut. He never talked of subversion, I did and perhaps I was sloppy in using the term, because I am not interested in subversion itself, let alone true or false. It is curious that you read only this part (as you seem to extract information selectively to prove points, a rather ideological approach indeed) and clang to it.

That said, bringing the ghosts of Heidegger's life is another tactical approach that I find utterly out of place not only here but as a general cultural practice and a specific North American predilection (I'm not a native of these lands). I also regard this as a tactic of deflection from the points I bring up in order to simply acquire what you perceive as an upper hand at all cost (an approach often passed on as part of male socialization). To dismiss the entire philosophy of one of the most important thinkers of the 20th century on political grounds (that are not reflected in his writing) is simply a symptom of a world hellbent on warfare instead of understanding. To boot, and to come to your level of argument, perhaps you may want to also remember that heidegger was the mentor and long-time lover of Hannnah Arendt, one of the most important political thinkers of 20th century and a Jewish regugee to the U.S. After all, personal lives and public commitments, just as philosophies themselves, are not so simple black and white slates that can be waves as flags so easily, unless one deliberately closes one's eyes to their complexities (my point about ideologies).




message 11: by Jona (new)

Jona | 7 comments Bruce,

This is a comment to your second response. You are right, I did use "true" sloppily and, for that matter, as I mentioned, "subversion" too - i was riding briefly on your horse about subversion and just took up the term. However, I never meant "subversion was measured by the theoretical or philosophical complexity", not even that it was "measured". Meaning is what I was refering to, not measurability. I have no schitzophrenia regarding theory and practice, so of course one has to walk the talk, not only in subversion.

I won't address your numerous and mindboggling misreadings of my hitherto scarce participation in this conversation but I tend to consider partial reading and disregard for explicit points a tactic of rhetorical warfare. I haven't seen your responses any attempt for understanding (the condition for "openness and connectivity"). Another tactic is drowning the central points in verbal avalanches of peripheral arguments. Last but not least is turning a (what could have been a Socratic) dialogue into a strings of accusations, largely extrapolated from decontextualized and magnified readings. Using systematically these tactics and then turning around to accuse the adressee of "constructing rhetorical fortress against connectivity" makes me wonder whether we don't have a case of the thief yelling "Catch the thief!".

Given your entire line of accusations above, i wouldn't consider validating your right to turn information around and call people on trial. Still, I am taking the time because I should've thought twice before injecting my two cents.

Before I proceed, I just want to point out that, until now, it hadn't crossed my mind I had to "get myself out of" any point I've made. And I still don't intend to. What I say is only to clarify in view to a better understanding of our misalignment (a hope that, given your approach, feels very small indeed).

I believe that the initial misunderstanding of my first post sprang from the fact that I unconsciously asumed your use of the term "paradigm" was academically informed, i.e. that you were using it the way it's conventionalized in academia (where it emerged). But of course this term has a wider and diverse use both across disciplines, levels of research and language. So, perhaps for basing my "two cents" on this assumption, I owe you this clarification (please, excuse me if I repeat things that you may know):

In epistemology (where the term has been established as platform for knowledge, following its coining as a gramatical term by de Saussure), there are two or four (depending on your periodization, etc.) conventionalized paradigms - positivist, post-positivist, critical theory and constructivist. Here I'm randomny using one delineation, because, except for positivism (and post-positivism), academics use a range of terms to denote the last two paradigms. The first two and the last two form pairs with less difference as the post-positivist, for instance, is only an offshoot of positivism (as is constructivist to critical theory one). The critical theory paradigm (you may encounter a range of terms for this one) is best examplified by structuralism, hence my preference. The paradigm called by some constructivist shares the subjectivist outlook of agency. I prefer to fuse the two pairs, by giving precedence to the later paradigms since they incorporate and build on their predecessors. Those two pairs are also commonly referred to as objectivist and subjectivist paradigms, refering to their understanding of ontology.

I avoid the term constructivist in referring to the subjectivist paradigm, because constructivism, as I said earlier, is a more complex tradition that dates back to Kant and, to me, this bleeding of the term tends to obscure the philosophical tradition. By choosing the term structuralist I also implicitely refer to the father of the term, de Saussure. That said, of course I wasn't trying to change your vocabulary, just to introduce mine so that there are no misunderstandings as to what we refer to.

As for scientific and positivist - this is a much simpler case as it is not a contested ground in academic terminology. The positivist paradigm (including post-positivist, first postulated by Popper) is the paradigm of science. Science being natural sciences. Some academics refer to the social disciplines as sciences and some refer to them as arts. The argument of whether social disciplines are sciences has been going on since Comte postulated positivism. I tend to exclude social disciplines from science because I don't believe they can organically accomodate scientific method exclusively without becoming severely handicapped.

Another note worth making is that the terms objectivity and inter-subjectivity seem to be used very loosely - generally academics versed in one of the two paradigms (usually the "subjectivist" one to use a more neutral term) tend to ascribe inter-subjectivity to constructivism (because of its integral part to Husserl's methodology) and objectivity to the positivist outlook, sometimes in a strategic attempt to caricature the latter. In fact inter-subjectivity was postulated at the very onset of positivism and most explicitely in the Vienna Circle manifesto. In his late works Husserl, who is often ambiguously linked to the term by those unfamilliar with positivism, dedicated a lot to the notion, mainly in the context of his examination of the scientific outlook and the respective positioning of phenomenology. In short, the aspect of inter-subjectivity sometimes credited to the constructivist paradigm exclusively is a key positivist idea and is also explicitely included in the positivist outlook. This point of discursive ambiguity is another reason why I tend to shy away form using the term constructivist in relation to paradigms. Again, I am not saying you should drop the term - the choice of terminology in matters like this is simply a guideline to one's preferred references rather than a territory of contestation. I don't mind and do understand when people refer to the subjectivist paradigm as constructivist (and what they mean by it).

In short, I used the term paradigm in its academic sense since the talk was about Chomsky. I also privately use the term metaphysical paradigm but since modern epistemology has widely discarded the idea of metaphysical knowledge (and the term paradigm came about within this anti-metaphysical tradition), I suppose that in order to publicise a term like this, one has to publicise also a revisited notiion of metaphysics. I am not even sure "metaphysical" is the best term to start with. Needless to say, disciplines such as alchemy (which you mentioned earlier in relation to science) would fall in this paradigm.

I hope I clarified some points that I quite negligently assumed would be self-evident in my first post. I apologize for having wrecked havock on your dialogue. I hope there won't be any more call for my participation.


message 12: by Jona (new)

Jona | 7 comments I'm sorry, upon reading my post, I noticed I have ommited an important calrification:

The subjectivist and objectivist paradigms are umbrellas for the two groups of quantitative and qualitative methods, this is perhaps the clearest delineation. I shouldn't have used subjectivist and objectivist at all because both terms permeat the ontologies on both sides (as earlier mention in regard to inter-subjectivity). My delineation is based mainly on the distinction between methodologies that are concerned with entities and those concerned with structures. The qualitative methodologies focus on relationships, largely veiwing reality as a (nominal) structure constucted and enacted by human agency. The quantitaive methodologies focus on measurable phenomena, viewing reality in terms of common denominators that warrantee that measurability, i.e. reality existing independent of human agency. Sometimes the constructivist paradigm (in the four-fold model) is credited with only two methods specific to philosophical constructivism - dialectics and hermeneutics. I can see how you could not fit structuralism here. However, in most four-fold models (that are more inclusive and less qualitatively inclined) the paradigm sometimes called constructivist is of course called something else (e.g. radical humanist) and includes anarchism, existentialism, etc. (i.e. theories that employ a range of methods). These were the ones I referred to. You see in this quite contested lousy territory of meta-categorization, it is imperative to clarify those points or else we inevitably run in grave misalignments, as the one this post is trying to rectify.




message 13: by [deleted user] (last edited Mar 24, 2008 06:51PM) (new)

Jona, it is becoming sort of weirdly fascinating to me, not so much that we disagree, but that neither of us seems to recognize ourselves in the other's depiction of our own discourse. Perhaps you'll disagree with that too-- but I sense it in the comments above-- & for myself that is certainly the case. It is as if, although we utilize the same terms, for each of us they have entirely different meanings. & so we continue to speak, each insisting upon the precedent of our own referents & dismissing those of the other. Any attempt at clarification on either of our parts seems to devolve into further confusion & further disagreement.

So for me "constructivism" in some of its more radical manifestations is tied to pedagogical discoures-- particularly those of Vygotsky, Freire, & a few others. I associate structualism with the French camp, including Levi Strauss, Todorov, et al. For me, these are two very different sets of ideas-- but-- & I still don't claim to follow your typology-- but for you these ideas are at least close enough to use somewhat interchangeably-- one being-- maybe this is still incorrect-- a subcategory of the other.

& for you, positivism seems to be synonymous with science-- whereas for me it is a specific trajectory of scientific thinking-- maybe a particular episteme of science-- but not the totality of it.

For you, subjectivism & objectivism are paradigms-- whereas for me these are formal constructions of thought & hence fall within a structuralist way of thinking-- as such I would reject them as simplifications of little value.

For you, ideology critique seems to be a simplification of complexity & variability-- & for me it is an important part of critical thinking-- a level of analysis tied to historicization, & to the manner in which any discourse is embedded in the social context from which it emerges-- whether productive & socially liberating or conservatizing & detrimental to human potential.

Human inter-relatedness is an important concept for me-- as is inter-subjectivity for you-- but once again-- I don't see how our understanding of these concepts relate to one another.

We use the words "true" & "false" in different ways.

We have a very different sort of relationship to the academy. For you my use of the word "constructivism" is not at all "academically informed." For me, my use of the word "constructivism" is always already way TOO academically informed.

Even specifically, our languages cannot speak to one another. You refer to "subversion" as being my horse-- but I don't even recall using the word prior to your evocation of Heidegger.

We have very differnt interests in understanding-- the two to four paradigms you cite under your epistemology paragraph-- I have no interest in these-- whereas you have no interest in ideology critique or "subversion itself"-- I was going to say "subversiveness"-- however I feared that you might find that another example of my inability to get your point.

In fact, my ability to get your points & follow your arguments is quite limited-- & I intend no irony or sarcasm here.

In spite of the attention paid to him by the academy, I find Heidegger to be, in my admittedly very, very limited reading of him, completely uninteresting. & the idea that the heinous nature of his actions can be qualified by the complexities of human existence-- I can't swallow, or buy, or accept (choose your metaphor) that at all. I don't see such a rejection as an example of black & white thinking-- I see it as an insistence upon the ethical dimension of thinking which, once again for me, Heidegger seems incapable of. I believe that Levinas pointed this out as well-- even though he wasn't an American. On his long standing relation to Arendt I have no comment-- except to admit that I cannot fathom it-- that a woman of such obvious intellectual capacity & such a conviction to living through ethical principles-- could tolerate the company of such a man. I am not willing to make a judgment against acts of love-- I am quite willing to make judgments against acts of oppression & persecution.

In any case, although political action & thought/writing are never one, their degree of separation or proximity does have meaning-- I think, worth considering, discussing, attempting in some sense to resolve.

In fact, as I recall, this whole discussion began as an attempt-- at one point it seemed some progress was being made in this direction-- at squaring apparent disparities between political philosophy & approaches (paradigms) to understanding language & mind.

Peace out. Fin.

Onwards. "zymurgy."




message 14: by Feliks (new)

Feliks (dzerzhinsky) | 10 comments All of the discourse above ...about this or that 'pioneer' ...and not one mention of Buckminster Fuller.


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