Thursday, June 29, 2006

Acquiring Social Knowledge

To understand the logic of the behavior of matter, one observes the behavior itself. The action of men is meaningful to them. Men define their situation and act in certain ways to achieve their ends. In doing so, they construct a social world. An understanding of man’s subjective intentions requires interpretive understanding by theorists who share these subjective meanings. To make sense of an act, an observer must place it within a category which he can comprehend, and it may mean something totally different to the actor himself. The danger is of missing the significance of the act to the participants themselves. Rather than focusing on behavior, it is commonly suggested that the theorist should be concerned with action.

Action arises from meanings which defines social reality. People assign meanings to situations and to the actions of others, and react in terms of the interpretation suggested by these meanings. Action is the result of expectations arising out of past experience. Meaning is found within social life and history. The meaning of our social world is given to us by the past history and present structure of our society. In Alfred Schutz’s words:

“It has a particular meaning and relevance structure for the human beings living, thinking and acting therein. They have pre-selected and pre-interpreted this world by a series of common-sense constructs of the reality of daily life, and it is these thought-objects which determine their behavior, define the goal of their action, and the means available for obtaining them”. (Alfred Schutz; The Phenomenology of the Social World; 1972).

When we enter the social world it is already organized and coherent. We experience the world as an unquestionable reality. We know this social world through a shared stock of knowledge and the correctness of this knowledge is continually reinforced by the actions of others. It follows from this that explanations of human actions must take into account of the meanings which those concerned assign to their acts.

As can be seen, the outside world is complex. The result is we are likely to be selective, to oversimplify and to lose information in the process. Our ability to test information diminishes as objects recede into the distance. It becomes very easy for us to reduce the strange, the problematic, to inconsequentiality, even, triviality.

To make sense of an act, an observer must place it within a category which he can comprehend and it may mean something totally different to the actor himself. The danger is of missing the significance of the act to the participants themselves. Rather than focussing on behavior, it is commonly suggested that we should be concerned with actions. Actions arises from meanings which defines social reality. People assign meanings to situations and to the actions of others, and react in terms of the intepretation suggested by these meanings. Action is the result of expectations arising out of past experience. meaning is found within social life and history. The meaning of our social world is given to us by the past history and present structure of our society.

Just remember Bertrand Russell: Science is what we know; Philosophy is what we don't know!

In order to discover, we must commence with the awareness of anomaly, i.e. with the recognition that nature has somehow violated the paradigm-induced expectations that govern normal science. It then continues with a more or less extended exploration of the area of anomaly. If an anomaly is to invoke crisis, it must usually be more than just an anomaly We therefore have to ask what it is that makes an anomaly seem worth concerted scrutiny, and to that question there is probably no fully general answer. Any cases we examined are characteristics but scarely prescriptive.

All crisis begins with the blurring of a paradigm and the consequent loosening of the rules. Falsification, though it surely occurs, does not happen with, or simply because of, the emergence of an anomaly or falsifying instance. Instead, it is a subsequent and separate process that we may call verification since it consists in the triumph of a new paradigm over the old one.

The man who embraces a new paradigm must often do so in defiance of the evidence provided by problem validation. We must, that is, have faith that the new paradigm will succeed with the many that confront it, knowing only that the older paradigm has failed with a few. A decision of that kind can only be made on faith...

If clarity is needed to gain entry, consistency is required to remain there.

Any values or norms presented or endorsed within a human society constitute its most subjective aspect and, in the end, assessment of the evaluative content is a matter for personal moral judgment which cannot be tested except by reference to that individual's own moral standard.

To define is strictly to substitute a word or words for another set of words, and these further words may and generally will stand in need of additional explanations.

That choice will be influenced by the ideology of the chooser and at such, linguistic recommendations may be activated consciously or subconsciously by some underlying premises. It must be borne in mind that beneath even the most apparent, there may lurk deeply held political ideologies.

Words themselves usually contain many emotional overtones and the choice of language may act as what have been termed "persuasive definitions", inducing practical and psychological consequences or effects on the part of those to whom they are directed.

For to assert that the principles we uphold and expound compels us to a conclusion we are ashamed of, and from which we can only escape by appealing to a dispensation resting within the personal whim of the executives, seems to amount to an admission that the principles we have no longer pretends to incorporate justice.

The proposition that all positive principles of our law is based on the premise of men's co-existence has a strange sound ... like the air we breath, it so pervades our environment that we forget that it exists until we are suddenly deprived of it.

It has from antiquity been recognized that the most basic principle of law and government is to be found in the notion of social contract or agreement. The power of government can only be justified morally on the ground that these are powers that reasonable men would agree upon and accept if they were faced with the necessity of constructing anew some order to make their life in common possible. If we can find no higher source for our social order, what higher source should we expect those starving unfortunate to find for the order they adopted for themselves? The usual conditions of human existence incline us to think of human life as an absolute value, not to be sacrificed under any circumstances. If things can be said of a society functioning above ground in a normal and ordinary manner, what shall we say of the supposed absolute value of a human life in the desperate situation in which those deprived found themselves?

It may be possible to raise a question of the distinction between intelligent and unintelligent fidelity... it is a question of practical wisdom, to be exercised in a context, not of abstract theory, but of human realities.

1 comment:

Elmina Kenley said...

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