Postmodernist flips

30 Sep, 2021 at 11:23 | Posted in Theory of Science & Methodology | 1 Comment

The Annual Equality Lecture with Professor Andrew Sayer - Social Science  blogI have argued against the postmodern tendency to flip from naive objectivism to relativism and idealism, from totalities to fragments, and from ethnocentrisms to new forms of self-contradictory cultural relativism. A realist approach shows us that we can escape from these alternatives. The Modernist project — and more specifically, critical social science — don’t need foundationalism or notions of absolute truth. They can be not only better understood but furthered through a critical realist interpretation. The new kinds of idealism and relativism that have infected postmodernist thought offer no support to critical social science, to anti-racism and feminism.

Let us update Hume’s taunts against idealism: we will see how idealists — all those who bracket out reality, who imagine that knowledge is purely a matter of rhetoric and power, those who want to throw out reference and representation along with any concept of truth — fare when the meeting is ended. Truth being apparently purely a matter of convention or power and purely internal to theory and nothing to do with representation of some external ‘reality’, it will of course be easy for the anti-realists to change the conventions and leave through (the so-called) solid walls rather than through the doors of realist orthodoxy. And to add a dash of Bachelard, we shall see the difference between the nocturnal philosophies of the idealists and their diurnal realism, when at the end of the meeting, they sheepishly leave by the door.

Andrew Sayer

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  1. Isn’t this kind of naive, wall-based realism responsible for Maginot Lines and Great Walls that didn’t work?
    .
    Do zoom meetings have walls?
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    What if I am a naive idealist who just does not yet know enough to project my story on walls? (But Hitler and Mongols were able to figure out ways?)
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    Was Simon Newcomb being stubbornly realist when he wrote, in 1903: “when we inquire whether aerial flight is possible in the present state of our knowledge; whether, with such materials as we possess, a combination of steel, cloth and wire can be made which, moved by the power of electricity or steam, shall form a successful flying machine, the outlook may be altogether different”?
    .
    Were epicyclists naive realists when they ridiculed Aristarchus’s heliocentric theory, because just look, the Sun is obviously moving while I’m not?
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    Were the doctors who treated US president Garfield naive critical realists who steadfastly refused to wash their hands because germs couldn’t be seen and thus obviously couldn’t exist? Didn’t the naively realist medical community ridicule Ignaz Semmelweis for his suggestions about washing hands?
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    Could I go on and on? Was Wegener unfairly mocked for continental drift theory “because it had no mechanism”, yet physics today accepts dark energy, dark matter, entanglement, etc. despite these theories providing no mechanisms?


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