Theory-ladenness

22 May, 2022 at 23:38 | Posted in Theory of Science & Methodology | 1 Comment

Observation of real world objects and events is viewed as theory laden....  | Download Scientific DiagramIt is now widely recognised that observation is not theory-neutral but theory-laden, and that theory does not merely ‘order facts’ but makes claims about the nature of its object. So, in evaluating observations we are also assessing particular theoretical concepts and existential claims. A common response to this shattering of innocent beliefs in the certainty and neutrality of observation has been the development of idealist (especially conventionalist and rationalist) philosophies which assume that if observation is theory-laden, it must necessarily be theory-determined, such that it is no longer possible to speak of criteria of ‘truth’ or ‘objectivity’ which are not entirely internal to ‘theoretical discourse’. However, this is a non-sequitur for at least two reasons. First, theory-laden observation need not be theory-determined. Even the arch-conventionalist Feyerabend (1970) acknowledges that ‘it is possible to refute a theory by an experience that is entirely interpreted within its own terms’. If I ask how many leaves there are on a tree, my empirical observation will be controlled by concepts regarding the nature of trees, leaves and the operation of counting, but to give an answer I’d still have to go and look! In arguing that there are no extra-discursive criteria of truth, recent idealists such as Hindess and Hirst echo Wittgenstein’s identification of the limits of our world with the limits of language, and share the confusion of questions of What exists? with What can be known to exist? The truism that extra-discursive controls on knowledge can only be referred to in discourse does not mean that what is referred to is purely internal to discourse. Secondly, and more simply, it does not follow from the fact that all knowledge is fallible, that it is all equally fallible.

Andrew Sayer

1 Comment

  1. How do you define “facts”? And why would Wittgenstein in Tractatus only acknowledge “Facts” with natural science and objectively observed “facts”, as often is claimed, about things in the world? Why should intra-psychical “facts” not be included as an observation through dialog and interaction between human beings? Because it’s based on interaction?

    And in this perspective follows that Wittgenstein analyzed language and language games as a further evaluation of “facts”, what constitute a factual definition of a “thing”, an rule or what is what? Is it possible to identify rules, laws and objects without manipulating them? Acting and get a feedback e.g. stamp on a stone and get feedback that it does not react and does not change in any way? Or a lab test even if the test utilizes knowledge and instruments that has been proven elsewhere? The distinction of direct knowledge and indirect must be a proven “fact”?

    I cannot see that Tractatus describes a mechanical world. It seems to me more of an investigation about the logic of defining facts, but obviously, these aforisms is inconclusive as something always must be defined in relation to other objects.

    I cannot see that Wittgenstein in “philosophical investigations” proposed anything that leads to social constructivism or post-modernism? How to understand a psychological interaction by “My truth and your truth”? What would come out of a therapeutic session? Despair, confusion, learning to swim with anxiety? Drown anxiety instead.


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