01 September 2008

Blogs ~ Changing Society (Daniel Little)

As I noted here some time ago, Daniel Little, a remarkably smart and clear-headed philosopher has been keeping a blog called Understanding Society. I just realized that he also is keeping a parallel blog called Changing Society too. This is unsurprising given Dan's own interests and writings. From my own theoretical vantage point it is very nice to see too. Why? A lot of my own work involves worrying about causal mechanisms (which we use to explain social and political phenomena) and the conditions under which we anticipate that the will operate in regularized ways. In that sense I am something of a "realist" in philosophical terms. But I also believe that the primary reason we are concerned with underlying causal relations is because we have an interest in successfully navigating the world, where, importantly, that means reforming and improving the practices and institutions we use for that purpose. That makes me something of an instrumentalist with regard to the models, theories and concepts that constitute social and political inquiry. And that combination of commitments - realism with regard to causation and instrumentalism with respect to intellectual tools -does not make me "confused," it makes me a pragmatist. So, from my pragmatist position, Dan's concern not just with understanding society, but with changing it too is thoroughly appropriate.

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4 Comments:

Blogger Dawei_in_Beijing said...

Catch this?: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/01/business/worldbusiness/01vogue.html?ref=business

01 September, 2008 12:10  
Blogger satanas said...

``I am something of a "realist" in philosophical terms.''

I am puzzled by this. As you state elsewhere, mechanisms cannot be falsified. I wonder what does your commitment to ``realism with regard to causation'' entail.

03 September, 2008 09:45  
Blogger satanas said...

``I am something of a "realist" in philosophical terms.''

I am puzzled by this. As you state elsewhere, mechanisms cannot be falsified. I wonder what does your commitment to ``realism with regard to causation'' entail.

03 September, 2008 09:46  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

Mechanisms are components of some larger theory. The theory invokes aome mechanism or concatenation of mechanisms as part of an explanatory account. The mechanisms themselves are often unobservable (hence they are not simply 'intervening variables', since a variable is observable). That we cannot directly observe a mechanism, does not imply that it does not exist. So, we cannot observe reasons (beliefs and desires); but that does not mean people do not 'have' them or that they do not cause people to act in this or that way.

What is more, none of that means that the theories of which causal mechanisms are components cannot be evaluated empirically.

03 September, 2008 10:17  

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