Re: Postmodern Anthropology

Doug Matthews (doug@GIBBS.OIT.UNC.EDU)
Fri, 3 Dec 1993 23:21:00 +0500

On Fri, 3 Dec 1993, Kathleen G Williamson wrote:

> its not a "new" buzz, its the same old dualistic (classicism/romaticism
> etc) human nature rearing its
> ugly old head again, lest we abandon the shadows on the wall and get a
> glimpse of what is going on outside the
> cave. the post-mos and the positos are going to have to get along if we
> are ever going to get close to the real art of vision (vision is the art
> of seeing things invisible - Jonathan Swift) and truth, reality?

Doesn't a phrase like "the real art of vision" really illustrate one of the
major "discoveries" of post-modern thought regarding the fundamental
_inability_ to grasp the objective, given that our vision is inevitably
ours alone and concepts like "truth" and "reality" are simply catchwords
for legitimating statements with an agenda, intentional or not?

> anyway,
> George Cowgill's lecture in the recent sept AAA journal mentions something
> interesting regarding Bayesian statistics, wherein "one's prior knowledge
> and beliefs can often be built explicitly into the equations and can thus be
> made overt rather than covert. One can then formalize the interaction
> between prior beliefs and new data...a great improvement over classical
> staistical models for reasoning.. (ie., sweeping subjective elements under
> he rug.."). I find this to be a fascinating development in the movement
> away from the artificial bifurcation of subjective and objective. any
> comments?

How does "formalizing" subjectivity and (implicit in the quotation)
attempting to see around it or at least systematically measuring it differ
in the least from the desire for "objective" knowledge? In this
particular case, we just see an attempt to objectify and quantify the
subjective--an interesting theoretical model, but I would image it would
be somewhat challenging to put into action. How does one, following the
logic, subsequently "formalize the interaction" between the prior beliefs
of the formalizer of the "interaction between prior beliefs and new data"
and the conclusions that she or he comes to about said interaction? It is
not a way out of the conflict, just one more step to be taken with regard
to the subjective/objective bifurcation.

I really think that Habermas is on to something with the assertion that
what should be sought is a communicative model of understanding, one that
recognizes the inherent synthesis of objective and subjective, and does
not attempt to "separate" the two through quantification, reflexive
self-interrogation and so on... at least, I think that's what Habermas is
saying. I'll be the first to admit some real trouble reading that work.
But that's what _I_ get out of it, whether it proves objectively true to
the work, and as such, is what I can assert in staying with the model above.

Doug Matthews
UNC-Chapel Hill