Graber Philosophy of Science

Danny Yee (danny@ORTHANC.CS.SU.OZ.AU)
Mon, 20 Dec 1993 00:29:36 +1100

A well argued response from Bob Graber; as there are several
components to our debate I will break my response up.


First I must apologise if I appeared to insinuate that Graber didn't know
much about the philosophy of science; it is manifestly clear from his
posts that he does, and I was in fact assuming he was familiar with the
authors I listed. What I meant to suggest was that he hadn't taken
sufficient account of their work.


Graber takes me to task for not explaining why I think Tarski failed. I
don't think Tarksi failed (and never said so); I *do* think there is
more to truth than he kenned. In particular I do not believe one can
divorce a definition of truth from an understanding of the ways in which
one discovers it. Ontology is inextricably intertwined with
epistemology, and epistemology (as philosophers of science have shown)
is rather more complex than one might think.


Bob Graber says he doesn't accept that there are ways of knowing other
than science. But even Marvin Harris (_Cultural Materialism_ page 315)

"... there are domains of experience, knowledge of which cannot be
achieved by scientific research. The ecstatic knowledge of mystics and
saints, the visions and hallucinations of drug users and schizophrenics,
and the aesthetic insights of artists, poets, and musicians are
certainly not obscurantist merely because they are not based on
scientific research principles."

Now if Graber were prepared to accept this, and to expand the list to
include such fields as literary criticism and Geertzian style
interpretive anthropology, I would feel much happier. Perhaps the main
obstacle to this is that there is a struggle over the rights to the word
"anthropology", as well as over academic positions and material
resources? Would the ?neo-positivists?cultural-materialists? be prepared
to accept that there was some value in alternative approaches to
anthropology if they were labelled something else and funded out of a
different budget to that of "scientific" anthropology? (And if the
practitioners of these approaches stopped attacking them, of course!)

Another problem may be that people want students to join their research
programmes rather than others. The solution here is easier - let the
students decide what they are interested in! There will always be people
interested in the scientific study of society, even when they can get
facile but apparently transcendent answers that require little thought
from "postmodernists" (or astrologists for that matter :-).


> Finally, Yee asks whether lumping all anti-science as "postmodernism"
> isn't a bit like some animists lumping non-animists ("materialists," as
> Tylor himself called us) as "secular humanists"? Yes, definitely. It
> is a lot like it. So now I must confess to a grudging admiration for
> the perspicacity of those fundamentalists who can smell us a mile away.
> We are eminently "lumpable" because we all share the crucial feature
> of rejecting their revelation in favor of evidence and reason; just so,
> the secular anti-science crowd is eminently lumpable because it rejects
> our insistence on evidence and reason in favor of relativity,
> subjectivism, and, ultimately, nihilism. Actually, there is a strand
> of animists I respect much more than postmodernists. When they get
> sick, they demonstrate their disbelief in science as a privileged
> interpretation by relying (sometimes tragically) on faith rather
> than physicians. The depth of the hypocrisy of postmodernists is
> that they do not. --Bob Graber

This worries me a *lot*. I was expecting you to complain that your
position isn't really the same as that of religious fundamentalists (and
I think you malign most animists by your replacement :), but instead you
seem to glorify in the comparison! If you are really prepared to say
"science good, non-science bad" without actually looking at the
non-science at all, then sure, you have a lot in common with the
fundamentalists. However, despite my almost life-long commitment to
science and my general aversion to religion, I think I prefer
open-minded Christians to *scientific* fundamentalists.

Is the most important thing one can say about Leavisite criticism and
Marxist political theory really the fact that they are both
non-scientific? Surely even if deciding whether theories are scientific
is all that is important, you still can't do that by lumping a wildly
heterogeneous collection of alternatives together and then damning them
by contagion. Does an argument against structuralism make rejection of
astrology more reasonable? Can the obscurantism of Derrida reasonably be
used to damn Geertz? Do you ever read novels?


Danny Yee (