Re: Anthro, History, Physics-Envy

Tue, 10 Oct 1995 11:12:00 PDT

Yee responds to Graber:

"Physics envy is bad because the methodology of physics -- and in
particular the stress on "deductive-nomothetical explanations"
-- just doesn't work in the historical sciences (which, as I have
pointed out, include such subjects as palaeontology and, to some
extent, cosmology and geology). Physics-envy has resulted in
attempts to build the "wrong" kinds of theories in some of the
social and biological sciences. (Which is not to say that I think
the "deductive-nomothetical" has no role in history or anthropology --
just that I don't think it has the same overriding importance it does
in fundamental physics.)"

I suspect that some of this disagreement is really a pure/applied
dichotomy. As Matt Cartmill in a lecture commented: "Paleoanthropologists
are like chicken farmers; they USE theory but do not PRODUCE theory" (or
words to that effect). The so-called historical sciences have, generally
speaking, been situanted more on the applied side of the dichotomy and less
on the "pure" or theoretical side. Anthropology is a curious discipline
because it often seems that we are trying to do both simultaneously without
recognizing that this is what we are doing. We are very much engaged in
making sense of the historically particular, but simultaneously are engaging
in the production of theory, and often garble the two without always making
it clear that USING theory to account for the historically particular and
using the historically particular to MOTIVATE the production of theory have
different epistomological foundations, use differennt methods, and the like.