What happened to the constructivists?

Neo Martinez szmrtnz at peseta.ucdavis.edu
Mon Apr 29 13:15:04 EST 1996

Howdy folks,
	Well, at least this constructivist is back.  Let's see how a few 
mo' rounds go.....

On Sat, 27 Apr 1996, Patricia S. Bowne wrote:
> Neo Martinez suggested that we abandon the abstract concept of 'reality'
> in favor of the operational concept of 'concordance to data' (am I using the
> terms properly?) she wrote:
> >The reason scientists have for ascribing importance to concordance is that
> >*such concordance is a fundamental rule of the game of science*.... just
> >as common law is to lawyers, just as accounting is to businesses. 
> I agree, concordance is a fundamental rule of the game. In fact, I've used
>  the game analogy when justifying why we shouldn't teach students
>  creation in a science class - it would be like teaching them to play football
>  by the wrong rules, and then sending them out to play other teams!
> >Why should the larger society value scientists and their rules?
> >The proof is in the pudding.  It appears that many of the 
> >technological and medical advances that people value resulted 
> >from science. 
> I agree - this reminds me a lot of Larry Laudan's work on
> scientific progress and how it is actually an improvement in the
> number and kind of problems science can solve, rather than a closer
> approximation to the truth.
> >I don't know if any of this is Real and I
> >don't even know what Reality is other than a widely embraced and
> >indefensible metaphysical assertion that has led to many intolerant views.
> >Let's get rid of it and instead focus on rules such as reproducible
> >observation and concordance.
> This would work fine, within the scientific community. 

Great!  So you agree with social constructivism!

> But you were 
> writing earlier about judging ideologies against one another, which 
> implies that there are other sets of rules out there, which people
> can choose. If we regard ourselves as completely situated within
> a set of rules, how are we going to reasonably choose *between* sets of
> rules?
> This is why I have a problem with your answer to my challenge.
> I agree, you didn't appeal to a concept of reality. But it seems to
> me that instead of assuming we shared the concept of reality,
> you assumed we shared the concept of concordance - which, from
> your earlier statements, is only a rule of the game of *science*.
> So, while your answer allows all kinds of *scientists* to debate the
> topic fruitfully, how will they fruitfully argue with people outside science? 
> >the idea that facts are real is a current and hopefully passing fad in
> science.  
> >It contributes little but intolerance (you dare question reality?!) and an
> >inflated and contrived sense of self-importance...e.g., "Scientists are
> >better than lawyers.  Science is better than politics," etc.  Can't we
> >just say that they are different human activities with different rules and
> >conventions which should be judged by what they contribute to individuals
> >and society?
> I don't think we *can* say that, because when you say different
> activities can be judged by what they contribute, you're assuming
> that what they contribute can somehow be measured and compared.
> I don't think it can be measured in any operational way, unless we first
> accept the idea of data -and I don't think we can make any comparisons
> based on data, unless we agree that our conclusions should be concordant
> with the data. Therefore, for us to judge different activities as you
> suggest, we must first accept that our judgements should be based on 
> concordance with data - and in doing that, we have accepted the rules of 
> science. ...snip....

Yikes... looks like we've gone beyond science here... or at least the 
suggestion is that "concordance with data" be extended to be a rule of 
other social activies besides science.  I don't trust science that far.  
Human rights seem like much more certain ground to generally evaluate 
social activities.  The craniologists would much prefer their 
"concordance with the data" that demonstrated white intellectual 
superiority.  Science is often wrong.  Even if it was right, it would be 
unacceptable to me.  On the other hand, I accept human rights... they're 
kinda cool things to have!

But let's get back to science.  That science is socially constructed seems
to be agreed to by many folks here.  The disagreement is the extent to
which science, constructed as it is, describes a reality independent of
the socially constructed theory.  If one accepts this Really Real reality,
it loads theory with a massive metaphysical assertion (akin to "god
exists") that seems to blind scientists to exceptions to their theory. 
Not accepting theory-independent Reality keeps scientists lighter on their
intellectual feet... not so invested in their theory so they can accept
new theories that are more concordant with the data.  One thing that seems
plain is that scientists almost never embrace new theories too quickly.
That's my nutshell defense of constructivism. 

So let's switch the burden here and see how realists defend their 
philosophy of science.  Here's my previously mentioned challenge:  
	Why is the statement, 
		"This ball is blue" 
	less scientifically useful than 
		"This ball is *really* blue"


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