Thursday, June 20, 2013

Wittgenstein Among the Sciences

I don't know how long this link will remain functional, but for now you should be able to see my review of Rupert Read's latest book here. The book is Wittgenstein among the Sciences: Wittgensteinian Investigations into the “Scientific Method,” edited by Simon Summers (London: Ashgate, 2012). 

The first and last paragraphs should give you the gist (and I think it's OK for me to reproduce them here):
Rupert Read's new book argues that the so-called social sciences ought to be understood as social studies instead. At least, this is how the book is likely to be read, despite Read's insistence that he is not really arguing so much as he is providing reminders to help the reader decide for herself whether the social sciences are best thought of as genuine sciences. He does this in two stages. In the first, he makes the case that Kuhn is not the relativist he is often taken to be and can usefully be thought of as a Wittgensteinian philosopher. In the second, he goes through one social science, or group of social sciences, after another in order to question their status as sciences and to suggest that they are actually more philosophical than is generally recognised. The book also includes lecture transcripts, an “inter-section,” and an interview with Read conducted by Simon Summers, but the bulk of the book consists of “Part 1: Wittgenstein, Kuhn and Natural Science” and “Part 2: Wittgenstein, Winch and ‘Human Science’.”
[...] 
Is economics therefore not a science? Well, as Read somewhat surprisingly does not dwell much on, it depends what you mean by science. If some economists, for instance, seem to want to claim something false about their discipline by calling it a science, one response is to contradict them. Read leaves it to the reader to decide what to say, but it is clear enough where his sympathies lie. Another approach, however, is to agree with the economist and to be more liberal with what is called a science. Terms such as “scientia” and “Wissenschaft” (as Read notes) have a wide scope, after all, wide enough to cover philosophy (although he rejects calling philosophy science as “a disastrous and self-deceptive manoeuvre” on page 130). As Wittgenstein and Read might say, we can say what we choose, so long as it does not prevent us from seeing the facts. And Read's rich work presents a great many facts and insights that do indeed incline the reader to see much of the social sciences as infected with scientism. 

11 comments:

  1. price £55.00, ouch. been meaning to read his book on Kuhn with Sharrock and this looks to be an interesting follow-up, I think that the faster the good ship Humanities sinks the faster philosophy will be, or at least try to be, a "science"....
    -dmf

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    1. ps, have you seen:
      http://www.academia.edu/2576020/draft_paper_on_KNOW_HOW
      ?

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    2. No, but it looks good. Thanks.

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    3. And yes, it's not cheap. The humanities are sinking for the same reason that philosophy wants to be a science (as do the social sciences), I would think. In a word, scientism. But perhaps something else too. Some kind of fear (of economic decline) and loathing or contempt (of our culture, of humanity, of ourselves) too. It's like austerity or cutting (i.e. self-harm): if it hurts it must be good for us, or at least deserved. Of course austerity is often pushed by people who stand to gain from it, but it's sold like Victorian medicine. Then again, some of the humanities seem to have got bored of themselves, so perhaps their death will be natural. Probably it's all too complicated to fit into one of these comment boxes.

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    4. you would think that a lefty pol like RR would have some kind of public access clause, there was always a sort of scientistic prejudice in our modern schools of higher ed (think how dissertation proposals often have to follow a kind of high-school science class mode of thesis, lit-review, research-method,etc) but the new push for economic/employment relevancy, research dollars,and whatever "entrepreneurship" is seem to be a new kind of beast.

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    5. i doubt most elder academics even think about that kind of thing; or are so set on acceptance by their peers' standards that they never would think about it.

      vanity!

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  2. you would think that a lefty pol like RR would have some kind of public access clause

    Perhaps he tried, or is counting on libraries and "piracy" to make it available.


    think how dissertation proposals often have to follow a kind of high-school science class mode of thesis, lit-review, research-method,etc

    I don't remember ever having to explain my research methods to philosophers. I did have to once to a committee of mixed academics. "Reading and thinking" is what I came up with, I think.


    the new push for economic/employment relevancy, research dollars,and whatever "entrepreneurship" is seem to be a new kind of beast

    Yes, especially in the UK (as far as I can tell from the other side of the ocean).


    elder academics

    He's my age! (Probably is technically elder, but that word makes him sound ancient.)


    vanity!

    Always a possibility with human beings, but it could be the opposite. If you don't expect anyone to read your work, why worry about how people will get access to it? He probably also feels an obligation to publish as much as possible to help his department with the bureaucratic assessors. And I think he has a strong sense of mission to get the word out by any means possible. (I suspect I'm having a sense of humor failure here though.)

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    1. huh, i guess i figured someone who runs for parliament would have to be older than someone who posts stooges youtubes to his blog. not that the latter sort of person isn't clearly superior to someone tempted by political office!

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  3. Thanks! I guess I'm young at heart (or immature, as you like). I'm not tempted by political office though.

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  4. Thanks Duncan and commenters!
    A lot of my stuff is accessible for free at various places on the net, including my 'Academia' site, and at http://rupertread.fastmail.co.uk/ (See also www.rupertread.net ).

    [This msg _is_ from Rupert Read, btw... ;-]

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