Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Examples of social science

I've revised my Winch lecture in response to Matt's comments yesterday. Among other things I've cut out the part I was least happy with and added what follows. I wonder whether it would be better if I cut out the second example and replaced it with an expanded discussion of what Winch says about the Azande. Anyway, here it is:

A couple of examples might be useful to show how Winch’s ideas connect with actual work in the social sciences or social studies. I will give two examples, one that Winch discusses and one much more recent one. In his 1964 essay “Understanding a Primitive Society,” Winch responds to the work of E. E. Evans-Pritchard on witchcraft, magic, and the Zande people (who in the plural are referred to as the Azande).[1] Traditional Zande beliefs include belief in witchcraft and occult powers. Winch says of such beliefs and their related practices that “we cannot possibly share”[2] them, but he also wants to avoid both abandoning “the idea that men’s ideas and beliefs must be checkable by reference to something independent—some reality”[3] (thereby falling into an extreme relativism) and mistakenly thinking that our scientific beliefs and practices are more in accord with objective reality than the Azande’s. In other words, he wants to avoid treating our rejection of Zande beliefs and practices as something justified by reality itself, while also wanting to avoid relativism. And he wants to be able to understand Zande beliefs and practices without sharing or adopting them. Can this be done?
            Winch suggests that the main reason why it is likely to seem impossible is because we are so impressed by science and its methods. When we think of what reality is and how we can know it we are likely to think in terms of reality as described by science. But it is not by scientific means that we know (if we know it) the reality of God. The conception of God’s reality, Winch says, has its place within the religious use of language. It is not that God or the reality of God exists only within such language, but the idea of God belongs within such language, within a particular kind of thinking, talking, writing, painting, and so on. We show a misunderstanding of this idea if we treat it as belonging to scientific discourse and try, for instance, to test its validity using scientific means. This does not mean that the idea of God is immune from criticism. It does mean, though, that it is immune from a certain kind of criticism. The existence of evil might disprove the existence of God. Looking through a telescope cannot do so (unless the god in question is of a very unusual kind). Scientific, religious, ethical, and aesthetic discourse can influence and interact with each other, but they are not the same. And we often best avoid confusion if we keep their differences in mind. Nor does this commit us to relativism. If God has any reality at all then within religious language we cannot just say whatever we like. If anything goes then such language has no meaning at all.
            An obvious problem with this example is that many of us do not believe in God. The following are not Winch’s examples, but I think that he might accept belief in beauty or moral goodness as parallels to belief in God. If we believe in the genuine goodness of Nelson Mandela or Mahatma Ghandi, or the beauty of the Mona Lisa or Mozart’s third violin concerto, then we accept a kind of truth and a kind of reality that are not those of science. Science does not tell us that apartheid is wrong. But it is wrong. And the fact that this is not a scientific truth does not mean that you or I can say just whatever we like about it, regardless of reality. The reality is that it is wrong.
            But reality does not force us to think this way. It is possible to support apartheid. It is also possible to think or speak in completely different terms, so that questions of justice and injustice or beauty and ugliness simply do not, cannot, arise. If we only ever used the terms of scientific discourse, for instance, then such matters would be outside all our thoughts. Winch wants to say of the Azande that they have their own form of discourse, different from our scientific discourse. He does not say that it is just as good. But he does seem to think both that judging whether their discourse is good or bad is not the business of science and that making such judgments is likely to get in the way of trying to understand their way of living and thinking. Instead of asking why they do what they do, we start asking why they are so stupid. This is not only condescending. It is also a different kind of question. It is a question about causes, namely the causes of ignorance, superstition, irrationality, and so on. The question about why a certain group of people think and behave as they do, however, is about their reasons, about the rules that guide their behaviour. As Winch says on the first page of his essay:

            An anthropologist studying such a people wishes to make those beliefs and practices intelligible to himself and his readers. This means presenting an account of them that will somehow satisfy the criteria of rationality demanded by the culture to which he and his readers belong: …[4]     

It is not possible to make beliefs and practices intelligible if the beliefs and practices in question are taken to be irrational. The existence and persistence of irrationality can perhaps be explained, but the irrational itself, by definition, cannot be made intelligible. So the anthropologist cannot do what he (or she) wants to do if he makes the mistake that Winch attributes to Evans-Pritchard. If we want to understand practices then we must treat them as intelligible, as making sense. We will never succeed if we start with the belief that they are irrational.
            Another mistake here is a philosophical one. Reality itself no more justifies science than it justifies ethics or religion. I said earlier that apartheid really is wrong. That is true. But if anyone denies it then I cannot prove myself right by pointing to reality. What reality would I point to? The unhappy victims of apartheid, perhaps, but when I say that apartheid is unjust I do not mean that it makes people unhappy. Some injustices leave no unhappy survivors. Similarly, the best proof we have that science is true is that it works so well. But ‘true’ no more means ‘works well’ than ‘just’ means ‘makes people happy’. Not to mention the fact that science may yet lead to results that we do not consider useful at all.
            More relevant is the fact that science is a kind of procedure, a methodology, a practice, more than it is a body of knowledge. As a kind of enterprise it can be neither true nor false. It cannot agree or disagree with reality. In that sense, objectively speaking, it is neither good nor bad. And the same can be said of witchcraft. Zande witchcraft, Winch is suggesting, is best regarded as a kind of language, or at least better regarded as a kind of language than as a quasi-scientific theoretical system. Not a language that we ought to try to speak (indeed Winch rules that out as a possibility for us), but not one that can in any straightforward sense be judged to be right or wrong. The job of the anthropologist—that is, not the job that Winch thinks anthropologists ought to do but rather the job that the anthropologist sets for himself—is to make sense of this language. That cannot be done if we assume that it makes no sense to begin with. It can be done, or so it appears from all that is good in, for instance, Evans-Pritchard’s work, if we study carefully how the language, the nest of beliefs and practices, is used by those who engage in it.
            Now for my second example, which I have chosen almost at random. Sociology, Winch understandably says, has a special place in the social sciences. One of the leading journals in sociology is the American Journal of Sociology. When I was writing this the most recent issue of the journal available online was Volume 119, No. 4 (the January 2014 issue). One paper from this issue was available free, so I chose that as my example of recent work in social studies. The paper is “Job Displacement among Single Mothers: Effects on Children’s Outcomes in Young Adulthood” by Jennie E. Brand and Juli Simon Thomas. The paper finds “significant negative effects of job displacement among single mothers on children’s educational attainment and social-psychological well-being in young adulthood.” That is, the authors carefully confirm just what one might expect, that children of single mothers suffer when their mothers lose their jobs because of operating decisions by employers (such as downsizing, rather than when the individual employee is fired or quits), and they provide details of the nature and scope of this harm.
            Winch does not say that this kind of work cannot be done, nor that it should not be done. But it is doubtful that people who do such work would do it more successfully if they modelled themselves more closely on physicists. The paper involves sophisticated mathematics, but its primary interest is in children. Its key finding is that: “Children whose mothers were displaced have lower educational attainment and higher levels of depressive symptoms than children whose mothers were not displaced.”[5] Should it need saying, there is nothing wrong with gathering and analysing data in order to confirm such unsurprising but still deniable truths, if only because they sometimes are denied or at least ignored. But the nature of the authors’ project is more interesting than this. On the one hand, they describe their work as capitalizing “on a scientific opportunity provided by extreme economic change.”[6] On the other hand, the paper’s final paragraph is far from what one might expect in a stereotypical scientific work. Here it is in full:     

            As at least half of all children will spend some portion of their childhood raised by a single mother, the socioeconomic well-being of such families is a fundamental concern. We should protect disadvantaged children because they have not made the choices that have resulted in their socioeconomic conditions, or so goes the rhetoric on social class disparities in children’s resources. Such discourse implicitly assumes mothers have made such choices. But women are also subject to structural conditions largely beyond their control. Debates about social assistance should acknowledge that job separation among single mothers is at times involuntary and that such involuntary events are associated with long-term unemployment, socioeconomic and social-psychological decline, and significant intergenerational effects. We should restrict assistance neither to the most disadvantaged mothers nor to those mothers only displaced in economic contractions, as particularly deleterious maternal displacement effects on life trajectories of children may accrue among otherwise more advantaged single-parent families.[7]     
            We have moved from ‘is’ to ‘ought’ here, and are clearly very close to the domain of philosophy, particularly moral and political philosophy. The precise nature of well-being is a topic that has been discussed by philosophers since at least Aristotle, whose work informs contemporary debates about human capability. Whether we should protect disadvantaged children is a moral and political question, and the connection between this and whether or not these children need help because of choices they have made is an equally philosophical matter. The same goes for questions about what debates should or should not acknowledge, questions about what is voluntary and what involuntary, and questions about how the voluntariness (or otherwise) of actions affects what ought to be done. In short, there is nothing wrong with this kind of sociology, it seems to me, but it is not science in the sense of being like physics, and it is importantly related to philosophy. Winch’s major claim is that the social sciences ought not to try to be more like physics and other natural sciences, but should instead recognize their closeness to philosophy. It seems to me that this paper by Brand and Thomas supports this view.

[1] Peter Winch, “Understanding a Primitive Society,” American Philosophical Quarterly, Volume 1, Number 4, October 1964, pp. 307-324.
[2] Winch, p. 307.
[3] Winch, p. 308
[4] Winch, p. 307.
[5] Brand and Thomas, p. 972.
[6] Ibid., p. 987.
[7][7] Ibid., pp. 989-990. 


  1. You write that apartheid isn't wrong because it makes some people unhappy because there are cases where some behaviors that we think wrong leave no one alive to be unhappy. But that doesn't seem right to me. The reason we believe apartheid and Jim Crow laws and slavery are wrong is precisely because these things impose suffering, unhappiness, on others. If they didn't would we still think them wrong? Isn't THAT just the injustice we ascribe to such institutions? We treat children as second class to adults in terms of their personal freedoms at least and even if we think some children are unhappy about that at least some of the time, we still think that their happiness in general is enhanced by denying them the rights we grant adults. Similarly we might say as much for the mentally impaired. I would think the same goes for the animals we keep, especially as pets. What creates the difference in cases like apartheid is that in these instances rules are imposed on, or rights denied to, others which impair their happiness as creatures like ourselves. Couldn't we conceive of cases where a kind of social distinction between different races WOULD be justified based on real differnces in capacity, even if there are no sufficient differences between different human groups? I don't think we can separate the circumstance of causing unhappiness in others from our belief in the wrongness of the acts which cause it.

    1. You're certainly right that happiness is relevant. But unless you're a utilitarian then you don't think that happiness is the only thing that matters. Similarly, if you're a pragmatist then you won't accept my distinction between truth and what works. Neither utilitarianism nor pragmatism is simply true by definition, though. I guess I'm relying on that fact to make my point. Perhaps that's a mistake.

  2. I see where you're coming from but I think it's better to look for the moral good in our intentions, our attitudes, in the stuff happening in our minds when we act, rather than in the things that are brought about (consequentialism). And there I'd say the issue is how do we react to someone else's suffering (from discomfort to unease to outright pain).

    If we say that apartheid is just wrong because, well it's unjust (meaning it's wrong), we really haven't solved the problem because scenarios can be conceived in which it might actually be just. Suppose there was a race of primitive hominids discovered on a remote island, related to us but not enough to be classed as members of homo sapiens. And suppose they had minds roughly equivalent to that of very young human children. Would we not think treating them like wards of humanity, roughly the way parents treat their children, was morally right?

    What makes us think of something as unjust, I would say, is the recognition that others suffer from experiencing it. Moral arguments in the real world tend to be about things like how others are feeling as in "how would you feel if that were done to you?"

    In the 1950's and 60's in this country Jim Crow segregation in the south (and its lesser but still discriminatory forms in the north) was dismantled across American society. What made that happen was widely disseminated information (via television news reporting) about what other human beings were facing, what they had to endure under such a system.

    People began to see themselves in those others and suddenly it wasn't just an abstract issue anymore. It was harder and harder for many of them to justify a claim that the people suffering under segregation were materially different from those who weren't (although some did make that argument and, in principle at least I think one could make it -- see my example above). The people enduring segregation and discrimination were born, grew up, worked, raised kids, cared about their lives, struggled to make a go of things, just like the people who did not have to endure segregation and discrimination. They were just as human, just as susceptible to suffering as those who did not have to face segregation. They cried, felt anguish from the humiliation inflicted on them (riding in the back of the bus, being banished to second class facilities, restricted from full participation in civil society, etc.) and pain and hardship arising from the deprivation of rights the non-segregated people possessed.

    I don't believe an abstract argument about what was just or what was good, just because it's a human thing to want or need, could have worked in those days. What did work though was the opening up of the minds of the non-discriminated against folks, the change of perspective that occurred among the part of the population that did not have to endure segregation.

    Once the essential similarity between both groups was brought home to the non-suffering group, shame and embarrassment and, most importantly, sympathy for the sufferers arose among the non-discriminated population and then things changed.

    Martin Luther King Jr. knew it instinctively. But in philosophy we sometimes have to figure it out because we tend to expect logic to carry the day. But logic only works when you have a set of givens to work with. In the moral case that's the sentiments which inform and shape our lives and, I would say, especially empathy which powers other feelings and realizations (like sympathy and concern for justice) that we have.

    1. I have a lot of sympathy with this view. The point I want to make is that we can believe that apartheid, for instance, really is unjust, without thinking that this can really be proved by appeal to reality. As you point out, we can persuade people by pointing out various facts and engaging their sympathies, but this does not work on everyone and is not a case, I would say, of reality's showing that some things are just and others unjust. Reality does not dictate that we even have a concept of justice. Or so I think Winch might say. I'm not sure what this notion of objective or independent reality amounts to in the end. But if it is a fantasy or nonsensical idea then it is certainly true that this nonsense proves nothing.

    2. Winch probably would not. But, and this is to range far afield from Winch who is your concern here (so perhaps this tangent needs to be cut short by me quite soon!), I would want to say that this all depends on the kind of appeal and the kind of proof we have in mind. For instance, granting that apartheid cannot be shown to be wrong based on some factual claim about how the world is, there are certainly plenty of facts we might invoke to show why it's wrong in certain cases (or even, perhaps, right in others). There are facts about the nature of the entities involved which are relevant, for instance, such as whether or not the entities affected are like us in relevant ways? If they are, then we could make an argument for rejecting apartheid in that case. And isn't that the issue?

      Of course, the issue then is why we should think being like us in relevant ways provides an argument against treating them differently than ourselves. Must we hold that apartheid is wrong because it's just wrong in order to reject it in particular cases?

      Apartheid, itself, seems to be fact-neutral but, because it represents a policy of behaviors undertaken by some rational agents in some cases, it's not immune to the facts which surround its implementation. How we feel toward the others is also a matter of fact, at least of a certain type, but to the extent that we have control over our feelings (which I think we do to some degree) there is room for argument.

      If the point in moral judgment is to assess behaviors (and the policies they implement) by placing them on a scale of relative desirability (preferability?), then the question must be whether we can have any kind of basis to do that. And here is where sentiment seems to kick in. Our sentiments inform our intentions, which underlie the actions expressing those intentions. So an argument for or against a particular policy, say apartheid, must hinge on how that policy looks to us, how we feel about it, and here we see plenty of room for propaganda and cultural brainwashing. But if that's all there is to this, then moral relativism seems to be true and that means a break down in the moral game.

      The question concerning the validity of making moral judgments must depend on whether or not we can argue for or against such judgments based on our capacity to have the right sentiments (i.e., the right intentions). What would make moral discourse rational at bottom would be whether we can choose to have or not have the sentiments in question. If moral judgment is ultimately subjective at every level, if we have the sentiments we have just because we are what we are or others have inculcated these into us, then propaganda and cultural brainwashing is all that this can be about.

      But if we can discern a level where the subjective element is diminished, or perhaps plays a different role in the discourse, then there is room for reasoned argument about moral questions at the level of our fundamental moral beliefs. And it is this possibility of reasoned argument, I think, that makes moral valuing work as valuing activity.

      Anyway, I've taken this too far away from your interest in getting feedback on your assessment of Winch (on whom I am not qualified, I fear, to offer any useful feedback). So I'll lay off this line of discussion for now. Thanks, though, for considering my points.

    3. I would want to say that this all depends on the kind of appeal and the kind of proof we have in mind.

      I agree.

      Must we hold that apartheid is wrong because it's just wrong in order to reject it in particular cases?

      No. And in fact saying that it is "just wrong" really isn't saying much at all, I think.

      Thanks for your comments. I think we're very much on the same page.

  3. in the physical sciences (of the lab sort) one can in effect reverse-engineer some happening in the world (chemical-reaction, etc) break it down and isolate the necessary elements and than test if we can reproduce the effect, this isn't possible in the "social" aspects of life and so they are very different tasks.
    by the way how would we know/verify before the fact/act 'intentions" let alone judge them?

    1. We don't have to know intentions before the fact in order to judge them when they are expressed. We only have to know them when we "see" them. Judging them, I would say, is exactly what moral valuing seems to be about, i.e., whether the agent intended something beneficial or harmful to another by his or her action? And we judge them in ourselves in a generally similar way (because moral valuing applies to others as agents as well as to agents as evaluators).

      The key, though, is to determine how intentions can be picked out as objects of reference since they are obviously not like the physical objects we ordinarily speak about and which constitute the most familiar referencing paradigm. This is going to be somewhat controversial, if only because of the divergence of the paradigm. However, if we can't pick out particular intentions, then how can we speak of moral valuing at all since that sort of value presumes an aware agent with the capacity to change his or her mind, do one thing rather than another. And what the agent wants to do is(are) his or her intention(s). Now if we can't pick these sorts of features out in others and ourselves, just what is it that we think we're referring to, and how do we distinguish between better and worse intentions, when we speak of right or wrong actions?

      To the extent social science is about judging how and why humans tend to behave in particular circumstances and along different behavioral vectors (economic, personal, reactions to certain kinds of stimuli, etc.) we seem to be interested in behavioral tendencies primarily as quantified statistically. But I would suggest that moral valuing isn't and can't be a matter of social science like that, although the facts of how any group of humans make their choices, express their values (and the values they express) would be.

      Of course, it's certainly not like the physical sciences. There are different standards of observation, different methods in play in the social sciences. But I wouldn't think that makes social science more like philosophy than like the physical sciences (though sometimes philosophy is surely done like some of the social sciences, e.g., cultural anthropology). I think Duncan is right that the scientific aspect, what makes a science science, has to do with methodology more than subject matter (although subject matter will largely determine methodology). That is, science as a discipline seems to me to depend on the extent to which we are systematically prepared to attend to observable elements in the scenarios being studied. And this is as true for the social sciences as the physical kind.

    2. "The key, though, is to determine how intentions can be picked out as objects of reference" it would be the key if it were objectively possible, as philosophers of science like Isabelle Stengers have pointed out even bench-science is a working out (engineering) of situated human interests but as I said above these can be mechanized/routinized in ways that human behaviors/interactions cannot. So what we get is moralizing/manipulating or as Stanley Fish says doing what comes naturally...

    3. in the physical sciences (of the lab sort) one can in effect reverse-engineer some happening in the world (chemical-reaction, etc) break it down and isolate the necessary elements and than test if we can reproduce the effect, this isn't possible in the "social" aspects of life and so they are very different tasks.


      Of course, it's certainly not like the physical sciences. There are different standards of observation, different methods in play in the social sciences. But I wouldn't think that makes social science more like philosophy than like the physical sciences

      In itself it doesn't, that's right. How like philosophy social science is depends on what the social scientist is trying to do. If it's to understand other people and their behavior then we need to understand, make sense of, their concepts. And that is rather like what philosophers do. If it's to argue some moral or political point then that too is like what philosophers do, although this is not really Winch's point.

  4. It seems to me that this paper by Brand and Thomas supports this view.

    Very true. But it also supports my view (expressed in an earlier discussion) that Winch's book, however much it was to the point when written and published, has since become simply dated. If you'd look at sociology journals from 1958, you wouldn't find any papers whose final paragraph reads anything like this, but today you do find them.

    Wittgensteinians are accustomed to regarding themselves as an unpopular minority, no matter what the context is, and certainly with justification in most contexts. But doesn't the fact that the very first recent paper, in a sociology journal picked at random, is already something like this, mean that Winch has largely won this particular battle?

    1. Possibly. Wes Sharrock doesn't seem to think so, and he ought to know better than I do. But I should look at some sociology journals from 1958 to see what they are like.

      I've been thinking, or trying to think, about in what sense Winch might be a relativist. He isn't an extreme relativist, but I think he might be a methodological relativist, and that seems to be a widely accepted thing to be in the social sciences. So that might be another way in which he has won.

  5. It is not that God or the reality of God exists only within such language, but the idea of God belongs within such language, within a particular kind of thinking, talking, writing, painting, and so on.

    This gave rise, by proxy, to a whole new train of thought:

    The problem to which Winch offers the solution is itself different in different languages, because the English word science and the comparable words of other languages often belong to altogether different kinds of semantic field. The concept of science is itself always tied to a particular natural language, and thus to "a particular kind of thinking, talking, writing [...], and so on".

    Finnish, for instance, used to be a wholly vernacular language until the 19th century. So even the most common abstract nouns are usually neologisms that were coined by a small number of enthusiasts during a short period roughly between 1810 and 1880. This includes tiede, a 1842 coinage, which usually translates the English science today. It's part of a conceptual dyad, the other half of which is taide – which in turn translates the English art. The nouns were derived from the verbs tietää, 'to know (that _____)', and taitaa, 'to know (how to _____)'. So tiede, science, is so to say the pinnacle of theoretical knowledge, in the same sense in which taide, art, is the pinnacle of practical knowledge.

    There is no positivist or monist suggestion in tiede that there is a science, in the singular, to which the various sciences are approximations – much less that this science-in-the-singular is natural science. When I studied aesthetics as an undergraduate, one of the textbooks was punningly titled Miten teen tiedettä taiteesta, 'How to make science out of art' – but this did not mean 'How to do aesthetics on the model of natural science', but simply 'How to do aesthetics in academia'. If something is done there, that already suffices to make it an instance of tiede. The local labour union for university teachers is Tieteentekijöiden liitto, 'The science-doers' league' – and it includes everyone from Heideggerian philosophers to nuclear physicists.

    This is directly relevant to Winch, because his book has been translated into Finnish. But revealingly, the very title of the book is different: instead of Yhteiskuntatieteen ajatus, which would be a word-for-word translation of The Idea of a Social Science, it's Yhteiskuntatieteet ja filosofia – 'The social sciences and philosophy'. And it could not even have been translated word-for-word. Due to the above considerations, yhteiskuntatieteen ajatus would mean 'the idea of a social science' in the other sense, from which you differentiate Winch's concerns both in your paper and in your blog post above. The philosophically innocuous sense, in which nobody, not even Rupert Read, objects to "the idea of a social science", as you correctly point out yourself. "The idea of one or another of the social sciences" is the closest English approximation I can think of.

    This does not mean that the translation of Winch's book was unnecessary. Many, all too many, have tried to do social science on the model of natural science in Finnish too – and precisely because tiede is such a broad church, it also includes these unfortunate attempts as instances of itself. But the "idea of a social science" itself, in the sense in which Winch's title refers to it, does not exist in the language. Indeed, the very fact that the problem for which the title is a shorthand can arise even in a language in which the title cannot be translated intelligibly, leads me to question whether "the idea of a social science" is the best available shorthand for it in English.

    1. Thanks. Yes, the word 'science' is tricky here, especially bearing in mind that the, so to speak, scientistic use of the word in English seems to be both relatively recent and still not universal.

  6. I was thinking some more about this passage (which prompted my initial reaction above):

    "Reality itself no more justifies science than it justifies ethics or religion. I said earlier that apartheid really is wrong. That is true. But if anyone denies it then I cannot prove myself right by pointing to reality. What reality would I point to? The unhappy victims of apartheid, perhaps, but when I say that apartheid is unjust I do not mean that it makes people unhappy. Some injustices leave no unhappy survivors. Similarly, the best proof we have that science is true is that it works so well. But ‘true’ no more means ‘works well’ than ‘just’ means ‘makes people happy’. Not to mention the fact that science may yet lead to results that we do not consider useful at all."

    But in a sense reality does justify science if we pursue science for its success in the world, as you acknowledge (i.e., for the things it has shown it can accomplish for us). Isn't that "reality" in the relevant sense here?

    Also, saying that apartheid is wrong because it makes some people unhappy isn't necessarily to take a utilitarian stance, as in the maxim that the production of unhappiness in mankind ought to be minimized. For, indeed, one might say that apartheid, in some cases, might actually minimize the sum total of unhappiness among the totality of all human beings even if it allows some unhappiness among some.

    When I alluded to the role of unhappiness in determining apartheid to be wrong, I meant the state of mind in which a human being seeks to or tolerates the production of unhappiness in others, not the amount of happiness (or its absence) that is brought into the world.

    I think this is the important difference between a consequentialist ethics and one that concerns itself with the mental state of the agent(s), i.e., the agent's intention(s). And I think that is where we have to go if we're to give an adequate account of ethical judgment as a human activity.

    Anyway, I didn't want to horn in again but I couldn't get that paragraph out of my mind and have come to think that my earlier comments really didn't go to what I take to be the heart of the matter!

    1. I'm not sure what to say about this. You might be right. I'm tempted to say that "reality itself" means nothing, but I need to think about this more. It isn't meant to refer, after all, to reality as treated by science, nor as treated by religion, nor as treated by any other particular language game or form of discourse. Every language game that has not been abandoned works, more or less, but that doesn't mean that reality somehow proves it correct. Or so I want to say. But I also want to say that this is the only thing that "being proved correct by reality" could mean. So I'm not sure what to say. I hope I can return to this soon, but I'm going away for a few days so it could be a week or two at least before I can really think about it.


  8. I'm glad my comments prompted these examples, and I apologize for just catching this post now. (I've been imposing a lot of non-internet access upon myself at a nearby state park so that I can concentrate fully on writing...) I think they work, though I haven't read the discussion above in the context of the revision. How did the talk go?

    1. This talk isn't until August, but I had to have it written by now to submit the text in advance (for translation into Spanish). I think it's much better for having these examples in it. Thanks again for the suggestion.

      Writing in a state park sounds as though it could be very nice, but also like something that might require a lot of discipline. I hope it's working.

    2. Good luck with having yourself translated! I find being in a pleasant natural setting less distracting than being at home or in the office, where there are other chores to do, things to fiddle with and so on. And if I get stuck I can go walk along the Kentucky River...