Philosophy of social science, help or hindrance?

by johnmccreery

It may depend on when you took the course, says Daniel Little at Understanding Society.

What think you, Voles?

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6 Comments to “Philosophy of social science, help or hindrance?”

  1. I’m’a read that in a sec. But shooting from the hip, I just finished reading a draft of a paper for the local intellectual history consortium that was coincidentally on point. The author, a senior scholar who’s had a whole celebrated career to learn better, opens the paper with a lot of dopey Platonic claptrap about how relativism creates a paradox that blahblahblah. I almost didn’t keep reading, but eventually he does get to an interesting albeit obviously unreliable lit review and some semi-useful reflections on the early modern mishmash of theology and science, which is roughly where guys like his’ thinking stopped. Anyhoo, I was still so irritated by the guiding rubric that I spent five minutes googling “relativism paradox” and found a perfectly serviceable survey of the sociology of scientific knowledge from about twenty years ago that sorted out his grand bothers in about a page and a half. In the course of which, to my amusement and satisfaction, I was reintroduced to my old teacher and Dyke the Elder’s colleague Joe Margolis, who apparently was being effectively sensible about this stuff in print during the mid-80s, right about when I was failing to get the point in his classes, but apparently soaking it in somehow anyway. So as usual I’m not sure what’s accomplished by having a class – the people who need it most may be constitutionally opaque to it, and the others may take awhile to get it. But I guess if what we’ve got is a hammer, we might as well call the problem a nail and start bashing.

  2. Little makes a good case. I never know if a class is going to accomplish anything from an aspiration and a book list, but if he knows how to get students and texts into productive relationship this one’s well worth doing.

    Also, more evidence that the guy I was reading today is a freaking dinosaur, except that he’s got plenty of current bibliography to make it look fresh.

  3. Joe Margolis… isn’t he the guy I corresponded with briefly about ten years ago? Yes: the gmail archives confirm it. I quoted him in something I was working on — an eccentric reading of Genesis 1 — and on 8/12/06 I sent him an email to let him know. Nine days later he sent a gracious reply, extending his best wishes for my work along with a substantive suggestion for me to consider.

  4. Gracious and substantive pretty much describes Dr. J, as DtE always called him.

  5. Old bookworms never die; they’re just rekindled.
    And John picked a terrific match (pun coming) for we could read back across some of the volings of a couple of years ago and see that we were on exactly the same page. I almost don’t know where to step into the fire, but while I’m getting an act together, a few words about my colleague Dr. J. Or rather my ex-colleague Dr. J, for I just retired (actually, quit in disgust). The characterization that emerged from the comments is exactly right. “The guy I corresponded with 10 years ago?” Shit man, he’s the guy I corresponded with 50 years ago, before I knew him. We subsequently developed the only real abiding relationship of mutual respect I ever had with a department colleague. We also developed a fun combative relationship for the edification and amusement of the students. One time I did a number in a session (out at Swarthmore) on “realism.” I argued that money was real, and stipulated that anyone who wanted to participate in the question period had to pay ten bucks. Time for questions. Dr.J hands up a twenty dollar bill — allowing as how that was the smallest he had and he only had one question, but he’d kick in for someone else. He asked his question, that took us a quite a while to sort out; but no one else had the coglioni either to pony up or ride on the donated pony. We all went out to dinner afterwards, and the Jackson got drunken up.
    As far as I could ever figure out, he wasn’t the purveyor of the most limpid prose you ever heard or read, and still isn’t, we agreed on just about everything. But his game was polemic, so our act for the students was always in combat mode. The one place where we always did disagree, and maybe it’s crucial, was that he thought that the issues could be intelligently within the bounds of philosophy. Pretty long ago I’d already given that up as a bad job and decided that you had to learn the science well enough to fight with the scientists at the edge of their own turf. Joe never had the time nor the inclination to do that, though I could occasionally get him into a corner where he wished he knew what I did. That just wasn’t his game. If he couldn’t skewer Quine, Goodman, Putnam, et. al.. he wasn’t willing to read any further. (I once said, probably to Carl, that Dr. J had an amazing philosophical career for someone who could neither read nor write.) So, as much as I love him, he won’t figure in anything I find to contribute here.
    He’s still going strong — amazingly strong — at the age of 91. Leaving him behind is just about the only regret I have about leaving Temple.

  6. Nah, you know he’s just going to keep pointing a certain kind of student at you, while you become increasingly legendary and mysterious, with only the most bold undertaking the journey to beard the Sage of Doylestown in his own domain.

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