HeideggerMartin Heidegger was a German Philosopher active during the early 20th century. He was possessed by a concern that all of philosophy since ancient times had forgotten to begin with the single most important question:What does it mean for something to exist?What do we mean by the word “IS”?What is “being”?Heidegger distinguished between the understanding of experience and conditions of human existence with the more basic question of what IS existence in the first place.Philosophy had to start again from scratch – because once “being” was understood, all of philosophy would likely change. Whatever form an understanding of being would take – it would be very strange, counter-intuitive, even mystical – unimaginable. Heidegger was influenced by poetry – which he felt came close to capturing those brief moments when “being” was self evident.

He wanted to understand what those brief moments of clarity and insight consisted of. Different concepts of “being”, naively held by member of the culture, co-define different experiences. That is, experiences and ways of being are intimately connected – although HOW precisely they are connected is the task of the philosopher.Experience can only be understood once you know the sense of being in which that experience is meaningful.The same applies to Heidegger himself – his experience of the mystery of what is to be, can be understood only in the context of knowing who the being is for whom the nature of being is a question. He called this entity dasein (from Da and Sein, meaning There and Being). Daesin is the human, but conceived across all circumstances and time.

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Daesin – is elusive- culture bound – and mysterious. The task of being a philosopher is to deconstruct history in order to understand the means by which the concept of being acheived its meaning. It parallels developments in the work of Jacques Derrida and later helped to inspire the field of social constructionism that(?) confronts its own mortality (there is a strong connection here to existentialism).Early WittgensteinWhat does language allow us to say meaningfully and with certainty?Wittegenstein argued that much of what is spoken cannot be intelligently said – it is based on error. Tjus, many of the problems stated by philosophers and ordinary people, are non-problems. They are questions that “cannot be put”.

If a question can be put at all it can be answered.The limits of my language are the limits of my world.His early work is captured by his Picture Theory; the idea that the relations of objects to one another are represented, or pictured, in language. Only what can be pictured can be said intelligently. Two types of logical error made in using language are tautologies and logical falsehoods. Tautology: “Either it is raining or it is not.

“The structure renders this a non-statement in so far as it can tell us nothing about the world. A logical falsehood is represented by the statement “It is raining and not raining”.Later WittgensteinWittgenstein later revised his thesis that language is a logically structured picture of the world, on the grounds that the picturing relationship itself cannot be stated; because it is not itself a fact or an object.

The relationship between language and the world can only be shown – and herein lies the mystical aspect of Wittgenstein’s work. Nothing is hidden behind language – everything is open to view (because how words are used is what they “mean”)How do words point to things?How any language works to direct our attention to objects is a deep mystery. It cannot be solved logically. We cannot use a concept to explain the same concept – and this applies to all of language – all we can create is the illusion of an explanation… by instead translating the question and leaving it still unanswered (e.g.

What is hunger? It is like really wanting food).Wittgenstein realised that the correspondence between “pictures” or words and objects is determined by the culture, not logic (as he used to think). The answers to the meaning of words,, and to how language works to connect words to the world, is to be found in social conventions. These social conventions Wittgenstein called “language games” – ways of using words to practical ends.

Words are not literally accurate ways of describing reality.There can be no such thing as a private meaning, because the rules of grammar for discing non-social events could not have been set conventionally, and thus their application cannot be checked objectively. For example, the use of the word “pain” is taught. Its use can be appropriately applied only if it conforms to the conditions of its teaching.

What are the “rules” for the use of the word “pain”?When we speak to ourselves about private sensations in what sense are we pointing to the sensations with our private words. And why would we need to do it? Can we doubt that what we mean by “pain” is correct Does it make sense to question our own definitions? What would we check them against? How can I check if my private idea of “Red” is correct? Do I summon up the colour in my mind and check it against another colour in my mind? How would I know that the second one was red? (This is not a question about colour blindness OR using different words for the SAME THING. Or do I check it against a printed colour. What is that printed colour? Red? Private experiences cannot be checked or doubted – and so cannot be “known”.HermeneuticsHermeneutics is a historically sensitive account of knowledge (the revival of hermeneutics was associated with Heidegger given his concept of “person-as-historical-being”). The German philosopher Gadamer in 1960 described the hermeneutic approach as similar to the approach of an artist’s audience to art.

Understanding is not sought through objectivity, but through immersion, starting always only from our own unique perspective (each of us enjoys art differently). A text is understood like a play. The “understanding” of the play depends on one’s own history and no one appreciation is incorrect. “To understand something is to re-enact it in our own situation, to interrogate it as it were, in order to get an answer to a question of our own” (Bem & Jong, 2009, p. 91)Our interpretation of any text does not have to coincide with that of the author to be valid.

All of enquiry is a constant conversation with history – applied to our own times (ala Heidegger).Richard Rorty (pragmatist philosopher) is associated with the argument that the hermeneutic situation is unavoidable. All meaning is inseparable from the form in which it emerged (ala Wittgenstein). Rorty disagreed with Gadamer that hermeneutics was more suitable for the humanities than science.”There is no requirement that people should be more difficult to understand than things” (Rorty, 1979, p. 321)Rorty argued that from a sociology of science perspective, the meaning of even a scientific statement is historical and personal and so the hermeneutic circle cannot be escaped.

Social ConstructionismThis movement builds on hermeneutics and related influences to arrive at a rather radical position. Science does not simply need to merely consider history and context. History and context is ALL THERE IS in the production of meaning. The constructionist starts with the question: What is a psychological theory, argument or text?Most psychological texts assemble “facts” appropriate to a case.

While psychological texts will often clearly state their aim to persuade, they appeal to the facts under analysis as the source of any persuasive effects on the listener.In science nature alone is supposed to be the agent of persuasion. But what role does textual constructionism play? The ancient Greeks first spotted the importance of textual construction and referred to it as rhetoric. Rhetoricians were feared because they understood how texts and arguments work and listeners could not be sure whether they were being persuaded by facts or by textual constructions.”Science is … an intrinsically rhetorical, or persuasive, activity, and, consequently, a rhetoricalanalysis of science is not so much an exposé, but an analysis which looks at the way that scientistsargue and discuss their scientific cases” (Billig, 1990, p. 50).But the rhetorician replies by asking how any  fact could be presented devoid of text and context? In other words, all facts are textual!Psychological discourse draws on a series of well-worn rhetorical devices:•  Appealing to facts • The use of “data” versus opinion • Drawing distinctions • Identifying inconsistencies • Invoking laws of identity and non-contradiction • Giving counter examples • Using Occam’s razor • Reductions to aporia • Considering thought experiments • Appealing to scientific facts • Labelling something as counter-intuitive • Distilling formalisms • Identifying circular arguments or infinite regress • Identifying category errors • Using diagrams and modelsWhile all philosophical arguments may involve rhetoric, the assumption has been that they are not meant to.

So philosophy is supposed to be different from Rhetoric.Philosophy is genuinely persuasive.Rhetoric is merely persuasive.Social constructionism analyses the words and expressions used by psychological participants and researchers.

It does not attempt to get beyond or behind the words as traditional psychology has done. Psychoanalysis, cognitive psychology and so on – all try to establish what words really mean and what they tell us about underlying psychological processes. In contrast, social constructionism is interested in language in its own right – not as a product of more basic psychological processes. Remember, in the Wittgensteinian tradition – meaning cannot be hidden!”Discourse analysis, then, is the attempt to identify and describe the regularities in the methods used by participants as they construct the discourse through which they establish the character of their actions and beliefs in the course of interaction” (Gilbert & Mulkay, 1984).

The Problem of ReflexivityOne important problem for discourse analysis is that it involves the production of narratives in the very course of analysis.The narratives of psychologists analysing text involve the same rhetorical techniques and processes as the texts under analysis.The possibility of objectivity is obviously not available (see Bloor, 1976). So it is always possible to re-analyse an analysed text – but without the necessity of doing so (Potter, 1988). So what is the purpose of analysis and when will we stop? When we are “satisfied”? When we have reached a “shared understanding with others? What are the criteria for these states of affairs having been reached? Why would we need such criteria?The Social Construction of Reality by Berger & Luckmann is credited with starting the social constructionist revolution.

The authors suggested that persons and groups interacting within a social system or culture, form social representations of each others’ actions. These are ways of understanding each other As members are raised in or join the community, these social representations are inherited and the ideas become institutionalised. The meaning of actions is embedded in the community itself (not in the action). Therefore, social reality is socially constructed.Kenneth Gergen (1985) built on these ideas specifically for the benefit of psychologists, and called out for an approach to psychology that can both acknowledge the social vicissitudes in scientific reports but also give alternative criteria for evaluating knowledge claims other than “truth” in a positivist senseGergen stated in his 1985 position paper that an approach based on rhetoric cannot offer new truth criteria. Social constructionism can compel an audience with rhetoric but it cannot gain favour on the grounds of veracity.

This is the problem of reflexivity! Social constructionism begins from the point of view that none of its analyses will ever finally be correct in an objective sense.”Languages are essentially shared activities. Indeed, until the sounds or markings come to be shared within a community, it is inappropriate to speak of language at all. In effect, we may cease inquiry into a psychological basis of language (which account would inevitably form but a subtext or miniature language) and focus of the performative use of language in human affairs” Gergen 1985 p. 270What Does the Social Constructionist Believe?Socially constructed knowledge is knowledge that has arisen out of interactions between people in a community rather than interactions with the non-social environment. Scientific knowledge represents one such form of knowledge: Scientific conclusions emerge from the vicissitudes of social conventions and interactions rather than materially real states of affairs.

Scientific accounts are permeated heavily by metaphor and their power to influence audience lies not in the empirical validity but in their use of rhetoric. The role of the social constructionist is to explicate the processes by which people come to describe, explain, or otherwise account for the world in which they live and articulate the role played by metaphor and rhetoric in the production of “truths” (Gergen, 1985).Whether rendering the conduct of organisms intelligible or demystifying existing forms of understanding, research methods can be used to produce “objectifications” or illustrations useful in advancing the pragmatic consequences of one’s work… Although some methods may hold the allure of large samples, others can attract because of their purity, their sensitivity to nuance, or their ability to probe in depth. Such assets do not thereby increase the “objective validity” of the resulting constructions (Gergen, 1985a, p. 253).Kenneth Gergen (1985) outlined four philosophical assumptions typically made by the social constructionist in conducting a narrative or textual analysis.

Social constructionism begins with radical doubt in the taken-for-granted world – whether in the sciences or in daily life – and in a specialised way acts as a form of social criticism. Constructionism asks one to suspend belief that commonly accepted categories or understandings receive their warrant through observation. Thus, it invites one to challenge the objective basis of conventional knowledgeThe terms in which the world is understood are social artefacts, products of historically situated interchanges among people.

From the constructionist perspective, the process of understanding is not automatically driven by the forces of nature, but is the result of an active, cooperative enterprise of persons in relationship. It is first asked whether the folk models of mind within a culture necessarily determine or constrain the conclusions reached within the profession. How can the psychologist step outside cultural understandings and continue to “make sense”? Further, it is asked, are the generic rules governing accounts of human action from which common conventions are derived?The degree to which a given form of understanding prevails or is sustained across time is not fundamentally dependent on the empirical validity of the perspective in question, but on the vicissitudes (changes in circumstances) of social processes. Observations of persons is questionable as a corrective or guide to persons. Rather, the rules for “what counts as what” are inherently ambiguous, continuously evolving, and free to vary with the predilections of (preference for/bias towards) those who use them. On these ground, one is even led to query the concept of truth. Is the major deployment of the term “truth” primarily a means for warranting one’s own position and contenders for intelligibility? The move is from an experiential to a social epistemology.Forms of negotiated understanding are of critical significance in social life, as they are integrally connected with many other activities in which people engage.

Descriptions and explanations of the world themselves constitute forms of social action. It is in this vein that many investigators have been concerned with the prevailing images or metaphors of human action employed in the field of psychology. The Science WarsIf we take the radical constructionist perspective that even scientific data itself is a construction, it may lead to the conclusion that science is trivial – it cannot produce reliable objective means of dealing with the world.Science is mere social activity.Scientists have not accepted this position so easily. They say that science IS practically worthwhile, and it IS better than a constructionist essay.

The reasons for this are many and varied – but taken together the attack on science, and the retaliation against social constructionism, became known as the Science Wars. Radical postmodernists developed a strong anti-science stance, which many still maintain (the use qualitative discursive methods and avoid experiments and statistics). They have insinuated that money and power underlie most or all scientific “advance”.

Some scientists produced an equally vitriolic attack on postmodernism accusing postmodernists of not understanding science itself, and adopting a lazy position (it is easier to criticise than to understand). One key scientific reply came from Gross and Levitt in their book “Higher Superstition: The academic left and its quarrels with science” (1994). This book infuriated postmodernists of all persuasions. The highlight of the war was the publication of a paper,  “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity”,  in the journal Social Text in 1996 by physicist Alan Sokal.

It was a social constructionist analysis of science itself in which the author argued that even natural science alludes to postmodernism in ideas such as probability, magnetic fields, uncertainty, and so on. The paper indulged in unfettered analysis of science from a common-sensical and seemingly intellectual point of view….The paper was a hoax – but was not seen as such by either the journal or its readers until revealed by Sokal himself. Sokal had insulted the postmodernists in their own journal and shown that they would be convinced by any intelligent-sounding waffle. The science wars appear to have eased over time, and some say the science wars are over. Mnat believe that “normal” science has won the day due to real pressures on academics to produce useful objective results with practical implications. Only time will tell.



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