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Indeed, I am increasingly convinced that society itself is best analysed as an interlocking grid of Good Old Boys' networks, all of which shape and are shaped to a greater or lesser extent by the other GOB networks they interact and/or share parts of their membership with.

This is coming close to Ludwik Fleck's ideas of "thought collectives" as discussed in Mary Douglas's How Institutions Think, Syracuse, 1986. Fleck built on Durkheim's sociological epistemology which upgraded the role of society in organizing thought and downgraded the role of the individual. Durkheim maintained that the categories of space, time and causality have a social origin:

They represent the most general relations which exist between things; surpassing all or other ideas in extension, they dominate all the details of our intellectual life. If men do not agree upon these essential ideas at any moment, if they did not have the same conceptions of time, space, cause, number, etc., all contact between their minds would be impossible, and with that, all life together. Thus, society could not abandon the categories to the free choice of the individual without abandoning itself....There is a minimum of logical conformity beyond which it cannot go. For this reason it uses all its authority upon its members to forestall such dissidences... -- Durkheim, Les formes élémentaires de la vie religieuse, 1912

It would seem that Durkheim's insights were at least fifty years ahead of his time, except, possibly, for Fleck and the linguistics work of Benjamin Whorf. Given the highly individualistic self view of much of western society and Fleck's status as an outsider to philosophy Fleck's work The Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact, 1935, was generally ignored until Thomas Kuhn made reference to him in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 1962.

In his 1935 work Fleck wrote:

Cognition is the most socially-conditioned activity of man, and knowledge is the paramount social creation. The very structure of language presents a compelling philosophy characteristic of that community, and even a single word can represent a complex theory....every epistemological theory is trivial that does not take the sociological dependence of all cognition into account in a fundamental and detailed manner.

The foreword Kuhn wrote to the 1979 translation of The Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact reveals that he is not comfortable with the implications of Fleck's work:

...for me these cluster, as they did on first reading, around the notion of a thought collective...I find the notion intrinsically misleading and a source of recurrent tension in Fleck's text. Put briefly, a thought collective  seems to function as an individual mind writ large because many people possess it (or are possessed by it). To explain its apparent ligislative authority, Fleck therefore repeatedly resorts to terms borrowed from discourse about individuals. (-- English Translation U. of Chicago Press, 1979)

Mary Douglas then states the reason, which is the reigning, unquestioned presumption:

In sum, thinking and feeling are for individual persons. However, can a social group think or feel: This is the central, repugnant paradox. Kuhn appreciates in Fleck's book a number of separate insights, but not Fleck's main argument. By rejecting it, Kuhn is sharing discomfort with many lliberals. John Rawls' philosophy of justice is founded on outright individualism; in his view society is not "an organic whole with a life of its own distinct from and superior to that of all its members in their relations with one another" (Rawls, 1971, p. 264)

It is true that there are now several movements of ideas in the direction to which Fleck was urgently pointing. For instance, we can deal more easily with the uncomfortable terms. The translators considered and rejected several alternatives for denkkollectiv sicj as
school of thought" or "cognitive community" Before they adopted the literal translation "thought collective." But now the term "world" has acquired the right sense. Thought world (including distinguishable theology worlds, anthropology worlds, and science worlds) in place of thought collective would be faithful to Fleck's essential idea, while linking it appropriately to Nelson Goodman's Ways of Worldmaking (Goodman, 1978) and to Howard Becker's  Art Worlds (Becker 1982). Fleck's subject was scientific discovery, Becker's is artistic creativity, and Goodman's is cognition in general

That is what I mean when I boldly assert that reality is a social construct and is therefore inherently malleable, if not easily malleable. It is also the reason which I reject the individualistic visions of liberalism as inappropriate to the experienced reality of myself and those with whom I chose to affiliate. It also was the foundational premise for my old sig line: If sanity be culturally normative, then, by the norms of this culture, I claim insanity.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Wed Oct 13th, 2010 at 11:28:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That is what I mean when I boldly assert that reality is a social construct and is therefore inherently malleable

On the contrary. There exists a physical reality whose laws are not malleable. If you exit your apartment by the window on the twenty-second floor, you are not going to make it to work that day. This is not a social convention, it is an empirical reality.

On the other hand, there is also a reality of social convention, which is malleable. That we construct buildings with windows from which it is theoretically possible to exit is a social convention - in this day and age, no law of nature prevents us from constructing perfectly habitable buildings with no windows at all.

One challenge for a political reformer is to recognise which of the laws governing his reality are of the former kind, and which are of the latter kind. If he fails to do so, he risks wasting much of his time arguing for the repeal of the laws of nature. The social convention is not a reliable guide to this distinction, because the social convention is apt to mistake strong institutions for laws of nature. The conventional wisdom considers you just as much a crackpot when you inform it that there is no causal relationship between taxes and sovereign outlays as it does when you inform it that the theory of anthropogenic global warming is false.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Oct 14th, 2010 at 05:33:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There exists a physical reality whose laws are not malleable.

Agreed. I unintentionally left out the word "perceptual" from my intended phrase "perceptual reality". In the face of creationists and flat earthers I doubt you would deny that people can perceive and have perceived the underlying reality differently. But, to most, perception is reality. It is exactly the response of conventional wisdom to such concepts as taxes and global warming that I am proposing to change -- not the underlying physics.

For those aspects of our reality that are not tied tightly to genuine laws of physics or nature, or which are tied to non-functional or poorly functioning undestandings of these laws the phrase "Nothing is but that thinking makes it so" truly applies and just thinking differently could change things.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Thu Oct 14th, 2010 at 10:16:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]

I reject the individualistic visions of liberalism as inappropriate to the experienced reality of myself and those with whom I chose to affiliate.

Yes, well, the "individualistic" Rawls did spend his professional life discussing issues to do with a just society, specifically one not based on individualistic considerations (hence the use of the "original position" and "veil of ignorance") and notions like "overlapping consensus".

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner - that I moved to Nice.

by Ted Welch (tedwelch-at-mac-dot-com) on Thu Oct 14th, 2010 at 03:50:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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