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12260[XTalk] Lloyd Re: Wright's NTPG, Chaps 1& 2

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  • Bob Schacht
    Jan 2, 2003
      At 11:50 AM 1/2/2003 +0000, Andrew Lloyd wrote:
      >--- In crosstalk2@yahoogroups.com, Bob Schacht <bobschacht@i...> wrote:
      > > Any time you can state a hypothesis in the
      > > form of a relationship between two or more variables, the scientific
      > > approach is relevant.
      >Which, it seems to me Bob, is anytime we like.

      Not at all the case, unless you eviscerate the word "variable" of any
      sensible meaning. Are you suggesting that any Subject-Verb-Object construct
      fits my description of a hypothesis? If so, you are WAY off. But we are
      getting ahead of ourselves here. I anticipate having much more to say on
      Wright's use of the word "hypothesis" later on, but I haven't got to the
      part of his book where he begins to use this word about his own approach in
      any detail. So let's put off a more thorough discussion of the use of the
      word "hypothesis."

      > That's not much of
      >a "scientific" control. Indeed, how's it not a simple preference for
      >something called the "scientific approach", where, I assume, the
      >word "science" acts as some kind of magic word? (Because it's
      >scientific its valid.)

      Too many people treat science that way (you perhaps included?) Against that
      tide, I am trying to promote a more accurate idea of what science actually
      does, to de-mystify it.

      >[Andrew Lloyd]
      > > >What's more, I don't think you're getting what Wright is about if
      > > >you want to be better at being objective, as seems the case.
      >[Bob Schacht]
      > > It is precisely this that I am criticizing Wright for. He seems to be
      > > arguing that objectivity is a black or white thing, either you can be
      > > objective or you can't, and he thinks you can't, so why bother? My
      > position
      > > is that we CAN be better at being MORE objective, and that objectivity
      > > comes in degrees and shades rather than all black or all white.
      >Then I suggest that I'm right and you don't understand Wright's
      >point at all. Wright is arguing, explicitly, that objectivity is
      >BESIDE THE POINT. He's not saying "why bother?" at all. He's saying
      >that its not a case of being more or less objective; it is a case of
      >regarding such a paradigm as irrelevant.

      Which suggests that you do not understand that I'm not interpreting Wright
      here; I'm arguing *against* Wright in this instance. I disagree with him
      that objectivity is "beside the point," as you put it. I'll return to this
      point below.

      > The choice, as I regard
      >Wright as presenting it in chapter 2 of NTPG, is between an
      >inadequate subjective/objective paradigm (in which you will always
      >be worried you aren't being objective enough and will always be
      >liable to the subjective charge) and a narrative paradigm in which
      >anything you would claim or talk about is set against the narrative
      >background you come supplied with. Thus, "a real world", the only
      >world in which subject/object talk would do its suggested work,
      >drops out.

      And I regard this as a significant problem with Wright's approach. More on
      this later. For now let me just ask this question:
      How are we supposed to choose which narrative we want to believe? We're
      really getting toward the heart of the matter in what you write next:

      >Now granted that this is a better description of Wright's position
      >(and you may want to argue that though you should read p. 98 first
      >and note his assertion on p. 43 that "stories...are more fundamental
      >than facts"), Wright is inconsistent since he wants to hold that
      >when I talk about "my narrative world", that which he speaks about
      >in chapter 2, he can also talk about "the world" in a claim-making
      >sense. (Here note his chosen diagrammatic aids consist of polar
      >opposites, something he is rhetorically abandoning.) But I don't
      >believe that if Wright follows through on his own idea he has any
      >right to be making anything other than rhetorical claims about
      >his "narrative world" tout court (which I have no problems with).
      >Thus, I see Wright as someone who can't stop talking about
      >some "real world" even though it appears he wants to try to. This is
      >why in my PHD thesis I am talking about Wright as displaying a dual
      >rhetoric, the rhetoric of social and personal involvement allied
      >with a lingering objective realism. I find this to be evident also
      >in his chosen terminology: "critical" can be opposed to "realism".
      >Since I rhetorically oppose Wright to Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza
      >in my own work he can only look like someone without the chutzpah to
      >follow through on his own, largely coherent, suggestion.

      This is a very important point, with which I agree. How are we to choose
      which narrative world to subscribe to? Unless we agree that (1) there is a
      reality that transcends both you and me and everyone else, and (2)
      Narratives vary in how well they map reality, then we are left with a kind
      of naive subjectivism guided only by "it sounds good to me." If we take
      this road, then how is Christianity different from any other cult? Or is
      Christianity only different from other cults in being more successful at
      deceiving larger numbers of people? (Which I think is where some people on
      this list are at. ) So the dilemma of Wright's critical realism is that it
      is, after all, a form of realism, and therefore it must present some way of
      understanding what is real, and what isn't. This is why I come back to the
      idea is that the subjective/objective difference is NOT irrelevant.

      > >My position
      > > is that part of our epistemology should be how to be better at being
      > > objective, when it comes to cultural processes, literary processes,
      > etc. To
      > > do otherwise is to descend into naive reductionism, where there is no
      > point
      > > in our discussing anything, because your meaning will always be different
      > > from my meaning, so what's the use?
      >Well, if you want to individualise and trivialise meaning to such an
      >extent, not much use at all, perhaps. However, neither Wright nor
      >myself do so. Wright, for example, considers the storied nature of
      >knowledge as inevitably public and not at all "reductionistic" since
      >he thinks we should be telling stories that all can join in with.

      Well, OK. But how does this make Jesus any different from Jim Jones or
      David Koresh? How can we tell whether a story is worth "joining in with"?
      How can we tell whether to "join in with" Story A rather than Story B?
      Making "the storied nature of knowledge" as "public" does not solve these

      > In such a case (and here I develop as much as attempt to stick close to
      >Wright) "being right" or, in another form, "being objective" come
      >close to meaning "being part of that guiding narrative we accept".
      >Wright's claim is that we tell stories that can make sense of our
      >lives and our world.

      Well, yes, the Mahareshi Mahesh Yogi can tell me a story that will make
      sense of my life and our world, but why should I believe him?

      > Thus we come suppiled with our own narrative
      >constraints. (To dip into another narrative, that of Richard
      >Rorty, "most of the things we talk about we get right".)

      Doggone it, you're forcing me back into cynicism. I'm not so sure Rorty is
      right. My cynic self says that most of the things we talk about we get away
      with, without suffering any severe consequences.

      >This is not
      >a matter of reduction for these constraints, I think, accomplish the
      >same feats that those who want "a scientific approach" want too.

      No, I don't think so at all! At least, I'm not yet persuaded, either by
      Wright or by you.

      >Its just they are not presented in scientifc terminology and so seem suspect.

      No, its because Wright doesn't show how we can evaluate whether or not a
      story is reality-based.
      Actually, the epistemological dilemma is a bit more complex than that,
      because while reality does matter (!!!), it is not the only thing that
      matters. Suppose the reality is that I am short, crippled, mentally
      retarded and socially incompetent, and that no one cares what I think, and
      my family has turned its collective back on me, and I have no friends. Do
      these "realities" help me live my life to its fullest potential? Probably
      not. They would probably make me depressed and suicidal. But what if I am
      presented with a narrative that sez God loves me, and that every life has a
      purpose and _____________(fill in the blank with some feel-good pop
      psychology), and someone who believes all that stuff actually decides to
      befriend me. Will those ideas, which some might call delusional, help me
      live my life to its fullest potential? Very possibly. Delusions are
      sometimes useful; what passes for "reality" is not always useful.

      I suspect that this is partly what Wright is getting at. However, it is a
      slippery slope that he is trying to traverse.

      >...Meaning, after all, is basic and Wright's thesis at least takes account
      >of that.

      Granted. And to my knowledge, not even Crossan tries to deal with that
      subject as extensively as Wright does.

      >{Andrew Lloyd]
      > > >Wright's narrative approach would seem to undercut the
      > > >subjective/objective distinction you are seeking to preserve. If the
      > > >questions we ask and the answers we provide have narrative contexts
      > > >what use then is such a distinction?
      >[Bob Schacht]
      > > Because it can get us to the moon and back.
      >A classic pragmatic point which says nothing other than that if it
      >works, do it. On this basis many theoretical ways of configuring
      >inquiry could be correct at the same time, as evidenced by the fact
      >that many theories are used and success is claimed. However, you
      >aren't trying to "get to the moon and back" Bob. You're trying to
      >find meaning in, and make sense of, the past. This is history: the
      >past made sense of; a hermeneutic activity perhaps sometimes
      >utilising scientific methods.

      Well, I guess I prefer "if it works, do it" to "if it sounds good, believe it."

      > > Wright sees that you can't do history without dealing with meaning, and
      > > once you open that door, you're up to your keester in difficult
      > > epistemological questions. But one of those issues is that in order for us
      > > to communicate at all, we have to have shared ideas about the meaning
      > of at
      > > least some things. To the extent that we can do that, we transcend the
      > > subjective.
      >But remember, Wright is talking at the level of undergirding
      >narrative rather than just the level of the fact or the statement.
      >An argument addressed to merely the level of the fact or the
      >statement does not address the argument of Wright.

      So then we are going to have to take a look at these "undergirding
      narratives" and figure out a way to evaluate which one(s), if any, to buy
      in to.

      But if we stay stuck in these chapters, I'll never get to the next ones!
      Thanks for your feedback. Your comments above help us get to the crux of
      Wright's thesis.
      Bob Schacht
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