Dec 7, 2008

objectivity

In other words, the scientific observer's decision to study the social world under an objective or subjective frame of reference circumscribes from the beginning the section of the social world (or, at least, the aspect of such a section) which is capable of being studied under the scheme chosen once and for all. The basic postulate of the methodology of social science, therefore, must be the following: choose the scheme of reference adequate to the problem you are interested in, consider its limits and possibilities, make its terms compatible and consistent with one another, and having once accepted it, stick to it! If, on the other hand, the ramifications of your problem lead you in the progress of your work to the acceptance of other schemes of reference and interpretation, do not forget that with the change in the scheme all terms in the formerly used scheme necessarily undergo a shift of meaning. To preserve the consistency of your thought you have to see to it that the "subscript" of all your terms and concepts you use is the same! This is the real meaning of the so often misunderstood postulate of "purity of method."
Alfred Schutz, "Interpretative Sociology"

2 comments:

Joel said...

Do you think this is true of moral cognition? I think provisos for this could be made presuming adequate the technology. I wonder what he would think of the field given advances in brain mapping, optogenetics, nano-enhanced fMRI etc...

vt said...

that's a hazy zone -- the reason why the social sciences require this variety of bounded objectivity is because of the limits of knowledge of the true internal state of the observed agent. neuro advances give us the ability to observe pretty granular changes in physiology and, presumably, connect them to observed behaviour but the gulf between our understanding of observed behaviour and the agent's understanding of his motives for behaving remains unbridgeable.