re: Grand Universal Theory
Wed, 9 Nov 1994 18:00:30 +0000

Replying to Beverley Walker, Don Munro says:

>However, what I am trying to figure out from the discussion is whether
>people are saying that such a metatheory is a positivistic notion, and
>whether that might be a valid argument. I am happy to believe that Skinner
>and Churchland and others discovered part of the truth, and Kelly another
>part, but none of them discovered the whole truth (nor is any metatheory
>the whole truth, even if it unifies all other known truths), but is that
>belief itself a product of the mind of an unreconstructed positivist? Or
>is metatheory the royal road to constructive alternativism?

about which I can only comment that truths are human constructions, they're
not things one "discovers" existing "out there", so that the notion of a
"whole truth" is either meaningless or unknowable, I'm not sure which!

Tony Downing comments

>scientists generally
>believe that there is some reality out there, which sooner or later, will
>make itself felt whatever constructions we put upon it. As my old boss Max
>Hammerton likes to say, "a fact is something you can stub your toe on"

but I'm uncomfortable with this because it does appear that what we call
"facts" are themselves social constructions: they're whatever we agree to
construe in a particular way because its useful to do so; as measured by
instruments whose meaning depends on a theory of how to go about those
measurements. (Right now, the temperature in my room is around 12 degrees
centigrade: a fairly simple, toe-stubbable fact you might argue. But the
thermometer I use depends on a theory of expansion as a function of heat,
both being constructs; change the theory, (which you yourself admit
scientists do over time), and you put the "fact" into question).

A lot of our discussion does seem to reflect personal
beliefs-ones-comfortable-with, doesn't it? For example, I personally can't
buy the idea that

>to get anywhere with science we have to think that we are
>seeking the truth about the way things are
How can you tell? Only by noticing that other people, scientists lay or
"offical", appear to share your view as useful for the time being!

Nope, not for me: its a positivist belief which gives me the willies. And
so, for me?

Well, Kelly once said that its useful to believe that the "world out there"
is real, and that the world of experience is equally real; which suggests
that the best we can do is to map our constructions onto the phenomenal
flow, without ever being able to tell with any certainty whether that
mapping is "correct" or not. If you believe that you _can_ "discover whole
truths" and tell whether you're correct in so doing, then you're a
positivist exactly as Comte defined it; if you believe that you try to
develop and elaborate mappings which are useful in that they satisfy your
personal goals of the moment (including goals of sociality, one isn't
forced into solipsism!), it seems to me you're a constructivist.

Mind you, I must confess that we do by and large get round to behaving as
if we experienced _some_ phenomena in much the same way.... (Constructivist
behaviourism, cripes!)

Kindest regards,

Devi Jankowicz