Philippine Normal University
The National Center for Teacher Education
Taft Avenue, Manila
A POSITION PAPER:
INTERPRETATIONALIST VS. NATURALIST
In Partial Fulfillment of the course requirements in
SS 704: Philosophy of Social Science
KEVIN CARS M. SO
MA. TERESA R. TANGO
MARIA LAIZA C. UMAYAM
INTERPRETATIONALIST VS. NATURALIST
There has been an ongoing debate on how human actions should be studied. Many social scientists believe that prediction and interpretation could be reconciled and that we can develop a causal theory of human actions (Rosenberg, 2008). However, this effort to reconcile prediction and interpretation between the natural sciences and interpretative social sciences has resulted to some critics and controversies that lead to the argument that the aim of social sciences should not be prediction but rather interpretation. Thus, interpretative social sciences should focus on meaning rather than on uncovering the causal law of human actions which is so impossible to happen because of the concept of free will raised by some critics of the naturalist perspective. This position paper would talk about how we stand with interpretationalists over naturalists.
As a social science major, we take on the stand that prediction and interpretation can never be reconciled and that the best way to study human actions is to explain it which means to interpret it. Just like for example in the study of deep meanings of Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx, both seem to claim their theories to be causal theories but at latter turn out not a causal one because of its lack of predictive power and inability to access human consciousness. However, even though the theories of Freud and Marx did not qualify as a causal theory it does not mean that these theories are to be considered useless. Maybe we are just barking at the wrong tree and we need to change how we perceive these theories just like what other social scientists did. We need to admit that although the theories of Freud and Marx seem not to have the predictive power of human actions but still their theories in some way give light to the deeper meanings of human affairs and made us possible to understand it. Anyone with a serious interest in the theories must look elsewhere for a fuller view (Rosenberg, 2008, p. 118)
To continue, one of the most challenging tasks for social scientist is the attempt to solve social issues like cultural gaps, systematize maintenance of ignorance, political bias and emerging social concerns just to mention a few, enabling us to grasp an understanding of our ever-changing social context. Thus, putting them into more crucial spot of analyzing various philosophical foundations, as social scientists weigh their beliefs and answers the fundamental questions that rise on their discipline critically. It’s an unending endeavor that social scientists have to deal with. The philosophy of social science is equally necessary for social philosophers who think their interests are wholly limited to epistemology or metaphysics, for the social sciences raise fundamental questions about knowledge and human action (Rosenberg, 2008). Understanding human action and its historical background may vary from one discipline to another making it something incomparable as every argument must be supported by philosophical basis. The social and behavioral sciences have not been so fortunate. Within these disciplines, there is no consensus on the questions that each of them is to address, nor on the methods to be employed. This is true both between disciplines and even within some of them. In the absence of agreement about theories and benchmark methods of inquiry among the social sciences, the only source of guidance for research must come from philosophical theories (Rosenberg, 2008). There are no questions on how sciences answer the most pressing concerns but there are still certain old and new questions that are unanswerable. The sides scientists take on answers to philosophical questions determine the questions they do address as answerable by science and the methods they employ to answer them. Sometimes scientists take sides consciously. More often, scientists take sides on philosophical questions without realizing it, by their choice of scientific questions to address and methods to employ which philosophy of science may be able to vindicate those choices.
As one of concern academically in social science, we believe in the assertion of Rosenberg in his book that we don’t give predictable conclusions to critically explain the causality of human action and the reason of why these certain actions persist because it sometimes brings people to misconception and multiplying effect of unsolvable questions. On the other hand, social science usually gives probable answers to explain certain tricky phenomena thus, following some standard of probability considering social context than general laws. On this paper, it’s therefore clear that we basically used the interpretationalist approach pursuing the basic assumption that there is an acceptable behavior of the agent whose relation to the environment is understood and that the beliefs of the agent will match those of the subject he is interpreting (Davidson. D, 1993). Here we briefly review some study to briefly validate interpretationalist stand of explaining questions. The term ‘human interpretation’ itself has two interpretations: interpretation by human beings and interpretation of human beings (Baker, 2001). Relative to a context, an interpretation is a re-description of something with the aim of showing it in a certain light. To better understand the perspective and philosophical explanation of interpretationalist to action, we reviewed the preliminary inquiry done by Lynne Rudder Baker for social science conference in Spain, she concluded here that there is no re-description without a prior description—where the priority is logical or conceptual (rather than temporal). An interpretation, then, has three features which concern to social science should give thorough consideration: A context, a prior description, and a re-description. We are all familiar with both kinds of interpretation in ordinary life. The general idea underlying the quest for a theory of human interpretation is that “actions are events that we interpret as intentional” (Baker, 2001). The basic idea of interpretationalist theories comes from Quine: To be intentional is to be interpreted in a “dramatic idiom,” the idiom of propositional attitudes—dramatic because attributions of attitudes like belief and desire are not fixed by the physical facts. Social scientists intelligibly give explanation and meaning they also draw logical connections and give emphasis that beliefs and desires, that often cause human action, must be taken into consideration holistically (Rosenberg, 2008). Typically, in contexts of human action, what we interpret is something whose prior description is already intentional and not physical—reading something on a newspaper, taking the hands of the elder to show respect (or pagmamano), and saying, “Give me a break for a while”. Almost never is an action-description an interpretation of bodily motions in the ordinary sense of interpretation. Below are more examples of understanding human actions through the lens of an interpretationalist by Lynne Rudder Baker of University of Massachusetts Amherst in her Preliminary Inquiry of Action; a faculty member interprets what the departmental chair tells her as a hint that she should publish more. I 2 J.L. Austin distinguished locutionary acts, (e.g., “He said to me ‘Shoot her!’ meaning by ‘shoot’ shoot and referring by ‘her’ to her”) from illocutionary acts (e.g., “He urged (or advised, ordered, &etc.) me to shoot her) and perlocutionary acts (“He persuaded me to shoot her.”) How To Do Things With Words (Oxford University Press, 1965): 101. In typical speech situations, the locutionary act provides the prior description, and the illocutionary act provides the interpretation. Interpret the cut in the budget of the philosophy department as a change of priorities in the university. You interpret your roommate’s banging the dishes as an expression of anger. But each of these commonsensical examples of interpretation in action—including rather unusual case of the nurse’s interpretation of the physical event of the hand’s moving as an action—is a case of re-description in a context. In general, the distinction between what is interpreted and what is uninterpreted does not match up with the distinction between what is intentional and what is nonintentional. Baker, also try to elicit from these examples some characteristics of interpretations—aside from the fact that typically (but not universally), the object of ordinary interpretation is already described intentionally. As a re-description, interpretation presupposes a prior description. What counts as a prior description varies, as we have seen, from context to context. So, if an item is interpreted—a text, an archeological find, a dream, a physical event, an action whatever—then there is a description of the item that is uninterpreted relative to the interpretation. Thus, we don’t just present this primary study to give good reason or validate our side about what is solely acceptable philosophical basis.
Interpretation cannot be the source or basis of intentionality if interpretations include interpretations produced by human beings. Producing an interpretation—or using an intentional vocabulary or taking a stance (intentional or not)—is already an intentional action. Therefore, we should not look to the notion of interpretation, either as understood by interpretationalists or by everyday speakers to provide a reductive account of intentionality. Nevertheless, ordinary interpretation remains something that we may want a (nonreductive) theory of. This conclusion of Baker in her preliminary study simply shows how she try to explain action and proposed better ways to understand it modestly. Even so, there remain formidable obstacles to a theory of human interpretation. The argument wasn’t enough to justify the consistency of this philosophical foundation to fully explain human action at all cause. There are lots of study and inquiries that still test the consistency of interpretationalist as a tool of explaining human action and phenomena. As a review of different books and studies concerning interpretationalist we could probably assume that it is only one of the acceptable approaches to fully understand the variation and abstraction of human action which social scientist usually used. Without a well-established theory to guide inquiry, every choice of a research question to address and every choice of method tackle it is implicitly or explicitly a gamble with unknown odds. The choice the social scientist makes is a bet that the question chosen is answerable, that questions not chosen are either less important or unanswerable, that the means used to attack the question are appropriate, and that other methods are not. When social scientists choose to employ methods as close to those of natural science as possible, they commit themselves to the position that the question before them is one empirical science can answer (Rosenberg, 2008). The argument between social science and natural science should not be interpreted subjectively, as we come to take this subject; Philosophy of Social Science we come into realization that we should continuously understand and investigate action through unbiased and objective meta-analysis. In anyway, they are both sciences who always try to answer all the intriguing questions for the light of humanity.
Baker, Lynne R. (2001). Interpretation in Action: A Preliminary Inquiry. University of Massachusetts Amherst: Published in Portuguese as “Interpretação na Acção: Uma Análise Preliminar” in A Explicação da Interpretação Humana, Fernando Mão de Ferro, ed. (Lisboa: Edições Colibri, 2005): 117-130.
Lakatos, Imre Philosophical Papers (volumes 1 and 2). Worrall and Currie (eds), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978.
Losee, John A Historical Introduction to the Philosophy of Science, Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1972. 2nd edition, 1980.
Rosenberg, A. (2008). Philosophy of Social Science. United States of America: Westview Press