Pragmatism and Planning lecture slides

Pragmatism and Planning
Theories of Science and Research
Methods lecture, 6-7 October 2011
Patrick Driscoll
[email protected]
Sorry about starting like this but…
• It is necessary. You may or may not thank me
• The inference of particulars from general laws,
principles or theories
• All premises must be true in order for the
conclusion to be true.
• Example: All A is B, all B is C, therefore all A is C.
(and all means all, no exceptions).
• A big challenge in social science is that
mathematical precision is difficult to come by,
forcing us to rely upon induction and abduction
to a large extent in order to generate knowledge
about observed and hidden events
• The inference of general laws from specific
instances, what Aristotle called the assault on the
generals by the particulars.
• The conclusion may still be true even if some of
the premises are false. Example: Some A is B,
some B is C, therefore some A is C. If all A is B (i.e.
the premise is wrong), the conclusion “some A is
C” still holds. Note that is this situation, it is
difficult to say what precise part of A is C, but
more about that later.
• Charles Sanders Peirce wrestled with Kant and
“The Critique of Pure Reason” for some time, and
over the course of his working life came to see
abduction as a special category of induction. How
exactly is it different? In a word: guessing
• The surprising fact, C, is observed. But if A were
true, C would be a matter of course, Hence, there
is reason to suspect that A is true. (Notice there is
no “B”. That’s what makes abduction so
interesting, it can leap over things easily).
What is the seduction of abduction?
• Humans are theory-generating machines. It takes
more energy and effort to NOT theorize than to
theorize, but in the absence of perfect knowledge
we often rely on abduction to fill in the gaps.
• Abductive reasoning relies upon lots of different
faculties, including experience, belief, emotion
(gut instinct) and most importantly, guessing.
• In Pragmatism, theories themselves can be
empirical facts.
If you don’t understand induction (or
abduction), it is not necessarily your
Cognitive and behavioral psychologists have found a
few interesting things about induction:
• One, only a small percentage (10-15%) of the
population natively possess the skills to reason
inductively (PC Wason did a series of experiments
in the 60s and 70s that are fascinating).
• Two, the human ability to reason inductively does
not fully mature until around 35 years of age
(reminds me of an expression, that experience is
a comb that nature gives you when you are bald).
But isn’t pragmatism just a fancy way
of saying “Do whatever works?”
• Short answer: No
• Long answer: Yes, but…
Here is the but…
• Empirically driven-no theory should stand by itself on
first principles (how things ought to be) but should be
tested (how things are).
• Admits of the possibility of mind-independent reality,
but assumes that it would be impossible to ever prove
such an existence, so quit talking about it and get back
to work.
• Pragmatism is highly pluralistic theory of science and
has been heavily modified over the past 130+ years, so
saying “Pragmatism is…” can be a sketchy proposition.
This includes whatever I am telling you today.
A historical aside
• Pragmatism arose in the 1870’s in Cambridge,
Massachussetts, from “The Meta-physical Club”
• It’s primary progenitors were William James (one
of the founders of modern psychology), Oliver
Wendell Holmes (future Supreme Court justice
and a towering figure in American legal theory
and practice) and Charles Sanders Peirce (founder
of semiotics, logical topology, and a creator of
significant advances in mathematics).
The obligatory quotes from my master
• On why we reason: “The object of reasoning is
to find out, from the consideration of what we
already know, something else that we do not
know”, Charles Sanders Peirce , The Fixation of
• On reality: “Thus we may define the real as
that whose characters are independent of
what anybody may think them to be.” Charles
Sanders Peirce, How to Make Our Ideas Clear
To converge or not to converge, that is
the question
• Is there an absolute truth that exists
independent of our perceptions, or are all
truths historically, culturally and temporally
• The absence of a coherent moral and ethical
post-structuralist framework has always been
the most troublesome aspect of the theory for
How to apply this in practice
• Like any good Pragmatist, I will attempt show
you the theory applied to real world
conditions (drawn from my MSc thesis).
• Please feel free to ask questions. That is a
validity check in itself.
Five Principles of Research Design
Work Plan
Clarity and
Primary research considerations
• Reliability (or consistency). Can we be sure that what we
know now will also hold true in the past and future?
Natural scientists use repeatability of experiments to
establish reliability, but due to the lack of strong system
regularities in the life world, social scientists resort to other
• Validity (from the Latin valere, to be strong). Is the truth
expression in the research supported by the facts of the
• Generalization (the bug bear of case studies). How
universal are the findings?
• Causality. What is the chain of events or effects that led
from one thing to another. Perhaps the most difficult part.
Logic Linking Research Questions
Type of Empirical
Data Sources
How this looks in practice
Why try to link your research
questions to your data PRIOR to the
It forces you to become very focused on what exactly it is that you are
interested in
In a group process, it makes many of the initial scoping conversations of
a research project more grounded and less abstract
It is also a good method to check your own biases and belief structures,
since the kinds of questions we ask ourselves can also be leading ones.
We have a natural urge to confirm-bias what we already know and this
helps to confront that.
It helps to build a reading list, by screening out irrelevant literature and
previous studies that are linked to your research area.
It also helps to build an analytic/interpretive framework early in the
project BUT, it needs to be flexible in order to adapt to surprising,
interesting, and unexpected findings.
What are the down sides
1. It sucks. It takes a long time to work through
the research questions, hypothetical
reasoning, data and sources. Make sure to
give yourselves plenty of time to do it.
2. It sucks, because you have to be ruthless in
discarding beliefs or knowledge that do not
fit the scheme. Often times that means
having to learn new things (horror of horrors)
What makes good research (IMO)
• Doubt, skepticism, willingness and ability to
challenge your own belief structures
• Good research is a form of structured
psychosis. What I mean by that is staring so
intently at one thing for so long is not normal
and it takes many years of training to master
the discipline and the skill set to do it well
(and to maintain your sanity along the way).
If you wish to know more about
Pragmatic (critical or otherwise)
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (a wiki, really, but a really good one)
Goodman, ed. (2005) Pragmatism: Critical concepts in philosophy, Routledge: Oxon
If you really, really want to go deep:
Aristotle’s Prior and Posterior Analytics,
Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason,
Richard Rorty’s Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. Princeton University Press:
Nicholas Rescher’s Realistic Pragmatism: An Introduction to Pragmatic Philosophy.
SUNY Press: New York
John McDowell’s Meaning, Knowledge, and Reality Harvard University Press:

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