Narrow Contexts

Closed system     -          Open system
Narrow                -          Wide
Independent         -          Dependent
Quantity               -          Quality

Science only ever deals with abstracted, narrow contexts which give partial views. It must always be nested within a tradition, a wider story that weaves all contexts into a cohesive whole, and that doesn’t allow the extremes of constructivism (all nurture) or biological determinism (all nature). 

Within tradition there must be a good reason to inquire, a reason that relates to the wider context and worldview of the tradition. Inquiry for the sake of inquiry, out of mere curiosity, is foreign to tradition.

Perhaps for many scientists their motivation is a progressive worldview, albeit unconscious in some cases.

Theorists - such as Descartes - have been tempted to try and find a standard entity for [the word ‘self’] to refer to. They have hoped for a Procrustean bed guaranteed to fit all [its many] uses. And in modern times the hope has been that something narrower and simpler still would emerge - a concept modelled on the most abstract scientific terms such as the names of physical particles.

This is surely a mistake because these scientific terms are designed only for a specially abstract context.

Even in biology it has not proved possible to standardise terms like 'species' in this way because they refer to things in the world which have to be looked at in a variety of lights, and this is still more true of notions that play an important part in the jungle of human life.

Attempts to impose simple, arbitrary definitions on the subtle and versatile words that play an important part there – words such as person, reason and feeling - are inevitably futile.

What is needed in such cases is rather to make clear just what the context of the particular enquiry is – why this particular question is arising.

[Mary Midgley]
Science and Poetry, p.120

There are [doctrines], popular today, which do allow for a social context but deny a bodily one.

In sociology for instance, there is still quite a widespread belief that human behaviour can only have social causes, not biological ones, so that the constitution of people's bodies can have no effect on their personality.

[Mary Midgley]
Science and Poetry, p.122

Jung imagined the psyche as being structured in a way that is similar to that of the sacred hoop, with the four psychological functions lying along the sacred directions. Ideally, the human psyche should occupy a point of balance within the center of the hoop, but most of us live out of balance.

A person who approaches different events, including human relationships, only in a rational, logical way can be seen as living from the thinking function, having consigned the feeling function to the shadow world. Eventually this underdeveloped and undifferentiated feeling function will begin to exert its subversive power on the personality.

[F. David Peat]
Blackfoot Physics, p.164

If Huxley's definition is what most people mean by science, then it is probably true that Indigenous people do not possess a science.

After all, why should people whose philosophy speaks of relationship, the primacy of direct experience, and the interconnectedness of all things ever wish to divorce themselves from their world and fragment their experience though such acts of abstraction?

If there were to be an Indigenous science then it would deal not in abstraction, weighing, and measuring; but in relationship, holism, quality, and value.

[…] it is not possible to separate Indigenous science from other areas of life such as ethics, spirituality, metaphysics, social order, ceremony, and a variety of other aspects of daily existence. Thus it can never be a "branch" or a "department" of knowledge, but rather remains inseparable from the cohesive whole, from a way of being and of coming-to-knowing.

[F. David Peat]
Blackfoot Physics, p.240-1

The poet and philosopher Goethe had pointed out the artificial nature of scientific experiments for, in their retreat from the fullness of phenomena, they have the effect of isolating and tricking nature.

So while experiment is the key to Western science it has also been criticized as being artificial, as increasing our sense of distance from nature, and possibly even leading to a fundamental distortion in the way we relate to the world.

Within Indigenous science there does not seem to be that same deliberate attempt to move beyond observation by setting constraints on nature. Indeed, from within its holistic viewpoint in which everything is connected to everything else, experiment would have to take on a new role.

[F. David Peat]
Blackfoot Physics, p.251

[…] dissolving sociological dualisms clears the ground for post-anthropocentric (Braidotti, 2011: 327) sociology, shifting humans from the central focus of sociological attention and facilitating a posthuman sociology to engage productively with the world beyond the human: with other living things, and with the wider environment of matter and things.

By challenging any distinction between the materiality of the physical world and the social constructs of human thoughts and desires, it enables exploration of how each affects the other, and how things other than humans (for instance, a tool, a technology or a building) can be social ‘agents’, making things happen.

This flattening of the nature/culture dualism is applicable not only when exploring topics such as environmental change, technology or science, but also to re-think the part that the non-human and non-animate, matter and meaning play in social production more generally (Karakayali, 2015), for instance in education (Alldred and Fox, 2017) or public health (Fox and Alldred, 2016).

[Nick J. Fox & Pam Alldred]
‘Social structures, power and resistance in monist sociology: (New) materialist insights’

[...] the notion of human happiness is not a unitary, simple notion and cannot provide us with a criterion for making our key choices.

If someone suggests to us, in the spirit of Bentham and Mill, that we should guide our own choices by the prospects of our own future pleasure or happiness, the appropriate retort is to enquire: 'But which pleasure, which happiness ought to guide me?' For there are too many different kinds of enjoyable activity, too many different modes in which happiness is achieved.

For different pleasures and different happinesses are to a large degree incommensurable: there are no scales of quality or quantity on which to weigh them. Consequently appeal to the criteria of pleasure will not tell me whether to drink or swim and appeal to those of happiness cannot decide for me between the life of a monk and that of a soldier.

To have understood the polymorphous character of pleasure and happiness is of course to have rendered those concepts useless for utilitarian purposes; if the prospect of his or her own future pleasure or happiness cannot for the reasons which I have suggested provide criteria for solving the problems of action in the case of each individual, it follows that the notion of the greatest happiness of the greatest number is a notion without any clear content at all.

It is indeed a pseudo-concept available for a variety of ideological uses, but no more than that. Hence when we encounter its use in practical life, it is always necessary to ask what actual project or purpose is being concealed by its use.

[Alasdair MacIntyre]
After Virtue, p.77-8

Utilitarianism cannot accommodate the distinction between goods internal to and goods external to a practice.

[...] internal goods and external goods are not commensurable with each other. Hence the notion of summing goods - and a fortiori in the light of what I have said about kinds of pleasure and enjoyment the notion of summing happiness - in terms of one single formula or conception of utility, whether it is Franklin's or Bentham's or Mill's, makes no sense.

Nonetheless we ought to note that although this distinction is alien to J.S. Mill's thought, it is plausible and in no way patronizing to suppose that something like this is the distinction which he was trying to make in Utilitarianism when he distinguished between 'higher' and 'lower' pleasures.

At the most we can say 'something like this'; for J.S. Mill's upbringing had given him a limited view of human life and powers, had unfitted him, for example, for appreciating games just because of the way it had fitted him for appreciating philosophy.

[Alasdair MacIntyre]
After Virtue, p.231

[…] the term "standard" leads us from data amenable to statistical measurement (wages or articles of consumption) to those satisfactions which are sometimes described by statisticans as "imponderables".

From food we are led to homes, from homes to health, from health to family life, and thence to leisure, work-discipline, education and play, intensity of labour, and so on.

From standard-of-life we pass to way-of-life. But the two are not the same. The first is a measurement of quantities; the second a description (and sometimes an evaluation) of qualities. Where statistical evidence is appropriate to the first, we must rely largely upon "literary evidence" as to the second.

A major source of confusion arises from the drawing of con­clusions as to one from evidence appropriate only to the other. It is at times as if statisticians have been arguing: "the indices reveal an increased per capita consumption of tea, sugar, meat and soap, therefore the working class was happier", while social historians have replied: "the literary sources show that people were unhappy, therefore their standard-of-living must have deteriorated".

[…] It is quite possible for statistical averages and human experiences to run in opposite directions. A per capita increase in quantitative factors may take place at the same time as a great qualitative disturbance in people's way of life, traditional relationships, and sanctions. People may consume more goods and become less happy or less free at the same time.

[…] we might cite those trades, such as coal­ mining, in which real wages advanced between 1790 and 1840, but at the cost of longer hours and a greater intensity of labour, so that the breadwinner was "worn out" before the age of forty. In statistical terms, this reveals an upward curve. To the families concerned it might feel like immiseration.

Thus it is perfectly possible to maintain two propositions which, on a casual view, appear to be contradictory. Over the period 1790-1840 there was a slight improvement in aver­age material standards. Over the same period there was in­tensified exploitation, greater insecurity, and increasing human misery.

By 1840 most people were "better off" than their fore­runners had been fifty years before, but they had suffered and continued to suffer this slight improvement as a catastrophic experience.

[E.P. Thompson]
The Making of the English Working Class, p.230-1

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