More new files in the Rathouse

C Wright Mills on Intellectual CraftsmanshipMills wrote an important critique of the prevailing fashions in sociology during the 1960s, notably “grand theory” which was represented by Talcott Parsons in his post-1937 “general systems theory”,  and “abstracted empiricism” which piled up endless statistics, often questionnaire-based, with little relevance to any theory at all. The Sociological Imagination is flawed by Mills’ ideological leanings but there is a superb appendix on intellectual craftsmanship which should be read and re-read by all aspiring scholars and serious researchers.

Profile of Australian University Students – a Current Affairs Bulletin report in 1967. This is a survey of the rather small number of universities at the time, and the student population, with some highly opinionated but well informed and interesting comments on the attitudes and expectations of students. This is a valuable record, a snapshot at a time of gathering momentum of change in the universities, when only three or four per cent of young people attended, compared with the 30+ per cent these days.

Professor John Anderson published an article “On University Reform” in The Australasian Journal of Psychology and Philosophy, between “Notes on Aesthetics” and “The Logic of Relativity”.
 
This can be read as a pre-emptive strike against Dawkins and his ilk.  It is a pity that when Dawkins and his merry men appeared there was a shortage of people with the capacity and the willingness to maintain Anderson’s rage.
 
 Philip on soils, science and models. “We examine the last half-century of natural science, with special reference to its ethos and to changing public attitudes to the autonomy and accountability of the scientific community. The content of soil science places it uneasily between natural science on the one hand and the world of professional practice on the other…A disturbing aspect is that computer modeling has largely suplanted laboratory experimentation and field observation as the research activity of students.”  

Philip was concerned that many students were losing touch with the physical reality of soil-plant systems due to their fascinating with the neat and tidy mathematical models they could build on computers. There is a lesson here for social scientists, especially economists.

Schwartz on The Pernicious Role of Mathematics in Science.

He noted the familiar comment of computer programmers, that the machine will do a anything that you tell it, without question, hence “garbage in, garbage out”. He warns that theoretical mathematics has some of the same simple or literal-mindedness of the computer, though not to the same extent. He then makes an important point about the conflict between precision and accuracy in dealing with real physical systems (read real social systems as well!)

“It is a continual result of the fact that science tries to deal with reality that even the most precise sciences normally work with more or less ill-understood approximations toward which the scientist must maintain an appropriate skepticism. Thus, for instance, it may come as a shock to the mathematician to learn that the Schrodinger equation for the hydrogen atom, which he is able to solve only after a considerable effort of functional analysis and special function theory, is not a literally correct description of this atom, but only an approximation to a somewhat more correct equation taking account of spin, magnetic dipole, and relativistic effects; that this corrected equation is itself only an ill-understood approximation to an infinite set of quantum field-theoretical equations; and finally that the quantum field theory, besides diverging, neglects a myriad of strange-particle interactions whose strength and form are largely unknown. The physicist, looking at the original. Schrodinger equation, learns to sense in it the presence of many invisible terms, integral, integrodiffereotial, perhaps even more complicated types of operators, in addition to the differential terms visible, and this sense inspires an entirely appropriate disregard for the purely technical features of the equation which he sees. This very healthy self-skepticism is foreign to the mathematical approach.”

His point is that mathematics has to deal with well-defined situations and in science mathematics can only be usefully applied after the science side of things has been sorted out to the point where simplification can be achieved without losing touch with reality. Or at least where the departure from reality is clearly undestood so that the results of the analysis are not confused with reality itself.

“Give a mathematician a situation which is the least bit ill-defined — he will first of all make it well defined. Perhaps appropriately, but perhaps inappropriately.The hydrogen atom illustrates this process…with the danger that…the mathematician turns the scientist’s theoretical assumptions, i.e., convenient points of analytical emphasis, into axioms, and then takes these axioms literally. This brings with it the danger that he may also persuade the scientist to take these axioms literally…In this way, mathematics has often succeeded in proving, for instance, that the fundamental objects of the scientist’s calculations do not exist.”

 Philip on the use and abuse of science. This paper moves from some issues in pure mathematics to consider what he called the “Marxist” obsession with the utilitarian aspect of science, its capacity for control. It may be that Bacon was the source of that attitude, however Philip draws on fascinating historical and literary sources to make his point about the need to defend science and scholarship for their own sakes, not just for their applications and their commercial value.

Poole review of Unended Quest. A generous review of Popper’s intellectual autobiography, probably from the British magazine Books and Bookmen circa 1976.

Reviews of high school economics texts, NSW, 1990. A survey of the most commonly used texts in the final school years of the larger Australian states. The result is disconcerting! It is important to repeat the survey to find if the situation has improved.

Rafe’s Roundup  1989-911994-19961997-1999. These appeared in the quarterly journal Policy, from the Centre for Independent Studies in Sydney. Each piece is about 900 words and consists of a summary and commentary on three or four items selected from a range of overseas magazines and journals.
 
For example the first edition in 1989 has a piece from the Moscow News on “the spectre of free enterprise”.
  
‘We’ve already printed enough paper money to buy all the goods in Western Europe, if only it would accept the rouble at its official exchange rate. The GDR
and Czechoslovakia have recently forbidden our tourists to take consumer goods out of the country’.
 
And a piece from Reason on the politicization of science projects in the US.
 
“State governments and universities in the US have begun to use hardline lobbying tactics to obtain Federal science grants. One of the plums was the Department of Energy’s Superconducting Supercollider, worth almost 5,000 jobs during construction and many thousands of positions thereafter. Several states worked hard to win the prize but nobody took any notice of the scientists who argued that it was not needed at all.”
 
Popper’s Metaphysical Epilogue to The Postscript.  For my commentary and review of the volume 
 

During the early 1950s Popper prepared almost a thousand pages of manuscript  for publication as a companion volume to the The Logic of Scientific Discovery.   For various reasons, publication was delayed until the 1980s which is unfortunate because  the Metaphysical Epilogue to the third  volume of The Postscript contains Popper’s theory of metaphysical research programs which in some ways represents the capstone to the arch of his thought.  

 
Popper’s opening address at the 1961 “Positivism Conference” This paper on “The Logic of the Social Sciences” was supposed to initate an exchange of ideas between Popper and Adorno, but Adorno chose to deliver a speech that did not engage with the points raised in Popper’s opening address.

“Suggestion: We may, perhaps, adopt tentatively, as the fundamental problems of a purely theoretical sociology, first the study
of the general logic of situations, and second the theory of institutions and of traditions. This would include such problems as the following:
1. Institutions do not act; rather, only individuals act, within or on behalf of institutions. The general situational logic of these actions would be the theory of the quasi-actions of institutions.
2. We might construct a theory of intended and unintended institutional consequences of purposive action. This could also lead to a theory of the creation and the development of institutions.”

The pathway to publication of the exchange was complicated by an exchange of ideas between champions of Popper and Adorno (Albert and Habermas). So when the book finally appeared, misleadingly titled “The Positivism Debate”, Popper’s original address was surrounded by hundreds of pages of polemics, mostly by Habermas and Adorno. 

This is Popper’s account of the strange book that eventually appeared, with some of his general comments on the Frankfurt School.

Popper “Against Big Words“. This is a letter that Popper wrote, only to find that parts had become public, which eventually prompted him to publish the whole letter to ensure that he was not being misunderstood by partial quotation from his correspondence. 
 
 “Every intellectual has a very special responsibility. He has the privilege and the opportunity of studying. In return, he owes it to his fellow men (or ‘to society’) to represent the results of his study as simply, clearly and modestly as he can. The worst thing that intellectuals can do – the cardinal sin – is to try to set themselves up as great prophets vis-à-vis their fellow men and to impress them with puzzling philosophies. Anyone who cannot speak simply and clearly should say nothing and continue to work until he can do so.”

Popper on “Reason and the Open Society“. Encounter 1972. An interview which indicates that Popper had moved a good way from the soical democracy of his youth.

Asked “Don’t you believe that the formally democratic political structure must be based on democracy and equality in the economic sphere before it can become fully alive?”

“Allow me to restate your question in a slightly more primitive form. ‘Is the coexistence of wealth and poverty an intolerable social evil?’
My answer is, yes, poverty is a great evil and becomes still more iniquitous when it coexists with great wealth. More important than the contrast between poverty and wealth, however, is the contrast between freedom and its absence, the contrast between a new class, a new ruling dictatorship, and citizens in disfavour who are
banished to concentration camps or elsewhere. Thus I regard the possibility of free rational discussion and the influence of such critical discussion upon politics as the greatest virtue of a democracy. This places me in diametrical pposition to those who believe in force or violence, particularly to the Fascists and to some adherents of the New Left.”

Popper and McIntyre on medical ethics and the role of data and criticism in improving clinical practice.


Gunther Wachterhauser on Popper’s ideas and the origins of life on earth.

Popper’s ideas in psychology. A short paper by Rafe Champion to contribute to a debate on epistemology and methods in The American Psychologist. The leading paper in the debate quoted scores of references from Peirce and Bertrand Russell to Hempel and Kuhn but did not cite Popper.

Rafe Champion on some problems and prospects for the NSW Strata Titles Act. This legislation caters for the local equivalent of condominions, where the owners of the individual properties have unrestricted right to sell or lease their unit. This was a very innovative move and called for a great deal of refinement of the original Act as problems and possibilities became apparent.
 

Magee on Popper in The Confession of a Philosopher.

Alan Musgrave interview on his time at the LSE, working with Popper and Lakatos and beyond.

 
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2 Responses to More new files in the Rathouse

  1. Matt says:

    Popper’s Metaphysical Epilogue to The Postscript is something I’ve suggested others take a look at more than once; it’s nice to see it, on-line.

    In general, what a bunch of great resources! 🙂

  2. Rafe says:

    Thanks Matt, all positive feedback is appreciated.

    In a spare moment I will put in a few lines to indicate what can be found in each item, busy people don’t have time to click links without knowing that they are going to find!

    The C Wright Mills piece on intellectual crafstmanship is the kind of thing that is worth revisiting every four or five years to be sure you are keeping on track. The same applies with Hamming’s advice to ambitious researchers.

    http://www.cs.virginia.edu/~robins/YouAndYourResearch.pdf

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