Practices of Interpretation: Social Inquiry as Problem Solving and Self-Definition

In Vinicio Busacchi & Anna Nieddu (eds.), Pragmatismo ed ermeneutica. Soggettività, storicità, rappresentazione. Milano: Mimesis (2019)
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Abstract

John Dewey attempted a pragmatic aufhebung of the disparate methodological aims of social science-explanation, understanding, and critique- in his 1938 Logic: the theory of Inquiry. There, in his penultimate chapter ‘Social Inquiry’, Dewey performed a trademark implementation of his deflation of absolutistic and universalistic pretensions in intellectual and theoretical discourse, in this case with respect to any one approach to social science. This deflation--as elsewhere in his analogous treatments of epistemology, ethics, and the theory of action-- involved the reconstruction of the claims of the naturalist, interpretivist, and critical schools of social science into one overall pattern of social inquiry. This recasts the different and seemingly irreconcilable aims of these schools into a series of steps in a practice. That these claims, then, simultaneously stand independently but in varying degrees of tension with, and support of, each other is a hallmark of pragmatism’s embrace of pluralism in intelligent problem solving. Dewey’s discussion of interpretation needs supplementation from his broader philosophical commitments in order to see the full sense of both the compatibility and the incompatibility of his theory with philosophical hermeneutics.

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Brendan Hogan
New York University

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