ABSTRACT In this wide-ranging interview Professor Douglas V. Porpora discusses a number of issues. First, how he became a Critical Realist through his early work on the concept of structure. Second, drawing on his Reconstructing Sociology, his take on the current state of American sociology. This leads to discussion of the broader range of his work as part of Margaret Archer’s various Centre for Social Ontology projects, and on moral-macro reasoning and the concept of truth in political discourse.
This paper attempts to synthesize the Winchian stress on constitutive rules with the Marxian stress on material relationships by developing the concept of emergently material social relations. Such relationships, it is argued, arise from the constitutive rules that constitute a group's way of life. Although such relationships thus are derivative from the conscious rule-following behavior of actors, nevertheless they have an objective existence independent of actors' specific awareness. It is argued that such material relations are an important mechanism beyond the (...) cultural rules through which our behavior is constrained, enabled, and motivated. Yet the Winchian tradition in general and contemporary structuration theory in particular have tended to peripheralize the notion of material relations, treating them largely as epiphenomenal abstractions. This, it is argued, is a mistake and the source of an important lacuna in structuration theory. In particular, because structuration theory decenters the actor, conflates the distinction between regulative and constitutive rules, and peripheralizes social relations, it lacks an adequate explanation of motivation, as symptomized by its inordinate appeal to the unconscious. The concept of emergently material social relations overcomes this problem and offers a reintegration of the Marxian and the Winchian traditions. (shrink)
This paper responds to Dave Elder-Vass's generally sympathetic critique of Margaret Archer's position on structure and emergence. Elder-Vass does helpfully emphasize the synchronic effects of structure. Yet, it is argued here, in his treatment of structure, Elder-Vass tends to concede too much to methodological individualism and to overemphasize social rules at the expense of social relations. Finally, a question is raised about how both Archer and Elder-Vass and Critical Realism in general speak of emergence.
Physicist Max Tegmark argues that if there are infinite universes or sub-universes, we will encounter our exact duplicates infinite times, the nearest within 10^10^115 m. Tegmark assumes Humean supervenience and a finite number of possible combinations of elementary quantum states. This paper argues on the contrary that Tegmark’s argument fails to hold if possible thoughts, persons, and life histories are all infinite in number. Are there infinite thoughts we could possibly think? This paper will show that there are. If so, (...) then it is not only Tegmark’s specific claim about our duplication that is called into question. We additionally acquire another strong argument against Humean supervenience. (shrink)
This article concerns a recent methodological debate in American sociology that generated widespread attention in the United States. It was a debate that spanned at least four journals: American Journal of Sociology, Sociological Methods & Research, Qualitative Sociology and American Journal of Cultural Sociology. As the debate was not just about methods per se but about the ‘theory of reality’ underlying each method and its ‘social ontology’, critical realism has much to say about it. Although at the end everyone comes (...) around to critical realism's position of methodological pluralism, what makes the debate interesting is the reasoning, the ontological assumptions, and the surprising directions of attack. Above all this article will take issue with the assumption common to all disputants that people tend ‘to give self-contradictory and inadequate accounts of their actions and motives’. (shrink)
This paper examines the challenges to critical realism posed by the ways in which the original postmodern sensibility has transformed into various forms of anti-humanism, trans-humanism, and post-humanism. These transformations, largely growing out of poststructuralism, are reinforced by developments in psychology and computer science but also incorporate a new turn toward ontology in alternate forms of realism such as Object-Oriented-Ontology. This paper identifies what is new and what is old in these trends and argues that, while there is something to (...) be learned from them, some of which implicitly and even explicitly borrow from CR, the humanist orientation of CR continues to deserve defense. (shrink)
This paper defends the relevance of Taylor's (1964) critique of S-R behaviorism to Skinner's model of operant conditioning. In particular, it is argued against Ringen (1976) that the model of operant conditioning is a nonteleological variety of explanation. Operant conditioning is shown unable, on this account, to provide a parsimonious and predictive explanation of the behavior of higher level organisms. Finally, it is shown that the principle of operant conditioning implicitly assumes a teleological capacity, the admission of which renders the (...) principle of operant conditioning superfluous. (shrink)
This paper is a critical response to the newest version of the rational choice theory of religion (RCTR). In comparison with previous critiques, this paper takes aim at RCTR's foundational assumption of psychological egoism and argues that the thesis of psychological egoism is untenable. Without that thesis, the normative aspects of religious commitment cannot be reduced validly to instrumental reason. On neither conceptual nor empirical grounds therefore can religion or religious commitment be defined comprehensively in terms of exchange theory. With (...) the failure of psychological egoism as a point of departure, the paper articulates an alternative theory of religion, one based on the epistemic rationality grounded in religious experience and religious emotion. (shrink)
The caterpillar’s question is the question Wonderland’s caterpillar posed to Alice: Who are you? This is a question Alice finds she cannot answer. According to postmodernist anti-humanism, Alice cannot answer the question because there is no coherent Alice there to answer it, no unitary subject of consciousness.This paper contests the anti-humanist denial of a coherent subject of experience. While it is conceded that phenomenologically, we may have difficulty today identifying who we are essentially, it is argued that, conceptually, we cannot (...) do without the ontological category of the person as a unified center of consciousness. (shrink)
Each contributor to this book has used personal experience as the basis from which to frame his individual sociological perspectives. Because they have personalized their work, their accounts are real, and recognizable as having come from 'real' persons, about 'real' experiences. There are no objectively-distanced disembodied third person entities in these accounts. These writers are actual people whose stories will make you laugh, cry, think, and want to know more.
This volume engages with post-humanist and transhumanist approaches to present an original exploration of the question of how humankind will fare in the face of artificial intelligence. With emerging technologies now widely assumed to be calling into question assumptions about human beings and their place within the world, and computational innovations of machine learning leading some to claim we are coming ever closer to the long-sought artificial general intelligence, it defends humanity with the argument that technological 'advances' introduced artificially into (...) some humans do not annul their fundamental human qualities. Against the challenge presented by the possibility that advanced artificial intelligence will be fully capable of original thinking, creative self-development and moral judgement and therefore have claims to legal rights, the authors advance a form of 'essentialism' that justifies providing a 'decent minimum life' for all persons. As such, while the future of the human is in question, the authors show how dispensing with either the category itself or the underlying reality is a less plausible solution than is often assumed. (shrink)
This article examines a distinct form of moral argumentation found to be common in a corpus of 500 editorials and opinion pieces written in 23 US newspapers and news magazines between August and October 2002 debating whether or not the US should attack Iraq. The purpose of the article is to delineate this communicative phenomenon, which we call moral muting. Moral muting occurs when a message either blunts the moral considerations involved in a case or presents an equivocal moral meaning. (...) Moral muting overlaps with but is distinct from mitigation, and even when it involves mitigation, moral muting depends on devices that go beyond those generally associated with conversational mitigation. The examination of moral muting offered here contributes to a better understanding of moral communication in general and of the conduct of the American public sphere. (shrink)
The objective of this paper is to reconsider the relationship between marxism and existential-phenomenological sociology in light of margolis' (1978) recent articulation and systematic defense of what he terms nonreductive materialism--a material monist ontology which acknowledges an irreducible dualism of attributes. it is argued that reductive materialism is philosophically indefensible and that the most important reasons for thinking that marxism entails reductive materialism are mistaken.
This paper intervenes in an argument over the number of thoughts that could be thought. The argument has important implications for supervenience physicalism, the thesis that all is physical or supervenient on the physical. If, per quantum mechanics, the number of possible physical states is finite while the number of possible thoughts is infinite, then the latter exceeds the former in number, and supervenience phyicalsim fails. Abelson first argued that possible thoughts are infinite as we can think of any of (...) the infinite natural numbers. Subsequently, physicist Max Tegmark argued that we cannot think of all the numbers there are, that some are simultaneously too large and too nondescript to reference. Porpora offered a brief proof countering Tegmark. Curtis then countered Porpora, arguing that Porpora’s argument runs afoul of the Berry paradox. This paper shows that while Curtis does offer an analogous proof that does fall prey to the Berry paradox, Porpora’s does not. The result reinstates Porpora’s argument with all its implications for supervenience physicalism and offers a clearer lesson from the Berry Paradox. (shrink)