Team 3 Synthesis

Regna Synthesis:

Turner analyzes a number of claims in normativity and naturalism throughout history. I along with the class, had difficulty determining exactly where Turner stands at the end of the day. He critiques both normativism and naturalism for various reasons including their circularity, but acknowledges that some aspects may need to be accepted simply due to lack of other alternatives. Our class discussion raised a number of interesting points about actions and beliefs and the defining of community and society. I would like to expand upon some of the thoughts I had pertaining to the topics we discussed during class.

During the class discussion, the idea was raised that two acts that are exactly the same can have two completely different meanings solely based off of belief. In one community, pouring water on your head may mean that your sins are being washed away, while in another community this action may have no meaning at all. Turner writes, “It therefore implies that beliefs make it one kind of act rather than another.” (p.102) If someone is part of a different community, with different beliefs, they may be able to perform the exact same action, but have two different things occur. So then is it belief that makes something actually occur, not the action itself? In Holy Baptism, for example, are you freed from original sin only if you believe that baptism is freeing you from original sin? What if baptism occurs when you are a baby, and you do not believe anything; then is it enough that the other members of your church community believe that you are being freed from original sin? Does the belief in the action have to be your own, or can it be the belief of your community? What if once you are capable of having beliefs, you choose that you do not believe that it is possible for the action of baptism to free you from original sin? Does the belief of the community mean more than your belief? While not discussed during class, this discussion of belief in religious acts left me thinking about the role belief can play in what actions mean in science and research. The importance of belief in the meaning of actions in science is not quite as clear to me as it is with religion. In religion, faith is used to define beliefs for which no evidence exists. Science is unlike religion in the sense that there must be evidence that something occurred in order for you to conclude that it concurred. Truths cannot be justified by faith. Even if belief is present by one scientist, that belief is not enough to make something true or a belief of the entire scientific community, without proof or evidence. However with religion, there does not need to be evidence that you were freed from original sin, the belief that you were is enough for the community to accept it as true.

How a community is defined and who can define a community was another interesting discussion from class on Monday. Scientists are all part of a scientific community that they do not believe STS people should be a part of. If scientists view STS people as outsiders, it will be difficult for them to implement changes if scientists believe outsiders do not have the right to make corrections regardless of whether STS beliefs are right or wrong. The question then becomes how STS people can persuade scientists to take on a particular view. The burden of proof is going to lie with STS people who are seeking to change science and technology. While scientists may be part of an exclusive community, that does not mean that they are not also part of a larger community or society that includes other people and that they should not be held accountable for what they are doing. Scientists could greatly benefit from being receptive to new ideas from people who may be outside of the scientific community, but as we discussed in class they must first deal with the issue raised by Turner: “If the community all agrees on an answer and persists in its view, no one can correct it. There can be no corrector in the community, since by hypothesis, all the community agrees. If the corrector were outside the community, on Wittgenstein’s view he has no right to make any correction.” (p. 105)

Jennings Synthesis:

This week we delved into the quagmire of normativist and naturalistic arguments that is Turner’s book. If the book is confusing or unsatisfying, this is only partly a matter of Turner’s writing, but also a function of this conceptual mess we have made for ourselves in the domain of fact-value discourse. Turner is right to point out that both normativism and naturalism in their various argument forms often result in circular reasoning. Social scientific explanations often seek to explain the social domain in ways that already presume the social categories they prescribe as if naturally given. But the rational ordering of society that takes place in its very analysis relies on normativities of some kind. To posit a rational structure or given collective which adheres to legitimate norms is to simultaneously commit to some norm; rationality in its many conceptualizations all presume that the order at hand is desirable, that societies ought to be ordered in some way, often blatantly in terms of the ideals and conceptual schemes of the observer.

Naturalism and rationality also rely on circular support: they must presume their methods are correct in order to justify their own deployment. There are norms at the heart of naturalism that cannot be said to be self-evident in nature; they are pragmatic assumptions and decisions for human benefit. Both naturalism and normativism seem to presume a privileged perspective that cannot be ultimately proven no matter the success and expansion of their explanatory domains. What’s more, both accounts can plausibly explain all of the same events in reasonable and (at least minimally understandable) translatable ways. Turner believes the burden of proof that norms exist and can be explained naturalistically is a matter for the normativists, but this presumes that naturalism before norms are introduced is already the correct method and metric of all domains of analysis.

Rather than being genuinely dichotomous as the positivist age would have us believe, along with Turner we seemed to be in agreement that both naturalism and normativism are caught up in the same Western discourse of rationalism, and rely on one another. Normativism requires knowledge of the world to arrive at norms (although transcendental claims must be present as well), and Naturalism seems inextricably motivated by norms such as the desire to formulate an ontology that will allow us to explain everything in the universe, conveniently without stepping beyond empirical observation. It normatively presumes that we ought to trust in the regularity and knowability of nature in order to have an effective ontology. Disregarding the epilogue, Turner seems to conclude that we must stick to our naturalistic guns because all appeals to normativity so far have failed to explain anything newer or better, albeit according to naturalistic criteria.

A somewhat neglected area for Turner was the contingency of the politics of knowledge. Concerned with somewhat disembodied ideas, meanings and justifications, Turner did not ask his questions in a sufficiently contextual-political frame. Still, we might say that one of his solutions to this conundrum is political and normative: his notion of empathy as a normative method of translation of rationalities seems to move us towards a politics of care rather than perspectival indifference and dismissal that characterized the earlier days of positivistic naturalism. We all seemed to point to the need for a reconciliation, a normative naturalism that concedes that norms and values operate in the natural/real world. But how we get there is anything but decided.


It is difficult to synthesize more than what has already been covered by my two teammates, however, I will attempt though there might be some redundancy. I began the class discussion by showing BabaKiueria an Australian TV show reversing the traditional role of anthropologists studying the ‘other.’ This video served as a means to illustrate what is at stake in any social sciences account of the human world. I asked the question how does Turner's account of normativity apply to our own work? I think that this is a very useful question when we are interrogating how or own work fits into the debate between naturalism and normativity.

We divided into small groups with Jen, Tim and William in one. Crystal, Nicole, Jim and myself were in another followed by David and Adam in the third. In our group we discussed the central question of what can we garner from Turner with respect to our own work. Jim was helpful in pointing out that Turner is after grounding norms in social science. What is the utility of grounding the norms? Biological normativity was discussed as one possible avenue for grounding norms in social science work. However, we discussed how biology assumes rationality which turner characterizes as a central norm itself (117). In this discussion we opened a brief debate about the possibility of translatability and transcendental norms in our own work. Another example discussed by Jim brought up how Foucault was compelling for social scientists because of the normative lens of power that is central to his work. We are always positing certain norms and transcendental phenomenon which operate as the lens through which we view and conceptualize the social world. Nelson Goodman was also discussed with regards to the question does our account fit the way the world operates? A discussion of Hayek was brought up with regards to the positing of the free-market as a central norm or lens through which we can understand contemporary society. However, Turner argues that there is no such thing as invisible hand. Thus at the end of the day what are we left with when we consider how we tell our accounts when everything can be posited as normative? We raised the argument that the road to hell is always paved with good intentions on the part of the scholar who posits norms in order to create his or her account.

When we came back together as a class we investigated the question is a naturalistic explanation norm free or is there always already normativity in any account of how the world both natural and social operates? For example what is the ‘thing’ you can count on in any account (194)? IS there circularity in any argument? Tim for example discussed Hume’s problem of induction and how there is circularity even in naturalistic arguments? The discussion on inductive reasoning was helpful because it pointed out how even in naturalistic description we assume a rationality of inference from what has already occurred to what will occur in the future. One of the key points brought up with regards to induction is the use of inductive argument to support induction. We discussed this problem in regards to the how we use our methods to justify our methods in a similar way that reason as a norm is used to justify the use of reason.

Turner’s work is helpful to think through key concepts that STS scholars take for granted in their accounts. For example what do we assume when we posit that ‘society’ exists? How do we assume a collectivity when in fact there might not be one? Who speaks for the collectivity and has the capacity to adjudicate truth claims and regimes of meaning across different societies. Are we trapped in the circle of relativism? How might we get out? Is Turner’s analytic account of normativity merely repeating the work already conducted by post-moderns in the late 80s to mid 90s during the science wars? At the end of the day Turner’s appeal to empathy and slowness might be necessary to understand how the politics of knowledge operate through normative assumptions. Though he does offer a copout end of the day assessment? Is it enough to have slowness and empathy? The rigor of Turner’s work and time it takes to get through his examination of normativity allows us to consider the ways we construct our own work and how our scholarship is connected with broader philosophical arguments that we must understand in order to develop better accounts of our objects of inquiry. His approach is well warranted and helps future scholars understand the ground which is at stake in the construction of any representation of the human.

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