Monday, May 07, 2018

Meditation on the Social Sciences

Rereading the C S Lewis essay "Meditation In a Toolshed" (God In The Dock, 1970) I noticed in paragraph five something I had not seen before:
As soon as you have grasped this simple distinction, it raises a question. You get one experience of a thing when you look along it and another when you look at it. Which is the “true” or “valid” experience? Which tells you most about the thing? And you can hardly ask that question without noticing that for the last fifty years or so everyone has been taking the answer for granted. It has been assumed without discussion that if you want the true account of religion you must go, not to religious people, but to anthropologists; that if you want the true account of sexual love you must go, not to lovers, but to psychologists; that if you want to understand some “ideology” (such as medieval chivalry or the nineteenth-century idea of a “gentleman”), you must listen not to those who lived inside it, but to sociologists
Anthropologists.Psychologists. Sociologists. Those are the main branches of the social sciences, and they are being indicted here. While it is certainly useful to know about things as an observer, there is another way of knowing altogether, which is experiencing. Are the social sciences founded on non-experience to the point of chronic debunking? Is this still so? Lewis said fifty years, but it is over one-hundred-and-ten now.

Read the essay and tell me what you think about the current state of things.

1 comment:

james said...

The reductionist and analytical approaches to understanding the physical world bring a great deal of power with them. It is not at all obvious that they are nearly so effective when we study ourselves, because they assume what they want to prove--that our actions are driven by purely mechanical considerations.

In addition, there's the problem of feedback and cussedness--people react differently with an observer, especially an observer who is trying to analyze them. I gather from cursory readings of psychology studies that they have to put a lot of effort into misleading the participants about what is really going on.