An English In Kentucky


















Friday May 10th 2019Tim Candler9


    Critical Analysis means looking at the facts and forming judgments. Easier said than done, and clearly two people can look at the same facts and form entirely different judgments, this problem can be ameliorated a little by a solid understanding that facts are facts when they are known to be consistent with reality and are more reliable than opinion. "The Kitten is adorable" is a long way from a fact. "The Kitten is a cat" despite some behavioral peculiarities, could well be a fact. Sadly not all facts are as straightforward because they come to us from a depth of research that you and I have had no part in, little understanding of and if a fact from so mysterious a source rocks our world in an unappealing way our first inclination is not to believe it. On the other hand if a fact rocks our world in an appealing way we're only too happy to believe it. Critical Analysis is an outcome of Critical Thinking, and here you can't think critically unless you accept certain limitations on your will by directing it to trust a process that doesn't come to us intuitively. One of Hegel's issues, he was adamant about the centrality of Idea, was that in his view an empirical unearthing of facts was insufficiently critical, it was too mechanical and how could you possibly know that all the facts had been unearthed. Hegel's detractors basically argued, "So what! Better than making stuff up out of thin air and reckoning you've got the answer to everything." Then came that wave of people who wanted to study society as scientifically as they possible could, and to do that they needed facts. These days, after grappling with Conflict Theories, the study of society is dominated by Critical Analysis, looking at facts, understanding their limitations and hopefully followed by judgments well informed by facts. These days there's an increasing reliance upon computers, algorithms and so on, that can detect patterns of behavior in society by churning through vast amounts of data and in the process using it to make vast amounts money on the understanding that the measure of success in our species is down to how much money you can make. The essential impetus behind the drive for AI has to do with its money making potential. The question, is wealth an empirical measure of a successful society?  Well, you can argue about what success is when applied to society, but the empirical answer is down to a judgment of the facts, which is not something Hegel would have had to concern himself with, he was all about an inevitable process that would wend its weary way despite all efforts to direct it because in the end we'd successfully get where we're going wherever that was.



    You can get all sneering around those who attempted to understanding society in functional terms, call them old fashioned fuddy-duddies. You can claim that society can't really be examined through the ontology, the concepts and categories, of something like biology or mathematics, we're far too weirdly anomalous a social species for that to work with any degree of accuracy. Doesn't mean that contributions from functionalist thinkers from the past have suddenly become irrelevant. If it's about forming judgments through a critical analysis of facts then you'd be wrong to dismiss anything as irrelevant to an understanding of society. So where do you begin. One of Plato's points was where you begin anything is kind of central to where you end. It sets the tone and direction, and you've got to be a little wary of that because it can lead you badly astray. So I reckon, in a most subjective way, that Durkheim's idea of Anomie from his Division of Labour in Society is as good a place as any for me. The book was first published in 1893. A time when the English thinker Spencer was influential. Spencer applied Darwin's ideas about the evolution of species to an understanding of society and while society could be healthy it could also get sick and if it got sick the cure was to evolve or succumb to an extinction leaving room on the planet for new forms of society. Spencer was a Victorian liberal thinker, he reckoned freedom was about enabling and permitting good and successful progress because it allowed for "individual variation" to use a Durkheim term. Spencer, like Durkheim was influenced by Comte, a French socialist thinker who wrote about Social Evolution in an attempt to reawaken the spirit of equality, fraternity and liberty that had he reckoned had characterized the French Revolution. Auguste Comte is thought of as the Father of Sociology, and have to think he might have had a bit of an agenda that some would argue followed the discipline of Sociology, gave it a wishy-washy reputation in the public eye that probably lasted until the study of society produced ontology's that enabled the sort of monetization that produces billionaires. I know full well that I was going to talk about Merton's Deviance Theory today, but you can't get there without Durkheim's Division of Labour, a look at production production as social relationships from olden days, through the guild systems, the industrial revolution, on into the future, and his understanding of Anomie. It's been said that Anomie for Durkheim was a "derangement," it was driven by "an insatiable will," it was "a malady of the infinite," "desire without limit can never be satisfied, it only gets more intense." Fact or Fiction? Either way, what with everything else it seems like a good place to start. 


Previous       Next