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Thread: Polling and epistemology/ontology

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    Paperback Writer RevForum Administrator Amoeba's Avatar
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    Default Polling and epistemology/ontology

    What a surprise: Just 6 per cent of Labour voters backed the party because of their local MP

    To be honest I think 6% is too high. Many people in there who would've Labour anyway but now want to make a pathetic political point, and those whose local MPs were people like Corbyn so their saying so in the poll doesn't mean anything in relation to the way the question is asked.
    To be, or not to be, that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer,
    Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them.

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    Default Re: UK General Election 2017 thread

    Quote Originally Posted by Amoeba View Post
    What a surprise: Just 6 per cent of Labour voters backed the party because of their local MP

    To be honest I think 6% is too high. Many people in there who would've Labour anyway but now want to make a pathetic political point, and those whose local MPs were people like Corbyn so their saying so in the poll doesn't mean anything in relation to the way the question is asked.
    I am not sure if the respondents were offered a choice of responses or if it was an open question, but if it was the former then some people will just have chosen it because it was offered.

    Also some of the sentimentality around British politics tells people it is good to have a good local MP and you should vote on that basis (and hence love fptp...), this argument never pointing out that implicitly you should therefore not vote with regard to policy or government. Given the sentimental attachment to the idea of choosing a good local MP, some people will have answered that because they thought that is what they ought to say.

    You see the same thing in reverse with only 5% of people saying it was because they always voted Labour. The real number was way over half. But you are not meant to say you always vote the same way, you need to appear to be a discerning voter so people don't want to say that to the interviewer.

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    Paperback Writer RevForum Administrator Amoeba's Avatar
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    Default Re: UK General Election 2017 thread

    Yeah, lot of nuances there that are hidden under the headline, but that's par for the course for polling.
    To be, or not to be, that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer,
    Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them.

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    Default Re: UK General Election 2017 thread

    Quote Originally Posted by Amoeba View Post
    Yeah, lot of nuances there that are hidden under the headline, but that's par for the course for polling.
    To be fair you can do a Master's Degree centered around polling and miss nuances. I should know after all...

    Seriously polls have to be read with all sorts of caveats and conditionals in mind, but try telling that to journalists.

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    Paperback Writer RevForum Administrator Amoeba's Avatar
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    Default Re: UK General Election 2017 thread

    True, but I think the problem also lies with the whole culture around polling, especially outside the academy and even more so when there's a profit motive involved (polling as a business).

    You're probably familiar with the contemporary critical literature. These short pieces basically capture my view of it, and cover the main critiques of polling practices and certain uncritical interpretations of them pretty well I believe (though the second piece somewhat misreads the first):

    Public opinion does not exist
    The Social Construction of Public Opinion (PDF)
    To be, or not to be, that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer,
    Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them.

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    Default Re: UK General Election 2017 thread

    btw if you know of any other texts taking a critical view of it, especially if it's more recent, please do share.
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    Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them.

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    Default Re: UK General Election 2017 thread

    Quote Originally Posted by Amoeba View Post
    True, but I think the problem also lies with the whole culture around polling, especially outside the academy and even more so when there's a profit motive involved (polling as a business).

    You're probably familiar with the contemporary critical literature. These short pieces basically capture my view of it, and cover the main critiques of polling practices and certain uncritical interpretations of them pretty well I believe (though the second piece somewhat misreads the first):

    Public opinion does not exist
    The Social Construction of Public Opinion (PDF)
    I am not sure I agree with that exactly. "Public Opinion" aggregates individual opinion and I don't think you can call that a construct. What is more interesting to me is what are the consequences of contradictions in opinion, how opinion on viable combinations on policies contrast with opinion on individual policies in isolation. For instance when the British public are asked if they favour the death penalty they generally say yes, but once viable combinations of policies are put forth combinations that do not include the death penalty are more popular than those that do include it.

    This means that looking at poll answers to individual questions is a lot less useful than a lot of people think-though that does not mean it is useless, it still gives a snapshot of what people think.

    There is also the problem I alluded to earlier of people answering based on what they think they should say and this is compounded by trigger words that have positive or negative connotations. Ask the Scottish Public if "traditional" values should be maintained they say yes because "traditional" seems comforting and good. Yet ask them if they support gay rights and you get overwhelming support. Which is it? Almost certainly the latter that asks about actual policy rather than motherhood and apple pie (Mawhood and shortbread?) but answers can be heavily screwed with just by certain words. Again that does not mean opinion does not exist, just that you have to be very careful-and ethical-in how you ask for it.

    The real benefit of polling, which is completely lost on journalists however is its use in determining likely causes of opinion. If you have ever taken a poll you will note they ask you a vast battery of questions including your education, socio-economic status and all sorts of questions that seem irrelevant to the purpose of the poll. This is because they are trying to correlate answers to see if there are statistical relationships. Regression modelling to build statistical explanations of why people answer in certain ways is the real purpose of polls but that is not their purpose in the press.

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    Paperback Writer RevForum Administrator Amoeba's Avatar
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    Default Re: UK General Election 2017 thread

    Neither of the pieces I linked to claim that public opinion does not exist (the title of the first piece refers to a particular conception of public opinion not existing, namely the view that it's something more than a mere snapshot, representing a scientific understanding of what "the public" really believes).

    I also don't think what you wrote really conflicts with much that is argued in either of those texts. I agree with it in any case.

    Though I'm not exactly sure why you believe aggregated opinion - the product of pollsters choosing to ask people certain things in certain ways - cannot be described as a (social) construct, but then maybe we have a different understanding of that term or what it implies. To me the stuff produced in the natural sciences is also fundamentally a social construct (all knowledge is), so the disagreement might arise from a different view of epistemology (to use the technical terminology, I'm pretty close to coherentism, and virtue epistemology in particular).

    I don't agree with all of Latour, but he makes a pretty convincing case that the data produced in laboratories are social constructs in texts like this one (he's developed his views in more recent work, but the underlying view of epistemology is unchanged): Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts

    If that's the case for the natural sciences - which again I believe it is - it's obviously also the case for the social.

    If you find Latour distasteful due to his postmodernist credentials, a coherentist view of epistemology is also espoused by those who write in the analytical tradition, most prominently Kuhn, Sellars and Quine.
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    Senior Voting Member Rosa Lichtenstein's Avatar
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    Default Re: UK General Election 2017 thread

    Er..., what makes you think Kuhn was a coherentist?
    The emancipation of the working class will be an act of the workers themselves.

    http://anti-dialectics.co.uk/index.htm

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    Default Re: UK General Election 2017 thread

    I don't see how he can be read as a foundationalist?

    Anyway, here's the case for interpreting him as a coherentist: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science...3936810700043X

    If you can't access that one, see this (PDF).
    To be, or not to be, that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer,
    Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them.

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    Default Re: UK General Election 2017 thread

    Quote Originally Posted by Amoeba View Post
    Neither of the pieces I linked to claim that public opinion does not exist (the title of the first piece refers to a particular conception of public opinion not existing, namely the view that it's something more than a mere snapshot, representing a scientific understanding of what "the public" really believes).

    I also don't think what you wrote really conflicts with much that is argued in either of those texts. I agree with it in any case.

    Though I'm not exactly sure why you believe aggregated opinion - the product of pollsters choosing to ask people certain things in certain ways - cannot be described as a (social) construct, but then maybe we have a different understanding of that term or what it implies. To me the stuff produced in the natural sciences is also fundamentally a social construct (all knowledge is), so the disagreement might arise from a different view of epistemology (to use the technical terminology, I'm pretty close to coherentism, and virtue epistemology in particular).

    I don't agree with all of Latour, but he makes a pretty convincing case that the data produced in laboratories are social constructs in texts like this one (he's developed his views in more recent work, but the underlying view of epistemology is unchanged): Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts

    If that's the case for the natural sciences - which again I believe it is - it's obviously also the case for the social.

    If you find Latour distasteful due to his postmodernist credentials, a coherentist view of epistemology is also espoused by those who write in the analytical tradition, most prominently Kuhn, Sellars and Quine.
    Going against the grain somewhat I am going to say here that we might just have to agree to disagree on this one. We are coming to this from different angles-it would seem we can't even seem to agree on what "exists" means or not-and I suspect we both know the arguments for and against our positions and are not going to be swayed-and that's fine.

    I will try to read that book you link to if I have time, and before doing so I don't want to comment on it. I will say though that in general I have little sympathy with the idea of facts being social constructions. I believe scientific enquiry involves the observation of an external world that is entirely independent of our interpretation of it. Naturally all sorts of problems crop up when we try to do so of course but these should be seen as uncertainty rather than as a result of social constructions.

    Others hold different views and conduct research accordingly which is completely fine, I think scientific enquiry is better for a diversity of approaches.

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    Default Re: UK General Election 2017 thread

    Ah ok, so yeah as I suspected we have a different conception of epistemology/ontology, yours being a variant of foundationalism ('observation of an external world that is entirely independent of our interpretation of it'). I agree with you that that's only a good thing as observation in any field of inquiry only benefits from a pluralism of perspectives -- but then again that's easy for me to say as a post-foundationalist!

    Regarding the Latour text, it seems to me you're not very much inclined toward the continental tradition and would be put off by the linguistic peculiarities of it, so if you're interested in reading more about coherentism (or post-foundationalism) it might be better to engage with the work in the analytic tradition.

    Here are some classical texts on it in philosophy of science, including some that I have been particularly influenced by (they're all PDFs except for the first one):

    Quine, Two Dogmas of Empiricism

    Quine, Translation and Meaning

    Quine, Pursuit of Truth

    Sosa, The Raft and the Pyramid: Coherence versus Foundations in the Theory of Knowledge

    Goodman, Fact, Fiction and Forecast

    Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature

    Feyerbarend, Against Method

    Kuhn, Objectivity, Value Judgment and Theory Choice

    These texts in anthropology, sociology and the history of science have also been quite influential on my conception of epistemology/ontology, and are also not burdened by the linguistic peculiarities of continental thought:

    Levinson, Language and space

    Levinson, Studying Spatial Conceptualization across Cultures: Anthropology and Cognitive Science

    Daston, Objectivity and the Escape from Perspective

    Daston & Galison, The Image of Objectivity

    Galison, Objectivity is Romantic

    Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays by Clifford Geertz

    I'm sure you'll find something there that appeals to you, though if you want to give Latour a try go for it. Here are some of his (more recent) other works:

    The Pasteurization of France
    Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory (only the introduction)

    There's a lot of stuff from the continental tradition I'm influenced by as well with regard to epistemology/ontology but I doubt you have much interest in the likes of Foucault, Derrida, Gadamer, Heidegger, Baudrillard, etc.
    To be, or not to be, that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer,
    Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them.

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    Default Re: UK General Election 2017 thread

    Moved these posts to a new thread to not derail the other one. I hope no one objects, but do let me know if you do.
    To be, or not to be, that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer,
    Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them.

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    Default Re: UK General Election 2017 thread

    Just remembered that Cornel West has an excellent historical overview of American pragmatism that covers some of the people I referenced like Quine and Rorty and places them in historical context. It's a really good read, highly recommend it (unfortunately can't find a direct link to it online): The American Evasion of Philosophy: A Genealogy of Pragmatism

    It shows that anti or post-foundationalist views did not arise in 1960s Paris cafes, and that there are more nuanced and reasonable varieties of them than some of the more extreme forms of "postmoderism" that are in my view rightfully ridiculed.
    To be, or not to be, that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer,
    Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them.

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    Rosa, how would you describe Wittgenstein's position on epistemology/ontology? Coherentism, foundationalism, something else?

    He seems pretty unique to me in that he tends to evade the whole problem, considering it useless to address directly. But there's nevertheless an implicit epistemology there, particularly in On Certainty. I'm not sure if I would describe that as foundationalist though, and it doesn't seem to fit the coherentist view either. It's an odd mixture of the two. You have some basic principles you start out from, but these aren't like Platonic forms but more like the stuff that's closest to sense-data, which makes them social, rule-bound, normative phenomena:

    94. I did not get my picture of the world by satisfying myself of its correctness; nor do I have it because I am satisfied of its correctness. No: it is the inherited background against which I distinguish between true and false.

    105. All testing, all confirmation and disconfirmation of a hypothesis takes place already within a system. And this system is not a more or less arbitrary and doubtful point of departure for all our arguments; no it belongs to the essence of what we call an argument. The system is not so much the point of departure, as the element in which our arguments have their life.

    144. The child learns to believe a host of things. I.e. it learns to act according to these beliefs. Bit by bit there forms a system of what is believed, and in that system some things stand unshakeably fast and some are more or less liable to shift. What stands fast does so, not because it is intrinsically obvious or convincing; it is rather held fast by what lies around it.

    205. If the true is what is grounded, then the ground is not true, nor yet false.

    206. If someone asked us 'but is that true?' we might say "yes" to him; and if he demanded grounds we might say "I can't give you any grounds, but if you learn more you too will think the same."

    467. I am sitting with a philosopher in the garden; he says again and again "I know that that's a tree", pointing to a tree that is near us. Someone else arrives and hears this, and I tell them: "This fellow isn't insane. We are only doing philosophy."
    What do you think?
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    Paperback Writer RevForum Administrator Amoeba's Avatar
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    Default Re: UK General Election 2017 thread

    Posted this before but this is very good:



    I basically agree with Chomsky's position, and it's remarkably similar to the ones elaborated by some of the authors I referenced above.

    The view is basically this: there's an external world, but the chaos of data emanating from it is ordered in accordance with the sensuous apparatus of the subject, the categories of the mind. There's disagreement about how this is done (habits or customs, categories of the mind, linguistic faculty, whatever), but basically there is no unmediated access to "the world", though obviously it's there. It's no naive relativism or Berkeleyan rationalism, but it's also not idealism. Chomsky's right to note that Hume wasn't really an idealist when it comes to this question in the same way Kant was a transcendental idealist. For Kant the external world exists, but it is filled with substances that we can never get to due to the constraints of the categories of the mind. So there's this noumenal realm that is "how things really are", and there's the phenomenal realm that is "how things appear to us".

    For people like Chomsky and Hume there's no point in theorizing a noumenal realm, which is basically the realm of Plato's universal forms.

    No, there's just the external world mediated by our sensuous apparatus, and the function of science is to investigate both (we ourselves are part of the world as well) in accordance with certain principles that belong to a theory of explanations. There is no one to one correspondence between the theory and "the world", as it's mediated by customs, habits, categories of the mind - but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist and isn't involved in our apprehension of it per the subjective rationalists.

    So when the interviewer asks Chomsky what concepts like "reference" and "real" mean, his answer is straightforward: they're incoherent, unless explicated as part of a broader theory of explanations. When they're explicated as such, they can be judged in accordance with other criteria and theories of explanations which also attempt to apprehend (aspects of) the external world.

    These theories, webs of beliefs, epistemes, paradigms -- whatever you want to call them in aggregate or taken individually -- are however fundamentally social constructs rather than representations of reality as it is really is (as Chomsky notes, "representation" is also incoherent without a theory).

    As the interviewer notes at a certain point, Chomsky has been seen by some as a "crypto-idealist" because of his position, but he's right to note that those who say this don't know what idealism is, confusing it for something like subjective rationalism which claims the non-existence of the external world.

    Anyway that's how I interpreted what he was saying in the interview. It's interesting viewing in any case.

    Also, at a certain point he talks about scientists reading all these works in the philosophy of science by people like Quine who are saying that all they're doing is basically a social construct confused for something else -- and then they go back to doing what they were doing before. He says that's regrettable because it's important that people reflect on what they are doing, and I tend to agree with him on this. The same applies to folks in the social sciences/humanities. Take philosophy of history, where people like White did what Quine did in relation to the natural sciences, and it's true, he's read in some introduction to historical theory course, but then the historians go back to doing what they did before, producing narratives that according to White are functionally indistinguishable from the principles underlying fictional narratives rather than representations of "the world as it is" (or was, in the case of historians).

    So there's something like a sociological thing as well that's at play here. Empirical work requires the adoption of certain kinds of myths (to use Quine's phrase) to simply be able to do, and that isn't necessarily a bad thing as long the reflection stuff is also done in fields like philosophy which help to identify certain blind spots, also of moral/political import. Naturalizing certain things like inequality of ethnic groups and sexes by reference to "how things really are" as proclaimed by science has a long history of domination behind it, and it's still a popular mode of legitimization (eg Bell Curve). Of course that doesn't mean you just "socialize" these claims and leave it at that; no, it also requires making counterclaims on the same principles because they carry a certain "realism" weight to them (why this is so is another complicated question, but basically it comes to the nature of our cognitive faculties), so that is why doing scientific/empirical work is also really important (particularly in those disciplines from which moral claims most often emanate, like biology, sociology, political science, history, anthropology).

    In other words, multiplicity of perspectives is key, both in the empirical work itself and in the reflection of its underlying (and often simply assumed) principles.
    To be, or not to be, that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer,
    Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them.

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    Senior Voting Member Rosa Lichtenstein's Avatar
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    Default Re: UK General Election 2017 thread

    Amoeba:

    Rosa, how would you describe Wittgenstein's position on epistemology/ontology? Coherentism, foundationalism, something else?
    Well, he doesn't have a position, he simply examines how we use language connected with belief and with knowledge. Like me, he holds that all philosophical theories are non-sensical.

    But, and once again: what makes you think Kuhn is a coherentist?

    ---------------------------------

    On edit:

    Only just seen the link you posted, but unfortunately it's behind a pay wall.

    So, what makes you think Kuhn is a coherentist?

    As far as I can see, that PDF doesn't make the case at all. And, my asking you why you think he was a coherentist doesn't imply I think he was a foundationalist. I am far from sure he was an anything-at-all-ist, like Wittgenstein.
    The emancipation of the working class will be an act of the workers themselves.

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    Default Re: UK General Election 2017 thread

    At the 6:36 mark Chomsky says the whole "social construction" thing is a truism, but rejects the "postmodern" baggage that comes with it:

    To be, or not to be, that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer,
    Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them.

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    Default Re: UK General Election 2017 thread

    Quote Originally Posted by Rosa Lichtenstein View Post
    Well, he doesn't have a position, he simply examines how we use language connected with belief and with knowledge. Like me, he holds that all philosophical theories are non-sensical.
    Hmm, I don't see how you can read some of his comments in texts like On Certainty and not find a position on epistemology/ontology there (like those I quoted) that relates to the foundationalism/coherentism debate.

    I wouldn't put him firmly into either camp though. In my view he tries to evade the whole dichotomy and ends up combining aspects of both, thereby opening up a unique perspective on the question.

    But, and once again: what makes you think Kuhn is a coherentist?

    ---------------------------------

    On edit:

    Only just seen the link you posted, but unfortunately it's behind a pay wall.

    So, what makes you think Kuhn is a coherentist?

    As far as I can see, that PDF doesn't make the case at all. And, my asking you why you think he was a coherentist doesn't imply I think he was a foundationalist. I am far from sure he was an anything-at-all-ist, like Wittgenstein.
    The way I read Kuhn is basically that knowledge is constituted by certain basic principles or axioms which collapse into something like acquired virtues or habits (ultimately derived from our cognitive apparatus) that act as regulative ideals, like precision, accuracy, simplicity, pretty close to Quine's criteria for theory choice. Kuhnian paradigms also seem to function quite similarly to Quinean web of beliefs (in aggregate).

    So I get why some like that person I linked to read him as a coherentist, though I suppose it would also be possible to see him as evading the issue altogether.
    To be, or not to be, that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer,
    Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And by opposing end them.

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