Begin Structuralism Paper –preliminary remarks below

Hippopotamus cubReality Is Revealed Through The Active Construction In Which We Participate

Introductory Remarks On Structuralism And On Kant’s Philosophy

“Whatever we call reality, it is revealed to us only through the active construction in which we participate.” Ilya Prigogine, Order Out Of Chaos

Structuralism emerges from the elementaristic side of the holism/elementarism debate as an extension of the neo-Kantian position. Form, within this tradition, takes precedence over content, but in so far as structure itself is a holistic concept, the actual locus of structuralism in relation to the holism/ elementarism debate is somewhat ambiguous. I believe that within this ambiguity will be found a resolution to the holism/ elementarism debate. In order to bring this debate to a resolution, however, we must first look at the various structural models that have been described in linguistics (Saussure and Chomsky,) anthropology (Levi-Strauss,) psychology (Piaget,) and philosophy (Foucault.) My description of those various forms of structuralism will concentrate in the areas that have a direct bearing on bringing this debate to a satisfactory conclusion. With that end in mind, I would like to begin by taking a look at the philosophy of Immanual Kant.

Kant, in his attempt to synthesize the rationalist thought of Descartes and Leibnitz with the empirical thought of Locke, Berkeley, and Hume, understood sense experience to be manipulated within the inherent structure of mental categories. In his analysis of this structure he concluded that there is more than one kind of knowing (Critique of– Pure Reason, 1781, Practical reason, 1788, and Judgment, 1790) but the major importance of Kant’s analysis is found in his understanding of the logical consistency and necessity of both sensed space and time and mathematical space and time. This aspect of Kant’s philosophy, although it represented a major success for Kant, in retrospect, is not so well received.

Just as Locke was driven to his theory of ideas by the consequences of Newton’s deterministic universe, Kant had to face a similar determinism. It was not with atoms and forces which his determinism had to contend, rather, it was with the determined nature of knowledge itself. Kant’s transcendental ego, when pursued to its logical conclusion, did not allow for individual freedom. He accounted for man as a knower of the universe, but he did not account for man as a free moral agent within the universe. Kant used the presuppositional method to solve this problem: “It is impossible to conceive anything at all in the world, or even out of it, which can be taken as good without qualification, except a good will.” [Immanual Kant, The Moral Law, 1948, p.59]

In other words, he presupposes free will to allow for moral action i.e. Kant’s practical ego. This is a key concept because upon reading Kant the German champion of freedom, Fichte, was able to show that it was not the categories of understanding which allowed a person to know the universe, it was the person’s own individual will that will’s knowledge of the universe through the categories.

This statement is more than an arbitrary assessment by Fichte on Kant’s presupposed ego. The science of Einstein, Bohr, Schrodinger and Heisenberg has demonstrated the error in Kant’s constitutive and hence necessary relationship between the categories of understanding and reality. Thus, science has taught us that mental categories, if indeed there are such things, are only interpretive for the measurable observable events that we identify with reality. Within the context of the scientific method, these events are hypothetically postulated and aposteriorily (to use Kant’s terminology) verified. Consequently, it is not the facts that imply the theory; rather, it is the theory that implies the facts.

The breakdown of the necessary relationship between Kant’s categories and sensed experience does not invalidate Kant’s distinction of sensed space and time and mathematical space and time. Kant’s philosophy, not withstanding its assumption of necessity, is still a major force in the world today.1

It is unfortunate, however, that Fichte’s identification of the will with Kant’s practical ego helped to supplement the deterministic portions of Hegel’s idealism and in no small way contributed to the totalitarian ideologies of Nazi Germany and the U.S.S.R. In a nutshell, an ego free from the constraints of reason, motivated purely through the expression of the will, identifies the is of society with the ought for society. This, in turn, became the determinism by which Hegel’s “world spirit” and Marx’s “dialectical materialism” swallowed up the individual. What began in Kant as an attempt to restore and secure the notion of a person’s free will, ended up contributing to in the brutal consequences of fascist and communist dictatorships. Here we once again see the irony of the political animal called man. But, moving in the other direction, that is, remaining under the umbrella of Kant’s transcendental ego, the more modern movement of structuralism has come to the fore.

[1. In his ontological structuralism, W.V. Quine, a person of major significance in the defining aspects of today’s philosophy of science, establishes a Kantian position when he takes structure (mathematical form) and events of confirmation to be the ultimate ground for knowledge. Quine informs us that the structural aspect (the categorical aspect) of this knowledge as it relates to verification is, in addition to being Kantian, is also uncertain. He says, “Science ventures its tentative answers in man-made concepts, perforce, couched in man-made language, but we can ask no better. The very notion of object, or of one and many, is indeed as parochially human as the parts of speech; to ask what reality is really like, however, apart from human categories, is self-stultifying. …..We saw that reference (structure) could be wildly interpreted without violence to evidence. We see now that that is just part of a wider picture. Presumably yet more extravagant departures, resistant even to sentence-by-sentence interpretation into our own science, could conform equally well to all possible observations.” W.V. Quine, The Journal Of Philosophy, Volume LXXXIX, NO. 1, January l992]

Structuralism Extracts Meaning From Phenomena

Conflicting Opinions

Metaphorically speaking, it has been said that the structuralists have built incredible mansions for people to live in and, indeed, the mansions have been built and the lights are on, but, we might want to ask the question: Is anybody living in these mansions? Out of the five structuralists I will discuss only Chomsky and Piaget appear to be actively seeking the mansion’s inhabitants. As our lesson on Kant warns, finding these inhabitants takes extraordinary care.

Structuralists understand experience on two levels. Phenomena is first encountered by a given, arbitrary level of experience, and second, phenomena is then integrated (transformed) into communicable levels of experience. There is little disagreement by structuralists concerning this point. Structuralism prescribes a method for understanding how to extract meaning from phenomena. However, that may be the only assertion they agree too since, on the whole, structuralism constitutes a diverse agenda of pursuits. By way of an introduction De George gives us the following perspective on structuralism:

“Structuralism has been described as a method, a movement, an intellectual fad, and an ideology. Each of these characterizations is in part valid. For structuralism is a loose, amorphous, many-faceted phenomenon with no clear lines of demarcation, no tightly knit group spearheading it, no specific set of doctrines held by all those whom one usually thinks of as being associated with it. It cuts across many
disciplines–linguistics, anthropology, literary criticism, psychology, and philosophy. For some it gives hope of uncovering or developing a common basic approach to the social sciences, literature, and art which would unify them and put them on a scientific footing, much as the “scientific method” grounds and unifies the physical sciences.” [ De George and De George, The Structuralist: From Marx To Levi-Strauss, 1972, p. xi]

In a l986 lecture delivered at the University of Melbourne, Australia, the renown sociologist Anthony Giddens had the following to say about structuralism:

“Structuralism, and post-structuralism also, are dead traditions of thought. Notwithstanding the promise they held in the fresh bloom of youth, they have ultimately failed to generate the revolution in philosophical understanding and social theory which once was their pledge.” [ Anthony Giddens, Social Theory and Modern Sociology, 1987, p. 74]

I disagree with Giddens!


2 Responses to “Begin Structuralism Paper –preliminary remarks below”

  1. fche626 Says:

    I disagree with Giddens too! There’s still work that can be done 😛

  2. bwinwnbwi Says:

    Thanks for the comment and the read.

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