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Augustine’s Cup: Boundary Conditions and Relocating Science in a Post-postmodern World
Unformatted Document Text:  Augustine’s Cup: Boundary Conditions and Relocating Science in a Post- postmodern World As a social scientist, I find the dismissal by some critical, postmodern scholars of my field because they regard positivism as philosophically untenable as representing a fundamental misunderstanding. A fundamental problem underpinning that postmodern critique—as well as the parallel dismissal of critical and philosophic enterprises by some positivists and even some scientists—is a lack of due regard for the boundary conditions that limit and define any intellectual inquiry, large or small. Recognition and acceptance of the inevitability of such boundary conditions is prerequisite, as well, to intellectual dialogue, as opposed to ideological or intellectual jousting. The relationship of the sciences to the larger task of human inquiry is one example of the importance of thoughtful consideration of boundary conditions on epistemologies as well as on discrete ideas. To engage this topic, I will begin by explaining my assertion that the social or physical sciences and positivism are by no means the same thing. Science, Positivism and Metaphysics The confusion of positivism with sciences, particularly the social sciences, is in some respects understandable. A critical humanist is likely to spend more time reading philosophical theorizing about social sciences (something very few if any social scientists are likely themselves to do) than learning about the practice of the social sciences themselves. Such reading is likely to focus quickly on Auguste Comte. Comte is perhaps the first (and one of the very few) social scientists who also were social philosophers. As Lenzer points out in her introduction to Comte’s writings, 1 Comte not only helped lay the foundations for sociology as a discipline, he also anticipated the

Authors: Slater, Michael.
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Augustine’s Cup: Boundary Conditions and Relocating Science in a Post-
postmodern World
As a social scientist, I find the dismissal by some critical, postmodern scholars of my
field because they regard positivism as philosophically untenable as representing a
fundamental misunderstanding.
A fundamental problem underpinning that postmodern critique—as well as the
parallel dismissal of critical and philosophic enterprises by some positivists and even some
scientists—is a lack of due regard for the boundary conditions that limit and define any
intellectual inquiry, large or small. Recognition and acceptance of the inevitability of such
boundary conditions is prerequisite, as well, to intellectual dialogue, as opposed to
ideological or intellectual jousting. The relationship of the sciences to the larger task of
human inquiry is one example of the importance of thoughtful consideration of boundary
conditions on epistemologies as well as on discrete ideas.
To engage this topic, I will begin by explaining my assertion that the social or
physical sciences and positivism are by no means the same thing.
Science, Positivism and Metaphysics
The confusion of positivism with sciences, particularly the social sciences, is in some
respects understandable. A critical humanist is likely to spend more time reading
philosophical theorizing about social sciences (something very few if any social scientists are
likely themselves to do) than learning about the practice of the social sciences themselves.
Such reading is likely to focus quickly on Auguste Comte.
Comte is perhaps the first (and one of the very few) social scientists who also were
social philosophers. As Lenzer points out in her introduction to Comte’s writings,
1
Comte
not only helped lay the foundations for sociology as a discipline, he also anticipated the


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