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Is Reality a Social Construction ?

 
 
fresco
 
Reply Sun 17 Nov, 2002 02:24 am
Thesis:

The contents of "thought" are mediated by "language" - a socially transmitted set of categories. These categories are reified by social consensus. As far as "science" is concerned the categories remain relatively stable and uncontroversial within particular historical paradigms. Scientific usage of a culture free metalanguage (mathematics) reinforces the concept of "external reality" but this ignores the social origins of directive hypotheses. All non-scientific realms are more obviously reflections of our evolutionary dispositions to interact in certain ways and to form social hierarchies or pecking orders.

The implications of this thesis seem to be that much "debate" is about pseudo questions like "Does God exist". What is happening in such debate is that we ignore that "God" and "Exist" have meaning only in as much as that they impinge on social relationships. No more and no less ! the "debate" itself is an attempt to change aspects of the pecking order, i.e. to change the consensus.
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Type: Discussion • Score: 19 • Views: 38,258 • Replies: 531
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Merry Andrew
 
  1  
Reply Mon 18 Nov, 2002 05:57 pm
The unfortunate need to use some form of human language gets in the way of our ever intuiting or rationally grasping ultimate reality. The more we articulate our views, the further from reality we drift, placing all our constructs within a socially accepted framework. Zen Budhism is probably the only discipline which tries to arrive at some sort of understanding of the universe through non-verbal introspective means. The problem with non-verbal constructs is that you can't explain them to anyone else.

That's superficial, I admit. Just off the top of my head, as we say in this inadequate verbal construct.
Debacle
 
  1  
Reply Tue 19 Nov, 2002 06:06 am
Metaphysics seems to get a bad rap, at least in the philosopical "pecking order." I wonder why this is ... Aristotle considered it to be the "first philosophy" -- the foundation on which other rational methods would be erected. (Of course, outside the philosophic realm, metaphysicians don't get any rap at all, being virtually unknown entities.)


Welcome aboard, fresca. Glad to meet you. My wife, ensconced here in mid-America, originated in your neck of the woods - Liverpool. Moreover, her cousin has a canal boat on which he lives, over in Derbyshire.





Not bad, MA.
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Tue 19 Nov, 2002 06:42 am
"To the metaphysician who doubts his senses, i recommend that he begin each day by stubbing his foot against a rock . . . "

(Or words very much to that effect -- Samuel Johnson.)
Peace and Love
 
  1  
Reply Tue 19 Nov, 2002 11:04 am
The evolution of our society is totally dependent on the evolution of language. And, that language is simply labels. The more simple, the more hypnotic and safe. There is a non-instinctual awareness that can come from non-thinking, without labels. But, of course, we need to put a label on that awareness! One label for the awareness is 'contemplation'. In contemplation, God exists. But, not in the safe simple language word 'exist'.

The true alchemists wanted to explore this awareness, but would be executed by the priests who felt threatened. The alchemists developed a language based on the magic of changing minerals to gold, but were really discussing the changes in consciousness that occur when seeking/attaining the awareness.

So, it could be possible to debate the existence of God. However, the craving for simplification could really get in the way.
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fresco
 
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Reply Tue 19 Nov, 2002 03:16 pm
Merry Andrew.

Dissolution of "self" would certainly seem to imply that "social relationships" are not axiomatic. However a sceptic might argue that "enlightened self A" is in relationship to "less enlightened self B" inside the same person and a dialogue of sorts is being conducted.

Debacle.

Thanks for the tailored welcome. I'm trying to work out which canal runs through Derbyshire. Is it arround New Mills ?

For me, "metaphysics" presents no more of a problem than discussing "politics" or "education". All concepts have "social reality" whether we personally believe in them or not.
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perception
 
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Reply Tue 19 Nov, 2002 04:31 pm
Fresco
To answer your question: "Is reality a social construction"? If you set aside language for just one moment then reality is most certainly a social construct because if I have not other human being to confirm my concept then I might consider reality as being exactly what my senses tell me it is. Would you agree?
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fresco
 
  1  
Reply Tue 19 Nov, 2002 06:48 pm
perception

You raise an interesting scenario.

From the psychological viewpoint infrequent incidents of "wolf children" (raised by animals) or in isolation seem to indicate that such children have a unique view of "the world" and do not seem to be able to later assimilate language successfully (if at all). However this is not evidence for the importance of language per se. We could perhaps only argue for the weak form of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis - language influences thought (as opposed to the strong form- language is the basis of thought).

On the other hand from the epistemological viewpoint we are perhaps formulating the question with our own "social assumptions" like "there are five senses". This may turn out to have no more status than "there are seven colours of the rainbow". We might have the same philosophical impasse as " Would I see green in your head". That question is meaningless.
So I'm not sure whether "I might consider reality.." etc, has any meaning either.
fresco
 
  1  
Reply Tue 19 Nov, 2002 06:59 pm
...and one important point I've forgotten...all human offspring need SOME form of early nurturing or they die...this constitutes a social exhange even if with an animal or speachless parent.
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husker
 
  1  
Reply Tue 19 Nov, 2002 07:26 pm
http://www.ed.uiuc.edu/EPS/PES-Yearbook/95_docs/goldman.html
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perception
 
  1  
Reply Tue 19 Nov, 2002 09:56 pm
Fresco

Ahemmm----does that mean you are argeeing with me -----more or less?????????
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fresco
 
  1  
Reply Wed 20 Nov, 2002 03:23 pm
Yes and no !!

Yes - the isolated individual is unlikely to have "our" reality.
(Cultural evidence on active perception like the Muller Lyer Illusion etc supports this)

No - particular strange scenarios do not substantially add anything to the general philosophical thesis because the "reality" of such scenarios itself requires definition for the subject (the isolated) and the observer (us).
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JLNobody
 
  1  
Reply Mon 25 Nov, 2002 08:05 pm
social construction of reality
Fresco, I have enjoyed and agree largely with your ideas. It seems to me that whether or not we wish to take a Schopenhaurian view that the World is our Idea (idealism), or a materialist view of the World as real and objectively "out there" preceding our birth and constraining on us, we MUST, it seems to me, acknowledge that as individuals we come to define that world on the basis of our socialization/enculturation. This has been axiomatic within sociology and anthroplogy for generations now. Some sociologists have even fashioned careers on the basis of their descriptions of "negotiated realities," the ways individuals collaborate in the ideational construction of the world (Symbolic Interactionism) and even how they compete in trying to impose or defend "definitions of the situation." So, it would seem to me that the world I was born into was largely fashioned materially (the cities, the inventions, etc.) and ideationally (cultural constructions of reality) by my predecessors, and taught to me (enculturation) by some of them (my significant others) and then, in turn, modified by me as I engaged my world philosophically/critically. But everything is ultimately both subjective and objective. A mirage is a subjective delusion, but it is an objective mirage.
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fresco
 
  1  
Reply Tue 26 Nov, 2002 01:34 pm
JLN

I agree with the mutuality of the terms subjective/objective. We are moving here to the similar celebrated problem of "observer-observed" which has now come to prominance in quantum physics. It seems to me that if we extend "social interaction" to "general interaction" then the word "reality" should properly be applied to the TWO WAY complementary shifts of "internal" and "external" states.

E.g. "I see food" = Internal state (hunger) categorizing the external state (food/not food). Reality is the interdependence of both states. Later (after eating), the internal state (satiation) reclassifies the external world such that "food" is no longer existent (i.e. relevent). Now add into these state transition dynamics such arbitrary cutural factors as "dietry laws" or " canibalism" and you have the makings of a formal analysis of social reality.
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fresco
 
  1  
Reply Tue 26 Nov, 2002 02:00 pm
husker

Thanks for the Goldman reference. The problem for those who believe in "objective truth" is that they assume "truth" to follow the rules of binary logic, i.e. to have a value 1 or 0. In fact in all practical matters we tend to settle for less than certainty. Every thing from scientific theories to litigation is decided on "weight of evidence", and even suposedly simple questions like "Did X pull the trigger ?" can be modified by "Was X in his right mind ?" etc.

So "objective truth" seems to be a quasi-religious ideal like a Platonic form. It ignores the motivations/conditioning of the observer who by the simple act of "naming" performs the prerequisite of all subsequent "measurement".
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JLNobody
 
  1  
Reply Tue 26 Nov, 2002 02:56 pm
Fresco, your exposition of the nature of Objective Truth settles my mind--i.e., strenghtens my opinion--regarding this fundamental epistemological issue. But you will agree, I think, that we must proceed (in science, medicine, engineering, practical life, etc.) AS IF there were an objective world which we can/must approach in objectivist's terms. The trick is to know, philosophically, that such an approach rests on no more than a heuristic delusion.
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cicerone imposter
 
  1  
Reply Tue 26 Nov, 2002 04:26 pm
Does human understanding require the spoken language? Are dreams part of our reality? Does the blind person experience less life than a sighted one? How about the deaf? IMHO, religion (or god) is a human construct with no possible way to prove it. What is really important in human life? Will man ever learn to live in peace? Yes, reality is a social construction, because without social intercoarse, there is no reality - except for the concept of god.
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JLNobody
 
  1  
Reply Tue 26 Nov, 2002 05:38 pm
social construction of reality
CI, but where did we get the concept of God?
BTW, I have a congenitally blind friend who cannot for the life of him form ANY kind of image of God (or of anything, actually). The Muslims would consider that his spiritual advantage--given their proscription against all images of Allah. I would apply that even to IDEAS about God, about the Absolute, the Ultimately Real, that whose existence is independent of human conceptualization. Such a grand thing cannot be approached by our puny minds based as they are on concepts and definitions and grammar. We see the world grammatically: subject (me), object (God, the World, realilty). Is it the Bible that quotes "God" as saying "Thou shall place no God before me." To me, this is an injunction against idolatry, indeed, all idolatry, all attempts to reduce the Infinite (whatever we "call" it) to the size of our brains and the structure of our language. And I'm an atheist...in the sense that Buddhists are atheists.
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JoanneDorel
 
  1  
Reply Tue 26 Nov, 2002 11:21 pm
Wonderful and interesting ideas and information here way above my intellect but am adding my tow center worth never-the-less. The way I see it is that our PCs do not need a monitor to work but we do. We cannot know what is happening inside the puter unless we can see it. But what we see is a construct based on analog code and we accept it. I think our minds are the same they can work without speech but that is how we interact with each other.
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blatham
 
  1  
Reply Tue 26 Nov, 2002 11:47 pm
fresco

Will read here when I have more time. Just wanted to say welcome, it's nice to see you here.
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