Tag Archives: Matthew Fluck

Of Consensus and Controversy: The Matrix Reloaded

17 Feb

This is the fourth and final post in a series of responses to Patrick Thaddeus Jackson’s recent book The Conduct of Inquiry in International Relations. Paul began the discussion with comments on the problems of boundary setting, Joe followed up with an interrogation of the nature of Jackson’s pluralism, and Nick most recently gave an exposition of a missing methodological position in the typology.  We look forward to a reply from PTJ himself in the near future.


In this post, with the pleasure and pain of coming last in a hitherto excellent series, I want to tease out several issues that struck me in the reading of Jackson’s Conduct of Inquiry, which specifically relate to the success of the central typology, a possible alternative and the ‘science’ debate in this context.

I confess to having begun my reading of this work very sceptically – although not because of any doubt about the author or importance of the subject matter. Rather, like Joe, I doubted whether there would be much of interest for me as one whose work does not have too much invested in the ‘science’ claim as it stands in the mainstream IR debates. Whilst, along with my colleagues, and as I will discuss below, I remain unconvinced about the use of the term ‘science’ amongst other things, I found the book engrossing, stimulating, erudite and brilliantly argued.  The marketing people are free to recommend it particularly for graduate students, although my own view is that it contains very important intellectual challenges for the whole field at all levels. It is no small achievement that it reaches Jackson’s stated ambition to provide a platform for a much better philosophical conversation about inquiry than we have had thus far.

Perhaps controversially, however, I cannot pretend to have emerged from the book wholeheartedly sharing Jackson’s enthusiasm for the kind of pluralism in the field of IR that he aims to promote. I respect the sentiment and the generosity of spirit in which it is made, and I do recognise that it is essential for keeping important conversations on track, and that this is the best way forward for a less introspective discipline. Yet I feel myself torn, as perhaps critical pluralists are fated to be, between a desire to fight false dogmas and respect reasonable differences.  In some senses, it is Jackson’s own critical reading of different positions that subversively feeds this tension.

I. Of knowing and being: some questions

I was struck in the early set-up of the book by the distinction between scientific and philosophical ontologies upon which the central typology is built. Briefly, according to Jackson, scientific ontologies specify the catalogue of objects of investigation – states, individuals, classes etc. – whilst philosophical ontologies relate to the ‘hook-up’ between mind and world. Jackson presents this in a 2×2 matrix, with which I am sure readers are by now familiar:

Jackson’s key claim is that as researchers our methodologies flow logically from where we sit on these philosophical-ontological issues, and as such should not all be evaluated on neopositivist claims of how valid ‘science’ proceeds. Whilst I accept the broad point, what I want to pursue in more detail is whether this typology does in fact get to the heart of the core wagers that underpin each ontological position in the matrix. Continue reading

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