Inference and Scientific Progress in International Relations

This is the third in a series of posts by several of us at The Disorder Of Things on Patrick Thaddeus Jackson‘s The Conduct Of Inquiry in International Relations: Philosophy of Science and Its Implications for the Study of World Politics. Paul started things off with his post setting up Jackson’s methodology of politics in order to ask important questions about the politics of Jackson’s methodology. Joe continued with his post and a discussion of the relationship between the scientific and the normative, and their institutionalization within IR. Next week will see a final post, followed by a reply by Jackson himself.

Update (17 Feb): Meera’s post is now up.


Inference and Scientific Progress in International Relations

From a philosophy of science perspective, IR discussions on methodology and epistemology have always struck me as a bit bizarre. The outdated nature of most debates and the odd use of labels like ‘positivism’ have made IR philosophy of science too often seem like a muddled confusion, rather than an insightful debate. So it’s hard to overstate how fantastic it is to see a book like Patrick Thaddeus Jackson’s – precisely because it weaves skillfully through rigorous philosophy of science, and doesn’t remain bound by IR’s idiosyncratic frameworks of debate. I find myself highly sympathetic to a lot of what Jackson argues for in this book, and am a strong proponent of methodological pluralism. There are two major points I think Jackson’s book neglects though – one is more based upon my own philosophical position (an external critique), while the second is a problem more or less within Jackson’s position (an internal critique). In what follows I try to examine some missing elements of Jackson’s book, and suggest what might be an alternative approach. [1]

On Monism and Dualism

Jackson begins by setting out a 2×2 matrix of different fundamental philosophical orientations (‘wagers’). These are considered ideal types that help to clarify the vast field of philosophy of science. The first distinction is between mind-world dualism and mind-world monism. It is a distinction concerning the relationship between the researcher and his or her object. The second distinction is between what Jackson calls phenomenalism and transfactualism – or what might be also known as instrumentalism versus realism about scientific objects. The former sees empirical data as all that can be legitimately said to exist, whereas the latter argues we can deduce the existence of unobservable entities as well.

Phenomenalism Transfactualism
Dualism Neopositivism Critical Realism
Monism Analyticism Reflexivity

The 2×2 matrix: A scholar’s best friend.

As Jackson is clear about the ideal-type nature of this categorization, I don’t want to criticize that aspect. Rather, my point is that in his discussion of mind-world dualism and monism Jackson leaves aside one crucially important position (and the position undertaken by many in the so-called ‘speculative realist’ movement). [2] Whereas Jackson sets the empiricist, explanation-based, ‘scientific’ perspectives on the side of mind-world dualism, he sets the social constructivist, understanding-based perspectives on the side of mind-world monism. The former tries to bridge the gap between mind and world by creating accurate representations. The latter asserts that all of reality is intertwined with linguistic and conceptual baggage. (36) (This is precisely what Quentin Meillassoux will call the ‘correlationist’ position: the reduction of Being to the relation between mind and world. )

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