Thursday 6 December 2007

Ontology and argument

This is an interesting claim – do you think it’s true?

“One cannot argue for one ontological view of the world over another, because one’s ontology, even if it is uttered as the rejection of ontology, is the basis for, not the result of, one’s arguments.” —William Rasch, Sovereignty and Its Discontents: On the Primacy of Conflict and the Structure of the Political (London: Birkbeck Law Press, 2004), p. 103.


Aric Clark said...

Interesting. I definitely see the point he is making. Ontology is pretty fundamental.

As I ponder it though, I'm not sure he's completely correct. I would accept that arguments for one ontological world view probably cannot be very decisive, but indeed it is possible to persuade a person to change their ontological world view on the preponderance of evidence in the form of arguments made with that ontology. In other words, if my arguments are persuasive, they will also persuade the hearer that my underlying ontology is correct. In a way, therefore, all arguments are about ontology.

Anonymous said...

My feeble mind is struggling to understand the claim, but it seems to me that the underlying presupposition is that there is one static ontology common to all. If this is the case then it would seem that all would have to realize this in order for the claim to ring true.

In other words, if there is only one ontology common to all, then all must perceive this ontology as it truly is for their arguments of the world to be equal. But if some do not perceive this ontology as it truly is then why can not one (i.e., the correct) ontological view be argued over another?


Anonymous said...

His argument simply does not agree with my ontological view of the world, thus I reject his claim.

Anonymous said...

Agree, for the most part. Seems to me that Rasch is using "ontology" in much the sense that I'd use expressions such as "weltanschauung" or "language game." These aren't merely intellectual constructs amenable to analytical tinkering, as much as we eggheads like to think they are. They're also the deepest core of our convictions about the world, humans, God, and ourselves. They're visceral more than cerebral, and we read our experience, as well as our thinking about our experience, under their influence. Worldviews can be seriously challenged or even thrown over at times, but such convulsions are, I think, rare. Generally, they're enduring (although not necessarily static), and able to accommodate a wide range of input.

Anonymous said...

As I see it, you've got two choices, Ben. Either you stick the statement up there with "A few things I never could believe" - or (for you do not want to privilege ontology over theology) you shut down the blog.

Josef Bengtson said...

I think I agree with Kim. But doesn't the answer to the posed question depend on how we define "argue".
I think that it is possible to have a conversation about "Who's ontology", in a MacIntyre-ish way.

Anonymous said...

Kim and Josef are on the right track.

The statement fails to distinguish between "arguing" and some sort of deductive proof for an ontology. No one will ever have an open and shut case for their vision of reality capable of persuading any honestly impartial listener. But that admission is a far cry from saying, "you can't offer reasons for your understanding of reality." Argue on!


Anonymous said...

Eric-- I don't think Rasch is saying 'you can't offer reasons for your understanding of reality.' I think he's saying that efforts to justify one's ontology or worldview are necessarily question-begging. But perhaps you and I are actually making pretty much the same point?

Mark said...

Absolutely, definitely, most certainly false.

Kerry commented that perhaps Rasch is claiming that there is no non-question begging way of arguing for one ontology over another. That might be the case (I don't have any reason to think it's not) but then it just shows Rasch's ignorance of what analytic philosophers who work on ontology actually do.

Drew Tatusko said...

The argument here is a recursive one. To rephrase the question, how can I justify the claim of one ontology over another when I am assuming that the ontological foundation from which I am arguing must be correct in itself? But to see that bet, one would have to deconstruct one's own ontological position and what the statement suggests is that one would have to appeal to another assumed ontological foundation for doing so.

While this raises a series of good questions about the rigor of nonfoundationalism as a starting point for discursive activity, I would raise a question about the statement itself and its own foundation if you will.

The assumption is that ontology is somehow an absolute foundation from which discursive activity must begin. I would be interested to see the rational framework that asserts that this is true. Therefore the statement itself demands not deconstruction, but hypothesis testing to determine the probability that it is an accurate understanding of one's lifeworld.

Would a pragmatic view not ask a very different question where ontology is conditioned primarily by praxis? That is to say, can we not make a critical argument regarding ontology rooted in pragmatic grounds rather than other metaphysical assertions? If this is not true, then the statement seems to be in a position to garner greater probability that it is true. If we can argue for one ontological view over another rooted in practice, then the statement no longer holds.

Another question is that the statement seems to make lifeworld construction determined by ontology. This makes the lifeworld contingent on a metaphysics rather than on phenomenology and I would like to see why that is so especially since the idea of lifeworld itself is a phenomenological construct (Husserl, Habermas, etc.). Perhaps in context the author addresses these structural issues in the statement itself.

Anonymous said...

Gödel FTW!

Shane said...

I'm not sure what exactly Rasch thinks he's saying, but whatever it is, I'm against it.

To respond to Drew--The image here is neurath's ship. You can't take the whole boat apart at once, but you can replace one plank at a time. Eventually you replace all the planks, just not all of them at once.

Anonymous said...

i thought it was aristotle's ship... :)

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