Beyond Scientism and Relativism

Sep 29th, 2013 | By | Category: Human Science

Applebaum 2013Here is a link to my contribution to the festschrift  celebrating Amedeo Giorgi’s career in phenomenological psychology. I pose the question: why should the scientific status of our work be a compelling issue for the next generation of qualitative psychological researchers?  I explore the criteria for science proposed by Giorgi, and discuss van Manen’s hermeneutic method as an alternate, aestheticizing approach.

My aim is not to focus primarily in a debate between methods, but rather to address the core epistemological and human science concerns that animate the discussion in the first place. As Richard J. Bernstein (1985) commented in his brilliant book Beyond Objectivism and Relativism: Science, Hermeneutics, and Praxis:

 “It is our cultural understanding of science, especially the physical sciences, and the remarkable ‘success’ of the scientific enterprise since its modern origins that has set the context for the intellectual and cultural problems in the modern world…there are deep cultural reasons and causes–as Gadamer, Arendt, and Habermas have argued–why in the modern world the only concept of reason that seems to make sense is one in which we think of reason as an instrument for determining the most efficient or effective means to a determinate end, and why the only concept of activity that seems viable is one of technical application, manipulation, and control” (p. 46).

Phenomenology and hermeneutics must play an active part in this debate about the meanings of science, and grappling with the meaning of “method” within the human sciences is part of this exploration.





Painting photo credit: jef safi \ ‘Parker Mojo Flying via photopin cc

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One Comment to “Beyond Scientism and Relativism”

  1. Janan Yousif says:

    This is a valuable article, thank you. I especially enjoyed the way you explained Giorgi’s statement that phenomenological research should be carried out “within a context of discovery rather than a context of verification”.

    Your elucidation of Giorgi’s “scaffolding” approach as the area between those methods lacking in structure and those too burdened by theory evoked a very clear sense of Husserl’s ‘epoche’ and its scientific applicability.