Making Political Science Matter: Debating Knowledge, Research, and Method

By Sanford F. Schram; Brian Caterino | Go to book overview

9
The Bounds of Rationality

Stewart Clegg

Decision making is always bounded in its rationality by the great depths and far reaches of uncertainty and ignorance within which it will always be constituted, which is what makes it an example of phronesis (Flyvbjerg 2001). Phronesis, an Aristotelian term, refers to a discipline that is pragmatic, variable, context dependent, based on practical rationality, and inherently unlaw-like. That is to say, because rationality is bounded, it can never account for itself: hence, reflexivity is inherent to its practice.

Human rationality is always context dependent because, as Ludwig Wittgenstein (1999) demonstrated unequivocally, no rule could ever account for its own interpretation—thus, context cannot be reduced to rules. All science occurs in the context of what realist philosophers of science refer to as “standing conditions.” These standing conditions provide for the prevalence of the sense that the science makes of the world of object-relations, against naturally occurring conditions. Standing conditions are definite sets of contextual experimental conditions, such as ensuring a sterile laboratory environment or maintaining a vacuum or a stable temperature. Without these conditions, maintained by the experimentalist, the predicted relations that the research setting seeks to display would not occur. Thus, a context for stable object relations has to be artfully contrived so that the context has no effect other than that sought experimentally. A science of objects needs to appear to be context-free; otherwise, it cannot provide a general theory. By contrast, studies that take interpretations as their frame of reference are only as ontologically secure as these intersubjective interpretations are stable.

We should not be too voluntarist about sense making. One person's sense is rarely as binding as is any other's. All sense is made in a relational

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