Human Nature and Public Policy: Scientific Views of Women, Children, and Families

Human Nature and Public Policy: Scientific Views of Women, Children, and Families

Human Nature and Public Policy: Scientific Views of Women, Children, and Families

Human Nature and Public Policy: Scientific Views of Women, Children, and Families

Synopsis

In this book, highly respected scholars have gathered to discuss the history of investigations of women, children, and the family in order to determine if humane policies have been developed in the past, how to conduct unbiased research today, and how to get the most out of the policy-research alliance in the future.

Excerpt

Jean Bethke Elshtain

We live in the era of discourse. Much of the currently exciting, if occasionally faddish, work in the human sciences and literature revolves around questions of what we are saying and how. Who is reader? Who is author? the intensity of our focus on discourse is understandable, in part, because we find it so difficult to 'discourse' with one another -- to talk around the particular languages of our disciplines and to talk seriously to one another. Yet the times demand such talk. We live in a complex age of social change -- some might call it disintegration -- where neither the center nor much else seems to hold. We need to create new ways of thinking, to be sure, but we also need to rescue old habits threatened by the relentless pressures we call modernity. and we can do that only through language, through speech and discourse. Despite the many difficulties involved, then, we must make interdisciplinary moves. After all, as difficult as it is to figure out what those who do not share our specialized language might be saying we are not in the position of Wittgenstein's lion who, if he could talk, we could not understand.

Psychology, at its inception, was a moral science: that is part of its grand tradition. Psychology involved ideals of what human beings are, ought to be, or might become. in this way psychological discourse shares a common ground with political theory, my own enterprise. Rousseau once said that he who hopes to separate politics from morals will never understand either. Similarly, he who proposes to separate psychology from morals must fail -- this despite concerted attempts to turn psychology into a watery "value-free" discipline. Practitioners of psychology as free from the taint of moral values indulge themselves in a discourse that permits infinite back-pedaling; that proffers a license to evade where questions of morality and the political implications of their own enterprise are concerned. But the contributors to this volume, each in his or her diverse way, rescues psychology as an activity that presumes, in Freud's trenchant phrase, to take the soul as its territory and its concern. That is a great responsibility. Freud's masterful discussion is worth quoting at length:

For it is not so easy to play upon the instrument of the soul. I am reminded at this point of a world-famed neurotic, although certainly . . .

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