Academic journal article Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

Making Policy Debate Matter: The Hermeneutic Dimension

Academic journal article Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

Making Policy Debate Matter: The Hermeneutic Dimension

Article excerpt

While Bent Flyvbjerg's Making Social Science Matter has elicited considerable scholarly commentary in the social and political science literature, (1) it has not elicited much by way of philosophical response notwithstanding Flyvbjerg's conviction that reasoned reflection and inclusive debate are integral to making social and political science matter again. This comparative lack of philosophical engagement with Flyvbjerg's project is all the more surprising given that he systematically invokes Aristotle, Foucault and (to an extent) Habermas as the tutelary spirits for his phronetic project. Indeed, his central thesis is that the main reason why social science (purportedly) no longer matters much is due to its neglect of Aristotelian phronesis and its implications for political debate as well as social research. The other main reason for the putative devaluation of social science and policy debate is that the Enlightenment conception of rationality which still predominates--and of which Habermas is portrayed as the primary contemporary exponent--is out of touch with the realities of socio-political life and in particular with its power-riven character. Given these deficiencies, social research and therewith the conception of socio-political policy making it supports are doomed to continued irrelevance unless they undergo the prescribed phronetic transformation.

While the bulk of Flyvbjerg's study is devoted to making the case for reforming social science along phronetic lines, the present paper focusses on issues that come to the fore in the concluding chapters. For here it becomes apparent that it is primarily through its enhanced contribution to rendering policy debate more effective that phronetic social science can purportedly be made to matter again. In this connection, however, Flyvbjerg's argument takes an unexpected--and indeed seemingly anomalous--turn, in that while he earlier repudiated the Habermasian discourse conditions for being out-of-touch with socio-political reality, he here vigorously endorses the "dialogical ideal" (as for convenience I term it throughout). Notwithstanding his repudiation of Habermas, the dialogical ideal thus valorised by Flyvbjerg is manifestly intended to fulfil a very similar role in correcting for distorted power relations and thereby promoting judicious and equitable policy outcomes. But, as has been contended, Flyvbjerg's valorisation of a Foucauldian conception of policy debate to the exclusion of the Habermasian is ineffective and misguided; instead, there is much to be gained in this connection by reading these theorists in a more mutually complementarity way. (2) Nonetheless, further reflection renders it apparent that while Flyvbjerg may have been intemperate in dismissing the Habermasian discourse model, its reinstatement will not suffice to resolve the problem. For as Flyvbjerg contends, its highly abstract and decontextualised character renders it out of keeping with the phronetic template's commitment to situatedness and contextuality as integral to making social science and policy debate matter in the intended sense. Nor is the Habermasian discourse model sufficiently dialogical in the requisite sense. (3)

Against this backdrop, the present paper aspires to show how recourse to the hermeneutic dimension--as manifested in particular in Gadamer's philosophical hermeneutics--is needed to correct for these phronetic lacunae, both by elucidating the conditions needed to advance the dialogical ideal and by providing these with the requisite philosophical grounding. Other benefits aside, this can assist in furthering the praxically-oriented mission which Flyvbjerg assigns phronetic researchers, namely, to "contribute to establishing the conditions for dialogue where such conditions are not already present." Moreover, through thus vindicating the merits of the hermeneutic approach as a needed complement to the phronetic, this paper will also help clarify how Gadamerian hermeneutics can contribute to the deliberative democracy debate, with which the present topic has strong affinities, a theme that has so far remained relatively underdeveloped in the literature. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.