Reading philosophy

Having only dipped my toe in the water on previous occasions, I have spent a significant portion of the previous six weeks reading and writing about the philosophy of science. And somewhat surprisingly, it has been a thoroughly enjoyable endeavour.

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Despite being shrouded in a seemingly impenetrable veil of difficult vocabulary, I find the philosophical works of some of the great thinkers of the modern and postmodern eras to be endlessly interesting (I read very broadly in a very short space of time – see this, this, and this for an example). I think it would be easy to take for granted the revolutionary ideas that some of these people had during the period of enlightenment and beyond, but as far as I’m concerned the (ongoing) emancipation of the human species owes a debt of gratitude to some truly incredible minds.

One of the most pleasing aspects of this part of my research has been the convergence of my own ontological viewpoint (which to be honest, I was never fully conscious of until a few weeks ago), with that of a burgeoning research community of pragmatic realists.

So what does this mean?

Well, I see our reality as containing a multiplicity of worlds. I believe that there is a single, objective world, which exists independently of human thought and meaning. But also, that we as humans each project our own unique worldview, and we constantly construct realities, primarily through our thoughts and language.

The above position is similar with the ontological views of prominent pragmatic realists such as Rom Harré and Hilary Putnam. The idea is that the distinction between the objective and subjective is indispensable in social science, even if it only represents two ends of a continuum which can be negotiated through our work (for more on the polarising research philosophies, see here).

Insofar as the study of the networking behaviours of young Scottish jobseekers is concerned, this ontological narrative can be a useful tool to guide the research. To determine networking behaviours, it will be paramount to understand what networking actually is, from the jobseekers own perspective (i.e. the subjective view), before gauging the phenomenon from a structural perspective (i.e. the objective view).

There are several other key characteristics of pragmatism which are relevant to my own study. One of these is the belief that strict research questions should guide the research process, instead of overbearing paradigmatic concerns. As such, concepts and theories should only be judged by their instrumentality in answering these research questions – with all knowledge relevant to the inquiry being used (be it scientific or otherwise).

The above dovetails neatly with another facet of pragmatism – an aversion to intellectual extremism. Instead, pragmatists focus on gaining answers to actual human concerns, without reducing scientific explanations to abstract entities. It is this point in particular which resonates with me. My study of networking behaviours and social media use amongst jobseekers is an opportunity to uncover knowledge in an area which could have real practical output for Careers Information and Guidance, if done properly.

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