Murray Leaf on AnthroScience (1)
Basically, my argument is that as a group specifically formed around the idea of promoting science in anthropology and making anthropology into a science, we ought to be taking the lead in fostering a general debate on what science itself was, and what anthropology as a science would be. For 130 years, roughly from Morgan and Maine to the demise of componential analysis, one or another view of science was a main framework for developing anthropological theory, and the principle way of setting intellectual standards to which theory and description were suppose to be responsible. In the last fifteen years or so, with the rise of the anti-science arguments of postmodernism, this line of argument has gone silent. I think, and the assembly seemed to agree, that we need to renew it. If positivistic notions of science were wrong (and I personally think they were), we need to review them and understand why rather than simply forget them, and if we have alternatives--old or new--this is the time to examine them.
As always, I think we should avoid mere abstract pronouncements on science. On the other hand, I think it was a mistake in the past to simply invoke ideas about science from other sources without critically examining them in sufficient detail to get a sense of their real basis.
Logical positivism was full of grand pronouncements ABOUT science but did not originate in experimental science. It was philosophy, and not very good philosophy, from start to finish--notwithstanding the participation of Ernst Mach.
It seems to me that there are two possible general questions we could organize a panel around. One is relatively conventional and one is not.
The conventional one is "What are alternative views of science and how to they play out in providing different interpretations of anthropological data." The other is "How can anthropology attain the level of precision and power of the physical sciences?"
I have put on my website a brief excerpt from a manuscript of mine currently being reviewed by a press. You will see that it is aimed at the latter question. The answer, in part, is that basis of this power is experimentalism, and that we do in fact have experimental methods in ethnology already, but they are not usually recognized as such. My own presentation would be a bit of this and then an illustration of what I mean by an experimental method from the elicitation procedure I used to the get the Punjabi kin terminology that was one of the bases for Dwight Read's development of KAES (Kinship Analysis Expert System). The url for Empiricism and Experimentalism is http://www.utdallas.edu/~mjleaf/EmpiricismExcerpt.pdf