Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Kelley on objectivity in methodology

I like that Kelley cites Barfield, a lost giant of the twentieth century:

“Owen Barfield has made an important point about natural science which seems even more pertinent to the study of human culture.  ‘Physical science has for a long time stressed the enormous difference between what it investigates as the actual structure of the universe, including the earth, and the phenomena or appearances which are presented to normal human consciousness.  In tune with this, most philosophy – at all events since Kant – has heavily emphasized the participation of man’s own mind in the creation, or evocation, of these phenomena.’  Too many historians, it seems to me, are still operating in a pre-Kantian world in search of an ‘actual structure’ discernible apart from human consciousness, their own as well as that of their subjects; to avoid such methodological hubris I have tried to eliminate surreptitious (and pseudo-) objectivity.  My explorations into past consciousness and society are indeed the reconstructions of a late-twentieth-century North American interested in social and cultural sciences as well as history.  Obviously I cannot see the hearts, minds and behavior of sixteenth-century humanity without distortion, cannot ask significant questions without disturbing the field of inquiry and reorganizing the data.”

- Donald R. Kelley, The Beginning of Ideology: Consciousness and Society in the French Reformation

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