Monday, April 20, 2015

The role of meta-theory

An oldie from the archive:

Part of the problem, if not the entirety, is that metatheory is trying to do what it is not capable of doing, at least according to Mark Edwards. He notes in "Where's the method to our integral madness"* that

"Whereas theory is developed from the exploration of empirical events, experiences and 'first-order' concepts, metatheory emerges from the direct investigation of other theory, models and 'second-order' concepts.

"Integral metatheory building is based on the analysis of extant theory and does not deal with empirical data. Consequently, it cannot validly make conclusions about empirical data based on its metatheorising. If it does so, it is stepping outside its realm of authority. To put this in another way, metatheory is primarily about other theory and not about the prediction or evaluation of first-order empirical data."

It simply is not its purview to take on the specifics of empirical situations to find solutions. Hence we see that it can only deal in broad generalities about other theories and methods, how they might or might not relate, how we might or might not integrate some aspects of each. Hence when metatheory applies itself to specific problems or tries to create new methods or structures it seems completely inept. And it doesn't recognize this limitation because per Edwards it doesn't have the self-critical tools to evaluate its own metatheory, which is the ultimate purpose of this article.

* You can find the entire article in JITP 3:2 Summer 2008.

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