The Problem of Knowing
Edmund Husserl’s Critic of Positivism
Public administration and Value Systems
Values and Interpretation
Interpretivism in common Practice
This paper discusses the origins of knowledge and the place of interpretivism in knowledge construction or discovery. Special attention is given to the ideas of Edmund Husserl who is widely acknowledged as an authority in phenomenology. This kind of paper delves into concepts and conceptions in a field of philosophy called epistemology. Epistemology has been defined as "the field of philosophy which deals with the nature and sources of knowledge” (O’Hear, 1989). In order to understand the nature of knowledge, we have to question the criterion that could be used to establish whether any inferences that we make are true or false. Consequently, we are led to an inquiry about whether we can determine the criterion of truth through deduction or induction. Kant, Hume and many other philosophers or scholars have addressed such inquiries and arrived at certain conceptions.
The problem of knowledge is not a new one. It became an object of scrutiny long ago in ancient Greece. However, it is as old as human history (Rey, 1997). Human beings as intellectual beings strive towards veracity of what is captured by the intellect. In this paper, how human beings come to know is discussed with special focus to ways of knowing and areas of knowledge. Truly, some knowledge is discovered while some other knowledge is invented. We acquire knowledge (discover) through our senses but by act of reasoning and relating; also an abstraction, we invent knowledge of a different order (Rey, 1997).
People aspire and desire knowledge. The first question is ‘what is knowledge?’ it is imperative that whosoever seeks to understand knowing be able to understand the object of knowing. This is a circuitous question, however, once well defined, a lot with regard to knowledge and knowing makes sense (Kolb 1984). It is already established that there are ways of knowing (namely emotion, reason, language and perception) and not just one way of learning or knowing (Kolb 1984). Through the ways of knowing and different phenomena in the universe, areas of knowledge have developed. Some well-documented areas of knowledge include arts, natural sciences, history, ethics, mathematics and human sciences.
The problem of knowledge does not end at ‘do we know?’ it goes further to ask into how we can verify or justify what we know. The objects of the different ways of knowing are verified or justified in different ways (Kolb 1984). To a great extent, talking about knowledge is talking about truth. The truthfulness of what we know depends on parameters such as revelation, the performance of our senses, dictates of faith, the authority of the claimer, self-awareness, logic, and intuition (Gadamer, 1976). In relation to all the named parameters, the inquirer considers consensus on the issues, a coherence of argument, correspondence to reality and whether what is claimed is practical or not.
From the foregoing, it is clear that the knower is and cannot just be a passive recipient. He or she has the obligation of verifying and to a great extent he or she determines what he comes to know. Knowledge has a history and is often angular due to perspectives arising from the limitedness of human beings (Ricoeur, 1974). It, therefore, follows that ideas have to be contextualized. When one wants to truly understand what a writer had to say, one has to look at the context of the writer (the environmental factors that determined the writer). By understanding what drove a particular writer, every literal bias in a book or literature work can always be understood in its totality (Ricoeur, 1974).
Knowledge can be said to be arrived at when the intellect becomes clear or certain that ‘this is the case and this case is true as I perceive it or contemplate it to be’. The veracity of reality is not so much in terms of how I perceive it but more in terms of correspondence between my perceptions to what truly is (Schon, 1995. This applies more exactly to knowledge acquired through sense perception. Overtime, some people have argued that sense perception is not reliable as a source of knowledge. One great proponent of this kind of idea was Plato who in the allegory of the cave posits that sense perception is like a shadow that often distorts what is true about things (Schon, 1995). He posits truths he calls forms are the real and certain knowledge that one can arrive at.
The greatest problem about sense perception is that it often depends on ones focus and the conditions of one’s organs. To illustrate, some thinkers have used color. People shown the same kind of object may perceive it as being of different colors. It is interesting that one looking at an object at a particular time sees a totally different thing from one he sees when he or she looks at the same at another time. Despite this argument that uses exceptional cases, it is true that we know something through sense perception. Often perception distortions can be explained and, other factors held constant, people will always have a certain degree of consensus over what they see, touch, hear, smell or taste (Gadamer, 1976).
Once one receives a picture or sensation via sense perception, often the brain goes for what is distinguishing about the object. In this process, the brain picks what is elementary and crucial about the given object of our senses (Rey, 1997). This process is called abstraction. The process of understanding I describe here was first systematically explained by Aristotle the pupil of Plato. He also talked of forms but as abstractions from raw data acquired through sense perception (Foucault, 1972). In knowing, the brain distinguishes what is accidental about a thing and what is essential about a thing.
Abstractions are stored in our memory. When we perceive or encounter something that correlates to the specifications of an object we had earlier on encountered, the brain relates the two and affirms whether ‘A’ is as the ‘A’ already known (Foucault, 1972). Language plays a critical role in knowing. When we encounter something and identify it as distinctly different, we give it a name (Dewey, 1997). A name is meaningful sound we associate with given realities. When a name is mentioned, the memory indicates or releases that form or the essence to which it correlates. The abstractions which we can now refer to as ideas stored in our mind have relations with other ideas we develop in the course of life. Some ideas refer to things that are of similarity while others are very different. The brain establishes these relationships in a process commonly referred to as reasoning.
Reasoning either takes the form of deduction or induction (Rey, 1997). Deduction is a movement towards consideration of general principles or realities towards affirming or negating something about a thing that is in the same class or family of things. Induction is the movement from particular things or principles towards arriving at general principles or conclusions that apply to the whole.
The veracity of deductions and inductions is only discerned by looking at coherence in argument and correspondence to reality (Rey, 1997). However, some people, deep in pragmatism, rely on the question ‘does it work’ to determine veracity of arguments or claims.
As the brain relates ideas, new ideas that do not refer to any particular thing in reality arise. In metaphysics, there is what is called ‘beings of reason’. Beings of reason are things that only exist in the mind of the knower but have no corresponding existence in the real world. For example, a knower can relate a horse with flying and actually visualize a horse flying. The flying horse is only in his head and nowhere in reality. Therefore, coherence in reasoning affirms ‘truthfulness’ of such abstractions; however, they fail the test of correspondence. New realities or ways of being are because of creation of ideas through interrelation of concepts until one reaches ideas that have no correspondent in the real world. Science and religion often rely on coherence to arrive at their conclusions. However, unlike religion, science makes steps towards realization of its objects in a practical way. It is from this perspective that some look at applicability for veracity of knowledge or claims.
It is at this point that we shall affirm that some knowledge is discovered while some other knowledge is invented. Discovered knowledge relies more on sense perception i.e. that one encounters a reality and through senses picking its essential characteristics, one comes to know of it. Later, applying what was known by the help of senses, the brain develops new items, ideas or things that will exist only as ideas or that come to be actualized through works of creativity.
Through sense perception, an individual observed birds fly. Naturally, he or she ought to know more as to how they can fly. He discovered there is a relation between their flying and their shape of body, wings and body weight. Using the three ideas, he started thinking of an object that would use the characteristics of a bird and be able to fly. He developed an idea that had no corresponding reality. He worked on the idea, refining it more through discovering more about reality e.g. for the bird to fly, it needed energy. There had to be a way of beating the gravitational pull and how about wind resistance once airborne. Using all those facts discovered about reality, human beings developed another thing they called an airplane. One would argue that invention actually involves in discovering; it is about discovering what is already out there. Although, invention is driven by discovered knowledge, it involves modifications on the real or application of what is discovered towards something else of own right as an object of knowledge.
Considering areas of human knowledge there are those that deal in discovered while others deal in invented knowledge. There are six broad areas of knowledge namely the arts, natural sciences, history, ethics, mathematics and human sciences. There are areas of study that rely heavily on empirical evidence. Most natural sciences depend on empirical evidence for their conclusions.
Historians and human scientists to some good extent rely on empirical evidence for their conclusions. In such a sense, the knowledge they provide is discovered knowledge. Scientists rely heavily on experimentation. In the event that they experiment; play around with a mix of realities and come up with something new, an invention is in the offing. Invention goes beyond discovering what is new but rather using what is already discovered to create a new realm altogether. Arts and human sciences deal in knowledge about created things, items, paradigms, settings and way of doing. Such knowledge is largely discovered and invented to some degree. For Example, democracy as a way of organizing society is an invention, developed gradually, and was not discovered. The study of democratization of states can therefore, be said to be concerned more with invented knowledge than discovered knowledge. Many theories and hypotheses capture invented knowledge. Invented knowledge relies heavily on discovered knowledge for its further development and veracity.
Interpretivism owes its origin from Ronald Dworkin who expressed this view in numerous publications, and it has gained its basis in public administration. This is because it questions about the determinants of legal duties and rights. The concept of interpretivism owes its origin in analytic philosophy, which largely took center stage during the post-Kantian period. The major players in the analytic philosophy of post-Kantian era include, Kant, Hegel, Fichte, Heidegger, Husserl, Bolzano, Meinong, Wittgenstein, and Neurath, to name but a few (Gadamer, 1976). However, these philosophers are categorized into those of Australian origin and those of German origin. In which case, those of Australian origin ultimately concentrated on language, logic, and ontology. This type of philosophy dealt more with straightforwardness and simplicity in terms of its style (Gadamer, 1976).This philosophical thought is characterized by a unique link towards realism of both being and knowledge.
On the contrary, the philosophers of Germany origin relied mainly on the Kantian thought which was inclined towards ethics and epistemology (Gadamer, 1976). Furthermore, this philosophy concentrates more on idealism, historicism, and transcendentalism, and it completely ignores modern logic instruments. Now, one very interesting observation that has been identified relates to the consideration of Analytical Philosophy as a discipline to which its proponents have never bothered to so much focus on in terms of history and the like (Gadamer, 1976).
The concept interpretivism immediately invokes an awareness of the term ‘interpret’, which generally means to ascribe meaning to a phenomenon. The term is also synonymous to concepts of "explaining; clarifying, accounting for; elucidating; shedding light on; illuminating or to make clear” (Klein & Myers, 1999, p. 36). Therefore, in this discussion, the term interpretivism has been used to refer to attainment of knowledge through pure interpretation. According to Alex Byrne, interpretivism has been defined by Daniel Dennett and Donald Davidson as an ‘a priori truth’ which asserts the absence of gaps between one’s best judgments regarding one’s desires and beliefs, and the truth of one’s desires and beliefs (Byrne, 1998). This therefore assumes that there is a clear and transparent connection between one’s beliefs and desires. In an attempt to make this point clear, Byrne (1998) introduces an illustration of an interpreter who is found to know exactly what one is believing and desiring, which means that the interpreter must be possessing some special powers for one to be capable of identifying thoughts and desires of another subject. Moreover, the interpreter, in his prior knowledge stock, should not include knowledge regarding one’s propositional attitudes, for in that case, it renders the interpretation meaninglessness or triviality (Byrne, 1998).
The term interpretivism has also been borrowed from Denett. However, Byrne (1998) acknowledges the distinction that should prevail between interpretivism and Dennett’s ‘interpretationism’. In Dennett (1978, p. 15) Interpretationism "likens the question of whether a person has a particular belief or the question of whether a person is immoral, or has style, or talent, or would make a good wife”. The foregoing notwithstanding, Klein and Myers (1999, p.60), use interpretivism rather to designate their initial argument that in the process of ascribing content, interpretation does prevail.
However, questions arise as to the nature of the ‘ideal interpreter’ according to Dennett (1979). In Byrne’s case, an ‘ideal interpreter’ must be an onlooker who is invisible, who also carefully monitors one’s movements, including every sort of interaction one makes with one’s environment, and also adheres to the ‘interpretive practices’ that are normally followed by other humans in identifying one’s believes (Byrne, 1998). What does this make of the ‘ideal interpreter’? It rather implies that the so-called interpreter has unlimited concentration faculties, never makes errors or never misapplies the interpretation rules, that is always right about non-intentional matters (Byrne, 1998).
Contrary, according to Turner (1996), an Ideal Interpreter makes use of a methodology that is strange to the one applied by Alex Byrne in identifying the one’s beliefs. This so-called Ideal Interpreter approaches the task of interpretation like a scientist in a foreign land with no prior information to sway one’s judgments.
However, there are many logical errors with such an argument based on the need to ascertain whether the interpreter so mentioned had some counterfactual information that could help in relating actions with intentions. Secondly, a question arises as to what basis guarded the assertion of that the interpreter should have had counterfactuals, and not factual about the actions and intentions so interpreted.
Husserl was at war with the positivist conception, which regarded knowledge as an outcome of experience. Husserl began his philosophy with an analysis on mathematics, philosophy, and psychology in view of establishing a strong background for mathematics. In order to come up with a conclusive basis for mathematics, Husserl builds up a systematic analysis based on his teachers’ conceptions about knowledge. Husserl thus uses an example of a house that is directly in front of the subject and that which is not directly in front of the subject. Whereby, the former endows the subject with more knowledge about the house, whereas the latter endows the subject with what he refers to as symbolic encounter with the object (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2003). He therefore, bases on this understanding, presents a theory of mereology (Simons, n d). Similarly, Husserl adopted another concept from Brentano, which relates to intentionality, which postulated the intentionality of the consciousness that regards human psychological acts or mental phenomenon as inclined towards some sort of object (intentional object) (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2003).
Therefore, anything we believe or desire has an intentional object. It is therefore, this conception, which created a distinction between physical phenomena and mental phenomena since it was only in mental phenomena that intentionality prevailed.
Husserl in his Logical Investigations came up with a theory of inferential systems in which he set to consider all sciences as exhibiting propositions, which are interconnected through inferential systems (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2003).
Furthermore, in his proceeding explanations, he makes it clear that it is through linguistic manifestations that one can be able to study the essence of the propositional approach (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2003). However, a question arises as to the manner in which one can be able to analyze these propositions. Well, in Husserl’s view, this can be through the study of units of consciousness (he calls them intentional experiences or intentional acts) which are presented by the speaker when presenting the propositions (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2003). The main reason as to why Husserl refers consciousness units to as intentional acts is because, in his view, the constantly designate something, hence distinguishable from non-intentional consciousness such as pain (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2003).
Moreover, in this case, the fact that intentional consciousness exhibits intentional content makes it easier to distinguish between the two types of consciousness. Furthermore, intentional consciousness does not have to deal only with physical objects, but rather even objectless realities such as thoughts of some form of a physical being such as a cow with wings, because in his view they still possess intentional acts similar to those relating to physical objects.
Contrary to propositional acts, Husserl identifies nominal meanings which are given by the example of ascribing Napoleon to being a Frenchman, because Napoleon’s intentional content designates a sub-propositional connotation that is expressed by ‘Napoleon’ as a name (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2003). Consequently, both propositional meanings and propositional acts represent Husserl’s ‘pure logic’ foundation. Conclusively, logic explores the distinction between sense and nonsense, and identifies the senses that pure grammar presents as either logically consistent or the vice versa (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2003). However, it is important to acknowledge the fact that the functioning as intentional content occurs independently of meanings and propositions, whereby propositions only exist in the abstract form.
However, a question arises as to the manner in which abstract objects can become contents of intentionality. Husserl responds to this inquiry by considering propositions as well as meanings, as ideal species, which some particular features (like dependent parts from intentional acts), can instantiate (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2003) . . In which case, species designate ‘ideal matters’ (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2003). , and Husserl calls them "moments of matter” (Husserl, Logic). Moreover, the so-called species are better expounded through a ‘phenomenological description’ which is an analysis that is based on reflections, and that utilizes both the intuitive fulfilment modes and the linguistic expressions. It can also acknowledge conflicts, which are connected with corresponding experiences (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2003).
Rorty (2009) came with a unique and contentious form of pragmatism that exhibited both negative and positive affiliation. Moreover, the negative affiliation involves the analysis of the nature of modern philosophy, whereas the positive affiliation relates to the image of the intellectual culture, which Rorty (2009) wanted to foster. Rorty (2009) aimed at synthesizing practical naturalism and historicism, which were presented by Hegel, Darwin, and Dewey. Rorty asserts that in order to ascertain a knowledge theory, one must call to mind the Kantian philosophy. Therefore, he asserts that "This is equivalent to saying that if we do not have the distinction between what is ‘given’ and what is ‘added by the mind’” (Rorty, 2009).
Interpretivism is very important in public administration because it relates to legal matters, which are very critical to the welfare being of the members of society. Interpretivism concerns the essence of law, which acknowledges that the duties and rights of law are ascertained by "a scheme of principle that provides the best justification of certain political practices of a community” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2003). Therefore, the so-mentioned scheme should be applied in the interpretation process, but it has to be sensitive to facts about the practices of people, to the principles or values that are served by the practices (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2003).
In public administration, various judgments, values, and insights are brought to focus. These values, insights, and judgments are based on certain established principles, which govern conduct. Interpretivism attempts to revolutionize the trend that social sciences take, featuring generalization, to a more mature stage that is logical and verifiable.
Social sciences are normally based on cultural predispositions, passion, one’s unconscious history, and one’s traditions (Rabinow, and Sullivan, 1979, p.1). This is done with a clear focus on the process of liberating social science rationality out of generalizations. Therefore, the latest trend of liberating social sciences has been the driving factor in interpretivism. Therefore, interpretivism studies human society by taking into consideration the various philosophical and administrative concepts and integrating them in order to over effective reasoning characterized by logic.
Therefore, in order to come up with a holistic approach, concepts of positivists, structuralists, as well as neo-Marxists, are brought to focus. Against, these concepts, various symbols, historical events, and cultures are developed and interpreted. However, the mode of interpretation of these factors differs greatly depending on the manner in which these social scientists approach knowledge. Hence, that is why Thomas Kuhn offers a critical look on the role played by social sciences in addressing the methodology that natural sciences make use of (Kuhn, 1970, cited in Rabinow, and Sullivan, 1979, p.2). In other words, Kuhn calls upon social scientists to transcend the endless discussions by establishing a paradigm that is generally shared, and which promotes the understanding of problems and procedures (Rabinow, and Sullivan, 1979, p.2).
Notwithstanding, social scientists have embraced the aforementioned approach, as presented by Kuhn, by focusing on the method used in both sciences, economics and languages inclusive. Evidently, even though this approach had yielded progress in the body of knowledge, there is still a lot left to be accomplished. Interpretivism requires persistent principles for guiding knowledge establishment procedures. This prerequisite calls for the so-called ‘paradigmatic science’, a stage within which there is bound to be "secure development, of extending the explanatory capacity of an agreed-upon paradigm (Rabinow, and Sullivan, 1979, p.2). Paradigms emanate from Kuhn’s "pre-paradigmatic” stage (Kuhn, 1970), whereby, various concepts and insights are taken through a strenuous exercise in order to sieve universally acceptable principles from those that are unverifiable or weakly established. Thence, in the paradigmatic process, various insights offer competing explanations before they can be accepted as universal principles.
Thus, the competitive process undergone by paradigmatic sciences has been pervasive in the development stages of epistemological fields such as behaviorism, structural-functionalism, materialism, structuralism, Keynesianism, among other fields. Contrary to the Newtonian thought, these sciences have encountered stiff competition and utter challenges, thus making them bound to further justifications. In other words, they remain to be candidates in the paradigm development endeavor.
After successfully accomplishing the paradigmatic process, the struggle then extends to another stage at which these paradigms have to prove that they are not relative, but rather irreplaceable by other emerging paradigms. The 20th century’s quantum theory successfully outweighed the Newtonian approach (Rabinow, and Sullivan, 1979, p.2). Besides, greater challenges have still hampered the objectivity of sciences because they are based on observations, as well as deductive explanations, which are fundamentally inexhaustible due to their overreliance on empirical evidence. This challenge took Kant by surprise, thus making him to turn towards ‘practical anthropology’ (Rabinow, and Sullivan, 1979, p.2). This Kantian trend gave room for a new mode of focus in which the subject was the center of focus, hence becoming a subject, of his model The Critique of Pure Reason. Consequently, in Kant’s mode of interpreting reality, the ontological subject conceives the self through the process of reflecting upon one’s actions as a subject that not only experiences reality, but also transcends and engages in intentional actions (Rabinow, and Sullivan, 1979, p.2).
Notwithstanding, interpretivism comes as an improved approach to the body of knowledge, and takes the various cultural understandings within their contexts, and cognizant of the temptation to fall into either cultural relativism or historicism and then concretizes these conceptions in a more holistic manner. In so doing, it goes beyond objectivity and subjectivity by laying a strong background on the contextual interpretation of events. This implies that the philosophical approach of reducing the intricate world into a mere self-consciousness is rather an extreme approach that makes reality rather abstract than real.
In this case, reality requires that meaning be interpreted from the initial presupposition of human existence, of which cannot be merely concretized to previous acts, speeches, predefined components, among another historical phenomenon (Rabinow, and Sullivan, 1979, p.5). This approach, therefore, refutes intentionality as well as empathy by the fact that they only base their premises on prior experiences in which people share meanings.
Therefore, interpretivism regards propositions true through the interpretive facts, which are based on community justifications regarding political practices (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2003). Therefore, propositions are only true solely by political practices, or moral and other evaluative facts. Somewhat, legal propositions are validated by the best defense of partisan practice. For instance, the extent of power wielded by one arm of government in contraposition to another arm of government on any given issues is of relevant consideration (Abbot, 2001). It is of interest when one considers what gives the administrators powers or jurisdiction. Additionally, in the exercise of their power the jurisdiction in itself is subject to questioning and interpretation. This becomes even more complicated when we consider discretion within jurisdiction i.e. by what principle do the administrators use their discretion as allowed by their jurisdiction.
In Public Administration, the theory is centre stage. Without theory, Public Administration theorists have no grounding and framework for understanding, explaining and predicting issues. Public Administration is an exciting discipline whose focus is on how politics is translated into day-to-day activities that deliver service to citizenry. Public Administration as a discipline or research field was triggered by the changes in political systems and related ways of exercising authority and power in states. The upheavals and related societal problems occasioned by industrialization and capitalism led to researchers gaining interest in social issues, social institutions and how the interaction between human beings facilitated either progress or lack of progress. Therefore, Public Administration studies the interaction between the performance of duties by public administrators and societal welfare.
As a discipline, Public Administration is a social science. Like all social sciences, research in public administration adopts the rigorous, systematic methodological approach of the pure sciences. However, unlike pure sciences, emperical studies in the social sciences are based on a framework informed by preconceived values, assumptions, propositions and beliefs (Strauss & Corbin,1990).
Public Administration theorists like other social researchers are better off when they base their research on established research theories. These theories ground the research work e.g. by defining how social problems arise and possible ways of solving them. Incrementally, a concern for pattern matching, as a way of establishing interrelation between phenomena is what guides theorizing and research efforts. Each research project has to be based on a theory and contribute towards a theory (Strauss & Corbin, 1990). It is only through grounding research in theory that causal relationships can best be understood. In the context of theory, research findings gain a wider perspective. Theory serves two purposes in research design; it guides the implementation of a research design and later can be used as basis for analysis of gathered data. Therefore, the theory is good for the definition of research process but also in the evaluation of outcomes.
Interpretivism finds wide usage especially in law. It has to be understood that largely, judicial functions consist in interpreting legal propositions. The interpretation of a legal preposition is determined by both practice and theory. Earlier on, a question arose as to what comprised the ground for legal propositions. Legal propositions are not grounded on contents of law, but rather, the underlying factor behind the nature of the content of law. It therefore, relates to an inquiry as to what makes certain provisions in the legal proposition to be justifiable. For instance, if law includes a directive to observe some public holiday, the inquiry at hand could lead one to inquiring about the reason as to why such a requirement in advanced within the legal proposition.
As an illustration, take a proposition, which considers a certain ethical decision as being immoral. In this case, what one should rather inquire to know is the ground for the justification of the proposition. Therefore, in trying to find out whether such a proposition is true or false, we are led to a discovery about the nature of ethics. In other words, by disapproving the immoral ethical choice, we could be synonymously acknowledging its disapproval from higher hierarch (Gibbs, 1999).
Therefore, the basis of any discourse regarding the essence of law should be evaluated under an analysis about legal propositions and their basis. However, different legal propositions bear different basis. Moreover, legal applications are made of propositions, which are based on law, in addition to evaluative premises (Raz, 1980). Furthermore, the relationship between the basis for law and the propositions under consideration, should be considered in relation to the truthfulness of both the grounds and propositions. For instance, in theory it may be asserted that there lies a connection between legal provisions with practices of the political realm in a unique way through shard understanding of the nature of law or concepts of authority.
When legal propositions are put forward, it is understood that given their positivist sense the wording could easily jeopardize the spirit of the law. Therefore, whenever considering the law or any other administrative injunction, interpretivism comes in handy in the sense that a meaning that best serves society is derived. In this instance, concern is not with the truthfulness of legal propositions in themselves but rather what makes them welcome in a given society. The interpretation or meaning of laws therefore is relative to communities.
While a law banning gays may be archaic in one society, interpretation in another society gives it another connotation that makes it sensible to the citizenry. Social norms it has to be appreciated are based on consensus. The point of reference of consensus differs across generations, tribes and even social classes. Therefore, any meaning derived from the norm as formulated; devoid of contextual understanding is not a proper interpretation of the norm. A norm as stated may be meaningless to some group; however, considering the associated meaning by another group, the norm remains valid (Hofstede, 1997).
The principles by which public administrators operate and even the constitution is a general framework that entrenches values. As such, the use of such instruments is only proper if done with underlining values in perspective. For instance, each law that a society puts in place is supposed to serve a given purpose. Such a purpose must have intrinsic or instrumental value. For an outsider who does not understand the social system in place, certain laws or norms may appear rudimentary. However, once and individual engages the system and learns about the instrumental value or intrinsic value of given set ups, the more a law or norm is appreciated and upheld.
Decisions by public officers can only be understood contextually. In the same vein as laws differ based on contextual value or instrumental value as per system so also are administrative decisions dependent on system in place. In America, for instance, moral decision by leaders are charged in line with the extent it advances liberty and other libertarian inclinations. Therefore, whichever decisions made are likely to be inclined towards advancement of individual freedoms. People from other traditionalist society say in the Arab world would probably frown upon such inclinations.
Therefore, in practice of public administration and even in theorizing about public administration, interpretivism is a poignant aspect or element. It is the interpretivist meanings that give credibility and justification to given systems or ways of doing. If one looked beyond the interpretational meaning, some systems do not make sense. However, going beyond the contextual connotations is likely to lead to purely theoretical, utopian and idealistic paradigms that have no correlation with actual circumstances of a people.
Therefore, from the above analyses, the development of the interpretive paradigm offers greater scope to the epistemology of public administration, even though it brings with it, very intricate conceptions regarding knowledge principles, which argues against the models used in social sciences, by looking at reality from a world devoid of individual minds as expressed by men across history. It does this in line with the understanding that the world continually changes, and therefore it is not good to base human understanding on mere predefined concepts which cannot withstand the course of time.
Thus, in public administration, management should not base their standards on organizations theories because in so doing, they contradict their conceptions with reality. In other words, the interpretive paradigm embraces the fact that organizations theories only operate to offer inquisitive chances rather than procedures to be followed.
The concept of interpretivism has received a lot of support in the public administration sector due to its underlying motive especially in the legal matters. Interpretivism helps towards discovery of the grounds and propositions for making certain legal decisions. Philosophically, Edmund Husserl with his phenomenological attempts offers a good background for the mind-subject understanding. Through exploring legal practice, which has close correlation with practice in public administration, it follows that a concern for truth brings into consideration ways of interpretation and reasons for interpretation.
Interpretivism, it can be argued, is inevitable in any social science discourse. It has to be understood that in as much as there may be phenomenon as it is, human interaction or learning about a phenomenon is mediated. Mediation comes in the form of assumptions, indirectness in access to a phenomenon or general bias due to background issues.
It follows therefore, that interpretivism is both a tool and a trap that any social scientist has to be aware of. In doing social research or in practicing either as a public administrator or in any other capacity in society, one has to investigate bases of his or her inferences and decisions. Such an investigation will reveal varied interpretive assumptions that either make one objective or totally biased. The objectivity threshold is not easily arrived at thus need to always research and treat knowledge tentatively.
Treatment of knowledge as tentative does not me an truth is entirely impossibility. However, it only calls for a healthy skepticism that enables one to investigate more and avoid errors in the form of oversights or interpretivism related hindsight. It is worth noting that by the time an individual begins to interpret, a new form of knowledge which is not necessarily hard facts but facts deciphered or constructed based on reality are generated.
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