The fifth BASE (Baltic Archaeological Seminar) seminar is supposed to be held in Tartu, Estonia in October. This time the topic is “Archaeology today: things to be changed”. I sent in a presentation proposal in April but have not heard from them since. I wonder if they accepted my proposal. Here is the abstract I sent in.

Pragmaticism – the new possibility of a scientific archaeology

Archaeology has always been seeking for its position and identity in the topology of sciences. On the one hand archaeology depends on natural sciences, but on the other hand archaeology is also history and thus humanism. There is a need for a unified scientific archaeology.

During the last 30 years or so, archaeologists have wanted to emphasize the multivocality in, and diverse approaches to, studying and knowing the past. It has been said that the past only exists in the present and is therefore not real. There is a need for a unified scientific archaeology.

Philosopher, semiotician, logician, mathematician, and scientist Charles Peirce (1839-1914) named his philosophy of scientific inquiry pragmaticism. It is a neologism invented to distinguish between his realist pragmaticism and constructivist pragmatism some of Peirce’s contemporaries advocated. Peirce also hoped that such an ugly term would be ‘safe from kidnappers’.

According to the maxim of pragmaticism, formulated by Peirce in 1878, the whole meaning of things can be evaluated by considering the consequences of their being. ‘Consider what effects, that might conceivably have practical bearings, we conceive the object of our conception to have. Then, our conception of these effects is the whole of our conception of the object.’

While it is true that pragmaticism evades certain metaphysical issues, pragmaticism is not about the mere cash value of actions. Nor is pragmaticism a philosophy of science that aims to knowing the truth at any cost: a true pragmatistic scientist conducts his or her research according to certain ethical standards that strive for ‘the most admirable end’.

Pragmaticism is therefore an attitude that can serve as a synthesis between the two recent approaches in archaeology, the realist processualism and the relativist postprocessualism. It is a scientific attitude that will lead to the unification of archaeologies in theoretical attitude, and healthy fragmentation in methodology.

The following concepts lie at the heart of a pragmatistic archaeology and will be covered in my presentation:

  1. Fallibilism and Meliorism
  2. The Final Opinion
  3. The Long Run
  4. The Scientific Attitude
  5. The Structure of Scientific Inquiry

One comment

  1. Pingback: Pragmaticism as the new possibility of a scientific archaeology 1/3 « metaarchaeological nonsense

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