Participatory empiricism

I was talking with a friend about my suspicion that understandings empiricism as based primarily on perception rather than on interaction has distorted not only our epistemology, but our ontology of knowing. This perception-centricity is at the heart of what we think knowing is, how we think knowing works, and what we hope knowing might accomplish. (I have to wonder how many skepticisms are the result of dashed episto-ontologies? “If truth isn’t what I conceived it to be — well, it must be an illusion!”)

When we take perception as our paradigmatic intuitions, truth becomes about a reality “out there” — seen, heard, or otherwise witnessed from a distance. This, I believe, encourages us to assume an impersonal god’s-eye-view from nowhere/everywhere (what I’ve called “eclipse”) when meditating on ultimate realities.

I prefer to see truth as something that emerges in our interactions with reality and which informs our ongoing participation in a reality that includes and involves but also exceeds us. Our truth is something we draw around us, like a blanket, which informs our understanding and our responses to our environing reality. We enworld ourselves within reality. An empiricism rooted in interactions encourages a human-situated perspective (what I’ve called “solipse”), as opposed to eclipse.

My friend suggested calling this empiricism based on interaction “participatory empiricism” in contrast to the more usual “perceptive empiricism”. That is exactly the right term.

Participatory empiricism.

3 thoughts on “Participatory empiricism

    1. I picked up these ideas from Latour, who got it from ethnomethodology. It appears social enactionism rediscovered the basic insights of ethnomethodology and developed them from a cognitive science angle. I may have to dig into that world a little and see if they found a clearer way to present it, because Garfinkel’s language is just painful, and I never did internalize it fully.

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