Two kinds of research in social sciences

There is, on the one hand, the intellectual tradition of expressing opinions and points of view. Here, as it suits thoughtful minds, one tries to express ideas carefully and in a nuanced fashion. Recent peer-opinions are taken into account; generalizations are avoided; the attention is on the specific and the concrete; and, where possible, one’s ideas are either founded upon or embroidered by some or another of the many philosophical stances that are available. The goal of the discussion is to endorse these opinions, or express disagreement on the broad idea expressed by the author. Any other kind of intellectual exercise of often seen as either nit-picking or engaging in polemics. To those who have grown up in this culture, it is obvious what the sought-after intellectual virtues are and how one should cultivate it. In other words, this culture surrounds itself with meta-arguments that is either founded upon or embroidered by some or another meta-philosophy about what intellectuals are, what their role in the realm of ideas should be and how they should relate to the rest of society.

On the other hand, there is another intellectual tradition that thinks differently. It too has its own ideas about what knowledge is and thinks that building theories and hypotheses is the goal of all knowledge. As a result, it goes for the formulation of broad and sweeping hypotheses; the test of such hypotheses or theories becomes the goal of all discussions (how one tests it depends upon one’s own meta-conception of knowledge); logical and linguistic analyses becomes its stock-in-trade. Ambiguities are shunned, paradoxes are either solved or dissolved because their existence can count against a theory or hypothesis, and clarity, coherence, consistency, simplicity and such like are seen as the virtues of knowledge-claims. Because of its unremitting focus on knowledge, being a ‘public intellectual’ is not much of a concern for many, leaving that to the personal choice of individuals.

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