THEORY & PHILOSOPHY SUMMER SCHOOL organized by the School of Sociology and Philosophy at University College Cork, Ireland, is a credit-based interdisciplinary module of postgraduate education & research training designed for the needs of post-graduate students & researchers, especially doctoral candidates, in the Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences, in Sociology, Philosophy, History, Anthropology, Politics, Languages, Arts, Literature & Classics; from universities throughout Ireland, Europe & around the world who are developing theoretical & interpretive paradigms for their research.
Our theme for 2012 is: "Understanding and Explaining"
Graduate students from all disciplines in the humanities and social sciences confront the issues of understanding and explaining, but: What do ‘understanding’ and ‘explaining’ mean? Do understanding & explaining correspond to different knowledge domains? How important are contexts to understanding? How basic are causes to explaining? Are there cases where we ought to understand, rather than explain, and vice versa? What’s the significance of misunderstandings & false/inappropriate explanations?
Understanding & explaining stand for two intellectual traditions; one based on interpretation and historical knowledge, the other founded on natural science. The
relation between the two has been problematized at least since Vico’s ‘New Science’(1725), which argued for an understanding of ‘the true’ through historical narratives &
interpretations impervious to the universal laws & experimental methods of Cartesian science. Within Western philosophy of the 20th century, this debate translated into
the conflict between continental and analytic approaches: the former, deeply rooted in hermeneutic practices of interpretation and ideals of historical knowledge, claiming
to understand; the latter, modeled after the natural sciences and their methods and paradigms, claiming to explain; both claiming ‘to know’ in a way that was superior
to the other.
In sociology, a similar dynamic emerged in the opposition between qualitative research (eg. Weberian verstehen) and quantitative research (eg. positivist approaches). More
recently, these distinctions have lost some of their earlier force, at least in part due to developments in philosophy and theory of science & social science. Interpretations
without links to empirical explanations are increasingly considered as problematic as explanations lacking historical or cultural contexts.
On another level, philosophers and social theorists (Habermas, Luhmann, Derrida, Bourdieu, to name a few) investigate understandings & explanations as speech
acts or communications. They challenge easy distinctions between knowing-that and knowing-how as both understanding & explaining can be said to involve tacit capacities and practical skills resembling Aristotle’s phronesis.
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