Afterword: In Praise of the A Posteriori Sociology and the Empirical

Lash, Scott. 2009. Afterword: In Praise of the A Posteriori Sociology and the Empirical. European Journal of Social Theory, 12(1), pp. 175-187. ISSN 1368-4310 [Article]

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This article begins with discussions of rationalist, a priori and empiricist, a posteriori thinking in philosophy. It then argues that classically, sociology is rationalist or a priori. Sociology — Weber, Simmel, Durkheim and Marx — moves from Kant's epistemological a priori to the social a priori. It moves from the question of how knowledge is possible to the question of how society is possible. This question of the possibility of society becomes quickly one of social control and social order in functionalism and Parsons. The article argues instead for an aposteriorist, de facto empiricist sociology that breaks with this ultimately normative question. This aposteriorist sociology would instead investigate social processes in their very factuality, their open-endedness, complexity, and path dependency. A priorism in sociology, I would argue, is dominant in both positivism and phenomenology. The article opposes to phenomenology's transcendentaI rationalism a `transcendental empiricism' that is illustrated with Edmund Burke's English and aposteriori aesthetics of the sublime. Sociology today needs to be relevant to study of `emerging' nations like China. The article argues for an aposteriorist, empiricist sociology here, and looks at debates on property law in today's China. Here we look at rationalist and a priori notions of clear, distinct and divisible property in Continental reception of Roman law. We counterpose to this English, empiricist (a posteriori) Common Law notions of property as a bundle of rights, in which property is not clear and distinct but vague like a boundary object. We look at how this is instantiated in China. With François Jullien, we contrast a Chinese, effectively empiricist, aposteriorist notion of the universal to Western rationalist and a priori universalism. We look at the implications for international geopolitics and a possible Chinese route to democracy. With Jullien, we counterpose an aposteriorist Chinese notion of `activity' to the Western a priori notions of `action' found in Weber and Parsons. The Chinese `activity' is more processual, more relational, less goal-oriented, more path-dependent than our Western notion of `action'. The article argues that in the twenty-first century when national social control is partly displaced by global uncertainty, and when the ascendancy of the West is coming increasingly under question, that such an empiricist, aposteriorist sociology is suitable.

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Centre for Cultural Studies (1998-2017)


February 2009Published

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17 Aug 2015 11:31

Last Modified:

19 Jun 2017 11:12

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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