Questions to orient yourself to ontology

Questions to orient yourself to ontology

The purpose of the exercise is to help you work out your ontological positioning. The reason I have done it this way is to provokes reflection which is easier when faced with a distinct proposition.

Say if you agree/disagree with the following statements, and why.  Show what the implications of adopting one stance or its opposite would be.

  1. Human beings possess measurable, stable, persistent, consequential personality traits that are largely independent of upbringing or other contextual factors.
  2. People can act against their own interests.
  3. There is a fundamental difference between mathematical calculations performed by the human mind and those done by an electronic computer.
  4. It is possible to label certain cultural forms ‘maladaptive’.
  5. The fundamental characteristics of entities are best explained by examining their environment

When I was putting these exercises together I changed the wording a lot, away from wording that implied ethical and political consequences and to wording that implied possibilities. Ontology in my writing became about the possibilities of things rather than their meaning or what would be done with them. Ontological positions open and close off possibilities. For instance rejecting number 4 means you cannot then entertain ideas of toxic masculinity, or of white racial resentment. If you do accept ideas like toxic masculinity you cannot then reject outright positions like the culture of poverty thesis. You can still criticise it, you just cannot rule it out of bounds as such.  Each decision excludes some positions. Recognising that takes discipline and means rejecting easy-outs like ‘strategic essentialism’ used by some post-colonial theories, which means ‘I only reject essentialisms I happen not to like’. You cannot have it all.

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