My goal in this work is to present a defense of objectivity and to advocate its use in all areas of the social sciences. At a wider level, each of us in our individual lives should be guided by principles rooted in objective reality and reason.
Unfortunately, throughout much of the social sciences, the idea of objectivity finds itself either an abandoned orphan or, at best, a barely tolerated second-cousin that is better kept out-of-sight and out-of-mind. Many people reject the notion that an objective reality exists independently of the individuals who live within it. The belief in an objective epistemology enabling us to understand that objective reality and our relationship to it often receives still shorter shrift. Even if the possibility of an objective reality is not automatically discounted, skeptics frequently announce that, yes, there may be such a reality but we cannot know it.
This abandonment of objectivity and of absolutes in metaphysics, epistemology, and (as we shall see) in ethics and politics has created a situation in which social science research builds upon shaky foundations that cannot support the edifices constructed above them. Without a proper understanding of where we begin, we are most likely to wander aimlessly in our scientific journeys. Those destinations we do reach exist only as fragmented, disconnected oases. Unable to trace the connections linking our goals with our origins, we fail to integrate these visions into any kind of consistent whole. We misidentify the conclusions of our travels and offer erroneous directions to those who trail along behind seeking our guidance.
The waste of time and energy involved in pursuing false leads is not easily recognized, however, when no absolute standards are acknowledged for judging dead-ends from fruitful pathways. Relativism, opinion, and endless collections of data replace objectivity, facts, and conceptualization.
Yet failure to recognize or acknowledge encompassing standards does not mean they do not exist. Objectivity applies not only to reality as a whole but to reason, ethics, and politics. Any attempt to deny or disprove this point ultimately leads only to self-contradiction and incoherence.
One goal of this book is to point a way towards an understanding of the social sciences, in general, and communication, in particular, which accepts the primacy of reality and reason in our attempts to understand and to be understood. Until the social sciences can untangle the threads of research in sociology, politics, economics, psychology, and communication and weave them into a coherent tapestry, any dreams of obtaining an accurate view of people and the relationships and societies in which they exist are doomed to failure.
This present work is not intended as a survey or overview of the social sciences or of communication -- though representative theories are, of course, discussed. The objections and alternatives I present to my views are provided in order to suggest some of the dominant trends in our field and to act as a means for clarifying my own explanations. To refute all possible objections in ideas big and small would lead me too far astray. There are many minor variations on essentially similar principles. To deal with all of them would only confuse the reader with needless minutia.
The phrase Integrative Perspective is used to remind us that in all areas of our lives, we should strive for internal and external consistency. In order to be correct, our knowledge and understanding must achieve not only internal harmony but correspondence to reality. Indeed, it is by noticing when contradictions occur within our theories or between our ideas and what the world holds that we become aware of error. The universe exists as a non-contradictory whole. Since true contradictions cannot be reconciled, the principle of integration guides us in asking what ideas to accept as knowledge and which to reject. By integrating the abstract or general with the specific or concrete, we further our efforts to make our understanding complete.
The Integrative Perspective is part of a worldview applicable to any realm of life but which specifically cuts through much of the conceptual obfuscation and confusion that has characterized the history of the social sciences. It proceeds at that task by looking at the philosophical foundations leading step-by-step to communication between and among the individual selves comprising human society.
In order to answer such questions as, "Why do people communicate?" and "How does that activity operate?", I consider:
The philosophical framework I offer as one way to answer these queries is based upon an acceptance of the following ideas:
Along the way, I consider other theories developed from different philosophical bases and which have had major impacts on work in the social sciences and especially communication. I also evaluate a number of apparent dichotomies that have plagued philosophy and the social sciences.
After suggesting ways to resolve these seemingly contradictory views, I examine some of the major issues in psychology and communication utilizing the foundation in metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics constructed in the first three chapters. After describing my view of the communication process building on this philosophical perspective, I look at the nature and function of self-esteem, individualism, decision making, and emotions. A proper understanding of these ideas can only be obtained by basing them on the philosophical principles inherent in the Integrative Perspective.
I next discuss how and why the Integrative Perspective can help in studying and understanding such important areas of human life such as love, intimacy, relational maintenance, and conflict. An individual who seeks to become aware of and to integrate all relevant and available information when making judgments about the world and the actions she will take based upon that knowledge will be more likely to succeed in obtaining her goals in these areas.
In understanding communication, as with any subject, it is important to be aware of the assumptions forming the foundation for one's inquiry. The process of communication is begun and conducted by individual people. It is with them that I am primarily concerned. Culture, society, groups, and even dyads are, in the final analysis, nothing more than abstract descriptions of the relationships between and among the unique "selves" of single human beings. These human animals, however, communicate on a level shared by no other creatures: the conceptual level.
Conceptual thought -- cognition -- is, however, neither a self-contained and isolated primary nor a level of consciousness or process that is achieved without effort. The material providing the grist for the communication mill is processed by individual consciousnesses. The pleasures and pains, rewards and punishments resulting from communicative interactions are experienced by solitary selves. "Society" feels no discomfort during an argument that ends in screaming and tears. A "dyad" does not rejoice at the excitement of love and sexual fulfillment. The selves constituting these relationships -- the individuals who conduct these communicative exchanges -- are who reap the benefits or suffer the consequences of the choices they make or fail to make. No matter how close two individuals become, no matter to what extent their lives are shared, each must ultimately think and feel and experience alone.
But what is this "material" that is the fuel for cognition? Where does it come from? How do people work this material, process it, and deliver it for consumption? Exactly how much choice does an individual self have in what it thinks, what it does, and what it feels? How are the acts of cognition and communication related? What impact do the other individuals who form a society, its culture, and its institutions have on these processes?
As will become clear by the end of this book, the answers offered to these questions can have a profound influence on:
The context underlying that research is often forgotten in the welter of day-to-day problems. Yet whether acknowledged or not, the too-often uncritically accepted frameworks we adopt influence how we as communicators and/or researchers conduct our lives and our work. The relationships defined by such frameworks help to direct and mold what we communicate about, how we will communicate, and how we will judge the results.
The divergent philosophical foundations that have arisen from such forefathers as Plato and Aristotle and which have been adopted across history lead to equally distinct views concerning the nature of science, society, and self.
The acceptance of a certain metaphysical position will lead to a certain type of epistemology. In other words: is there such a thing as an "objective reality", and what is the role of "reason" and "logic"? How we answer these questions entails wide-ranging consequences.
Other philosophical questions must also be considered concerning:
Communication occurs within a context and by certain means. In reality, the nature of that context and those means will determine the nature of communication itself. Conceptually, the way we view communication is dependent upon and derived from the answers we give to the questions asked above.
I believe that throughout most of the social sciences, the wrong answers have been offered. The result has been a mishmash of ideas providing a confused picture of what it means to be human and operate in a social context.
The view I present of these issues will lead to a different and, hopefully, more consistent understanding of our selves, our place in the world, and of the communication process itself. The journey may often be a frustrating, even aggravating one, but it is important to take these first steps into the prevailing gale if we ever hope to reach clearer and calmer skies.
The two most critical ideas to keep in mind in order to best understand the principles presented here are:
In essence this means that there is a relationship between existence and consciousness. The latter is our means of coming to know and understand the former. Existence, in turn, sets the ground rules for the successful functioning of consciousness.
Since many of the ideas discussed here will be unfamiliar to many readers, I offer them in more than one context in hope that with repetition will come greater clarity. This is especially true of point number two: the centrality of concept formation to the gaining of knowledge cannot be over emphasized. Another advantage of multiple presentations will be to highlight the interconnected nature of basic principles and the implications arising from them. Reality is a seamless whole. It is up to us -- to our consciousnesses -- to conceptually tear it apart into manageable bits and then to reassemble -- to conceptually integrate -- the pieces back together again.