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Narrative Coherence and Its Grounds


Next to that of identifying appropriate problem areas for investigation based upon the twin criteria of their compelling consequences and capacity for proximate resolution, is that of charting out the key set of questions that give initial focus to the required work. Their importance is in the presuppositions underlying the questions in which an exacting as possible discernment of their significance, as implied, in part, in their prioritization go a long way toward defining the nature and purpose of the proposed investigation. If the object in research on adult literacy education, for example, is to discern how constituents derive their presuppositions, such questions as the following might be asked within the following proximate order:


· What is literacy? (definition)

· On what criteria is such a definition based?

· In what ways does the particular definition adhered to conflict with other definitions and what role do alternative interpretations play on the one defined within a given line of investigation?

· What is the significance of this resolution to that of identifying criteria in establishing an effective literacy program?

· How does such programming give shape to the flow of corresponding models instruction and curriculum frameworks?

· In what ways can such instruction be effectively assessed?


The order is important here in moving from basic assumptions and definitions toward proximate functional resolution in program orientation, instruction, and corresponding modes of assessment. According to Rescher, “the structuring of our information as responses to a logically dynamic unfolding of questions is the most basic and doubtless the most important mode of cognitive system-building.” A change in the order of questions alone is likely to affect the overall nature of the inquiry process, in which systematicity requires rigorous attention both to the nature and exact phrasing of questions and to the order in which they are handled. In short, “to systematize (italics in original) knowledge is to set it out in a way that shows it to be the rational resolution of a logically connected, exfoliated family of questions” (p. 27).


What complicates the matter is that different sets of presuppositions with corroborating data could be equally systematized and made coherent. Thus, one could start either with a presupposition that literacy is a metaphor for knowledge which includes reading and writing, or one in which the mastery of reading and writing drives the definition in which knowledge gained through the study of content is viewed as a desirable consequence. Each of these broad definitions is based on a set of partially different presuppositions and requires alternative sets of questions to ground rational inquiry, based on their underlying logics. Given the legitimacy of pluralism of human philosophical knowledge, the struggle for definition needs to be worked through in what Dewey (1938/1991) refers to as the broader cultural matrix. Even on that relativistic playing ground Rescher adhered to his core methodological premises of systematicity (maximum coherence consistent with the relevant data) as the means to establish valid epistemological criteria to substantiate the legitimacy of a given investigation.


Crucial to systematicity is that of narration, defined as “a coherent story that makes sense overall…, an all-comprehending account…as it were” (Rescher, 2001) p. 45). Rescher’s argument is not that such coherence is achievable in any final sense, but that the quality of a particular line of philosophical investigation depends on the overall symmetry of the argument in its various levels of unfolding, including the resolution of knotty incongruities which, in principle, could be resolved in a variety of ways. The process of the proximate resolution of problems is a constructive one that emerges through the identification of key issues and questions, the grappling with complications, the balancing of various key principles of systematicity that invariably conflict when pressed too hard, and the pursuit of various lines of query that the investigation opens up. Scholarly “rules of thumb” are operative that serve as important “guidelines.” These can be violated if necessary, but doing so extracts certain costs and therefore should not be lightly ignored. Still, the possibility of further analysis beyond what can be effectively managed in any line of inquiry requires perpetual discernment not only on the substance of what can be discovered, but on what sources of evidence to stress and what aspects of reasoning to press. As put by Peirce (1955) “there is no royal road to logic, and really valuable ideas can only be had at the price of close attention” (p. 40).


Rescher (2001) noted an unavoidable tension between rhetoric, what he referred to as “unconditional commitments” (79) or first principles that lay at the basis of any line of inquiry, and rational argumentation based on evidentiary premised critical reasoning. Notwithstanding the invariable tension between these two factors both of which claim long philosophical lineage, these also have “to come into a mutually supportive overall harmonization” (p. 86) if the investigation is to be maximally sound. At a minimum coherent systematicity requires that the logic upon which the rhetoric is premised contains no intrinsic contradictions. Also important is the substance of the first principles. These need to be premised “on a common, shared basis of judgment” (p. 86), which are consonant “with duly highlighted aspects of our experience” (p. 84) that gain the adherence of some legitimate body of inquirers even as other communities of inquires will operate out of a different set of premises.


The proposed methodology is based on standards of “rational conjecture and “responsible estimation” rather than that of “mere guesswork” (italics in original) (p. 48). “Cogent processes of evidence, inferences, and the usual instruments of rational substantiation” (p 48) are required. While Rescher provides much latitude for a range of potential interpretations that could become subsumed within his methodology of coherent systematicity, a core maxim is that cogent “evidence and argumentation must always pervade and underpin” (p. 49) any philosophical case made. “No logically airtight guarantee that what is best” can be provided. Nonetheless, the very nature of critical philosophical inquiry requires “the best estimate of the truth that we can make,” utilizing all the resources available even though the outcome may ultimately be proven to be “well off the mark” (p. 49).


In addition to depending upon traditional scholarly modes of empirical evidence, Rescher also stressed the importance of genealogy in the linkage of chains of argumentation and reasoning to earlier analyses and schools of thought. Consequently, ongoing development is “exfoliative” with “a superengrafting of new distinctions upon old, with new topics and conditions continuously emerging from our efforts to resolve prior problems.” The result “ is an unending process of introducing further elaborative refinement into the setting of old, preestablished views, which sees an ongoing emergence of new positions to implement old doctrines” (p. 51). Thus, criteria for the coherency of narratives in support of the most fruitful lines of philosophical investigation combines traditional scholarly methodologies with historical modes of analysis that project chains of reasoning that extend from the past, to the present, and to at least the near-term future.


On these interpretations, narratives formed are neither free-floating nor merely speculative, but grounded in substantive modes of evidence, reasoning, and schools of scholarship that contain histories and projective modes of development susceptible to highly creative forms of construction. With these criteria as a base, Rescher then outlined his four laws of text interpretation. These are, “coherence,” “comprehensiveness,” “sophistication, and “imperfectability” (pp. 71-76). Given the perpetually creative dynamic of human knowledge to break through boundaries of definition, these laws do not smoothly work together. Rather, they are tensional in their respective objectives in which resolution of any particular line of investigation requires an overall fit in which certain trade-offs among them are inevitable.


Date: 2014-12-21; view: 632

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