Step 1 Relational Analysis Synthesis Replaces Split Reductionism

Clearly the reduction and atomism of mechanical explanation are split principles and they need to be replaced. Simply anointing holism as the guiding principle is not possible because holism, at least as often interpreted, is itself a split principle. Rather, integration requires that analysis and synthesis operate as a relational polarity. Analysis must occur in the context of some integrated whole, and the integrated whole operates in the context of its analytic parts. Because a relational metatheory is sometimes incorrectly viewed as less rigorous than mechanical explanation, a major feature of this first step is the affirmation of the importance of analysis and the analytic tools of any empirical science. The provisos here are that it simultaneously be recognized that the analytic moment always occurs in the context of a moment of synthesis and that the analysis can neither eliminate nor marginalize synthesis.

Step 2: Relational Action Pattern—Conditions Explanation Replaces Split Causes

As noted earlier, the defining marks of mechanical explanation and hermeneutic understanding have been the "nothing but" reliance on causes and action patterns, respectively. By entering into a relational context, these forms of explanation become integrated. In a relational context, causes are transformed from interpretation-free observed objects or events that produce changes in other objects or event into conditions that are associated with changes. A cause is interpretation free only when analysis is split from synthesis; in a relational model conditions—as an analytic moment of inquiry—are understood as functioning under some interpretation and some synthesis (Hanson, 1958). A cause can be a force that produces, influences, or affects the status or change of an object only in a model that splits system and activity; in a relational model, system and activity are joined as a structure-function relation. In a relational model, conditions are identified as necessary, sufficient, or both to the occurrence of the phenomenon under investigation (von Wright, 1971). Thus, rather than inquiry into the causes of behavior or development, inquiry from a relational perspective examines conditions that are associated with behavior or development. For example, if inquiry concerned the development of a plant, food and water would represent necessary conditions for the plant to grow, but would not cause the plant's development in the sense of producing that development. Similarly, neither nature factors nor nurture factors can be considered the cause of human development; they represent conditions that are associated with that development.

The assertion that causes are best understood as conditions leaves open the question of what in fact does produce behavior and change. The issue here is that of mechanisms. As is the case with other key terms, mechanism has several often in compatible definitions. In the present case the meaning is closer to "a process, physical or mental, by which something is done or comes into being" than to "the doctrine that all natural phenomena are explicable by material causes and mechanical principles" (American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition (2000) online). Hence, for present purposes, mechanism is defined as an active method or process rather than a cause or set of causes. These mechanisms are found in the structure-function relations that identify action patterns. Any active system constitutes a structure-function relation. The system is not a random aggregate of elements; it has a specific organization, an architecture (i.e., a structure). Further, this structure is not randomly active; it has a characteristic activity (i.e., a function). Even computers (structure)—when they are turned on—compute (function). However, computers do not change—at least they do not change in a transformational manner—and for this reason they are rather limited as models of the human mind (Fodor, 2000). The input and output of a computer may change, and this is the basis for traditional and contemporary split functionalist approaches to explanation (Overton, 1994a). However, the organization-activity of the computer itself does not undergo transformational change. Living organisms, on the other hand, are dynamic systems; they are organizations (structures) that are inherently active (function) and exhibit transformational change (dynamic).

When a system is viewed from the standpoint of function, it is the function itself (i.e., the characteristic action of the system) that constitutes the mechanism of behavior and change. Systems change through their characteristic action on or in the context of external conditions. Thus, the explanation of behavior and change is given by the function of the system (see Thelen & Smith, 1998). Further, because of the relation of structure and function, when a system is viewed from the standpoint of structure, structure then explains function. Consequently, both structure and function enter centrally into the explanatory process.

Structure and function are central to explanation, but they are also fundamentally interpretative in nature; they are not directly observable. Structure-function relations are patterns of action, but patterns are never directly observed; they must be inferred. When examined from the structural standpoint, the patterns constitute Aristotle's formal and final explanations. From the structural standpoint, action patterns make the object of inquiry intelligible and give reasons for the nature and functioning of the object. From the functional standpoint, action patterns explain by presenting the mechanism of behavior and development. Action patterns, however, necessarily operate within the context of material conditions both internal to the system and external to it. Thus, the introduction of structure-function relations serves to integrate hermeneutic explanation and natural science conditions explanation. Both types of explanation are necessary, but each operates from a different standpoint.

Developmental psychology offers several illustrations of this explanatory integration. For example, Bowlby's (1958) theory of infant-caregiver attachment posits a behavioral attachment system (structure) in relation to actions that serve the adaptive function of keeping the caregiver in close proximity. Piaget's (1952, 1985) theory presents a more general example. This theory represents an attempt to make sense of (i.e., explain) the development of knowing. Like Bowlby's, Piaget's is a relational theory that takes seriously the background ideas of structure-function and conditions. Because the theoretical goal is to explain the person and the development of the knowing person, Piaget takes a person (and epis-temic) standpoint rather than a biological or a cultural standpoint. The theory conceptualizes the person as a dynamic self-organizing action system operating in a world of biological and environmental conditions. Structure and function constitute thesis and antithesis, and the resulting synthesis is transformational change or stages of new structure-function relations. Structures are the mental organizations that are expressed as patterns of action. On the structural side of the equation, Piaget introduces the theoretical concepts schemes, coordination of schemes, operations, groupings, and group. Each explains (i.e., formal explanation)—at successive novel levels of transformation—the cognitive equipment that the infant, toddler, child, and adolescent come to have available for constructing their known worlds.

Theoretical concepts of adaptation, assimilation-accommodation, equilibrium, equilibration, and reflective abstraction, constitute the functional side of the equation. Schemes, coordinated schemes, operations, and so forth function; they are active and it is through their action in a world of conditions that they change. Piaget's is an action theory and action is the general mechanism of development. Through the organized actions of the person in the world, the person's mode of knowing the world changes and these changes are adaptive. Action as the mechanism of development becomes more specific through recognition of its bipha-sic nature. Assimilation is the phase of action that expresses the mental organization. This expression gives meaning to the world; it constitutes the world as known. However, these meanings—including meanings at a presymbolic, preconcep-tual stage—have an instrumental function as well as the expressive function. When the instrumental function of the action is not completely successful in securing an adaptive goal, variation occurs in the action. For example, an infant may intend (assimilate) the side of the breast as a nipple by sucking it, but when the satisfaction of feeding does not occur, variations arise in the action and this is exemplified by the sucking in various new locations. Variations open new possibilities that both secure a goal and feedback to transform (differentiations and novel coordinations) the system itself. This action phase of variation and organizational modification is the accommodation phase of any action.

Organization explains in the sense of establishing the form (structure), and action yields the explanatory mechanism (function). This relational polarity operates in the context of conditions, such as parents who do or do not provide appropriate opportunities for the adequate exercise of functioning. It is also the case that at the beginning of any stage of novel structure-function relations, the capacity for successful adaptation is limited. This is theoretically expressed in the idea that there is more assimilation than accommodation at the beginning of a stage; hence, there is a lack of balance or equilibrium between assimilation and accommodation. Through action this imbalance changes and the two phases of action eventually move into equilibrium within a given stage. Of course, given the relational nature of the theory, equilibrium of assimilation and accommodation also means that the underlying structures have reached a stable state (equilibrium) of differentiation and intercoordination.

The movement toward equilibrium of the action phases of assimilation and accommodation describes the development mechanism within a stage. To explain development across stages, Piaget introduces a principle that also has both a structural and a functional face. Structurally, this is the equilibration principle (Piaget, 1985) and it asserts that development change is directed toward improved states or patterns of the just-described equilibrium. Improved here is defined in terms of the adaptive value of one stage of cognitive structures relative to the adaptive value of other stages of cognitive structures. For example, the formal operational structures associated with adolescence represent an improved equilibrium over sensorimotor structures associated with infancy in that the formal structures are more stable, more flexible, and describe a much broader range of potential cognitive experiences than do sensorimotor structures. The equilibration principle introduces hierarchical organization into the theory and explains sequence, order, and direction in the emergence of novel cognitive abilities, just as the second law of thermodynamics explains sequence, order, and direction with respect to the physical world. It reflects Aristotle's metatheo-retical final explanation, and it is consistent with the structural final explanations offered in other developmental theories, including Heinz Werner's (1957, 1958) orthogenetic principle and Erik Erikson's (1968) epigenetic principle.

The functional face of the mechanism of development across stages is termed reflective abstraction. Reflective abstraction is action, but it is action that has its own biphasic character consisting of reflecting in the sense of projecting something from a lower to a higher level, and reflexion, which is the reorganization of what has been projected. The alternation of the reflecting-reflexion phases produces each new stage of cognitive reorganization. Reflection is similar to the act of generalizing; reflexion is acting from the generalized position to consolidate the gains made through generalizing. What is abstracted in this process is the coordination of the differentiated structures of the lower level of organization.

Step 3: Abductive Logic Replaces Split Induction and Deduction

The third step towards a relational metamethod that integrates mechanical explanation and hermeneutic understanding addresses the nature of scientific logic. Modern mechanical explanation split acts of discovery and acts of justification and identified the former with a foundational inductive logic and the latter with a deductive logic. Interpretation-free induction from interpretation-free data was the vehicle for the discovery of hypotheses, theories, laws, and interpretation-free deduction was the vehicle for their justification. A relational metamethod introduces the logic of abduction as the synthesis of the opposite identities of theory (broadly considered, including background ideas) and data. Abduction (also called retroduction) was originally described by the pragmatist philosopher Charles Sanders Pierce (1992), and the historian of science N. R. Hanson (1958) has argued that it has long been the fundamental—if often invisible—logic of scientific activity. In a contemporary version, this logic is termed inference to the best explanation (Fumerton, 1993; Harman, 1965).

Abduction operates by arranging the observation under consideration and all background ideas (here, including specific theoretical ideas) as two Escherian hands. The possible coordination of the two is explored by asking the question of what must necessarily be assumed in order to have that observation (see Figure 1.4). The inference to—or interpretation of—what must in the context of background ideas necessarily be assumed then comes to constitute the explanation of the phenomenon. The abductive process has also been termed the transcendental argument.

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