Against Prior Theorising
CPM Report No.: 01-82
By: Bruce Edmonds
Date: 12th March 2001
Published as the third section of: Conte, R., Edmonds, B., Moss, S.
and Swayer, R. K. (2001). Sociology and Social Theory in Agent Based Social
Simulation: A Symposium. Computational and Mathematical Organization Theory.
Prior theory – that is theorising on the basis of
thought and intuition , as opposed to attempting to explain observed data
– inevitably distorts what comes after. It biases us in the selection
of our data (the data model) and certainly biases any theorising that follows.
It does this because we (as humans) can not help but see the world through
our theorising – we are blind without the theoretical “spectacles” described
by Kuhn (1962). If a theory has shown to be essentially correct in
some domain (i.e. by thorough validation against the target problem or
domain) using it as a framework can be helpful, however, if the theory
is not mature or even speculative then it can effectively prevent progress
. I argue that, although we can not ever completely avoid this sort
of bias, we can minimise its effect. Two sources of prior theorising
coming from opposite directions are sociology and formal systems – neither
of these is inherently biased towards prior theorising, but just happens
to be a source for such theorising at the present time. Computer
scientists who project the results of interesting models onto society are
also guilty of constructing first and fitting later.
Keywords: methodology, modelling, theory,
data, intuition, prior theory, archchair theorising, Kuhn, sociology, social
simulation, biology, computer science, formal systems, foundationalism