Robin is very fond on powerful theories which invoke a very small number of basic elements and give those elements great force. He likes to focus on one very central mechanism in seeking an explanation or developing policy advice. Modern physics and Darwin hold too strong a sway in his underlying mental models. He is also very fond of hypotheses involving the idea of a great transformation sometime in the future, and these transformations are often driven by the mechanism he has in mind. I tend to see good social science explanations or proposals as intrinsically messy and complex and involving many different perspectives, not all of which can be reduced to a single common framework. I know that many of my claims sound vague to Robin’s logical atomism, but I believe that, given our current state of knowledge, Robin is seeking a false precision and he is sometimes missing out on an important multiplicity of perspectives. Many of his views should be more cautious.
We find ourselves managing complex networks of beliefs. Bryan’s picture seems to be of a long metal chain linked at only one end to a solid foundation; chains of reasoning mainly introduce errors, so we do best to find and hold close to our few most confident intuitions. My picture is more like Quine’s “fabric,” a large hammock made of string tied to hundreds of leaves of invisible trees; we can’t trust each leaf much, but even so we can stay aloft by connecting each piece of string to many others and continually checking for and repairing broken strings.
one of the most intellectually stubborn people I know, despite (because of?) his often promiscuous open-mindedness