By Gwynne Nettler
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Additional info for Boundaries of Competence: How Social Studies Makes Feeble Science
Metis in this sense is the mode of knowing embedded in folklore. It is local, particular, and reckoned in the difference between acquired skills and abstract principles. Those who possess such know-how need not be able to reduce their art to textbook formulae. James C. Scott explains: Metis is most applicable to broadly similar but never precisely identical situations requiring a quick and practiced adaptation that becomes almost second nature to the practitioner. The skills of metis may well involve rules of thumb, but such rules are largely acquired through practice...
Hence, reasoning can be said to serve desire. And “desire,” too, is a composite of appetite, wish, and hope so that an intermittent warfare occurs within our cognitive equipment between “thinking straight” and being an active, desiring person. The tension produces shifting balances and degrees of sanity and lunacy. Arthur Koestler provides a prominent illustration. Koestler was a journalist-essayist whose political commitment got him sentenced to death when he took the losing side during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939).
This disposition affects attempts to construct a science of social affairs that, like all science, employs abstract concepts. To ab-stract is to select from particular things, events, or processes aspects of their individual exemplars that, for our purposes, seem similar, and then to educe images of what has been selected. These conceptions are, in varying degree, distant from anything perceptible. They are nevertheless useful, if employed with care. They are also necessary, in the sense that the human organism produces some abstractions physiologically, without trying.