The self-reference test …

Can your favorite academic theory pass the self-reference test? What is the self-reference test, you ask? It’s a little test we devised after unintentionally stumbling upon (yet again) this perceptive quotation, which appears on page 776 of Gunther Teubner’s essay with the pompous-sounding title “The King’s Many Bodies: The Self-Deconstruction of Law’s Hierarchy,” published in volume 31 of The Law & Society Review: “It is interesting to note how deconstructivism explicitly avoids self-application. It refuses to apply its operations to its own core distinctions …” Although Teubner’s essay reads like a stereotypical parody of bad academic writing, he does make a valid point about theorizing in general. A theory is invented to explain some aspect of the world, but what happens when we self-apply a theory to itself? Does the theory still make any sense? That is, does the theory pass the self-reference test? (Consider, by way of example, Thomas Kuhn’s influential theory of the role of paradigm shifts in the day-to-day practice of science. What happens when we self-apply Kuhn’s theory of paradigms to itself? That is, what deeper paradigm underlies Kuhn’s own theory of paradigm shift? Do you now detect a fatal flaw with Kuhn’s theory?)

Bonus quote: We can’t resist sharing another great Teubner quote on the (over-)use of dialectics by academics: “… whenever dialectics is invoked, it covers a blatant lack of analysis.” (From page 204 of “Breaking Frames: Economic Globalization and the Emergence of Lex Mercatoria,” published in volume 5 of The European Journal of Social Theory.)

About F. E. Guerra-Pujol

When I’m not blogging, I am a business law professor at the University of Central Florida.
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1 Response to The self-reference test …

  1. Pingback: “Bayesian reasoning” postscript | prior probability

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