Absolute Values Part Two: Epistemology, the Individual and Professional Development

This is the second article in a four part series on Professional Development for Massage Therapists. The series utilizes the terms Massage Therapist, Masseur and Masseuse as a touchstone.

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The quote above is by philosopher Imre Lakatos, taken from a paper titled Falsification and the methodology of scientific research programs. The distinction beetween Popper and Kuhn is beyond the scope of this artice but the difference between the two is ONE point of departure to examine questions of Epistemology, Education and Professional Development for Health Professions.

What is Epistemology? (link)

Epistemology is the study of knowledge. If or when this definition is expanded to include “How we know what we know” then the resulting definition begins to reveal an insight into the rationale behind modern disagreement regarding a revised understanding of the scientific method, religion, philosophy and the individual.

What is the role of logic within Epistemology?

To ask what the role of logic is within Epistemology without resorting to reflexivity illustrates why early efforts to answer this question were superceded in many professional disciplines during the last century. When a linguist says a word or a concept is “reflexive” they are saying that there is an absence of logic agreement between subject and object or a circular relationship between cause and effect. Thomas Kuhn approaches Wittgenstein with his emphasis on “the linguistic turn” as part of his rationale for paradigm shifts, which ultimately derive from Wittgenstein’s early and later stages of work. And then, he steps back.

Why?

In the history of science, the logical positivists or logical empiricists as the case may be, were of the opinion that philosophy needed to be legitimized and the resulting legitimacy shared with science – (author emphasis). Logical positivists also proceeded with the idea that ONLY statements verifiable EITHER logically or empirically would be cognitively meaningful. This definition presents issues that we recognize today in debates between science researchers such as Kuhn and Popper.

Logical positivism is justifiably credited with scientific reductionism. Another way to describe this is to define it as A.J. Ayers has done; an “Attack on Metaphysics.” Many academics, intellectuals and political scientists recoiled from Logical Positivism at this time, including many faith based religious groups and denominations. A former note on the result can be seen in the shift of political and voting demographics in the American South after the Second World War from predominately Democrat to Republican.

Logical Positivism was supposedly abandoned because it was revealed that empirical PHILOSOPHICAL claims that supposedly are presumed to undergird scientific endeavors cannot be VERIFIED to be UNIVERSALLY true and that this revelation placed limits on how much we can know. This “revelation” (a form of knowledge itself) filtered into common parlance (language) in phrases such as “the linguistic turn” cited above. It is also another way to describe phrases such as “asymmetrical information” which are frequently floated to describe a variety of imbalances in power implied by terms such as “Balkanization” and resulting abuses.

Professional Development and Massage Terminology

Massage Therapist, Masseur or Masseuse? There are many reasons it is legitimate for a LMT to explore their professionalism and professional growth and development thru language. What is important to note is that the search by empiricists discussed above has several presumptions embedded in it about the limits of knowledge and by default, these presumptions encapuslate the limits of how LMT’s and CAM practitioners can go with a mind-body-spirit paradigm of holistic wellness.

Pop culture’s view of modernism credits Freud, rightly or wrongly, with being the first psychologist to articulate a perceived need for a body based psychotherapy,
predicated on the premise that none existed. At the time of Freud’s early musings on this idea, modernism was in full bloom and approaching what many advocates of a religiously (monotheistic) based ontology for psychotherapy would come to call “decadence” at full speed. This is one reason among many that Freud and Jung continue to receive criticism from both liberal and conservative scientists, researchers and practicing members of the various psychological professions…(not to mention but also implied, are those practicing members of fields such as massage and physical therapy. )

By definition, physical therapists and massage therapists are members of the health professions that would be the counterpart or missing piece of such empirical “solipsism” on one hand or more kindly “the quest” to create a science based view of universal history with all that implies.

Many members of the CAM professions utilize some view of religion, philosophy and spirituality in various ways as a stop gap measure when confronting questions such as the one mentioned above. This is not the only avenue in which gender, (in scientific parlance a mere variable) substitutes symbolically for a subjective view of wholeness; raising additional aesthetic questions about the relationship between individual and universal values.

Ludwig Wittgenstien made a comment many years ago on the role of the subjective deployment of language in order to make a larger point. One way to condense Wittgenstien’s position into something tangible is to do what any Deconstructionist would: take the words apart!

I tried this myself in a college English writing class in 2006, unaware that there was a meme coined by Saturday Night Live by that title and created a pitifully poor poem in my own and my professors opinion! The title of the poem was of course, “The Rapist.”

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Knowledge, Language and The Individual

Ludwig Wittgenstien more eloquently stated in his work Philosophical Investigations: “The words of this (private) language are to refer to what can be known only to the speaker; to his immediate, private, sensations. So another cannot understand the language.” But there is more. It is worthwhile to quote another paragraph from Stanford’s online encyclopedia entry on the subject according to Wittgenstein.

“Immediately after introducing the idea, Wittgenstein goes on to argue that there cannot be such a language. The importance of drawing philosophers’ attention to a largely unheard-of notion and then arguing that it is unrealizable lies in the fact that an unformulated reliance on the possibility of a private language is arguably essential to mainstream epistemology, philosophy of mind and metaphysics from Descartes to versions of the representational theory of mind which became prominent in late twentieth century cognitive science….Wittgenstein suggests that the existence of the rules governing the use of language and making communication possible depends on agreement in human behaviour—such as the uniformity in normal human reaction which makes it possible to train most children to look at something by pointing at it. (Unlike cats, which react in a seemingly random variety of ways to pointing.) One function of the private language argument is to show that not only actual languages but the very possibility of language and concept formation depends on the possibility of such agreement.”

Professional Development and Axiology

Axiology is typically defined by it’s first branch, ethics. In this way it can be said that Axiology is concerned with how value is understood and determined. Axiology however contains a second branch known as aesthetics. Do note, Aesthetics is NOT synonymous with Esthetics. Often, Axiology is accused of putting the cart before the horse and assigning value unethically or dualistically rather than universally; i.e, racism, nationalism, classism etc.

Basic questions derived or culled from Axiology are:

  1. How are values related to interest, desire, will, experience, and means-to-end?
  2. How do different kinds of value interrelate?
  3. Can the distinction between intrinsic and instrumental values be maintained?
  4. Are values ultimately rationally or objectively based?
  5. What is the difference between a matter of fact and a matter of value?

In professional massage, the question of language is actually a settled matter that was reached by consensus. Hence, current manifestations of individualism thru the application of gendered terminology or terms such as body worker, or even those terms that would purport to change the subject object relationship embedded in the professional designation really are a moot point. However, its not wrong to question if there are situations or contexts in which discussion of gender labels and professionalism are appropriate.

Is there ever a time when gender distinctions in professional massage are inappropriate?

All the questions cited above are value based. Because of the historic connections between eugenics, health and aesthetically grounded idealism, yes. There are instances where gendered terminology, art and discourse can conflict ideologically with norms and values embodied in a professional setting for a variety of reasons. That these reasons are 99% of the time subjective and personal matters of taste, style or belief for individuals or groups, illustrates why diversity is commonly considered alongside axiology.

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"Every person must choose how much truth he can stand." — Irvin D. Yalom (When Nietzsche Wept)

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