Theory Construction in Second Language Acquisition (Language by Geoff Jordan

By Geoff Jordan

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Extra info for Theory Construction in Second Language Acquisition (Language Learning & Language Teaching, 8)

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27 28 Theory Construction in Second Language Acquisition Positivism represents a radical form of the “generalised description” approach to theory construction: it is totally opposed to causal “explanations”, and to most forms of philosophical argument. I choose an almost random anecdote to serve as an example of the positivist attitude. Einstein remarks in his autobiography (1979: 168) that he was very struck by the “dogmatic faith” that Mach had in positivism, and that, in his opinion, the worst thing about Mach’s approach, as a faithful positivist, was the belief that science consisted in the mere ordering of empirical data, and the denial that imagination or creativity had any place.

Was there anything that could escape the Demon hypothesis? Was there anything that Descartes could be sure he knew? ” Essentially, then, it was his capacity to think, to reason, that was the only reliable source of knowledge, and hence Descartes’ famous “Cogito ergo sum”. I think, therefore I am. From this first principle Descartes built his philosophical system, which was based on the innate ability of the thinking mind to reflect on and understand our world. We are, in Descartes’ opinion, unique in having the ability to reason, and it is this capacity to reason that allows us to understand the world.

The Baconian tradition, the investigation of the behaviour of matter in novel situations, or “twisting the lion’s tail” as Bacon himself put it, cannot be said to be based on a desire for general explanation, but rather on a desire to “see what happens” with the aim of controlling the physical world, and this remains an important aim of modern science. Nevertheless, the practical applications of particular experimental results depend on the ability to generalise: an engine designed in France could be improved in Germany thanks to the general theory of thermodynamics, Fresnel’s wave theory of light made it possible for those working in the field of optics to go much further than Brewster had managed.

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