Robert Feleppa

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Professor Feleppa's main interests are in philosophy of social science, metaethics, and comparative philosophy, with current emphasis on the comparison of Asian and Western thought and culture. He has been at WSU since 1980. In 2001 he received the college's John R. Barrier Distinguished Teaching Award; in 2004 he was promoted to full Professor. Dr. Feleppa is working on a series of papers in Philosophy of Social Science. Click here for Dr. Feleppa's Curriculum Vitae.


Recent Submissions

Now showing 1 - 5 of 9
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    Translation as Rule-Governed Behaviour
    (Sage publications, 1982) Feleppa, Robert
    The problems of radical translation occupy a central place in a number of long-standing controversies in philosophy and anthropology. The philosophical difficulties here concern the accurate recovery of speaker meaning in translation, in light of the following two problems: (1) the radical translator’s unwanted possession, in principle, of too many right answers-i.e., the availability in principle of empirically equivalent, yet divergent manuals of translation for a given society; and (2) the prima facie undesirable, yet perhaps inescapable need to impose what is grammatically and ontologically familiar to the linguist and to the target language community upon the source language community in translating their discourse. In short, these problems make clearly problematic whether translations meeting standard criteria of adequacy can ever be said to reveal what the source language speakers really mean. As many anthropologists, especially those in the ‘language and culture’ tradition generated by Boas, Cassirer, Sapir, and Whorf, take the recovery of such culturally specific significance as central to their discipline, worries about how to select translation manuals and related ethnographic systematizations (such as kinship organizations and disease taxonomies) that have demonstrable ‘cognitive (or psychological) validity’ seem to run very deep indeed. And such concerns cannot but be deepened by the fact that much reflection in the philosophical community on these problems, particularly as embodied in the work of W. V. Quine, is against the objective determinability of meaning in translation. For while anthropologists generally worry about how to validate claims about meaning and synonymy in light of these methodological difficulties, presuming them to be surmountable in principle, Quine cites just these problems in order to denigrate the various current notions of meaning and synonymy-by rendering illusory the ‘underlying’ semantic (or psychological) reality they purport to reveal.
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    Epistemic utility and theory-choice in science: Comments on Hempel
    (D. Reidel Publishing Company, 1981) Feleppa, Robert
    Professor Hempel has sketched a number of turns in the problem of induction, showing us in the process that the traditional problem of justifying inductive inference is inextricably bound up with problems concerning rational criteria of hypothesis and theory acceptance. In taking us through these various turns he surveys, and provides us valuable insights into, several of the guiding trends of a vast and often highly technical literature. In the interests of highlighting this valuable feature of his paper and to provide some focus for our subsequent discussion, I shall briefly review some of these turns, placing emphasis on what Hempel notes as the central relevance of certain questions raised by Richard Rudner concerning the character of scientific criteria of hypothesis acceptance. There are a number of, to my mind unsettled, issues concerning the task of the scientist qua scientist-particularly, the range of considerations that figure in the acceptance of hypotheses, and, indeed, how such "acceptance" is to be construed-and I shall direct the latter part of my commentary to these issues.
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    On Reproducing Social Reality: A Reply to Harrison
    (Sage publications, 1986) Feleppa, Robert
    That social inquirers should be careful about the intrusion of biases and questionable ethnocentric presuppositions is a widely accepted and unquestionably cogent methodological dictum. Less widely accepted, and perhaps less cogent, is the view that such intrusions are best avoided by inquirers adopting the interpretive constructs, points of view, etc., of their subjects. Debates over this latter point have flared up repeatedly in twentieth-century philosophical and social-scientific literature, notably in the extensive discussions of Peter Winch’ss The Idea of a Social Science (ISS) and ’Understanding a Primitive Society’ (UPS). His contention that proper social inquiry is actually a form of conceptual-analytic epistemology, aimed necessarily at the recovery and use by the inquirer of certain rules and criteria operative within the source-language community in the individuation of social actions, makes Winch clearly a proponent of the latter, controversial thesis. The late Richard Rudner (’Some Essays at Objectivity’ [EO]) has challenged ’ Winch, contending that his thesis rests on what Rudner calls the ’reproductive fallacy’ of assuming that the function of a social description is to reproduce aspects of what it describes. Recently, Stanley Harrison (’Rudner’s Reproductive Fallacy’ [RF]) has taken issue with Rudner’s critique, charging that it commits a fallacy of somewhat older vintage, namely, of attacking a straw man. Rudner, he claims, by not attending with care to Winch’s important distinction between reflective and unreflective understanding, and by not keeping in mind the differences in view between himself and Winch regarding the nature of reflective understanding, creates the confusion and inconsistency he ostensibly finds in Winch. However, I shall argue that Harrison has misconstrued the thrust and content of Rudner’s argument, and though this may result in part from the way Rudner formulates certain points, these can be clarified and Rudner’s telling objections to Winch’s and related views sustained.
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    Emics, Etics, and Social Objectivity
    (University of Chicago Press, 1986-06) Feleppa, Robert
    Emic analysis, whether seen as opposed or as complementary to etic modes, is regarded as essential for ensuring that culture-specific particularities are not suppressed in efforts to subsume social phenomena under cross-culturally valid generalizations. Particularly, there is concern that the aim of providing an account of the concepts and principles subjects use to organize reality will be frustrated if alien etic notions function in ethnographic systematization where emic ones should. This paper examines this and other aspects of the emics/etics problem, with particular emphasis on the ostensible function of emic analysis to avoid interpreter imposition of etic categories. It is argued that ethnographic objectivity must acknowledge some degree of imposition but that this does not render emic analysis pointless. Particular emphasis is given to W. V. Quine's idea of the indeterminacy of translation, which seems antithetical to emics but which, with some reconstruction, provides a basis for a viable emic mode.
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    Aspects of the Cannibalism Controversy: Comments on Merrilee Salmon
    (Wiley-Blackwell, 1995) Feleppa, Robert
    Professor Salmon argues that the controversies about Mead’s work and about cannibalism encourage healthy discussion of anthropological standards of evidence and definition, and provide an opportunity to consider the scientific status of anthropology. Her paper is broad in scope, concerned as it is particularly with how Arens’s criticisms make an impact across the discipline and apply to a number of general theoretical controversies. I would like to look in somewhat more detail at some of the issues on which her discussion of the cannibalism controversy touches.