There is No Observation (Including Measurement) without Theory: The Stanley Fish View

As I have said before:

(B)ecause of a unified view of construct validity, theory (and hermeneutics) touches all aspects of validity and measurement.

One thing I meant by this is that you can’t do a good job of measuring practice or performance if you don’t understand how measures and practices are theoretically and empirically related, or as I said in my last post:

Any measure implies a theoretical rationale that links performance and measures and it can be tested validated and improved over time.

(Although the topic is faith not measurement) Stanley Fish supports the same type of idea and writes in his NY Times column:

. . . there is no such thing as “common observation” or simply reporting the facts. To be sure, there is observation and observation can indeed serve to support or challenge hypotheses. But the act of observing can itself only take place within hypotheses (about the way the world is) . . . because it is within (the hypothesis) that observation and reasoning occur.

I would use the word theory instead of hypothesis, which I reserve as a word for research questions in an experimental context, but otherwise the meaning is pretty much the same.

Fish goes on to explain an aspect of theory that explains why people do not like the challenges that are presented by theory and deep theoretical understanding.

While those hypotheses are powerfully shaping of what can be seen, they themselves cannot be seen as long as we are operating within them; and if they do become visible and available for noticing, it will be because other hypotheses have slipped into their place and are now shaping perception, as it were, behind the curtain.

I’m not saying it is easy, developing measures with deep understanding is difficult, but I believe the effort is well worth it when the result are better more relevant measures and better performance.

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  1. Pingback: Why Interpretation is the Cornerstone of Evidence-based Data Driven Practice | A Chronicle of a Learning Journey

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