Ricoeur's Kluge Prize and Its Relevance to Rasch

On December 8, 2004, the philosopher Paul Ricoeur shared, with the historian, Jaroslav Pelikan, the US$1 million Kluge Prize awarded by the U.S. Library of Congress. Ricoeur's prize honors his lifetime of achievements in philosophy, many of which were realized in the twenty years he taught at the University of Chicago. The Kluge is equivalent monetarily with the Nobel Prizes, and intends to be considered equivalent in intellectual prestige, as well. For more information, see the Library of Congress web site at www.loc.gov/loc/kluge.

Qualitative Objectivity

Ricoeur's work overlaps significantly with Rasch measurement in the area of epistemology, which is the logic of the way we speak and write (for in-depth accounts of the overlaps, see Fisher, 2003a, 2004). An obvious place to begin is from Rasch's recognition that "even in physics observations may be qualitative . . . as in the last analysis they always are! (e.g. as reading off a point as located between two marks on a measuring rod)" (Rasch, 1977, p. 68; original parenthetical insertion).

Ricoeur (1981a, p. 210) similarly offers a paradigm of reading that takes the text as a basis for a form of objectivity that owes nothing to a positivist world of facts, but which is "congenial" to this kind of objectivity. Non-vicious Circularity

A second overlap is suggested by Rasch's (1960, p. 110) remarks on the non-vicious circularity through which measures and calibrations are mutually constituted. The dialectical interaction of questions and answers is a classic example of the hermeneutic circle, one of Ricoeur's major areas of investigation. Rasch's remarks in this overtly interpretive, qualitative vein are significant for leading off a passage that explores the mathematical similarities between his model for reading ability measurement and Maxwell's 1876 analysis of the relations of mass, force, and acceleration.

Textual Independence

A third overlap pertains to the specific details of Ricoeur's and Rasch's epistemological claims. Ricoeur (1977, p. 293) makes the strong assertion that "No philosophical discourse would be possible, not even a discourse of deconstruction, if we ceased to assume what Derrida justly holds to be - the sole thesis of philosophy,' namely - that the meaning aimed at through these figures [of metaphor] is an essence rigorously independent of that which carries it over.'" Ricoeur's (1981a) elaboration of the four traits characteristic of textual objectivity comprise criteria for recognizing when and where a text's inherent metaphoricity achieves a status of rigorous independence from its meaning.

Providing the measurement analogue, Rasch (Rasch 1961, p. 325; 1960, p. 122), of course, is known for his separability theorem, in which, to be meaningful, in Rasch's sense of specifically objective, the measurement and calibration parameters estimated must be rigorously independent from one another, as well as from the model itself.

Textual Vitality

Ricoeur (1981b, pp. 159, 162) also suggests a direction for measurement practice that takes a step beyond Rasch's thinking and beyond the typical state of the art in psychosocial measurement theory and practice. Ricoeur considers the reading of a text, which we construe to include test, assessment, and survey instruments, to be meaningful when the interpretation is more "an objective act of the text" than it is "a subjective act on the text." What Ricoeur means by this is that texts have lives of their own evident in the way that they compel certain interpretive invariances across samples of readers.

Different readers bring different sets of presupposed and explicit questions to a text, but the text nonetheless still persists in showing itself as itself, insofar as it has been understood. The same kind of thing happens in measurement when different instruments intended to measure the same construct are administered to different samples at different times and places but still give rise to the same order of things (Fisher, 1997, 2004).

Invariance and Self-Identification

New understandings, of course, may well provoke whole new kinds of invariance, and this leads into Ricoeur's later work on identity, time, and narrative. It is of interest in this context to note that, linguistically, we separate the identities of fields of study by naming them according to their relevant type of logos, or proportionate rationality. Thus we have psychology, sociology, biology, etc. It then appears that the professional identities of communities of inquiry and their members are constituted through the questions they pursue and the things they measure.

Might not we then achieve firmer, more coherent, and more meaningful professional senses of ourselves to the extent that we achieve more objective, transparent, and universally uniform measurement of the things we investigate? There is reason to hope that the overlap of Ricoeur's theories of interpretation and identity with Rasch measurement will lead to yet greater things.

William P. Fisher, Jr.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (1997). Physical disability construct convergence across instruments: Towards a universal metric. Journal of Outcome Measurement, 1(2), 87-113.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2003a, December). Mathematics, measurement, metaphor, metaphysics: Part II. Accounting for Galileo's "fateful omission." Theory & Psychology, 13(6), 791-828.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2004, October). Meaning and method in the social sciences. Human Studies: A Journal for Philosophy and the Social Sciences, 27(4), in press.

Rasch, G. (1960). Probabilistic models for some intelligence and attainment tests (Reprint, with Foreword and Afterword by B. D. Wright, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980). Copenhagen, Denmark: Danmarks Paedogogiske Institut.

Rasch, G. (1961). On general laws and the meaning of measurement in psychology. In Proceedings of the fourth Berkeley symposium on mathematical statistics and probability (pp. 321-333). Berkeley, California: University of California Press.

Ricoeur, P. (1977). The rule of metaphor: Multi-disciplinary studies of the creation of meaning in language (R. Czerny, Trans.). Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Ricoeur, P. (1981a). The model of the text: Meaningful action considered as a text. In J. B. Thompson (Ed.), Hermeneutics and the human sciences: Essays on language, action and interpretation (pp. 197-221). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Ricoeur, P. (1981b). What is a text? Explanation and understanding. In J. B. Thompson (Ed.), Hermeneutics and the human sciences: Essays on language, action and interpretation (pp. 145-64). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.


Ricoeur's Kluge prize and its relevance to Rasch, Fisher W … Rasch Measurement Transactions, 2004, 18:3 p. 988-989

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