Let's Prehend
A Manual of Human Ecology and Culture Design

AX, Theory as Tool - Escaping the Trap of Truth

A theory is a tool, just as an ax is a tool. Imagine that you have a task to perform that requires an ax, and someone offers you one. If you are an objectivist, your concern is whether the tool can do the job. If, on the other hand, you are a rationalist or an idealist you might question whether the ax you have been offered is really and truly an ax as you define one. You have an idea of abstract axness that limits and fixates what a true ax can be. Your primary concern is with definition and truth, rather than with use or description.

Let's continue this analogy of a theory as a tool. Imagine that your task is to make a boat from a tree. The ax you are offered is made of a sharpened stone tied to a stick. As an idealist or a rationalist or a positivist you are apt to reject it with the contemptuous assertion that this is not a true ax.

In contrast, if you are an objectivist you look first to see if such a crude ax is offered just as a joke Then you look for a better ax. If you don't find a better one, you examine the ax you have for its usefulness. You may consider improving its design. Then you set about using the ax until something better comes along. Meanwhile you have increased your skill with whatever tool is available for the task at hand. This is like what the scientist does, using old equipment until the next grant comes through, or squeezing the best from an old theory until a better one is presented.

Idea versus action is a classic problem. But the age old task is to get the job done, to use one's mind as an aid, not a hindrance. And so it is with theory. A theory is a tool, just as an ax is a tool. As in science, its not a question of whether it is `true', but whether it is useful. It is the objectivist's task to get the job done with the best tools available, with an adequate glance at the broadest possible contexts.

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