“Oh a trophy? Did you win this in some competition?” a visibly happy mother asked her equally jubilant son.
“Yup, mom. We were asked the question- how many legs does a cow have? And i replied 3”
“But son, your answer is incorrect. How come you won the trophy?”
“Everyone else replied 2. Then the teacher showed us the picture of a cow, which was 4, legged. No one was correct, but since i was closest to the truth, i won the trophy”
In a world of ambiguities, subjectivities, half baked truths, complex realities, the claim for truth is as problematic as claiming to be omnipotent. We all can claim proximity and our degree of proximity defines the soundness of our argument and the effectiveness of our rhetoric, our articulation, our argumentative strength plays a vital role in deciding the fate of our knowledge, our idea of truth. What is accepted by most becomes truth, just because more and more people believe it to be true but their rationale for believing it to be true may not be the same. Then the question arise- can we actually reach the point of absolute truth, a state of finality beyond which human mind cannot comprehend truth (for Immanuel Kant popularly said we make our universal laws according to our subjective understanding of the world).
But why do we actually need a conclusion. Every research work starts with an introduction and ends with a conclusion. Derida in his “of grammatology” has falsified the idea of a preface which more than introducing the theme to be elaborated in the text is in a way a re-reading of the text. So what exactly is a conclusion and why do we need it? Perhaps because we live in a result oriented world where any and every research is futile if it doesn’t offer a conclusion. Research consumes a lot of resources and thus it is expected that it yield something that could be displayed, used, articulated. Inquiry sans results is often taken as a sign of vanity. Many a times you read, think, introspect, inquire but then realize that given the subjectivity of your methodology and disparity of your sources any conclusion reached becomes a convenient way to complete your thesis. We can never read the whole of literature on the theme we are working on, we are aware of the fact that with the given set of sources endless perspectives are possibly and our thesis is offering one of the many perspectives. You can never satisfy every single variable within your research and now the very idea of mono-causality is also being questioned and a deterministic approach is no longer viable. This is more so important in the field of social sciences where interpretation and analysis matters as much as empirical experimentation. Yes archaeology plays a large in construction of history but interpretation of archaeological data is as important as its findings. Thus rather than seeing a single factor as an explanation for sweeping changes different set of factors work in tandem or alternatively to bring changes over a period of time.
So when we assert a particular conclusion are we not also asserting a particular methodology, epistemology, and approach; backed by evidence to support the theory and arguments articulated in rhetoric that befits the analysis. But the question arises- can we really conclude? because conclusion assumes that you have sufficient understanding of the theme you are dealing with to derive some consensus and coherence from the sources, but again given the endless repository of sources and interpretations one theory has a chance over other only by asserting new sources or a more authoritative source or approach which may be suitable for research veterans but for young scholars who are just initiated into the field, expecting a conclusion can come at a cost of inquisitiveness and passion for research because they will eventually they will be looking at the end result they can reach and which is necessary for them to make their research legit and acceptable. They are researching more to reach a conclusion and thus it may result in loss of genuine curiosity.
we have seen modern storytelling has experimented with open endings wherein readers can derive their own conclusions (not to encourage laymen’s predictions which can be very harmful for disciplines like history) but rather a much more intensive engagement of the readers (we expect some intellectual qualifications from people engaging in academic reading) wherein the focus in more on understanding the layers of meanings rather than arriving at a central point where all points need to converge necessarily. Particularly for social sciences, end results can’t be the parameter of research. And as Francis Bacon famously said “knowledge in itself is a power”. So it’s up to us to decide whether we wish to taste the book, swallow it or chew and digest.
We all have become that kid who won the prize by identifying the three legs of cow. We all are doing the same. “We all are writing an essay on a three legged cow while trying to find the fourth leg of the cow”. Let’s acknowledge that our cow is three legged, and let the search for the fourth leg continue.