The Philosophical Foundation of His Ideological Legitimation3

C. Objectivity and Neutrality as Ideology

Download 199.16 Kb.
Size199.16 Kb.
1   2   3   4   5   6

C. Objectivity and Neutrality as Ideology

"The kernel of the scientific outlook is the refusal to regard our own desires, tastes, and interests as affording a key to the understanding of the world."

--Lord Bertrand Russell

The scientific enterprise is conducted according to methodological techniques, which have allowed the development of a consensus understanding of the behavior of nature far beyond anything humanity has otherwise been able to achieve. Scientific methodology does not have the formal structure and codification in its search for understanding of nature that is characteristic of jurisprudence in its search for justice. Nonetheless, it has been overwhelmingly successful in its endeavor. In large part it has accomplished the goal of the scientific outlook expressed by Russell in achieving objectivity. As Einstein put it, ”Science as something existing and complete is the most objective thing known to man. But science in the making, science as an end pursued, is as subjective and psychologically conditioned as any other branch of human endeavor--so much so, that the question 'What is the purpose and meaning of science?' receives quite different answers at different times and from different sorts of people."

Recognition of the subjective elements that are always involved in the accumulation and interpretation of data can be traced back at least to Kant. In our thinking we heavily rely on preconceived models, patterns, and terminology, and judgment is always involved in deciding which data to collect and which experiments are more important or more relevant. Prior understanding conditions the selection of relevant variables and the formulation of research programs.

Nevertheless, objectivity and freedom from (pejorative) ideology are worthy goals. Pretended objectivity and feigned lack of ideology lead to a loss of objectivity and reduce our defenses against false consciousness. Yet, objectivity does not imply lack of concern, or neutrality, with which it is often confused. Uncaring calculation and experimentation are not the hallmark of science, they are merely dehumanizing. Moreover, there is not, as Popper posits, a simple contest between reason and emotion ["He who teaches that not reason but love should rule opens the way to those who rule by hate." (Popper 1966:236)]. Popper's fear of love recalls St. Augustine's fear of, and preoccupation with glandular tumescence (Dunham 1964). However, passions do not necessarily cloud rationality. Objectivity and rationality can aid us in acting on our cares and concerns.

Much of the misconception is attributable to our propensity for dichotomy. A relief from complex grays is provided when choice reduces to two sides of a barricade, here, between the rational and the irrational. Confusion results from our failure to distinguish creativity, experimentation, theory validation, interpretation and consequences in discussing science. Furthermore, the relative importance of empiricism, logic, values, and objectivity tends to vary both behaviorally and normatively.

Ambiguity and lack of distinction and definition is another major source of confusion. "Truth" is not exclusively reserved for "truth tables" in logic. It is sometimes indiscriminately and inappropriately applied to science, to values, to taxonomy, to definitions, to translation, to nuances in meaning, to preferences and judgements [See, for example, the introduction to Chapter Four in Schick and Vaughn (1995)].

There is further evidence of the ideology of objectivity in science. For instance, the very passive, third person style of conventional scientific literature expresses the ideological illusion of objectivity (“objectivism"). By eliminating the reference to an agent, as well as references to time and modality, an image of objectivity is created. This style enhances chances of acceptance for publication in refereed journals. Responsibility disappears with the actor, “A nuclear bomb was dropped on Hiroshima". E. O. Wilson, proclaiming empirical support for the proposition "human beings are absurdly easy to indoctrinate...", converts his claim into a research program: the search for "indoctrination genes" (Wilson 1975; also see Lewontin 1977). This passive approach conveniently omits the question of whether it is the owners of the corporate media who are indoctrinating viewers and readers, or vice versa. The grammatical form fits and enhances the ideology of pretended objectivity in science, and increases the acceptability of the statement by conforming to the dominant ideology. Science is reified. Scientists' judgements are portrayed as the passive, objective, and neutral conclusions compellingly dictated by the behavior of nature.

D. Values, Theories, and Facts as Ideology

I have been given a name which does not suit me at all.

I am called Nature, when I am really Art


Some grand theories attribute values with causal effects upon science. Max Weber hypothesized, the empiricism of the Seventeenth Century was the means for asceticism to seek God in Nature." [Weber (1958)]. Robert K. Merton attributed the enhanced cultivation of science in the latter half of the Seventeenth Century in part to the canalization of interests by Puritanism which sought to glorify and to know God and to control the corrupt world by studying Nature as Art (the handicraft of God) {Merton (1957)].

Lewis Feuer develops the contrary (Hegelian) thesis of (coffeehouse) hedonism/libertarianism as the motivating force [Feuer (1963)], while Freud generally describes scientific curiosity as sublimated and repressed sexual curiosity. Alfred Koestler interprets the demise of the Pythagorean/Philolaen/Aristarchian heliocentric cosmos as consonant with the swing of the pendulum of human values from the Bacchanalian/Dionysian world of sensuality to an Orphic world of the intellect and the abstract [Koestler (1975)].

In his "anarchistic theory of knowledge" Feyerabend (1975) suggests "abolishing the distinction between a context of discovery and a context of justification" (Feyerabend 1975:165). From this perspective, the entire historical debate concerning origins and motivations becomes irrelevant to the assessment of the validity of science. Whether Newton was motivated by a desire to overcome the Aristotelian distinction between the Keplerian "laws for peers" in the superlunary sphere and the Galilean "laws for commoners" in the sublunary sphere in order to describe the kind of world god would have ordained if god, like Newton, had been a Whig (Grinnell 1972) is irrelevant to the validity of Newtonian mechanics. Whether Newton was motivated by very practical military and industrial considerations as witness his advice to Aston (Hessen 1971) is irrelevant to the validity of Newtonian mechanics. Whether "coffee house hedonism" (Feuer 1963) instead of "Protestant Puritanism" (Weber 1958) provided the impetus for the rise of empiricism and prepared the ground for the Scientific Revolution culminating in Newtonian mechanics is irrelevant to the validity of Newtonian mechanics.

One can applaud Feyerabend's opposition to "law and order" science in which a strict, formalistic methodology is imposed upon the pursuit of understanding of the world, but this does not necessarily imply the "anything goes" contrary. Science is a consensus-developing activity with a largely informal, essentially sociological methodology.

The position that theory validation should be value-free and strictly logical-empirical is itself a value judgement. Or, as Merton (1973) put it, "The mores of science possess a methodological rationale, but they are binding, not only because they are procedurally efficient, but because they are believed right and good" [emphasis added] (p. 55). The "fallacy of levels" should be avoided. A statement about cows is not a cow, and is not likely to be confused with a cow. However, a metastatement", a statement about statements, is commonly confused with the statements about which it is commenting, and is often included in the set of statements. Similarly, the epistemology of science is not science. Logical positivists have difficulty justifying the meaningfulness of methodological statements with their strict empirical criteria except in the indirect pragmatic sense ("procedural efficiency," above), but theoretical description is not to be confused with methodological prescription.

The debate shifts then to the process of theory validation where the distinction between scientific and other institutions, while not absolutely sharp, is more pronounced. Some groups still attempt to rationalize theory validation, trying to eliminate the human, aesthetic component by (for example) reducing Ockham's razor to races between computers performing calculations with competing theories, arguing that good scientists would not be committed to a theory on aesthetic or other grounds which are not strictly logical-empirical.

Notwithstanding, it has been persuasively argued that in the core of scientific activity, in theory validation, commitment (essentially on aesthetic grounds) has been, necessarily is, can be expected to continue to be, and should be, an integral part of scientific activity. Easlea (1973), for example, in his review of the Kuhn-Popper-Lakatos debate, makes such a cogent case that paradigm commitment based essentially on aesthetic criteria has played, does play, should play, and perforce must play a significant role in theory validation, that I would reopen debate only under duress. E. A. Burtt (1954) succinctly expressed the historical argument when he wrote: "Contemporary empiricists, had they lived in the sixteenth century, would have been the first to scoff out of court the new (Copernican) Philosophy of the universe" (p.38). A distinction must be made between different types of values and value judgments, especially, for these purposes, between aesthetic values; moral and ethical values; concepts of justice in all its variations, legal, social, economic. Just because aesthetic values are an unavoidable part of the core of scientific activity—theory validation, does not necessary imply the desirability of the humanization of science. It is a separate argument, based upon moral exhortation, not empiricism.

As the logical distance increases between elementary observations and ever more abstract, ever more comprehensive theories, and ultimately paradigms, greater justification for identifying the distinction between the levels (observation, phenomenological regularity, models, theories, paradigms, methodology, epistemology) as well as increasing the number of levels of abstraction has resulted. However, the use of the convenient term "fact" implies an objectionable absolutism, ignoring the linguistic categories and constructions which influence the expression of our perceptions, and which likely influence the perceptions themselves, ignoring the theory-laden character of scientific (and other) terminology. Science is not an absolute enterprise18. It is conducted in a relative world of grays and limited accuracy. Not only should fact" be replaced by observation", truth" should be replaced by validity", knowledge" by “understanding", real" by empirical", “proof" by evidence", and “law" by theory" or phenomenological regularity".

For economy of expression, observations can, with trepidation and caveats, be referred to as "facts" for most purposes. Phenomenological regularity may be referred to as laws". Nonetheless, this quite understandable use of more convenient, if less precise terminology may lead to misconceptions which then propagate and exacerbate misunderstanding, ambiguity, and confusion, and provide fertile ground for positivist ideology. The accuracy and reliability one presumes to have achieved in observational "facts" may be mistakenly parlayed into "proven scientific knowledge" (Lakatos and Musgrave 1970).

E. Faith in Progress through Science and Technology:

The "Technological Fix"
"...if we can accelerate the process of scientific revolution everywhere, we shall see our way through the three major menaces before us..." -- C. P. Snow (quoted in Holton 1965:X)
"To stop growth means that underprivileged members of society are denied the chance to improve their lifestyle. To stop growth is to deny the dreams of our people..."
"...there would be increasing unemployment, a lowered standard of living, a lower level of health care..."

(Offered in defense of nuclear power by N. C. Rasmussen,

Chair of the Reactor Safety Study 1977:257).
According to J. B. Bury (1932), the two macro-changes in the dominant intellectual paradigm occurred, firstly, when humanity recognized itself as the wonder of the world, and secondly, when the concept of progress challenged the idea that humans and society were condemned to pass cyclically through stages with minor fluctuations, but without essential change. Science and Technology provided hope of achieving a better life for mortals on this earth rather than enduring inescapable suffering to reach a better world and a better life at the end of this one.

The depth of faith in the "technological fix" may be difficult to assess, although its manifestations are apparent. Recently Khalilzad and Benard (1980) cited several authors in order to illustrate social expectations that were overly reliant upon technology in energy policy. After criticism, Peter Medawar (1973) reiterated his belief that "scientific or technological remedies can be found for most of the hateful and unintended misadventures or miscarriages associated with the advance of technology" (p.9). One is reminded of the technological fix to the problem of urbanization published in the Scientific American in 1899:

The improvement in city conditions by the general adoption of the motor car can hardly be overestimated. Streets clean, dustless, and odorless, with light rubber-tired vehicles moving swiftly and noiselessly over their smooth expanse, would eliminate a greater part of the nervousness, distraction and strain of modern metropolitan life." (Quoted in Dubos 1970:95)

However, in the energy debate, the frequency with which one encounters the argument that concern about the energy crisis is misplaced because science will always manage to pull a "technological rabbit out of a hat" appears to be diminishing, especially with the collapse of the nuclear industry, a favorite "rabbit." Similarly, the attempt to achieve a technological fix to the problem of diminished national security has served to aggravate the problem. The unabated escalation of destructive technology recalls H. G. Wells' ominous observation:

In the record of the rocks, it is always the gigantic individuals who appear at the end of each chapter." [Quoted in Dubos (1970) 72]

Certainly, we have largely overcome the unrealistically buoyant optimism of the Age of Reason - so much so that much of our literature and expectations have yielded to the "New Pessimism," if not to Dystopias (Sargent 1972), and even Catatopias. Still, uncritical acceptance of new developments in science and technology is often advocated in the name of progress. Nuclear power is a prime example. However, progress is not merely change, nor merely development of technique. "The believer in progress believes in social progress, or else does not believe" (Kallen 1950:10), but a search of a library file catalogue reveals only progress in technique: "progress in brain tumor surgery," "progress in electronic materials," "progress in nuclear reactor theory." Despite the terminology, socio-political-economic change of significance is considered "progressive" only in retrospect.

The concept of progress is infected with "technological rationality," the efficient accomplishment of unspecified or unquestioned ends through technological development. It often manifests itself as local efficiency at the sacrifice of overall efficiency, as Gunnar Myrdal (1970, 1971) indicates has frequently been the case in agricultural policy. The efficient accomplishment of undesirable (or at lease unexamined) goals, greater speed in the wrong, or in a random direction, is ultimately not efficient at all. But consideration of goals and consequences requires values and interdisciplinary critical thinking.
F. Professionalism as Ideology
"It is the hallmark of the expert professional that he doesn't care where he is going,

as long as he proceeds competently."

--Herman Kahn19 (quoted in Lens 1976)

The scientific community is immobilized by a "professional ideology" which condemns social concerns as "unprofessional" and which limits responsibility to a methodological ethic which merely forbids "hashing" the data, plagiarism, and abuse of human subjects. Scientists who concern themselves with responsibility for consequences of scientific activity can be expected to be labeled "unprofessional" and encouraged to "return to science." Academic review committees interpret such activity as evidence of a loss of interest in the discipline and discount the value of ordinarily acceptable technical research.

"Whistle-blowers" (Nader, Petkas, and Blackwell 1972) exposing antisocial activities of their military or corporate employer are automatically in violation of the "Guidelines to Professional Employment for Engineers and Scientists", which have been adopted by more than twenty U.S. societies, and which ordain that "The professional employee must be loyal to the employer's objectives and contribute his/her creativity to those goals" (Dittmann 1972:2) (emphasis added). The implication is that the vast bulk of scientists enlisted in working for the military must be loyal to its goals. In the corporate sector, once they have gone public", in order to avoid claims for damages from stockholders, by law, allegiance must be given to the raison d'étre of corporations; the maximization of profit-taking. Encouragingly, a recent AAAS study reported that "codes of ethics are being re-evaluated or many societies, and new emphasis is being placed on supporting mechanisms to assist their members who may experience basic difficulties in carrying out the rules of conduct of their profession" (Chalk, Frankel and Chafer 1981:9; also see Callahan 1982:43). However, not all "professional" societies have approved such guidelines. The American Physical Society found concern for the conditions of employment in any form to be beyond the purview of their narrowly defined concept of "professionalism." It smacked too much of trade unionism! This is not objectionable per se. On a global level there is a division of responsibility. The International Council of Scientific Unions" (ICSU), with a somewhat misleading title, represents national associations that focus primarily on the exchange of research results, confining its ethical concerns to “methodological instrumental" matters. The World Federation of Scientific Workers (WFSW) is much more broadly drawn and consists mostly of trade union type of affiliates. It is the WFSW that has acted as the conscience and the vehicle of social responsibility for the global scientific community.

However, the collective bargaining" model of trade unionism is also narrow and restrictive. It might be satirized as: “Ours is not to reason why. Ours is to share more in the pie." If social responsibility is abandoned to management prerogatives, the same “professional" ideology of instrumental rationality" is adopted.

Download 199.16 Kb.

Share with your friends:
1   2   3   4   5   6

The database is protected by copyright © 2024
send message

    Main page