Tag Archive: science

Scientific politics

According to this piecemeal view, there is no clearly marked division between the pre-scientific and the scientific ex­perimental approaches, even though the more and more conscious application of scientific, that is to say, of critical methods, is of great importance. Both approaches may be described, fundamentally, as utilizing the method of trial and error. We try; that is, we do not merely register an observation, but make active attempts to solve some more or less practical and definite problems. And we make progress if, and only if, we are prepared to learn from our mistakes: to recognize our errors and to utilize them critically instead of persevering in them dogmatically. Though this analysis may sound trivial, it describes, I believe, the method of all empirical sciences. This method assumes a more and more scien­tific character the more freely and consciously we are prepared to risk a trial, and the more critically we watch for the mistakes we always make. …

For the piecemeal technologist or engineer these views mean that, if he wishes to introduce scientific methods into the study of society and into politics, what is needed most is the adoption of a critical attitude, and the realization that not only trial but also error is necessary. And he must learn not only to expect mistakes, but consciously to search for them. We all have an unscientific weakness for being always in the right, and this weakness seems to be particularly common among professional and amateur politicians. But the only way to apply something like scientific method in politics is to proceed on the assumption that there can be no political move which has no drawbacks, no undesirable consequen­ces. To look out for these mistakes, to find them, to bring them into the open, to analyse them, and to learn from them, this is what a scientific politician as well as a political scientist must do. Scientific method in politics means that the great art of convincing ourselves that we have not made any mistakes, of ignoring them, of hiding them, and of blaming others for them, is replaced by the greater art of accepting the responsibility for them, of trying to learn from them, and of applying this knowledge so that we may avoid them in future. [80-1]

Criticism as respect

The Open Society – and by this I mean both the society and the book – is opposed not just to this or that authority, and not just to Plato, Hegel, and Marx. It is opposed to the very idea that there can be anything like cognitive authorities whom we can rely upon or the truth.

So if we are going to understand open society as scientific or rational society, then we must also understand science and rationality in Popper’s terms. We must think of science not as an institutionalized hierarchy of experts, but as a never-ending process of problem-solving in which we propose tentative solutions to our problems and then try to elim­inate the errors in our proposals. We must think of rationality not in terms of justification, but in terms of criticism. And we must think of criticism not as an offense, or as a show of contempt or disdain, but as one of the greatest signs of respetct that one mind can show to another. [47]

On piecemeal reform vs revolution

And it is a fact that my social theory (which favours gradual and piecemeal reform, reform controlled by a critical com­parison between expected and achieved results) contrasts with my theory of method, which happens to be a theory of scientific and intellectual revolutions. [68]

The freedom to come up with different answers

Poppers Botschaft ist klar. „Wir können nicht wissen“, sagt er, „wir können nur mutmaßen.“ Da keine wissenschaftliche Theorie endgültig beweibar ist, kommt es darauf an, immer erneut und mit ganzer Kraft zu prüfen, ob akzeptierte Theo­rien falsch sind, irrig oder widerlegt. Um dies zu tun, müssen wir die Bedingungen rationaler, kritischer Auseinander­setzung aufrechterhalten, unter denen es möglich bleibt, verschiedener Auffassung zu sein. Was für unser Wissen gilt, gilt auch für unser Verhalten und unsere Politik. Da niemand alle Antworten kennt, müssen wir vor allem sicherstellen, daß es möglich bleibt, unterschiedliche Antworten zu geben. [13]

Scientifically planned politics

Das Wichtige am Entwurf einer mittelfristigen Perspektive innerhalb politischer Strukturen ist, daß er formell auf den legitimen Entscheidungsprozeß bezogen sein und zugleich von den Anliegen entfernt sein muß, die den Horizont der Entscheidungsträger begrenzen. Sie muß, mit anderen Worten, eine gesetzliche Grundlage haben, aber unabhängig sein in dem Sinn, daß die Amtszeit der Beteiligten länger ist als die von den Regierungen und Parlamenten. Um das zu erreichen, lassen sich verschiedene Wege denken. Einer ist ein Amt für technologische Bewertung, um einen irre­führenden, aber anerkannten Begriff zu verwenden: eine Behörde, in der Sozial- und Naturwissenschaftler regelmäßig die Politik der Regierung angesichts erklärter Ziele und bekannter Entwicklungen überprüfen. „Technologie“ bedeutet in diesem Zusammenhang die Übersetzung von Theorien in Praxis und die Bewertung der Praxis im Licht der Theorie. Möglicherweise könnte eine solche Einrichtung von der Erfahrung des deutschen Sachverständigenrates für die gesamtwirtschaftliche Entwicklung profitieren, dessen Jahresberichte einen erheblichen Einfluß auf die Wirtschafts­entwicklung des Landes haben. Ein gesetzlich verankerter Rat für mittelfristige Planung, der der Regierung jährlich Bericht erstattet, wäre eine Methode, um eine Mehrzahl von Erfahrungen zu verbinden. Auch auf andere Weise ließe sich wohl mit dem gleichen Problem fertigwerden: daß diejenigen, die sich vor der Öffentlichkeit für das verantworten müssen, was sie gestern getan haben und heute tun, nicht vergessen, daß es auch ein Morgen und Übermorgen geben wird. [110-11]

The ‘scientism’ smear

The charge levelled at the New Godless is that, with their rigorous reasoning, testing and experimentation, they are making a religion out of the scientific method. “It’s an all-purpose, wild-card smear,” retorts Dennett. “It’s the last refuge of the sceptic. When someone puts forward a scientific theory that they really don’t like, they just try to discredit it as ‘scientism’. But when it comes to facts, and explanations of facts, science is the only game in town.”

What aims we pursue

What is the characteristic difference between a scientific theory and a work of fiction? It is not, I hold, that the theory is possibly true while the descriptions in the story are not true, although truth and falsity have something to do with it. The difference is, I suggest, is that the theory and the story are embedded in different critical traditions. They are meant to be judged by quite different traditional standards (even though these standards might have something in common.)

What characterizes the theory is that it is offered as a solution to a scientific problem; that is, either a problem that has arisen before, in the critical discussion of earlier tentative theories, or (perhaps) a problem that discovered by the author of the theory now being offered, but being discovered within the realm of the problems and solutions belonging to the scientific tradition. [289]

The production of unanimity

Adaptation to the power of progress furthers the progress of power, constantly renewing the degenerations which prove successful progress, not failed progress, to be its own antithesis. The curse of irresistible progress is irresistible regres­sion.

This regression is not confined to the experience of the sensuous world, an experience tied to physical proximity, but also affects the auto cratic intellect, which detaches itself from sensuous experience in order to subjugate it. The stan­dardization of the intellectual function through which the mastery of the senses is accomplished, the acquiescence of thought to the production of unanimity, implies an impoverishment of thought no less than of experience; the separation of the two realms leaves both damaged. [28]

Encouraging an absolutist cast of mind

In their Dialectics of Enlightenment, the German philosophers Horkheimer and Adorno have argued that it was thus no accident that reason so often went hand-in-glove with ‘absolutism’. For reason and science, far from promoting liberty, encourage an absolutist cast of mind, by assuming an ‘absolute’ distinction between true and false, right and wrong, rather than a pluralist diversity of values. [8]

Nagel’s obviously objective values

Harris has identified a real problem, rooted in the idea that facts are objective and values are subjective.

Harris rejects this facile opposition in the only way it can be rejected—by pointing to evaluative truths so obvious that they need no defense. For example, a world in which everyone was maximally miserable would be worse than a world in which everyone was happy, and it would be wrong to try to move us toward the first world and away from the second. This is not true by definition, but it is obvious, just as it is obvious that elephants are larger than mice. If someone denied the truth of either of those propositions, we would have no reason to take him seriously.

These cases show that the idea of truth applies to values as much as it does to facts—but as with facts, the idea is not limited to obvious cases. There are many questions of value whose answer is not obvious, and about which people disagree, but that does not mean that they do not have a correct answer. As Harris points out, exactly the same can be said of historical and scientific questions: one should not confuse truth with what is known, or agreed on by everyone.

Older posts «