ON THE HORIZONS OF EPISTEMOLOGY AND SCIENCE (2009)

Darko Suvin                                                                                                               14,360 WORDS

–To Gene Gendlin—

One basis for life, and another for science is in itself a lie.
Karl Marx (1844)

… Because the lust for profit of the ruling class sought satisfaction through technology, it betrayed humanity and turned the bridal bed into a bloodbath. The mastery of nature, so the imperialists teach, is the purpose of all technology. But who would trust a cane wielder who proclaimed the mastery of children by adults to be the purpose of education? Is not education above all the indispensable ordering of the relationship between generations, and therefore mastery, if we are to use this term, of that relationship and not of children? And likewise technology is not the mastery of nature but of the relation between nature and humanity.                                                                                                         Walter Benjamin (1928)

 1.Central Orientation Points for Epistemology1/

I wish first to speak of how I ought to speak, and only then to speak.
Agathon, in Plato’s Symposium (C4 BCE)

 1.1. Against the Unique Truth (Monoalethism)

Ein Führer, ein Volk, ein Reich! (One Leader, One People, One Empire)
Powerful Nazi slogan

Towards the end of the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant raises three vital questions for human reason: How can I know? What shall I do? What may I hope? The sequence of the questions is very interesting: first comes what interests the philosopher or critical intellectual in general, which would be fair enough for his purposes except that he pretends they are universal, and only second the practical applications of properly gained knowledge. The horizons of hope come last (while faith and love, the other components of the classical Christian triad of virtuous values, are nowhere to be found).2/ To the contrary, there are good arguments that for most less specialized people as well as for all collectives (groups, classes, societies) first come the horizons determining why bother to think and do something, while the epistemological question of how does one, or how do we, know what (we think) we know is subordinated not only to them but also to practical action with which it is in continuous feedback, and thus on the whole would come last. Nonetheless, for orientation in periods of great confusion and/or for limited purposes, epistemology remains important, and will in this essay (which partakes of both) be my beginning, though I trust not my end, since I want to go on into science as politics.

I am not aware of a systematic basis for epistemology (gnoseology, theory of knowledge in the wider sense) we could today use, but it seems possible to glean some central orientation points for it. I postulate that our interpretations of what is knowledge or not, a proper or improper one, is largely shaped by the “framework of commitments” we bring to them. I take this term and my subsequent initial discussion mainly from Elgin, who summarizes one widespread kind of agreement by formulating what I would call a strategic “soft” skepticism, which still allows action and value-horizons:

Philosophy once aspired to set all knowledge on a firm foundation. Genuine knowledge claims were to be derived from indubitable truths by means of infallible rules. The terms that make up such truths were held to denote the individuals and kinds that constitute reality, and the rules for combining them… were thought to reflect the real order of things. — This philosophical enterprise has foundered. Indubitable truths and infallible rules are not to be had. (183)

Instead, thinking always begins with working approximations based on “our best presystematic judgments on the matter at hand” (ibid.) or by “the general fundaments of our orientation in the world” (Weber 323). As we advance toward a larger whole of understanding, we often discover they are untenable or insufficient, and at any rate have to be both tenable and modifiable to accommodate breadth and coherence. As Mark Martial said about a book of his verse, some are good, some bad, some so-so–there is no other ensemble to be had.

Some scientists (usually not strong on theory) like to discourse on evidence, in the sense of proof. However important this may be, what counts as evidence is “theory-laden,” determined by “our conception of the domain and… our goals in systematizing it…” (Elgin 184-85).3/  The New York Times claims it brings “All the news that’s fit to print”: discounting the hyped “all”  and the bad grammar, who determines how what is fit? There may be some internal rules wedded to novelty (dog biting man is not news, but man biting dog is), but even novelty as criterion is an invention of fast-moving times with worldwide commerce and industrial production, not to mention the capitalist scramble for profitable niches. Alternative presuppositions and goals would always find alternative ways of organizing the domain of what is worth knowing–say, all the news of interest to anti-capitalists (which would, e.g., disbar calling the mass killing of civilians “collateral damage,” or the present Iraqi and Afghan regimes “democratic”). Choices between these alternatives are, in all interesting cases, not arbitrary but of a piece with our interests and goals, which steer the categories that cut up our world (cf. Weber 323-25). In a dispute, they depend on the available background of agreement as to which category is relevant to judge an event. Of course, if we are loyal to the enterprise of understanding or cognition, we shall often fine-tune these, and sometimes modify them drastically: all hypotheses are fallible. Nor is experiencing something a magic wand: any police constable or UFO reports’ investigator will tell you that  our beliefs and expectations largely steer that too.

              The horizon I am sketching is in a subsequent book by Goodman and Elgin characterized as “reject[ing] both absolutism and nihilism, both unique truth and the indistinguishability of truth from falsity” (3). The difficulty is that, when we construct however open-ended a system of interpretations, we employ–knowingly or not–multiple standards of rightness beyond consistency (appropriateness or relevance, accuracy, scope, entrenchment in previous discourse–this is discussed by them at length in 11-23), and the standards may conflict with each other and/or with our practical goals. Adjudication between them, giving the various factors different weightings etc., will often lead to a solution, but it remains that, as a rule, “A number of independently acceptable systems can be constructed, none of which has a claim to epistemological primacy” (24). A univocal world–the fixed reality out there–has been well lost, together with the Unique Final Truth (divine or asymptotically scientific) and other Onenesses of the monotheist family. This is both encapsulated and symbolized by Gödel’s theorems, which are a rigorous proof that any non-trivial formalized system of a certain richness necessarily includes undecidable propositions and that the non-contradictory nature of such a system cannot be demonstrated within its own terms. In other words, deduction can very well get to apodictically necessary (“true”) propositions, but who shall deduce the deductions or terminate the terms? A sense of panic at the loss of this clear world, at the loss of theological certitude, not only permeates dogmatists of all religious and lay kinds, but has also engendered its symmetrical obverse in the absolutist relativism, which often claims to be  authorized by (say) Kuhn or Feyerabend–who have at any rate, I would add, great liberating merits. How is a third way possible beyond this bind?

It can begin by recognizing that right and wrong persist, but that rightness can no longer be identified with correspondence to a ready-made, monotheistic Creation, but must be created by us, with skill and responsibility: “Having been ordered to shoot anyone who moved, the guard shot all his prisoners, contending they were all moving rapidly around the sun. Although true, his contention was plainly wrong, for it involved an inappropriate category of motion.” (Goodman  and Elgin 52). Thus, truth in the strict logical sense is subordinate to rightness or correctness (cf. Aronowitz vii-xi and passim), in Hellenic terms to orthotes rather than aletheia. Truth is too solidly embedded in faiths and certitudes of monotheistic allegiance, Goodman and Elgin think, while  categories as well as argument forms and other techniques within continual human cognition, are better instruments for practical use, testable for situational rightness. The rightness is also dependent on our various symbol systems. One consequence is that science loses its epistemic primacy: “[it] does not passively inform upon but actively informs a world”–as do in different ways and with different standards of rightness the arts and everyday practices of other kinds (Elgin 53). As Bruner argues, the arts are differently entrenched: they implicitly cultivate hypotheses, each set of which requires a Possible World but not the widest possible extension for applying that set in our World Zero, that is, testability in the scientists’ sense; rather, they must be recognizable as “true to conceivable experience” or verisimilar (52 and passim). Both arts and sciences finally repose on intuitions, which are however for science buried in their axioms (Aristotle and Frege agree on this) as indubitable certainties. Whether you prefer Marx’s or Balzac’s description of 19th-Century France will depend on your general or even momentary interests, but they’re in no way either incompatible or subsumed under one another. It is not the case that one is cognitive and the other is not.

Sketching an operative epistemological way can further proceed by recognizing that there are still some logical ways if not of defining truth then at least of defining untruth: “if p is false, one cannot know p; knowledge then requires truth. Moreover, one cannot know that p without being cognitively committed to p; knowledge also requires belief or acceptance.” (Goodman and Elgin 136) As Orwell might have put it, all opinions are constructed and relatively wrong or limited, but some are more wrong than others. This holds first of all for those whom I shall call monoalethist (from aletheia, truth): all those which–from monotheists through Laplace’s scientific determinism4/ to lay dogmatists such as the Fascists, Stalinists, and believers in the Invisible Hand of the Market–hold they have the Absolute Truth, including Post-Modernists who believe relativism is absolute. Only belief in the absolute right—Haraway’s “God-trick” (“Situated” 589)–is absolutely wrong.

William Blake’s poetic Jehovah put this monomania perhaps best:

Let each choose one habitation,
One command, one joy, one desire,
One curse, one weight, one measure,
One King, one God, one Law.
(The Book of Urizen, ll. 79, 81-84)

Nonetheless, even Goodman and Elgin cannot quite manage without the term truth. They offer a strong argument against using as a main instrument of evaluation “truth” in the strict logico-theological sense, inside a closed circle of verbal statements, and in favour of using rightness (cf. the long discussion 150ff.), but I wish to continue using the term truth by redefining it to include rightness. What is in that sense, say, the truth of the atom bomb? Depending on the categories and interests chosen, it may (among a multitude of other possible answers) be the instantaneous liberation of a given high quantity of energy for a destructive purpose, or the proof for a given inter-atomic structure of matter, or finally the effect on the lives of hundreds of thousands of inhabitants of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The first answer is military, the second pertains to “objective” theoretical physics (it was “sweet physics” for Fermi and Oppenheimer, see Haberer 185-216), the third to the horizon of a not yet existing humanized science. The formal difference between them is that each succeeding answer has a larger scope: the physical one can envision the military one, but only the humanized one may envision all of them. The third answer is–beyond politics, but also because it incorporates humanist politics–formally and cognitively the richest one. In other words, scientific cognition relates not only to the epistemic aspect but also to the political and financial presuppositions of science as well as to its effects upon people–from which a counter-project to certain types of (today dominant) navel-gazing cognition may be inferred. I shall return to this in Section 2.

In other words, we are here faced with the necessity for a dialectics between systems and openness, in brief the necessity for open-ended systems or indeed provisional and historical totalities. The openness is both formal and historical, it pertains to viewing a subject(-matter) within different situations and by different appraisers with differing value-systems—as in the example of the atom bomb. I approach it in Suvin, „On Cognition” and “Two Cheers,” but it would bear much development.

Goodman and Elgin go on to argue that one cannot know “that p” if one’s belief in it, though it may happen to be true, is not connected to other propositions which “tether” it, that is, which make it part of a consistent and justifiable argument. A tether in the form of  accounting and arguing for your insights there certainly must be, or no judgment will be possible, and thus no critical politics or cognition (cf. Arendt 40-41). Epistemologists divide according to the nature of this indispensable tether. “Internalists” believe the tether is purely epistemic: knowledge is anchored by justification epistemically accessible to the knower, usually as propositions in natural language, possibly buttressed by mathematics. They employ only concepts and categories, plus various operations by which they form a system. “Externalists” believe knowledge is anchored to a fact or set of facts that makes it true, and there is a debate as to the anchor, which could be arrived at inductively or deductively.  From where I stand, epistemic absolutism presents the danger of wonderful closed systems of statements chasing each other’s tail but with insufficient purchase upon practice; while ontological absolutism presents the danger of unjustifiable assumption of anchoring, usually some certainty of a divine kind. Bhaskar calls the former–a reduction of being to knowledge–the epistemic fallacy, and the latter–a short-circuit between knowledge and being–the ontic fallacy (Scientific 200ff.). I prefer a Solomonic  melding: without something ontologically “out there,” to be available as at least a check and an obstacle to action in any practice following from knowledge, there might be Cartesian discussions of method but there is no knowledge. But I think knowledge must pass also through epistemic justification, especially if it is to be attained within language (and is thus akin, in ways still to be elucidated, to poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and essays). A fortified city with gates in two concentric walls, maybe.

If one allows externalism or ontological realism as at least an indispensable element of knowledge, the problem of causes necessarily arises: must a belief “that p” necessarily be caused by “facts” or constellations from which it follows “that p”? It seems obvious that causal relationships are very often present: a certain type of cloudiness will as a rule (statistically) result in tempests. As Jaurès put it (and was killed for it), capitalism brings war as clouds bring tempests. But is the strong form of “must” defensible, must there always be a (however complex and mediated) cause for p? I am not sure of my ontological ground here, for Epicurus would say that deviations happen (cf. Suvin “Living”); but I would think that at least in human affairs causes must obtain, and that their understanding is one of the “conditions of possibility for emancipatory practices” (Bhaskar 210-11). The suspect Post-Modernist rage against causality tout court seems to me well foreseen by Brecht: “They could not see the causes of events, because they could not get rid of the events” (GKA 21: 307). What is well lost is a member of the family of Oneness: monocausality, the One unique or final Cause, that major sin of Hellenic logos.

The two major examples of monoalethism after the monotheist religions could be science-as-is and Marxism-as-was. Scientism (what I shall later call S2) was “the inheritor of the great religions by pretending to bear the truth of Being and the way of salvation, by glorifying Man as the monarch of the universe” (Morin 52). The official, stodgy, and by now dead kind of Marxism theorized economics as the scientific cause, however mediated, of all human affairs, and (since this didn’t wash) practiced an arbitrary ad hoc politics. However, parallels in psychoanalysis or feminism are not difficult to imagine. The corruption of the best is indeed the worst.

Obversely, as Augustine of Hippo wrote, “When truths are reached, they renew us.”

But also: When truth is sold as a commodity, its principal aim is not to convey truth. Its aim is to be sold, regardless and quite often despite any invalidating falsehood it may contain. Truth is for sharing, not for an elect caste, priests or rich.  It is to be shamelessly blurted out on the streets (or on internet).

 1.2. Cognition Is Constituted by and as History: Multiple Sources and Methods

 History is bunk.
       Henry Ford

 In a remarkable passage right at the beginning of Works and Days, Hesiod invents the myth (maybe it’s already an allegory) of the two Erises,  the benign and the malign one (I: 11-26). The bad Strife favours wars and civil discords. But the firstborn is the good Strife, whom Zeus has placed at the roots of the earth, for she generates emulation: one vase-maker or poem-singer envies the other, the lazy and poor peasant imitates the industrious and richer one. This polar splitting of concepts seems to me a (perhaps the) central procedure of critical reason, dissatisfied with the present categorizations and trying to insinuate opposed meanings under the same term. While it is sometimes preferable to redefine one single term (as I did for truth), I shall adopt this  Hesiodean procedure for knowledge and then science.

The principal ancestors to this endeavour may be found in Marx and to a minor degree Nietzsche. The latter seems to have hesitated between two very different meaning of truth and knowledge: the accepted one committed to an Aristotelian correspondence of knowledge to reality and therefore to an ideal of adequate description for science, and an alternate or constructivist model, where truths are instruments for given purposes. I take from him as useful what follows. First, the correspondence of intellect to thing/s is a Truth perhaps arrived at in complex ways but finally a point of rest for the weary: “simple, transparent, not contradicting itself, permanent, enduring as identical, with no crease, hidden sleight, curtain, form: a man conceives thus the world of Being as ‘God’ in his own image” (Wille 543). It is an ideal impossible to fulfil and leads to faking and skepticism. This Truth  is thus a lie, and whenever erected into a system–as in religion and in Galileian science–it compels lying, always unconscious and frequently also conscious. Any cognition developed against this fixed horizon partakes for Nietzsche of a huge, finally deadly “illusion.” Science can thus become a variant of asceticism, even an opiate for “suffering the lack of a great love” (Zur Genealogie 128).The constructivist account, on the other hand, is a creative transference of carrying across, in  Greek meta-pherein, whence his famous hyperbolic statements about knowing being “Nothing but working with the favourite metaphors” (Philosophy xxxiii; on the preceding three pages the editor Breazeale gives a survey, with sources in Nietzsche’s works, showing his permanent oscillation). I have argued at length elsewhere (For Lack) that for Nietzsche wisdom arises out of the knowledge of nescience: “And only on this by now solid and granite basis of nescience may science have arisen, the will for knowing on the basis of a much more powerful will, the will for unknowing, for the uncertain, the untrue! Not as its opposite, but–as its improvement!” (Jenseits 24) Jumping over the monolithic Plato, Nietzsche may have derived this from the Presocratics: “Appearances are a glimpse of the invisible” (Anaxagoras, in Diels-Kranz, B21a). Careful: this “untrue” is the opposite of the illusionistic, for example of angels, gods, UFOs, Mickey Mice or the Invisible Hand of the Market as empirical existents leading to fanatical belief. It demolishes The Monolithic Truth while preserving verifiability for any given situation.

Thus Nietzsche’s “philosophizing with a hammer” is most useful as destruction, with precious hints as to the direction of a reconstruction, such as his defence of multiple perspectives (Zur Genealogie 100-01). But it stops short of a major discovery, which can be phrased with Haraway, in the wake of theories about Possible Worlds, as “Nothing comes without its world” (Modest 37; cf. Blumenberg 3 and passim). And furthermore, any such world is necessarily dynamic, it evolves in time: “Recte enim veritas temporis filia dicitur non auctoritatis” (“Truth is correctly said to be the daughter of time and not of authority”), noted Francis Bacon, fighting for a non-dogmatic truth. It must be said in Kuhn’s praise that he was the first to drive home the notion that science happens in time, and is in its essence historical. But before him, much more sweepingly and “thickly” (as the anthropologists say), this was developed by Karl Marx.

Kant had a major difficulty in the Critique of Judgment: judgments deal with particulars, but how is one to account for any particular, notoriously contingent and as it were anarchic, for which the general concept has still to be found (cf. Rickert 150)? He sometimes finessed this by using examples, which hide a generalized allegory: the particular Achilles is the example of Courage in general (cf. Arendt 77-80); however, this doesn’t always work (at other times he opted for imagination, but this raises more problems then it lays to rest). Marx’s judgments applied to “thick” modern society Hegel’s great insight that “truth is concrete”: a paradox which means that truth must span, as a good bridge and a dialectical  conceptuality do, both abstract generality and the particular or even the individual, as feedback from and possibility of intervention into the particular. Marx’s concepts and the overall story they build up remove strategic insights from the static “natural” domain to social and above all historical–that is, dynamic–categories (cf. Aronowitz, esp. ch.s 2 and 3). His strongly developed conceptuality is “sucked into the flow of things and the pain of struggles. The uncompromisingly worldly, historical, and class character of what is being cognized becomes a property of the cognitive form itself.” (Korsch 54)  Capital is neither natural nor everlasting: it is a human, thisworldly, historical, and class construct. This also means that, as long as the phenomena are integrally respected, they can be most lawfully explained in multiple ways, as Marx proposes already in his dissertation while discussing Epicurus’s theory of celestial bodies: only the obviously wrong, mythical absolute unity and fixity of the superlunar sphere is to be disbarred (Differenz 170-71).5/ He too went in for Hesiodean splitting, opposing to dogmatic (for example, mythical) critique a “true” critique which understands the contradictions within its object as historical necessities (MEW 1: 296). Hegel’s encapsulation for truth means today also that if the particular out there will vary depending on the question we put to it, then the concreteness demands that there be no one single capital-T Truth that accounts for it. When Putnam asks “Is water necessarily H2O?”, the answer is: for some purposes–of separating H and O or reconstituting water, and all understanding pertaining to such possibilities–yes, but for other purposes no (see his whole argument in Realism 54-79 and 120-31, and Gendlin 39 and passim). Necessities change according to the situation, which is only understood as being such-and-such by the interests of the subject defining it. If, as argued earlier, all our judgments contain both evaluative and factual aspects (cf. also Putnam Collapse), though not necessarily in same admixtures; and if furthermore very many scientific accounts and all theories are not in one-to-one relation with the experiential phenomena they explain, but rather the relationship is one-to-many and many-to-one;  then truth is context-dependent.

Now Marx clearly had for his explaining of capitalism as a social formation a strongly favoured red thread (arrived at after many painful attempts), and he poured his scorn on the falsities of bourgeois political economy. But his was a struggle on two fronts, for simultaneously he chastised with scorpions all attempts to subject science or cognition to “a point of view from the outside, stemming from interests outside science and alien to it” (MEW 26.2: 112). Capital itself is presented as a project of “free scientific research,” which assumes the task to clarify the inner relationships of the phenomena it deals with without imposition from the outside and in particular against “the Furies of private interest” (MEW 23:16).  His two major, consubstantial cognitive insights might be thought of as a double helix: the insight about capitalism, the labour source of value, the class conflict, and similar doctrinal tenets, which in brief reveal that societal injustices are based on exploitation of other people’s living labour; and  the insight that the proper way to talk about the capitalist exploitation which  rules all our lives is not in the a priori form of dogma, a closed system, but in the a posteriori form of critique. The latter means that legitimate cognition is epistemically grounded in the process it describes, and strategically developed by developing a radically deviant stance against a dominant in a given historical situation (one of the first and best of such discussions is in Marcuse, Reason). After Marx, it should be clear that “All modes of knowing presuppose a point of view….Therefore, the appropriate response to [this is]… the responsible acknowledgement of our own viewpoints and the use of that knowledge to look critically at our own and each other’s opinions.” (Levins 182; see more in Gramsci, Selections 427-70 and passim)  The rightness of a theoretical assertion depends on evidence as interpreted by the  assertor’s always socio-historical needs, interests, and values.

All of this argues strongly in favour of allowing many other epistemologically sound sources of understanding or cognition besides institutionalized science’s shibboleth for fully analytic and fully fragmented knowledge, today quite out of date when faced, for example, with dissipative structures. The list of more or less equivalent participants in the passion of cognition is long, for it includes not only “knowing-that” but also “knowing-how” (Anscombe). The latter is centred in bodily practices and subject to the pull of what Aristotle called “aim as cause” (causa finalis), so that “because” in it means “in order that” rather than merely “was caused by”: Husserl spoke of “ways in which the future pulls us towards it,” and Whitehead of “the lure of form as yet unrealized” (in Grene 245). To this clearly belong all arts, but also many other practices not readily expressible in conceptual form (the Greeks called most of them tekhnè, cf. Vernant, and it was connected with phronesis, practical wisdom), and finally also certain facets of emotion or feeling. An important connection is established when Aristotle in Nicomachean Ethics 6, though he downgrades ungentlemanly work, assigns precisely to such wisdom how virtue in political communities functions through right choices–that is, through freedom (cf. Carr 154).

I cannot enter here into any properly historical discussion, which would reveal that, even after tribal formations,  there have been many civilizations either without an institutionalized science (such as the ancient Roman one) or with science based on radically different presuppositions (such as the Chinese and Arabic ones), and–most important–that all scientific paradigms are temporally finite: the “modes of production, enunciation, and application of knowledge” begin and end in function of interests within their societies (Lévy-Leblond 33). The logical structure of the present scientific method is enabled at the price of systematically limiting its investigation to the homogeneous and the quantifiable. Changeable and metamorphic history would immediately burst its bounds: science-as-is knows only a history of errors (cf. Castoriadis 164 and passim). Nonetheless, though repressed into a not further discussed “intuition,” factors such as suppositions of relevance and plausibility, selection of problems recognized as valid, concepts of “projectability” of facts and theories, and so on, play a major role in it (cf. Einstein). I shall discuss here only one usually backgrounded cognitive practice, the “tacit knowledge” as explained by Michael Polanyi.

This starts “from the fact that we know more than we can tell” (4): for example, how we recognize a human face, or any other physiognomy that cannot be fully described by words–diseases, rocks, plants, animals. This also holds for bodily skills, such as swimming, skiing, and many professional gestures of using tools: “we keep expanding our body into the world by assimilating to it sets of particulars which we integrate into reasonable entities” (29). As Merleau-Ponty put it in his discussion of perception, path-breaking for us Europeans since we don’t understand Buddhism and Daoism well, “thought… [can be] ahead of itself… [and] at home everywhere” (371). But beyond everything that is learned through practice and observation, often from a master, tacit knowledge intervenes crucially in formalized science too, as the experience of seeing a hitherto unknown problem through an intimation of unity or form or Gestalt from a few particulars:  in all knowledge there is an element of inferring. No pursuit of truth can be wholly explicit: if we differentiate between focal and subsidiary awareness, Polanyi points out no knowledge can be wholly focal. When we do not know in the focal sense what we are looking for, we rely on clues to its nature, which flow also out of our own attitude, skills, real or crypto-memories, hunches (see more on this in Gendlin, and Suvin “On Cognition”). Our focal core of consciousness is carried by that tacit acceptance of things not explicit, which bind us to and within our world.

Of course, it should be added to his argument that tacit knowledge can turn out to be mistaken as often as the formalized one. However, its acknowledgement “restores knower and known [to]… the Cartesian-Newtonian world… without life,” Polanyi’s pupil Grene concludes (14). This means that knowledge always begins and ends in the personal; the impersonal knowledge is the collective mediation and validation on that route (23-25) and is itself codetermined by a not wholly formalizable consensus of professional opinion. Finally, the knowing mind and our ultimate beliefs are always tied to our psychophysiological orientation, stance or bearing (for more see Suvin “Haltung“). We can thus use also those epistemologically indispensable constituents of knowledge that cannot be stated as a proposition or argument, including our central personal commitment which “can never be… exhaustively stated in a non-committal form” (Grene 204). Such unspecifiable elements are from Kant’s Critique of Judgment on often called esthetical, as in Dirac’s comment that the Theory of Relativity was accepted for two reasons: the agreement with experiment and the “beautiful mathematical theory  [that is, “simple mathematical  concepts that fit together in an elegant way”] underlying it, which gives it a strong emotional appeal” (205). The pattern may also be statistical, or an analogical model as Darwin’s transfer of pigeon- and stockbreeding to the origin of all species (cf. on analogy Angenot, Hesse Models, Gross, Haraway Primate, Squier 25ff. and 54ff., and  Suvin “On Cognitive” with further bibliography). In all cases it is a sense of relevance or rightness. Since  today science does not deal in substances but in events (for example an experimental situation), this sense of pertinence, impossible to detach from the tacit base of knowledge, is particularly important.

Last not least, as argued earlier, all understanding is by default pluralistic (cf. Marglin 233-36).  First, scientific theories are “underdetermined” by facts: “Many, indeed infinitely many, different sets of hypotheses can be found from which statements describing the known facts can be deduced…” (Harré 87). But second, more radically, the “facts” of scientific theories are not fully determined and univocal but always already conceptually elaborated (this also puts paid to Popperian falsification as an overriding criterion), and furthermore it is quite unclear how univocal are the prevailing philosophical categories used in science  (cf. Castoriadis 175-77, 218-19, and passim). As a whole current of philosophers has maintained since Gassendi, theories are not true or false but good or bad instruments for research. Reality is in principle prior to human thought, yet it is co-created by human understanding, in a never-ending feedback.

If cognition is not only open-ended but also codetermined by the social subject and societal interests looking for it, its multiple horizons are unavoidable. The object of any praxis can only be “seen as” that particular kind of object (Wittgenstein) from a subject-driven–but also subject-modifying–standpoint and bearing. The choice which cluster of data (or problems) to begin with in any research, which to look for next, and so forth, is already a never-ending series of interpretations. True, in all developed knowledge there must be hierarchies, but there should be no pretence to a deductive unity, a watertight closed system of concepts, as the only and sometimes not even as the most important component of knowledge. The more modest inductions and analogies, that is, analogue spreads instead of the digital 0 or 1, should be stripped of their lower status. The reality described by quantum mechanics is “composed of many worlds” (Castoriadis 161). In several of its branches “a whole battery of models” is regularly used, and “no one thinks that one of these is the whole truth, and they may be mutually inconsistent” (Hacking 37):

The best kind of evidence for the reality of a postulated or inferred entity is that we can begin to measure it or otherwise understand its causal powers. The best evidence, in turn, that we have this understanding is that we can set out… to build machines that will work fairly reliably, taking advantage of this or that causal nexus. Hence, engineering, not theorizing, is the best proof of scientific realism about entities. My attack on scientific anti-realism is analogous to Marx’s onslaught on the idealism of his day. Both say the point is not to understand the world but to change it. (Hacking 274).

The post-Einsteinian science is thus harking back, after centuries of the Baconian and Galileian quantified unicity, to the science of Hipparchus and Archimedes, which also dealt with a polyphony of hypotheses possible for explaining a given result (Serres 118 and passim; and cf. Russo). Such science (I shall discuss it as S1 in 2.1) becomes again, as in them or in many Asian analogues, a complex evaluation of open models (see more in Suvin, “Living”).

Finally, as soon as we deal–as we must–with models, which can obviously be used only for those groups of phenomena which they are modelling, monoalethism is dead and buried (except on TV and for the politicians of capitalist domination, outside and inside science). Truth has acquired a history. But then, what kind of plurality within what kind of necessarily unitary horizon should we strive for in present-day technoscience, if humanity is to survive?

  1. On Technoscience as Politics

 Since we come by airplane to our conventions, let us not announce there that science is a    mere construction.
E.T. Gendlin, 1997

Addition to above: Though every time I land, I say “we’ve made it once more.”
DS, 1964 to present

 2.1. Life-destroying or Life-preserving?: Science as Is vs. Science as It Has To Be6/

…in the end, for millions and millions of people on the landmasses around us [Africa and   Asia, DS], the West meant only this—science and tanks and guns and bombs.
Amitav Ghosh, 1992

 I am in this section not attempting to say anything which has not been said, from Marx and Nietzsche through Simmel, Marcuse, and Benjamin to others cited below, but simply to summarize for myself and my readers, within a Babylonian confusion of interested languages, a life-affirming red thread about science–the privileged cognitive horizon for our age, to which I too am committed.

From this stance, science as it really exists gradually became after Galileo and Newton a matter of salaried professionals socialized by rigorous and hierarchical training into refusing any discussion as to their profession’s presuppositions: it was delimited as sober “factuality,” and whoever speculated too much about alternative horizons was read out of it (cf. Hagstrom 9 and Haberer passim). It grew into a powerful institution, an alternate Church popularized by means “of saints’ (the geniuses’) lives, their miracles (discoveries), and holy sites (laboratories and similar)” (Traweek 141). True-blue “scientism” believes that science  possesses a universal validity which is in principle independent of the people, society, and interests among which it happens to have sprung up, so that sciences are merely systems of formal propositions and procedures for the construction and corroboration of theories. This scientism eliminates the knowing subject, individual and collective, in favour of an artfully posited “objectivity”: “There is nothing about human beings mentioned anywhere in this [Objectivist] account–neither their capacity to understand nor their imaginative activity nor their nature as functioning organisms…” (Johnson x; cf. for a wide-ranging introduction Aronowitz). As Eddington put it, the ideal scientist must eliminate all of his senses, except “part of an eye that he might observe” (22). Human relationships of production, consumption, and existence–from which after all  science proceeds and into which it returns–are no longer its system of reference, but its accidental  breeding soil. Instead of such historical relationships, institutional science-as-is adopted for  its reference-system logic and mathematics as self-sufficient formal methods. This also means an orientation not simply to quantification, but to a reified quantification without qualities, as part and parcel of the capitalist orientation to exchange-value instead of use-value. This is life-denying in the strictest sense: leading to mass hunger, wars, and devastation of the planet.

 True, new approaches have in the last 40 years finally taken into consideration the Einsteinian epistemological revolution by adopting a variety of methods not only as between distinct subfields but often within them. However, this has been subordinated to a counter-tendency building on the fact-value split and locked into militarization and the profit motive, which have made for highly restricted access, first, “to scientific knowledge… funding, positions, publication, conferences”; second, “to tacit knowledge–the crucial craft knowledge that is never written into articles”; and third, “to the groups that define present and future priorities for problems, methods, research equipment….” In consequence, first, the hierarchic structure of who decides what is important (or a fact) has been much reinforced, and second, scientific writing has increasingly downgraded  narration, including reference to the authors’ agency: “[I]t would be almost impossible to reproduce an experiment based upon the information provided in scientific articles…. The[ir] purpose… is to announce findings and to lay claim to a discovery… [in] a succinct and formulaic literary economy….”  (Traweek 143) In fact, the most capital-intensive research is rarely replicated, it is corroborated by differently designed experiments. But “the proof race is so expensive that only a few, people, nations, institutions or professions are able to sustain it… “; technoscience is developed in relatively few places “that garner disproportionate amounts of resources” (Latour 179, and cf. his whole ch. 4). Quite contrary to a sanitizing distance from values and politics, “[t]he definition of science is made by those who are empowered to offer resources” (Traweek 144; cf. also Castoriadis 221-24, Penley and Ross eds., Pickering ed.). This extends to imperial concentration of such “research power” in a small “North Atlantic” area of the world, which drains brains and profitable information from other areas and disallows traditional knowledge (cf. Hountondji, Shiva, and Mies and Shiva). In the era of capitalist technoscience, this means that the periphery will forever remain such, since it can only copy commodity products, not the matrix that produces them (cf. Oliveira, esp. 48-51).

The huge limitation that defines this pursuit is that, outside focussed manipulation, science is life-blind. In Tolstoy’s words, “science is meaningless because it does not answer >what shall we do and how shall we live<” (cited in Weber 322; Nietzsche said similar things). Even the Nazi fellow-traveller Heisenberg had to concede that natural science “is in some ways the attempt to describe the world insofar as it is possible to abstract from ourselves, our thinking and our activity” (95). While a certain degree of indispensable abstraction enters into any name and concept, science-as-is practices that kind of extreme abstraction which Kierkegaard characterized as “the thought without the thinker” (7: 287).  The horizons of such a science have been indifferent to destruction of people and the planet, and its results increasingly deadly, as testified by Belsen, Hiroshima, Chernobyl,  ecocide, and so indefinitely on.  We cannot use any longer the excuse that science is a pure maiden raped by outside powers: she is collaborating enthusiastically.

Levins calls this state of affairs science’s “dual nature,” springing out of “the liberal progressivist ideology” it shares with capitalism (182 and 184). He believes that the “Marxist critique attempts to see science in both its liberating and oppressing aspects, its powerful insights and militant blindnesses, as a commoditized expression of liberal European capitalist masculinist interests and ideologies organized to cope with real natural and social phenomena” (186). He is clearly attuned to the feminist critique identifying “in the denial of interaction between subject and object” as well as in the stress on domination “the intrusion of a [masculinist] self” (Keller 182-83; cf. on the openly anti-feminine character of Baconian science as mastery also Harding and Hintikka eds., Dorothy Smith, and Noble Religion, and Leiss on its derivation from Judeo-Christian clericalism down to Luther). Today it seems plain that the relation between scientist and nature is quite analogous to the relation of a male upper class to the indispensable but dangerous Others of women and working classes. Thus I sympathize with much of what both such critiques bravely say. And I  fully agree with Levins’s conclusion: “We should not pretend or aspire to a bland neutrality but proclaim as our working hypothesis: all theories are wrong which promote, justify or tolerate injustice” (191). But I submit that by now, a dozen years and untold horrors later, including a full subsumption of science as institution under destructive rather than liberal capitalism, a better strategy is the Hesiodean procedure of splitting the institutionalized horizons of science-as-is fully off from those of a potentially humanized science-as-wisdom, which would count its dead as precisely as the US armed forces. I wish I could call the latter science and the former something else, perhaps technoscience, but I do not want to give up either on science or on technology. I shall provisionally call the firstborn, good science “Science 1” (S1) and the present one, whose results are mixed but seem to be increasingly steeped in the blood and misery of millions of people, “Science 2” (S2). Medieval theologians such as Aquinas would have called them sapientia vs. scientia, though in those early days they optimistically believed the latter could be tamed by the former, by knowledge as the highest intellectual virtue.

These are ideal types only, intermixed in any actual effort in most varied proportions: also, the beginnings of S2 are in S1, and it retains certain of its liberatory birthmarks–centrally, the method of hypothesis plus verification–to the present day. For example, “[i]n this tradition a self-conscious effort has been made to identify sources and kinds of errors and to correct for capricious biases. It has often been successful….” Nonetheless,  the fixation on domination and the consubstantial occultation of the knowing subject in S2 “is a particular moment in the division of labor.” The avoidance of capricious errors “does [not] protect the scientific enterprise as a whole from the shared biases of its practitioners.” Science is highly normative, concluded Aronowitz, in its theory and method, the form of the result, the choice of field of inquiry, and the constitution of the scientific object (320). In sum, “The pattern of knowledge in science is… structured by interest and belief…. Theories, supported by megalibraries of data, often are systematically and dogmatically obfuscating.”  It is not by chance, I would argue, that “major technical efforts based on science have [led] to disastrous outcomes: pesticides increase pests; hospitals are foci of infection; antibiotics give rise to new pathogens; flood control increases flood damage; and economic development increases poverty” (Levins 180, 183, and 181)–not to mention that Einsteinian physics produces the A and H bombs, and so on and on.

The bourgeois civilization’s main way of coping with the unknown is aberrant, said Nietzsche, because it transmutes nature into concepts with the aim of mastering it: that is, it turns nature only into concepts and furthermore makes a more or less closed system out of concepts. It is not that the means get out of hand but that the mastery–the wrong end–requires consubstantially wrong means of aggressive manipulation. If you want to be Master of your Domain, you have to treat profit-making concepts as raw material on the same footing as profit-making laborers and iron ore. The problem lies not in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice but in the Master Wizard. In Marcuse’s summary, S2 has “by virtue of its own method and concepts,” projected and promoted a universe in which the domination of nature was indissolubly linked to and intertwined with the domination of a ruling class over the majority of people.  To the contrary (in S1),

sever[ing] this fatal link would also affect the very structure of science…. Its hypotheses, without losing their rational character, would develop in an essentially different experimental context (that of a pacified world); consequently, science would arrive at essentially different concepts of nature and establish essentially different facts. (One-Dimensional 166-67)

I conclude that S2 is not only a cultural revolution but also a latent or patent political upheaval. This clearly presupposes nature and its knowledge as a zero-sum game, a finite domain allowing for asymptotical progress to a final solution. The scientific, finally, is the political. S2 is, finally, in the sense of Marx’s epigraph to this essay, based on a falsehood.

There are strong analogies and probably causal relations between this “search for truth, proclaimed as the cornerstone of progress” and “the maintenance of a hierarchical, unequal social structure,” within which capitalist rationalization has created the large stratum of “administrators,  technicians, scientists, educators” it needed (Wallerstein, Historical 82-83). In particular, it created the whole new class of managers. As Braverman’s path-breaking book pointed out, “to manage” (from manus, hand) originally meant  to train a horse in his paces, in the manège (67). F.W. Taylor did exactly this–he broke “the men,” calling in his Shop Management for “a planning department to do the thinking for the men” (Braverman 128). Later, since “machinery faces workers as capitalized domination over work, and the same happens for science” (Marx, Theorien 355), control was built into the new technologies. During the 19th Century, “science, as a generalized social property” (S1) was replaced by “science as a capitalist property at the very center of production”; this is “the scientifico-technical revolution” (Braverman 156), while technoscientific ideology becomes, as Jameson notes, “a blind behind which the more embarrassing logic of the commodity form and the market can operate” (Singular 154). Already by the early 1960s, 3/4 of scientific R&D in the USA was corporate, financed directly or through tax write-offs by the Federal government, that is, by money taken from tax-payers, while profits went to corporations (164-66). For almost a century now, scientific research has been mainly determined by expected profits to the detriment of S1 (cf. at least Kapp 208ff.), where it is not neglected for purely financial speculation. Technoscience increasingly has no goals of its own but is pushed by political economics from behind; correspondingly the technoscientist also does not know what he is working for, “and generally he doesn’t much care. He works because he has instruments allowing him… to succeed in a new operation.” (Ellul 272)

The resulting “scientific culture” (S2) “became also a means of class cohesion for the upper stratum [of cadres]…. The great emphasis on the rationality of scientific activity was the mask of the irrationality of endless accumulation.”  (Wallerstein, Historical 84-85) The presupposition that science does not deal in values, which began to be widely doubted only after the Second World War, had as “its actual function to protect two systems of values: the professional values of the scientists, and the predominant [status quo] values of society as they existed at that moment….” (Graham 9, and cf. 28-29, also Kuhn). What Putnam has passionately dubbed “The Philosophers’ of Science Evasion of Values”  (title of his chapter 8),  not only hides that—as he agrees with Dewey–“Value judgments are essential to the practice itself”  (Collapse 135), that “Knowledge of facts presupposes knowledge of values…. justifying factual claims presupposes value judgments” (137). Further, this evasion reveals how, instead of clarifying and further developing common experience, S2 strove for, and largely achieved, a monopoly of “expert knowers”; and the more specialized a field of expertise got, the greater became the likelihood that new skills would be invented–which then seek application, useful or not. As Bauman summarizes it, since the 19th Century it is “not the plain man who knows where it hurts but… the professional expert who ’knows best’ what is good for him”; and furthermore, “the state of ‘being hurt’ is itself expert-defined,” whether the patient likes it or not. This medical experience can stand also as a metaphor for all other fields where “the self-declared servants turn into managers,” not to say dictators (212-14).

The stances of “objectivity” and erasure of subject lent themselves to the treatment of people (workers, women, patients, consumers) as objects to be manipulated, for were they not a part of nature? As a hierarchical institution devoted to manipulation, S2 was easily usable for “human resources” too: the Nazi doctors’ genocidal experiments were only an extremely overt  and acute form of such Herrschaftswissen (knowledge used for domination—cf. Müller-Hill and Leiss 101-18). This may present itself innocuously as “scientific management,” but it comports centrally “the progressive alienation of the process of production from the worker” (Braverman 37-38, and his book relates this to transformation of all aspects of life within monopoly capitalism). What began with the great invention of factories in order to centralize and intensify (“rationalize”) the exploitation of labour for profitable productivity (cf. Noble Forces, Marglin 220-23) has been preserved in updated forms as the building block of both industrial and post-industrial society. In the formulation of Max Scheler, “To conceive the world as bereft of value predicates is a task taken up precisely because of a value: the vital value of domination and power over matters” (cited in Leiss 106).

Michael L. Smith has identified as “commodity scientism” a systematic fusion of a select technology and image-creation in the service of a politico-ideological project, so that

the products of a market-aimed technology are mistaken for the scientific process, and those products, like science, become invested with the inexorable, magical qualities of an unseen social force. For the consumer, the rise of commodity scientism has meant the eclipse of technological literacy by an endless procession of miracle-promising experts and products. For advertisers and governments, it has meant the capacity to recontextualize technology, to assign to its products social attributes that are largely independent of the products’ technical design or function [i.e., of their use-value]  (179)

“Progress” is here identified with science, science with technology, and technology with new products supposedly enriching life but largely disregarding the products’ technical capacities or function, i.e. their use-value, enriching the financiers while brainwashing the taxpayers (Smith 182). Under such hegemony, we must ruefully accept, with due updating, Gandhi’s harsh  verdict about science: “Your laboratories are diabolic unless you put them at the service of the rural poor” (Gandhigram).  S2 is Power (over people), S1 is Creativity. S1 would be able to take a historical and pragmatic approach, well formulated by Gramsci–halfway between Marx and Hacking–as:

…what interests science is not so much the objectivity of reality but people, who elaborate research methods, who continually rectify the material instruments that reinforce their sensory organs and logical instruments for discrimination and verification–that is, culture, that is, world-view, that is, the relationship between people and reality mediated by technology. In science too, looking for reality outside people, in a religious or metaphysical sense,  is merely a paradox. (Quaderni II:  1457)

That does not at all mean there is nothing outside the human brain, as Orwell’s O’Brien–the power freak–puts it. It means that the observer is part of the system even outside of atomic physics. In this view science is a usable and misusable ensemble of cognitions, not an absolute truth (which we  sinful people can of course only approach asymptotically, that is, without ever fully reaching it). It does not pretend, as S2, to be a pure methodology, an organon with its formal propositions and procedures for the construction and verification of theories, principally a “how”; while including “how,” S1 is principally a “by whom” and “for what”–an “impure” productive relationship between (for example) workers, scientists, financiers, and other power-holders, as well as an institutional network with different effects upon all such different societal groups, which can and must become less death-oriented.

Furthermore, the adversarial methodology of S2 is directly opposed to the “communal” (a coy synonym for communist) nature of S1, to the truths all of its practitioners hold in common, as any true cognition does. Cognition or understanding is necessarily non-exclusive, shareable outside a conflictual stance and incompatible with a zero-sum game. True, even in the most disalienated economy of efforts, priorities have to be determined, and in that sense a confrontation between opposed interests will be with us forever. But this is perverted when conflictuality or adversariness, the antagonistic and warlike subspecies of confrontation or opposition, is posited as the central methodology (cf. Suvin, “Conflitto” and “Revelation”). To “have” an idea, an approach or technique, a software or any other byte of knowledge means others can share it without my losing it, indeed I can thereby gain enrichment, stimulus, perhaps even fame. Cognition cannot be fenced in like a piece of land or a financial share locked away in a safe.

S1 should be based on holistic understanding, which would encompass and steer analytical knowledge (Goodman and Elgin 161-64), always on the lookout for inevitable bifurcations which lead to benign and malign Prigoginian catastrophes. It would not at all lose its impressive status as institution, with exacting (only now further expanded) criteria for rightness and an always situationally delimited, or situated (Haraway), truth. On the contrary, S1 would finally be as truly liberating, both for its creators and its users, as its best announcers have, from Bacon to Wiener and Gould, claimed it should be. It could at last embark not only on the highly important damage control but also on a full incorporation of aims for acting, which would justify Nietzsche’s rhapsodic expectation:  “An experimenting would then become proper that would find place for every kind of heroism, a centuries-long experimenting, which could put to shame all the great works and sacrifices of past history”  (Fröhliche 39–truly, a joyous science. It would have to ask, looking at our parlous state of natural and psychic ecology, both of which are a “direct result of the externalization of costs by capitalist entrepreneurs” (Wallerstein, Historical 130), what questions have not been asked in the last 400 years, and for whose profit. The “long wave of Cartesian inheritance” in scientific method has been shown by Licata and Morin (in my paraphrase) as based, among others, on the propositions that the accumulation of knowledge is inversely proportional to the remainder of ignorance, and that to solve a complex problem it should be subdivided in soluble sub-problems (Licata 63). S2 is thus wedded both to  monoalethism and to its dynamic adaptation to a fenced-in, solid world of private property over matters that concern everybody. To the contrary, S1 is wedded to an open world of fluxes where Being is constantly being reborn from (and dying into) Non-Being, where verbs (processes) are more important than nouns (congealed states). Its atoms and interstellar places are built on hollows, thresholds, minima, momentarily stable equilibriums, turbulences, swerves (cf. Serres 79, 30-34,  and passim).

Noble points out how the S1-S2 dichotomy can be followed in the diverging of von Neumann and Wiener paths from the 1940s. Von Neumann’s “mathematical axiomatic approach reflected his affinity for military authority and power,” while “Wiener insisted upon the indeterminacy of systems and a statistical, probabilistic understanding of their function… [T]he ‘steersman’ [of his cybernetics] was human in social systems and thus moved not by formal logic but by skill, experience, and purpose…. [He] urged ‘a constant feedback that would allow an individual to intervene and call a halt to a process initiated, thus permitting him… second thoughts in response to unexpected effects and the opportunity to recast wishes’.” He protested military secrecy, accurately seeing “it will lead to the total irresponsibility of the scientist, and, ultimately, to the death of science” (the good one, S1). As is well known, he was ignored by a solid wall of scientifico-military bureaucracy, and decided to stop further work in militarily usable cybernetics “to kill civilians indiscriminately.” He turned his attention to the development of prosthetic devices in medicine and co-operation with trade unions (Noble, Forces 71-74; see Wiener’s 1946 “open letter” in Haberer 316-17).

Last not least, a Wienerian responsible science, co-directed by other community members, would reopen, as he did, the totally forgotten question of its democratic accessibility and accountability, definitely lost since the atom bomb, with a return to full transparency, to a “cognitive democracy” (Morin 166-69). This would also mean reorganizing fully education, from top to bottom, to befit citizens for such an understanding.

 2.2. Whither Now?

From halls of learning
Emerge the butchers.

Hugging their children tightly,
Mothers scan with horror the skies
For the inventions of the scientists.
Brecht, “1940”

 In 1932, sensing the worse to come (which has since, in long duration terms, not ceased coming), Brecht asked:

Faced with all these machines and technical arts, with which humanity could be at the beginning of a long, rich day, shouldn’t it feel the rosy dawn and the fresh wind which signify the beginning of blessed centuries? Why is it so grey all around, and why blows first that uncanny dusk wind at the coming of which, as they say, the dying ones die? (GKA 21: 588)

He went on for the rest of his life to worry at this image of false dawn through the example of Galileo. His final judgment was that Galileo (reason, science, the intellectuals) failed, and helped the night along, by not allying himself with a political dawn-bringer. But then, we might ask today (and I did, in “Heavenly”), where was he to find a revolutionary class who wanted such an ally in his spacetime, and where indeed was Brecht to find it after 1932 (see his poem in epigraph, after the pustule had broken)?

What would an updated, sophisticated S1 mean? Many things, to be properly developed in feedback from its mass practice. In brief, in order for our (and many other) species to survive, we need to limit human interventions on this planet flowing out of the profit principle, centrally by limiting the increase in population in poorer countries and the consumption of energy in richer ones. This necessity has become ineluctable and urgent in the last 30 years. Yet our rulers do not deign even to discuss them, and those who do are small minorities. Therefore, our first necessity is radical social justice, so that rethinking would get a chance. I cannot speak here about this founding presupposition, but only venture to suggest a few quite preliminary, methodological guidelines, which would flow out of the epistemological insights discussed in section 1.

This begins by noting that multiplicity entails choice. If science is a human and societal institution with a history, traversed by often intense class struggles, then our Archimedean point necessarily takes a stand on the side of humanity or against it, using all the good insights we can muster from practice, science, art or elsewhere.

We may need a modified version of the felicific calculus. I take my cue from the path-breaking work of Georgescu-Roegen, who pleads for a “maximum of life quantity,” which “requires the minimum rate of natural resource depletion” (20-21; cf. Schrödinger and Lindsay 440ff.). He starts in the proper scientific way by identifying life as a struggle against entropic degradation of matter, bought at the expense of degradation of the “neighboring universe” or total system–for example Terra. The inevitable price to be paid for any life-enhancing activity reintroduces, as against classical physics’ narrowing of causality to the efficient cause of manipulating matter and its disregard of the time sequence, the importance of purpose, Aristotle’s final cause (192-95) discussed above, reinforced by Lenin’s cui bono, a choice “for the sake of what” (in whose interest or for whom) is that activity undertaken. As Prigoginian theory puts it, there is never such a full reversibility so that time (history) could be left out as a factor: matter has memory (cf. Wallerstein, End 16466).

Georgescu-Roegen explains “life quantity” as the sum of all the years lived by all humans, present and future. I differ from him by finding this first useful step still too benthamite in its disregard for quality. True, we can neither properly specify a positive life-quality nor legislate for the horizons of future generations. But we know at least what is to be avoided as bad quality of life: lives traumatized by direct violence, hunger, (mostly evitable) diseases, and also by anxiety and aimlessness.  And I think we know enough to say, first, what major financial orientations, and second,  what major productive orientations are not to be pursued. As to the first orientation,  his main continuator and updater, Herman Daly, points out that even in classical economics it is accepted “that in accounting income we must deduct for depreciation of capital in order to keep productive capacity intact. This principle… needs only to be extended to natural capital…” (16). This means that environmental costs must be internalized into prices “so that the polluter and the depleter pay”, through tax measures. (15) Faced with uncertain effects of new technologies or substances, “an assurance bond in the amount of possible damage [should be required], to be posed up front and then returned over time as experience reduces the uncertainty about damage” (16).  Thus we could approach a Steady-State Economy, which is not defined by the capitalist instrument of GNP but by “ecological sustainability of the throughput”, which is NOT registered by market prices. (32) ”[T]he maximand is life, measured in cumulative person-years ever to be lived at a standard of resource-use sufficient for a good life” (32–Daly acknowledges this standard is vague, but vagueness to be worked out in practice is much better than total disregard as in the GNP).  Such a Steady-State Economy would also do better for preservation of all other species.

As to the second orientation, according to Georgescu-Roegen’s “thermodynamic calculus,” only pursuits as minimally entropic as possible can be allowed if civilization is not to collapse. This is directly opposed to the pursuit of unnecessary quantity: “‘bigger & better’ washing machines, automobiles and superjets must lead to ‘bigger & better’ pollution” (19). But it is fully consonant with the post-Einsteinian concept of nature, from quantum physics to the catastrophe theory (cf. also Collingwood 13, and Grene ch. 9 on “Time & Teleology”). His approach can thus be usefully continued by using the notion developed by Nussbaum of “central human capabilities” to be used in order to establish “a basic social minimum” (70-71) for a life of human dignity. Her list of capabilities which also constitute entitlements is rich, and I shall mention from it only what seem to me two central groups and one precondition. The two groups are entitlements to life, bodily integrity and health, and then to a development of sense, imagination, thoughts, and emotions. The precondition is what I would rephrase as control over the relationship between people and the environment, which could be expanded to encompass all the inextricable political and economic means to the above ends (cf. 76-77). These entitlements as rights supply a “rich set of goals…in place of ‘the wealth and poverty of the economists,’ as Marx so nicely put it” (284).

Further, our technical competence, based on an irresponsible S2 yoked to the profit and militarism that finance it, vastly exceeds our understanding of its huge dangers for hundreds of millions of people and indeed for the survival of vertebrate ecosphere (cockroaches and tube worms may survive). For humanity to survive, we imperatively have to establish and enforce a graduated system of risk assessment and damage control  based on the negentropic welfare of the human community and its eco-system (which includes the fauna and flora) as an absolutely overriding criterion. This means retaining, and indeed following consistently through, Merton’s famous four basic norms of science–universalism, skepticism, public communism, and personal disinterestedness (cf. also Collingridge 77-85 and 99ff.)–or Kuhn’s five internal criteria—accuracy, scope, fruitfulness, consistency, and simplicity–as well as strict scientific accountability in the sense of both not falsifying findings and accounting for them. However, it means also practicing science from the word go (say, from its teaching) as most intimately co-shaped by the overriding concerns what and who is such an activity for, and thus why would it be worth supporting or indeed allowing by the community: “A stronger, more adequate notion of objectivity would require methods for systematically examining all the social values shaping a particular research process…” (Haraway, Modest 36, building on Harding; cf. also Wallerstein, End 164-67, 238-41, and 264-65, and Cini). All theories can today be seen to have powerful biases, the goodness or badness of which must be treated in each case on its epistemologico-political merits.

A lot of discussion has already ensued, from the heyday of the Welfare State on, how to fairly assess such risks, and in the USA the International Association of Machinists, spurred by automation, has even formulated a “Technology Bill of Rights” (Noble, Forces 350-51). I can only present here some partial and  (fortunately) highly biased summaries of what appears to me a clear and present necessity. The prevention of irreparable damage would have to move through clearly delimited stages, all of them subject to review boards with various mixtures of science and community representatives,  at various levels from the basic research unit to international bodies. A first step is initial screening, calling a halt to what can be reasonably demonstrated  as serious dangers in our situation, where decision-making about the future of novelties must largely be based on ignorance. A second step is imposition of strict rules about a testing of consequences, which must be temporally as protracted as necessary before a full development, costly and perhaps impossible to reverse, is embarked upon. A third step is  continuous and rigorous monitoring of all important products and processes in use. Though lip-service is paid to these steps now, they are always secondary to profit-making or military considerations (for an example, cf. the discussion on the wrong presuppositions of “dominating nature” within the Human Genome Project in Casalino-Keller and Lewontin); therefore, techniques for all of them are still in their infancies. Still, however difficult this may be, they can and must be developed by efforts similar in size to the US Manhattan Project for the atomic bomb, only geared to survival rather than destruction and ongoing for many targets. This will be costly, but less so than not insisting upon them, allowing the killing damages.

To specify a bit: decision-making under ignorance means “to place a premium on highly corrigible options,” so that mistakes can be eliminated both relatively quickly and cheaply (Collingridge 32).  Monitoring requires adversary confrontation of factual evidence from  different axiological points of view, that is, who is it good for, when, how much:

[R]eliable scientific knowledge was won for mankind [by subjecting one opinion and decision to the criticism of others]. The control of advanced technical projects on behalf of society must  depend on the same principle…. This is what we call monitoring technology,… a range of institutions and social techniques enabling the critical scrutiny of corporate decisions and actions, by and on behalf of competent and concerned opinion at every level.  ([U.K.] Council for Science and Society 27, cited in Collingridge 147)

This means that, first, in proportion to their importance, cost, and potential irreversibility, major scientific projects should not be allowed to become “in house” faits accomplis without a public debate that follows the juridic norm of hearing more than one side (audiatur et altera pars). Second, recognizing that “[e]very decision involves the selection among an agenda of alternative images of the future, a selection that is guided by some system of values” (Boulding 423), all individuals involved in screening, testing, and monitoring should provide the “bias statement” demanded already a third of a century ago by the American Academy of Sciences: a list of all previous major research funding, occupations, investments, public stands on political issues, and similar (cited in Collingridge 186, with disfavour); clearly, this applies a fortiori to the biases of collective or legal bodies, and no private bodies can be exempted.

But probably even this is  not enough. We are today irreversibly steeped in technoscience: very little technology is to be had apart from the science that produced them, very little science is to be had apart of complex technology. It is a time not only of particle physics and molecular genetics but also nanotechnology and untold further possibilities of highly risky  forays. We therefore have to draw on, encourage, and discuss all suggestions for limiting risks, such as the one by Kourilsky and Viney on precautionary steps before prevention, and many other debates for a “University of Disaster” (Virilio). Yet furthermore, we have to pick up the suggestion by Denis Noble “that there is an obligation on the part of creators of this stockpile of knowledge to work out how to disarm its ability to destroy” (184). “First of all, do not harm”: this old Hippocratic oath must be amplified by adding, “Whatever else you do, put up barriers against destruction.” These would be still recognizably scientific debates (cf. Collingridge 189-94), only enhanced by the wider horizon of a life-oriented S1, where the opponents are transparently honest and explicit about their presuppositions, and thus allow both an understanding how rival interpretations of data may be  arrived at and, where necessary, a questioning of the presuppositions (for example, not where to build a highway and how to build a nuclear power-station but also whether). As mentioned above, this profile of decision-making should, after the original decision, be preserved for needed corrections as consequences unfold.

I do not pretend the above is more than a first orientation. Among its huge gaps is, for example, lack of discussion on who should establish and administer such reviews and controls, and how to prevent an unnecessarily cumbersome bureaucracy to take root. These are however not beyond human ingenuity, if transparency and accountability are achieved. What ought to be stressed is that today science (S2) is fully accountable to and strictly steered by capitalist interests, while pretending to be technical and apolitical. It has therefore grown ecocidal and genocidal (for the genus homo), with almost all scientists as “craftsmen of power” (Haberer 303), “barbarian experts” (C.P. Snow), and today  willing mini-entrepreneurs of destruction. We need a science for survival (S1), which would look anew at its reason for being by openly acknowledging its civic political responsibility, and be steered–probably, in the long run, less tightly than today– by the interests of community and species survival.

Finally, I wish to point out, how strangely, richly, and intimately the opposition S1-S2 is interfused with the question of bodily freedom for one and for all, for our bodies personal and bodies politic. Democritus’s atoms fell in a straight line from above to below; they come from a place of power not subject to human will, of whimsical Gods or blind Nature, and may break in upon any of us (cf. Derrida 22-24).  To this picture Marx preferred in his dissertation Epicurus (Texte 59ff., 99-103, 142, and 148-58), who scoffed at the anthropomorphic idea that in the infinite there is an up and down: the fixed destination of  Destiny may be disturbed and deviated by some action. In Lucrece’s great philosophical poem, the atoms swerve and break the chains of Fate, which sanctions “the free will of people living in the world /…By which we move wherever pleasure leads each of us” (II: 254-58; cf. Suvin, “Living”). It opens a space for choice, for Being born from Non-Being, a surplus of Being.

If we really wanted to follow the Epicurean science of Lucrece, we’d have to embrace his metaphor of High Venus, mother of gods and humans. Its erotic contract with nature and human society is opposed to the hatred of Subject, and the hatred of the human body as a feeling embodiment (just see how the geneticists look at it, or how patriarchy has always looked at women!)–a contract of violent domination which is at its clearest in the service of Mars. S2 relates to S1 as warfare maiming of bodies by bombs or napalm and maiming of psyches by anxiety and terror, both characteristics of late capitalism, relates to the caress of friendly sympathy.

 Notes

 1/ My understanding of epistemology has been much shaped by the tradition of Brecht’s and Marcuse’s dominating vs. emancipatory science on one hand and on the other by Merleau-Ponty and some of his French contemporaries in psychology and philosophy, by Vygotsky, Wittgenstein, and too many others to mention. I have to single out my discussions for 20+ years with Gene Gendlin, that go much beyond what I could say in a note but can be glimpsed in “On Cognitive.”

My thanks also go to Rich Erlich for much textual help and editing.

2/ Kant practically created the focus on epistemology, see Rorty 134-48. At the end of his Logik (Introduction, A 25), he seems to have subsumed these three queries under a fourth:  “What is Man?”

For useful historical overviews see Suchting and Laugstien, esp. the former on Marx and the latter on Brecht and Gramsci; neither mentions Nietzsche.

 3/  I am attempting in this paper an as clear as possible overview and summary without too much technicality. Even when I’m in sympathy with some intricate arguments, they often, alas, get short shrift, so for ex. those in Barnes-Edge eds., Hesse’s “Theory and Observation” in Revolutions, Longino…

 4/ I am referring to the famous statement in Laplace’s Essai philosophique sur les probabilités of 1925:

The present state of the system of nature is evidently a resultant of what it was in the preceding instant, and if we conceive of an Intelligence who, in a given moment, embraces all the relations of the beings in the Universe, It will be able to determine for any instant of the past and the future their respective positions, motions, and generally their affections. (cited from Wallerstein, End 206)

 5/ An excellent example of my distinction between S1 and S2 is the semantic career of the Hellenic phainomena. For Archimedes and the whole Hellenic science, they were perceived by interaction between subject and object. In S2, a phenomenon is an “objective” fact. See for much more the astounding Russo 440 and passim. (Marx is much impressed with Newton and paleotechnics but on the whole is to be seen as continuing the S1 of his exemplar Epicurus, as I argue in “Living”.)

 6/ This section is a reworking of much milder propositions I wrote in 1987 for a gathering of the Royal Society of Canada members at McGill University. The eminent conveners of the gathering opined the discussion would not be of interest–thus confirming my diagnosis.

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