Re: [xmca] Re: déjatel¹ nost¹

From: Steve Gabosch <stevegabosch who-is-at me.com>
Date: Thu Oct 02 2008 - 00:24:25 PDT

Your description of how a "rational" science develops is intriguing,
Andy. I like its general evolutionary approach, but some questions
about some of its particulars occur to me.

The statement "Being a rational science, it does not proceed
empirically ..." does not seem to be an accurate description of
science in modern times. However a more or less purely
"theoretical" (philosophical, theological, etc.) and largely non-
empirical approach does characterize important aspects of official
science in many pre-capitalist societies, such as European feudalism
and Ancient Greece and Rome. Such a statement might be less true
about pre-European China, which had a much longer continuous history,
and much more cohesiveness, resources and territorial hegemony at the
ruling class level, due to the necessarily centralized irrigation
systems, but the motivation for using science to break out of its form
of feudalism was minimal, so many of China's remarkable scientific
discoveries in that era were treated more or less as amusements,
rather than inspirations for social change.

This generalization about the general lack of empirical research in
science in pre-capitalist societies should also be qualified with the
point that practical science, meaning the application of folk
knowledge about agriculture, animal husbandry, the productive crafts,
health care, housing, transportation, domestics and so forth and so
on, has always been highly active and inventive, in every social
system - and when certain socio-economic conditions have emerged, can
surge forward, straining and eventually laying the basis for
revolutionizing the existing social order. Practical science -
according to this way of viewing the evolution of science, which I am
pretty much basing on Marx and Engels and others who have written on
the history of science in the historical materialist vein - while it
was very "empirical" at the practical levels of work and daily living
- it was not normally directly reflected in "official" (ruling class-
organized) science and theory in most societies.

There are many important partial exceptions to this general rule to
keep in mind, however - especially Arab mathematics and other
scientific work during the Dark and Middle Ages. A quick look around
Wikipedia reveals Abu Musa Jābir ibn Hayyān a.k.a. Geber (c. 721–c.
815) as a marvelous example of Islamic science all in one person - he
is considered a "polymath" who was a "chemist and alchemist,
astronomer and astrologer, engineer, geologist, philosopher,
physicist, and pharmacist and physician," and is "considered by many
to be the father of chemistry". The modern bourgeois sciences,
including their empirical traditions, owe a deep debt to the sciences
and cultures of medieval Islam. And then in Greco-Roman times there
were numerous now well-known scientist-engineers, mathematicians,
medical researchers, etc., such as Archimedes, Euclid and Galen, and
undoubtedly, many others not so well remembered. Aristotle did not
conduct empirical experiments so far as we know, but he is considered
by many to have been an amazingly keen empirical observer, although
not flawless.

But returning to the general point I am making: despite various
exceptions, what amounted to a kind of disdain for empirical science
in the official circles of many pre-bourgeois societies completely
changed in the modern era. Since about the 17th Century or so, when
the bourgeoisies in various European countries began to form on their
own (or just plain grab hold of) more or less official social
institutions, and generally push aside or overthrow feudal forces,
empirical research began to become one of the hallmarks of official
science - and what is now called the scientific revolution emerged.
The scientific method, which included the development of vigorous
empirical research efforts, began to be generally formulated and
continuously honed, and has eventually come to dominate not only all
the sciences, but many aspects of modern bourgeois culture as a
whole. At the same time, and I infer this from your description of
the usual development of a science, Andy, **cultural assumptions**
about the world, society, the individual, the human body, animals,
plants, the cosmos, etc. etc. drive the way leading scientists and
their supporters in any given situation determine what they see as the
objects and basic units of investigation. In turn, these cultural
assumptions, objects and units in turn greatly impact what kind and
what amount of empirical research is imagined, sought and supported.
Your example of the "lifestyle" versus "virus" paradigms debate over
the cause of HIV/AIDS is perfect.

Well, that is my attempt at describing a little history of empirical
science. So back to my main question - what do you mean by "a
rational science ... does not proceed empirically ...."? Have I
misread your meaning?

Another question about what you wrote: your statement that a science
begins "with a clear concept of its object" seems to leave out much of
the history of a science prior to the time it forms a clear idea of
its basic "units of analysis", such as chemistry before the discovery
and comprehension of the chemical element, and then the molecule, and
then valence - or biology before the discovery and understanding of
units like the cell, and then the inherited adaptation, the gene, the
protein - and, especially relevant to CHAT, psychology - where its
basic unit remains undiscovered, or is at least highly disputed to
this very day. Perhaps I am misunderstanding your point here as well?

If convenient, could you give a shot at outlining the history of a
science to illustrate your conceptual framework? I don't mean to ask
you to go out of your way, just briefly show how your framework
corresponds to the the evolution of some area of science that is
characterized by a well established object and basic unit. That might
help make your points more concrete, and perhaps draw an interesting
counterpoint to the way I am trying to frame this history.

And - again, not wanting to bother you too much - could you offer a
little summary of how you view Hegel in relationship to science. As I
understand it, Hegel was highly knowledgeable of the sciences of his
day, and did some writing on scientific subjects himself, such as
astronomy, and sometimes laced his writings with examples from
empirical science. Hegel was another of history's great polymaths.
He supported empirical research in science, insofar as he saw this
kind of work as a prelude to what he saw as a genuinely philosophical
understanding of nature. He saw physics, chemistry and biology as the
central empirical sciences, which he said were irreducible to one
another, and he opposed the quack so-called sciences of phrenology
(analyzing skull bumps) and physiognomy (analyzing facial features)
which claimed to deduce personality traits from these analyses. At
that same time, Hegel was an ardent critic of philosophical
empiricism, with arguments that have some interesting parallels (and
of course, important differences) with the Marxist critique of it.
Perhaps you would flesh this description out a bit more.

Finally, am I correct in surmising that this conception which you have
outlined of how a science evolves is derived mostly from Hegel?

- Steve

On Oct 1, 2008, at 5:24 PM, Andy Blunden wrote:

> :) Maybe we'll never get over this difficulty Martin. Let me take a
> little step back and try though.
>
> How does *any* "rational" science operate? The science begins with a
> clear concept of its object, be it "conditioned reflex" or
> "commodity" or "right" or whatever. It then pays close attention to
> what is actually going on. Aided by the fact that it's "unit of
> analysis" is an empirically observable unit of social life, not some
> hypothesis or "force" or "thing-in-itself" or foundation myth, it is
> able to observe the changes and transformations in its object, and
> comprehend these through the specific lens given by its unit of
> analysis. Being a rational science, it does not proceed empirically,
> but refuses to rest until the observed transformations have been
> made intelligible in terms of the "germ cell." At every step this
> initially abstract conception becomes richer and more concrete,
> provided of course that it was wisely chosen in the beginning. The
> achievement of making the empirically observed phenomena rationally
> intelligible means that the movement (actually already empirically
> observed) can be reconstructed rationally, *as if* not relying on
> empirical observation. ANY theoretical science must proceed in this
> way, even if at a given moment in its development, there are some
> phenomena which remain unintelligible. How otherwise can we have a
> theory of the Big Bang? By "observation"??
>
> I find this quote by Hegel in the Introduction to his "Philosophy of
> Right" helpful (note that this book cover not just law (Rechts), but
> world history, economics, family relations, ethics, politics, etc.,
> etc.):
>
> “The science of right is a part of philosophy. Hence it must
> develop the idea, which is the reason of an object, out of the
> conception. It is the same thing to say that it must regard the
> peculiar internal development of the thing itself. Since it is a
> *part* [of philosophy], it has a definite beginning, which is the
> result and truth of what goes before, and this, that goes before,
> constitutes its so-called proof. Hence the origin of the conception
> of right falls outside of the science of right.” (Introduction to
> the Philosophy of Right §2)
>
> but then he adds:
>
> “In philosophic knowledge the necessity of a conception is the main
> thing, and the process, by which it, as a result, has come into
> being is the proof and deduction. After the content is seen to be
> necessary independently, the second point is to look about for that
> which corresponds to it in existing ideas and modes of
> speech.” (Introduction to the Philosophy of Right §2)
>
> Andy
> Martin Packer wrote:
>> "Much of volumes 2 and 3 of Capital are concerned with
>> crises. This particular crisis is certainly to be
>> anticipated from his point of view, but after all he died in
>> 1883, so it would be nonsense to talk of him "predicting"
>> it."
>> Andy,
>> Yes, Marx emphasized that crises are endemic to capitalist economy.
>> He
>> described the ways companies will appeal for government regulation
>> to save
>> them from the consequences of their own competitive impulses, so the
>> government "bail out" this week is really nothing new. And he also
>> described
>> the process of abstraction in capitalism, so the highly abstract
>> character
>> of these "toxic" products would not have surprised him. He did a
>> tremendous
>> job of identifying tendencies in this kind of activity (just one of
>> many, as
>> you note) which continue to this day. My point about prediction was
>> the
>> narrower one that in Capital Marx didn't anticipate all this merely
>> from an
>> analysis of *simple* exchange, as I think that Leontiev claims. He
>> looked
>> back on simple exchange from the vantage point of nineteenth century
>> capitalism, and reconstructed the course of its history.
>> Martin
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>
> --
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Andy Blunden http://home.mira.net/~andy/ +61 3 9380 9435 Skype
> andy.blunden
> Hegel's Logic with a Foreword by Andy Blunden:
> http://www.marxists.org/admin/books/index.htm
>
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Received on Thu Oct 2 00:29 PDT 2008

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