It's a Battlefield Out There, Culturally Speaking by Edward Rothstein (FWD from NY Times)

Rakesh Bhandari bhandari at phoenix.Princeton.EDU
Tue Dec 8 08:36:10 PST 1998

To Henry C k, quick note: in my previous note, I wrote transnational mergers are not proof of 2b. 2b should have 2.A.2; that is, they don't prove the end of competition among nationally based monopoly capitals. __________________________________

In the course of a discussion of Louis P' most interesting post on the Enlightenment and the *Times* article by Edward Rothstein Jim F makes the crucially important distinction:

> Many people seem to be confused concerning the
>differences between the kinds of critiques that Marxists (i.e. Richard
>Lewontin, Richard Levins, Stephen Jay Gould, Stephen Rose etc.)
>have made of science and the kinds of critiques that pomo-oriented
>scholars make (such as many of the science studies people
>like Sandra Harding).

Yes the argument here is not about whether scientists may be unaware of how auxilliary assumptions, metaphor and power affect the practice of science. Lewontin raises such concerns in his recent response to Gross and Levitt in the New York Review of Books. I have only studied one case example in depth in a formal setting with actual Ph.D. scientists--Darwinism, and it is a *very* complicated case. I was forced to articulate my arguments in front of people who understood the difference between, say, homology and analogy. And now there is a new massive study by Jean Gayon, Darwinism's Struggle for Suvival.

What I was trying to call attention to is the idealist reaction against science, which obviously predates the recent postmodern skepticsm and probably represents a higher level of sophistication as well. The genealogy of this idealist reaction was provided by Lucio Colletti thirty years ago. Drawing on LC's research, Neil McInnes writes in the course of a vicious but stimulating criticism of Western Marxism:

At the turn of the century there occured a revolt against science that achieved its succes de scandale in Henri Bergson's lectures at the College de Fance and scored scarcely less notable triumphs in the the Germany of Rickert and Simmel, in Italian futurism, and on the friges of American pragmatism. The general argument was that physis, the real, was a ceaseless flux, a fluid duree of Becomng, of which genuine knowledge could be had only be feeling and participation. It contrast nomos was the merely practical, arbitrary and abstract cuts made into this continuum by the practice bent scientific intellect. Intellect, for the purposes of homo faber, froze, fixed, and coagulated movement into static concepts. It invented 'things' that were nothing but th eproduct of chose-ification, as Bergson said, meaning in French much the same as Verdinglichung, or reification. This artificial world of hard facts and useful concepts was the domain of the solkd, dead and inert--of the practico-inert as Sartre half a centry later, with the air of one coining a phrase. It was the sphere of our power over nature, that is, of industry. Bergson insisted that causality 'expresses the very mechanism of our industry'. Culture and freedom, on the other hand, were to be won in the struggle against automatism and solidification--by implication in the rejection of science and industry. "This implication became explicit, as Colletti has noted, in German theorists like Rickert and Simmel. The denunciation of the reifying concepts of sciene was taken up into discussions going foward at that time among German philosophers about Kultur (a romantically conceived organic culture) and Zivilization (rationalistic society). The latter, civilization, was identified with industrialism and technology; as of course sicnece had been by the Bergsonian vitalists. So science, industrial civilization, big business (just then getting very much bigger), and capitalism could be run together. In the end, behind a pathetic critique of modern cpaitalist 'mass society' could be passed off a vitalist attack on intellect and causality. Colletti notes ironically, "'The tragedy' of modern society is that it is a public sphere, an *objective* world: the place of Allgemeingultigkeit, that is, of that universal and impersonal validity that is common to both to the assertions of science and to the behavior and the 'rules' of life in society." In short, science is a betrayal of Life, that single organic totality, and it is incarnate in big business and other bourgeois institutions. "As it will be recalled, Bergsonism was an extraordinarly popular but quite bried fad. It was only in country, Germany, that were persisted well into the 1920s a widespread intellectual movement committed to biological metaphysics and irrational pragmatism, i.e. pragmatism that condemns reason because it is merely 'pragmatic', as contrasted with disinterested feeling. The fact is of historical importance, since the Nazis only had to specify that the scientific bourgeois mentality was Judeo Western, over against the organic totality of biology and of race, to have all the philosophy they needed to launch their onslaught on the "dirty Jew" aspects of civilization such as science, rationality, moral codes, and capitalism."

Of course this is not to say a scientific criticisms could not be developed of the way the productive forces are developed in the determinate social relations of bourgeois society. The ecological consequences or Noble's thesis of a conscious bias towards deskilling can only be considered on the basis of evidence and argument, and Noble's studies are rather unbelievably empirically rich. But this is a different kind of critique than the vitalist one criticized here, just as Lewontin's criticisms are of a different order than some of the epistemological nihilists who have embraced him. Maynard Smith tells the story of a how a "Marxist" upon visiting Lewontin was horrified to find that everyone in his lab was grinding DNA.

Has anyone written on the relations between vitalist and the postmodern reactions against science? Gerald Holton has a chapter on this in Science and Anti Science, but Colletti's argument is much more historically rich.

yours, rakesh

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