Science for People (was Re: language)

Charles Brown CharlesB at
Thu Mar 25 08:57:03 PST 1999

Thanks for this concise summary of your thinking on these issues, Kelley.

I think I agree with you on the unity of ontology and epistemology. I would add to that unity , ethics, or what we do, practice.

I am trying to figure out whether you consider the below a Marxist position or different than a Marxist position. I'd say a lot of the unity of epistemology, ontology and ethics is argued for in Marx's Theses on Feuerbach: Practice is the test of the truth of theory; Philosophers have interpreted the world in a number of ways , the thing is to change it.

Another rarely mentioned and somewhat counter intuitive angle is that the SOCIAL is the objective. This is true in natural as well as social science, because natural scientists demand repeatability of results, i.e. a social confirmation of objectivity. This comports with the basic principle of materialism that there is an objective reality outside of our individual thought. We confirm its objectivity by communication with others or socially.

There is some difference between the social and natural sciences, but in some ways their similarity and overlap is more important than their difference. For example, natural scientists should make more of a link than they have historically between the social and political impacts of their discoveries and abstract scholarship and experimentation. Science for science sake is no better than art for art's sake. So, ironically ( I use that term advisedly) the main thing we have out of the natural science iconic genius Einstein is nuclear weapons :>(. He need a little more unity of ontology, epistemology and ethics from the natural scientists.

As Engels puts it, knowledge is a process by which we make things-in-themselves into things-for-us. We know something when we can make it. Social knowledge is the ability to change the social world, make a new society. Einstein had a little too much exclusive focus on things-in-themselves without considering how they would become things-for-us. So, the bourgeoisie used his discovery to make some things-AGAINST-us. This is a big problem related to not linking theory and practice sufficiently IN NATURAL SCIENCE.

So, not only do natural scientists have an interpretation of the world and not just "the" objective point of view, but they must be conscious of that interpretation and they should take up actively an ideology "for-us" as the purpose of their work. Otherwise, the powers-that-be will fill in the ideology for them.

Charles Brown

>>> <digloria at> 03/25/99 07:39AM >>>

hey yoshie!

>Why do we want to make at least a conceptual if provisional distinction
>between 'a scientific theory and the uses to which it is put'? Because as
>marxists and feminists, we must be interested in not only what sorts of
>ontology and epistemology that (philosophies of) sciences presuppose (and
>criticizing ideology therein) but also _doing_ science, as practicing

well now see, that wasn't the issue. sam seemed to be suggesting a rather positivist account of science: the logic of discovery is or should be absolutely distinct from (has no influence on) the logic of justification and both should be distinct from the logic of political practice. in other words, if only the right procedures are used to heighten the scientist's objectivity, then we can produce increasingly objective accounts of the social. however, i'm arguing that both neo-positivist and interpretivist social scientists utilize human technologies in order to access social life and to rthoerize it. the neo-pos uses procedures that distance the scientist from the objective of investigation, the interpretivist beclieves that s/he can use the capacity for 'understanding' and 'interpretation' in order to grasp that same social reality. furthermore, i'm arguing that there is a necessary *conceptual* connection between *how* we know, what we think we are trying to to know, and the kinds of political practice are amenable to the knowledge so produce. more anon if you'd like.

sam also seems to be arguing for naturalism: a unity between the methods of the natural and social sciences, whether he supports reductionism or scientism or something else i'm not yet sure.

i'm arguing that social scientific knowledge has transitive objects (society) of investigation which exist independently of it but, of course, the production of knowledge is, itself, part of that society (that object):

knowledge is a social process. why? because, just as with natural science, social science must apprehend the social (the object of investigation) and this is *necessarily* theoretical because one can't 'see' a social class, or a social institution, or an ideology any more than one can 'see' an electro-magnetic field. the social, society can only be seen in its effects, its traces, artefacts. garfinkle's breaching experiments were a classic exposition of this phenom: they revealed how society, the social 'worked' because people shared tacit assumptions about how it should work, what they could expect. so, when i demonstrate how property isn't a thing but a set of social relations, i do this by taking someone's bookbag in classs. my violation of the rules of the appropriate uses of property (i'm supposed to ask first & have a legitimate use/need for it) reveals a complex set of effects: emotions, actions, judgments.

social theories (theoria) are ways of seeing society, the social--ways of seeing those effects, traces, artefacts. social theories bring some of these into view, while bracketing others or not attending to them with the same emphases. (heather's argument for why feminism ought to be conjoined with marxism comes to mind as an example of this) so, epistemology is inextricably intertwined with ontology. (sam seemed to be objecting to this).

the criticism you've offered Yoshie are important, but i find that it's not nearly powerful enough to reject neopositivist and interpretive epsitemologies/ontologies. i want a stronger critique. so, while sam suggests that we simply have to keep tryin' in order to get closer to the truth, this reads to me as merely an epistemological claim. and, as such, the problem on sam's view is merely a 'technical' one. i would argue, that it is also an ontological claim: the social is fundamentally historical (transformational) and such transformations will occur that social science can't possibly anticipate: society/the social is an open, rather than closed, system.


"come on like the freak show takes the stage"

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