Science for People

Charles Brown CharlesB at
Fri Mar 26 13:57:24 PST 1999

>>> <digloria at> 03/26/99 01:10PM >>>
Chaz pressed on with

>CB: I'm thinking the metaphor is older than Horkheimer, but no matter, I
think the "making" part of the other way of saying it means to include the notion of satisfactory >use or "taste". "Practice" includes the sensual feedback check to see if what you make >is actually what you think it is, if it DOES what it is intended to do. Also, the taste of >the pudding may be addressed by the concept of things-in-themselves into things->FOR-US, discussed below.

Kelley: okay, okay. i just like it 'cause it's a metaphor, see? imagination. plus, it's about food! heck, Chaz, work with me here. but, let's see here this 'things-for-us' is troubling. i know what you mean, surely, but 'for' and 'us' need to be examined, fleshed out, no? so, the pudding could be for eating in parfait dishes w/ freshly whipped cream at a dinner party for colleague. or you could put it in a pie shell and put merinque on top and share with your family. or with strangers, why you could put it in that same pie shell cover it with whipped cream and you and your co-workers could pie your awful boss with it. (ooooh and right now i'd like to have at Paul Kennedy with a couple hundred pies. grrr)

no, no charles, i don't want to pie you. just some different examples of how someone might in understanding 'thing-for-us' and to make you laugh.

Charles: Ha, ha, ha, ha !!! Yes, Kelley, thanks for keeping things fun.

On "for-us", I didn't come up with it, but I won't name any names now. It is used to develop Kant's idea of things-in-themselves. What I like about the usage things-in-themselves, things-for-us , is that they seem like an eminently popularizable terms. It doesn't solve everything,as you demonstrate some further complexities above. Yes, Sometimes the same"thing" has different uses. As mentioned earlier, nuclear weapons are, I would say, things-against-us, an anti-use-value.

Anyway , it is very important as you emphasize, that "us" as a whole is a plurality or a diversity. For things to be FOR US, they must have diverse uses. Also, some uses for some people might be against other people, and we can't have that. It is a complex problem, but to get to it, there would have to be a victory for the "for-us" approach in general. Right now, there is mostly focus on "for-me", for-the-private, not for-the-public.

Or as I said before, IN-THEMSELVES, science for science sake, abstracted from any of us.

I am not saying that things-in-themselves don't exist nor that they can't be discovered. I am saying that we have no interest in things-in-themselves, totally unrelated and abstracted from people.

Maybe what I am saying a little different from your main points (which I think I agree with) is that there may be science that is fairly neutral in ideology to an extent, but that science is not what we want either, because the powers-that-be with their ideology will eventually get ahold of , say, Einstein's relatively (no pun) ideological neutral discoveries and make them ideological. We want ideology in natural science -Peoples' ideology.

>CB: Sociality is a necessary but not sufficient test of objectivity. The
problem that people can lie or a group can have the same distorting bias among its members is another aspect of this complex, if I understand you correctly.

Kelley: wasn't worrying about lying so much as imagining that 1] a community of scholars isn't homogeneous, 2] it certainly isn't free of ideology 3] that some will likely have power than others 4] and the dominant approach to scholarship is competitive and generally based on a kind of critique that certainly doesn't take as its model engaged fallibilistic pluralism.

the crap dished out by some of the buoys on this list re feminism and pornography is a damn good example of the above.

CB: I agree with you. Does your "engaged" correspond somewhat to my "practice" ?

On 1) , you mean they have different "for-us'es" ? But I think they have potentially homogenous perception of what "things-in-themselves" are. That's objectivity. But they could lie about it or be biased and not know.

On 2) , correct, but, perhaps a difference between us, I don't think we want it free of ideology, just we don't want anti-us ideology, like capitalist ideology.

On 3) , yes, somehow we want to reduce power differences to those who actually do know more, senior scholars, etc.; But that can be accomplished only by a revolutionary change in society.


>CB: I'm thinking it needs to be a community of practical-critical
activists, although most actual activists do need to do more scholarship.

Kelley:well we *were* talking about science and scholars now weren't we? as you know, i question why we need to valorize activists. i understand why--certainly science is privileged. however, a simply reversal isn't enough is it? also, as an aside, i think what goes on here, chaz, is that you think i can't possibly be or haven't been an activist simply by virtue of what i post. but alas, i have been and have almost had my butt thrown in jail for some of it. i've been on both sides and even participated in a project that tried to reconcile the differences--wouldn't have been marxist enough for you but it was a start and it was what i had available to me at the time.

CB: No, my focus on unity of theory and practice is not directed at you personally or in particular. It is a main theme I find myself emphasizing in many of my e-mail discussions these days. Don't take this as accusing you. I believe you are and have been an activist. By the way, it ain't that easy to "practice" as I keep using the term. Part of why I sound like a broken record on it is that I don't have the easy answer on the link. I'm trying to get some collective think work done on it.

In a way, what I am sayinjg is obvious: in general, most non-scholar activists need to do more thought/scholarship. In general, most scholars are the reverse. But I am not thinking of you in particular. You just happened to be posting on the issue, and I started talking to you on it. But I discuss it with everybody.


Kelley in any event, activists aren't insulated from the problems that plague a community of scholars. this is evident from experience and from the lit on social movements and activists.

CB: Yes, I gotta go, but I have an essay on this which I'll send to you.


CB: >But these epistemological problems are usually formulated by scholars, who tend to >need to integrate more practical activity with their scholarship. In your metaphor, the >activists need to build up their library of pudding recipes; the scholars need to make >and taste more actual puddings, rather than reading recipes so much and >exclusively.

Kelley: oh sure Chaz. but look, i'm just not sure how you can say epistemological problems are the domain of scholars. sure, scholars can fly to icy cold heights of abstraction. but, the problem of knowing, of how we know is everyone's problem and it asserts itself in our daily lives on a regular level. the thread on porn is, while we type, a thread in which some men have been questioning some women's ability to know, the validity of their claims, demanding evidence, insisting that some men are different and not like all the rest, yadda yadda. similar moves are being made on the other side as well. this happens all the time. when i was teaching this stuff last year, on the first day of class we seemingly got off track with a discussion of Clinton-Lewinsky. A small debate ensued and i let it go on for awhile and then showed them how they had just asked one another epistemological questions by, for ex, wondering about the reliability of info on the internet, to which someone suggested that given the scandals in journalism, it wasn't clear that established print media were any more reliable.

CB: I don't think we disagree on this. As I say, in a period when I was mainly associated with those who are predominantly activist, I wrote an essay saying they need to get more philosophical ( epistemology questions and others). On the other hand , for predominantly scholarly, it seems to me the special Marxist epistemological insight is that practice cuts through some of the Gordian knot of the questions of how do we know the truth.

It really is almost too simple, what I am saying.

I didn't follow every post on the pornography thread. However, I wonder if some of the questions about who knows what might be addressed by practice, or examples of practice, that is beyond empirical observation.


Kelley: so how do we know, what convinces, what is evidence, what is persuasive, and why? aren't these questions that activists must ask themselves and one another all the time? don't they have to make decisions based on what they know about the world around them and about each other?

CB: I don't think we are that far apart on this. I think predominant activists need to get a bit more philosophical,epistemologically and otherwise, as you suggest. I think the discussions on this list and others I am on must strive to link their predominantly philosophical work to more practice, not only for "moral" reasons, but because of the epistemological role of practice.


>CB: Yes, I have not understood everything you have said on this list.
That's why I commented that I felt some glimpses of clarity on this latest post. I imagine other scientists have to do a lot of repeating themselves in seeking repeatability of their results.

i didn't mean to put you on the defensive. it just occured to me as i was typing. so don't take it as mean-spirited. i also happen to be someone who has a pretty sharp mind for detail and i can usually recall what gets said in these debates. probably the result of what i do for a living: read a lot, teach, observe and interview people. i probably expect more of people than i should.

CB: I thought I was going on offense not defense (no offense). Thing about this e-mail is that with all the copies memory is very augmented if necessary, but my intellectual function is maximal from my experience.


CB: One thing I am still not clear on is whether you consider you are repeating or differing from the classical Marxist answers on these questions. It is not so much that I am trying say that I have a bigger hardon for Marx, as you once put it.

Kelley: oh you do so.

CB: I have one, but that's not what I am saying here. I'm trying to figure whether and how this is different from Marxist epistemology.


Kelley: but seriously, why does it matter?

CB: Frankly, saving time. If it is essentially the same, don't have to study a whole bunch new. I am for real when I say I want to get on with practice , but in unity with theory.


CB: > I'm still trying to figure whether your theses are the same as Marx's , but using different language, or whether you consider your theses to be different than Marx's. I rilly am , in the end, trying to see if those of us who keep talking to each other on this list have epistemological/ontological agreement and can form an organization for changing the world, based on that agreeement.

Kelley: and if we don't agree we can't work together? why would that be and doesn't this position contradict what you agree to below?

CB: I'd say to work together in practice requires not complete agreement, but agreement within a certain degree of tolerance. You know the engineering term in mass production.


Kelley, I got to go. I'll finish responding in the next couple of days.



> Science for
>science sake is no better than art for art's sake.

what does it mean to say this, though? is art only good if it's for the sake of something else? what else is art for? i mean this has always been an interesting question to me after having spent a lot of time as an undergrad studying the frankfurt buoys. this is taking the convo in a direction we might not want to go, though, so don't feel compelled to answer. just curious.

>CB: I would say nuclear weapons are things-AGAINST-us, the opposite of
things-for-us. Does that flesh it out ?

but the 'us' and the 'for' are slippery aren't they. consider, for ex, different union positions: who are 'us' the workers? even your sig quote, "workers of the west, its our turn" suggests some heterogeneity as to the 'us' and so suggests differences--differences that might not be adjudicated as easily as you'd like. i wish everyone would read the same things we do charles and i wish everyone would interpret these things like you and i do.

but you know that they don't and that there are reasons for this.

CB:>Please do not "agree" with me if you do not.

Chaz, have you forgotten who you're interlocuting with? heh.

CB: >What I sense we have some agreement on (but correct me if I am wrong) is that the natural scientists have an obligation to test their puddings by eating them.

not just natural scientists, but social scientists as well.

CB: They tend too much to value making "pudding" that they know how to induce , say, a nuclear chain reaction in (or something else having nothing to do with eating it) and feel they have accomplished something great by that. In other words, they most often have a goal of understanding things-IN-THEMSELVES, and even toute it as a virtue of "objectivity".

but social scientists really don't and can't simply value and understand things-in-themselves. a critical epistemology-ontology-practice turns on this fundamental point: scientists delude themselves if they think they can separate these things.

CB: But you and Harding and others are not only correct to say they have a theory and an angle, but even more they need more attention to the edibility of their puddings, edible for us, the vast majority , the working class. The role of the historically oppressed (which you mention above) is not only in objectivity, but in determining whether what is made is for-us, ALL of us, the People AS A WHOLE, that whole difficult problem.

I don't completely agree with Harding. What she wants is a scientific practice that includes, as scientists, the historically oppressed (blacks, white women, latino/as, etc). she thinks this is important to science because the context of discovery is related to the context of justification. but, she's careful to point out that, simply by virtue of their social location, these groups don't have greater access to the truth, they're no less affected by ideology, and they certainly won't agree or see things in the same way.

i've written about her work and argued that her perspective needs to be wedded to Habermas's critical theory of late capitalism, the public sphere, and philosophy of science. in other words, she basically lacks a critical theory of capitalism and a theory of political practice that goes beyond academic/scholarly practice.

CB: >So, in other words, in the whole Butler/Sokal etc. thing, physicists discovering pure things-in-themselves is not the safe haven from politics that they think it is.

do they think it is? that's not entirely clear to me, since both of them do seem to either engage in a form of politics. maybe not the kind you like and maybe not making the theoretical points you'd like, but they certainly have made claims that have brought them attention and provoked discussions that are clearly politicized. when Butler objects to someone calling her a woman, she's making a political demand that makes her audience think about what she's said. she's

CB: >Yea, I'll put this list and the last post together as a glimpse of Kelley's theoretical model.



"i've been distracted by sin, sometimes without a reason"

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