By John von Heyking, January 6, 2009 in Uncategorized
According to Kronman, the physical and social sciences (which are based on the quantitative mode of analysis of the physical sciences) enjoy authority for best satisfying the human yearning to know and because of the utility of knowledge (e.g., inventions, predictions of physical events and human actions) they generate: “Science today enjoys the authority it does not only on account of the practical inventions that flow from it and from their capacity to satisfy our desire for control, but because it satisfies more fully than any other form of knowledge we possess a second elementary desire, the desire to understand” (215).
The physical sciences are based on the experimental method, which provides for near-perfect knowledge in “aligning theory and observation” (213). In it, the universal and particular, the abstract and empirical, are united: “The experimental method is a technique for liberating our powers of reasoning from the limits to which sense experience otherwise confines them, while at the same providing a mechanism for testing the soundness of reason’s abstractions against experience itself” (213). The experimental method perfects the aspiration of Aristotelian science of providing theoretical knowledge while “preserving the appearances.” Aristotelian science aspires to remain consistent with common sense, which Kronman asserts is denied by the social sciences especially. Jonathan Swift’s satire of the Royal Society in the form of the Laputians, with one eye pointing above and one below, but none focused on the intermediate, the human, is a splendid lampoon done out of an Aristotelian spirit.
Whereas Aristotelian science attempted to synthesize theoria with the practical wisdom (phronesis) entailed in knowing particulars, the experimental model undertakes a “fusion of mathematical and empirical truth, the mathematization of reality” (214). The “solidity and objectivity” of the experimental method, along with the technologies it produces, provides it with its public authority.
Even so, the “truths of modern science, expressed in mathematical terms, are thus arrived at by a manipulative method that permits us both to use our experience and to transcend it” (214). The “manipulative” experimental method creates a “controlled experience,” meaning the “mathematization of reality” is the expression of the researcher’s experience of reality. It is the language of the subject conceptualizing his or her environment, or “the product of our intellectual manipulation of the world” which allows researchers to create the technologies that feed into our dreams of liberation from fate.
With the emphasis on the researching subject’s conceptualization of reality, Kronman indicates that the experimental method repeats Immanuel Kant’s alleged installation of the priority of the subject. Kant is frequently said to have reversed the epistemological question from “How does the subject know reality?” to “How does reality conform to the categories of understanding?” For Kronman, the experimental method similarly prioritizes the subject over the object of scientific inquiry, which is based on the myth that all knowledge is generated from the subject himself. This is the researcher who sets the conditions of control over the experiment. It is therefore unsurprising Kronman identifies wonder with self-love. The scientific researcher, alone in the controlled conditions of his laboratory, is the font of scientific knowledge. Reality is mathematized. His authority takes on added weight by virtue of his social prestige as the exponent of the most satisfying form of knowledge available in our time.
Even so, scientific research does not really follow the idealized version expounded by the “experimental method” as outlined by Bacon. The researching subject no more imposes her categories on infinitely plastic matter than does matter provide undiluted categories to the researcher. The process of research is more like that described by Michael Oakeshott, who describes the researcher as an inheritor of a tradition of learning, and who draws upon nondiscursive intimations for understanding as much, if not more, than “method.” The findings of research are not so much superimposed upon the object of research as they arise in the practice of research.