The following text has been automatically reproduced by an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) algorithm. It may not have been checked over by human eyes. For matters of precision please consult the original pdf.

Science, Social Science and Socialist Science

Science, Social Science, and Socialist Science

Roy Edgley
The Q1lrrent ~risis, soc ial and

In both fields one can trace in the analytical tradition a more or less gradual relaxation of the constraints thought to be implicit in the idea of science
am:. reason. In the philosophy of science Popper
sought to replace inductivism and verificationism
with the less stringent requirement of falsificationism; Kuhn argued that even that was too stringent
for revolutionary science; and Feyerabend has
argued that all science is or·ought to be revolutionary science, and in his article and book Against
Method, as the title indicates, claims that the only
rule of method in the acquisition of knowledge is
‘Anything goes’. In a rather different way, the
philosophy of the social sciences has similarly
helped to soften up the idea of rationality: as a practising social scientist with an unusual degree of
philosophical self -understanding, Chomsky has
attacked behaviourist constraints imposed in the
cause of sCientificity; and the doctrine of the unity
of science in Popper, implying that in methodology
and logical structure the social sciences are indistinguishable from the natural sciences, has been
opposed by the idea that the social sci. ences have
their own special logic and methodology, a methodology, moreover, that in some writers, e. g.

Whlch, claims that societies under investigation may
legitimately employ canons of rationality quite dif.ferent from, but not inferior to, its own. We seem
to be presented with a choice between equally unacceptable alternatives: on the one hand an empiricism that seems unable to account for much of the
historical phenomenon of science; and on the other
hand, a relativism that makes radical rational
criticism impossible, and in doing so seems to be
self -refuting.

The current crisis in world affairs, in particular the
economic and social crisis in those countries that
dominate world affairs, the advanced industrial
states of Europe and America, is reflected in an
intellectual crisis, especially in those countries.

As they move into the so-called ‘post-industrial’

phase, into ‘technological society’, their dominant
form of theoretical knowledge, scientific knowledge,
increaSingly becomes a crucial economic resource,
a factor of production; and the intellectual crisis
reveals itself as a radical uncertainty about the
nature and status of science. Europe invented modern science, and just as, during the centuries of
European imperialism, Europe sought to dominate
the rest of the world, so Europe’s dominant form of
knowledge, science, has been involved in the imperial conquest of other cultures. Thus the conflict
between the advanced industrial states and the Third
World, a conflict that is an essential component of
the current world crisis, is reflected intellectually
il1 a conflict between science and other forms of
thought, for example between European medical
science and such apparently unscientific forms of
medicine as acupuncture.

As social institutions designed for the production
and distribution ‘of theoretical knowledge, the universities are of course deeply involved in the crisiS,
and it’s not surpriSing that they have been centres of
ferment in the last decade or so. They are the social
points afwhich the intellectual aspect of the crisis
gets its most explicit theoretical expression.

Anthropologists have become hypersensitive about
applying their own concepts of science and rationality to what used to be called ‘primitive’ cultures and Marxism as scientific socialism
belief·systems. Psychologists and psychiatrists disThe place of Marxism in thia discussion is distinct ..

cuss and re-draw the distinction between sanity and
ive and instructive. Its failure to fiit the dominant
madness. And at the most abstract level, philo, empiricist model in the philosophy of science is even
sophers -well, many English-speaking philosophers, more striking than the failure of other, more generI suppose, continue to do logic, philosophy of logic,
ally accepted, theories and phases of modern
and epistemology as if they inhabited the ivory tower
science: within the European conception of science
of timeless Platonic forms, Ithe Third World of
it’s a genuine peculiarity. Yet Winch’s relativism
Popper rather than of Che. But even ivory towers
doesn’t obviously save it, even as relativistically
can’t be completely insulated, and the general philorational. Marxism is, after all, a European product,
sophical preoccupation with the distinction between
conceived explicitly as heir to the great tradition of
reason and unreason has taken specific forms that
natural science that Europe invented: it’s not a form
relate more explicitly to the social situation. In
of thought characteristic of a foreign society, departicular, in English philosophy, two new subfining a conception of rationality necessarily alien to
disciplines, not distinguished and named before,
our language and culture, and therefore apparently
have emerged as growing points within and between
uncriticisable from our European point of view. On
the old philosophical specialisms, and both in that
the contrary, to the extent that Marxism characterhistorical fact and in their own content have reflecises other cultures it does so as on~ of those culturte~ intellectually the general social crisis: I mean
al exports that Europe’s imperial capitalism didn’t,
the philosophy of science within the general field of
so to speak, bargain for, and which it now faces as
epistemology, and between that and the old suban alien threat.

discipline of political philosophy, bearing witness
Endogenous to Europe, then, Marxism has been
to the way in which political philosophy has been
typically criticised by European intellectuals within
undermined by the dQminance of SCience, the
the analytical tradition, especially philosophers of
philosophy of the social sciences. The chief prescience and of social science, as unSCientific, as
occupation of these two new sub-disciplines has
muddled about the nature of Efcience and its own relabecome the distinction betwe~n s.cience and’ ideology. tion to it: those with an explicit demarcation criterion, such as Popper, have put it firmly in its place
1 This is a version of a paper dis(‘us~,.n ;It the n,ldical PhlloSCll)hy (;oru”rc;lcc
pseUdo-science .. But this general difficulty of
at Oxford in January. Many people have commemed on it – too m;.ny ior me
to name. But I am grateful to them for their criticisms and suggel:itlons.

.appreciating Marxism’s claim to be a science is not

peculiar to analytical philosophers and those scientists whos&. understanding of ~cience has been articulated and shaped by analytical philosophy. It’s not
even peculiar to non-Marxists in general. The difficulty has been deeply felt and wrestled with within .

Marxism itseU. There is in fact one specific form
of the problem that is common to Marxist and nonMarxist discussions. I mean the form given to the
problem by Marxism’s seU-description as ‘scientific socialism’. Marxism presents itself as both
social scie;ce and political movement, as both
scientific theory and revolutionary practice: as
something concerned not only to understand the
world but also to change it. Discussions within
Marxism about whether the socialism is distinguishable from the science, and if so how these two elements are related, reveal that certain conceptions
of science and reason are deeply entrenched as
common property on both sides of the divide between
Marxists and non-Marxists.

These common conceptions involve a family of
shared ideas about the distinctions between fact and
value, theory and practice, description and prescrip
tion, science and morality. Contemporary Englishspeaking discussion of these ideas has a characteristic parochialism, and seems to suggest that apart
from anticipations by Hume (‘is’ and ‘ought’) and
perhaps Mill (science as indicative and art as imperative), their history belongs to 20th-century analyti, cal philosophy, from Moore’s ‘naturalistic fallacy’

through the emotivism of Ayer and Stevenson to
Hare. But it’s clear that the European mainland
shared much of this thinking and made its own contri·
,bution: to the history of the distinctions as they
developed under the impact of science and capitalism from the 17th century onwards. Kant, Comte,
Weber, and POincare, as well as Mach and the
Vienna Circle, all struggled to digest philosophically the phenomenon of science, and in the process
distinguished it logically and epistemologically from
value, or practice, or morality. Here, for instance,
is POincare making the point in a way that contemporary English philosophers are familiar with,
though from another source:

‘It is not possible to have a scientific ethic, but
it is no more possible to have an immoral
science. And the reason is simple; it is, how
shall I put it? for purely grammatical reasons.

‘If the premises of a syllogism are both in the
indicative, the conclusion will equally be in the
indicative. In order for the conclusion to be put
in the imperative, it would be necessary for at
least one of the premises to be in the imperative.

Now, the principles of science, the postUlates
of geometry, are and can only be in the indicative; experimental truths are also in this same
mode, and at the foundations of science there is
not, cannot be, anything else. Moreover the
most subtle dialectician can juggle with these
principles as he wishes, combine them, pile
them up one on the other; all that he can derive
from them will be in the indicative. He will
never obtain a proposition which says: do this,
or do not do that; that is to say a proposition
which confirms or contradicts ethics. ‘

(from an essay of 1913, ‘Morality and Science’)
Given such a general climate of opinion, :Marxism
seems to be faced with some difficult choices: as
social science it can’t be socialism, and as socialism it can’t be social science; the two elements
might be conjoined, but not logically connected or
unified. ‘Value-free’ science can, of course, have a
practical appli-cation as technology, but technology
can only specify means to ends and must therefore

be supplemented with a choice of ends or objectives
that can’t be settled scientifically. This is roughly
the view of the Austro-Marxist Rudolf HiUerding, in
his book Finance Capital, and of most of the orthodox Marxism of the Second International. In his neoKantian version of Marxism in his lecture on ‘Kant
and Marx’ (1904), Karl Vorlander identifies the
values of Marxism as ethical: ‘socialism cannot free
itseU from ethics historically or logically, neither
on the theoretical level nor in fact’. But ethical
socialism is Utopian, and in practice reformist
rather than revolutionary, 1. e. it’s liberal and
social-democratic rather than Marxist; and it’s well
known that Marx himself was contemptuous of moral . .

ity and treats it theoretically as essentially ideological. Under these constraints scientific socialism
came to be represented, predominantly at the Third
International and in Stalinism, as a theory specifying
laws of inevitable social change, and between this
and the alternative of ethical socialism Marxism as
a programme of revolutionary action was effectively
squeezed out of the picture of coherent possibilities.

This ideological emasculation no doubt reveals the
almost inexhaustible capacity of the status quo to
protect itself ~nder threat. But is that emasculation
avoidable from a rational point of view? I want to
make some suggestions:to that end: suggestions that
are both fairly simple and very general because they
re-theorise (by developing arguments, originally put
forward lin my Reason in Theory and Practice,
Hutchinson, 1969) the overall structural relations
between the relevant basic and very general categories. From this perspective the conception of science
from which th~ emasculation results is itseU ideological, in fact a crucial part of the European
ideology out of which Marxism developed as a
radical innovation and critique. As ideology, this
conception reflects important, but relatively superficial, aspects of science, aspects that mask and
contradict its deeper nature and potential. HistorICally speaking, it’s this embryonic reality within the
womb of European science that Hegel and Marx,
heirs and critics of the Enlightenment, between them
develop and deliver as social science. As such, the
Marxist conception of science is both continuous with
and radically different from the prevailing conception. The question of the scientificity or otherwise
of Marxism can’t therefore be answering by noting
its failure to conform to Enlightenment standards of
science articulated by Hume and Kant and developed
by their modern followers. On the contrary, the
question is whether Marxism embodies a different
conception that supersedes its rivals.

Science and reason as dialectic

The conception -of science and reason that Marxism
explicitly offers in distinguishing itself from the
Enlightenment is: dialectic. It’s this Hegelian inheritance that is contrasted with the ‘metaphysical’

conception of science shaped in ‘the mechanical
philosophy’. Mechanistic science is allowed to have
both a necessary historical role and a continuing
validity in certain areas of investigation. But dialectic, it’s claimed, is essential for the ‘historical’

sciences. Moreover, to focus on the present topic,
Marxists have frequently claimed that U’,s this conception of science as dialectic that is required to
solve the problems’ set by the idea of scientific
socialism. The deformations of both ethical socialism and Stalinism involve mechanistic conceptions
of science.

It’s this view that I want to explore and give
support to. But first it has to be said that there’s an
easy way out tbat in fact settles nothing. A dialectic3

al cQnception, it might be said, is a view that conceives of opposites as in unity: scientific socialism
is such a unity, since it unites fact and value,
theory and practice, science and political revolution. That, of course, only sets the problem. It
doesn’t solve it. The problem precisely is how to
conceive of science in such a way that value and
practice can be seen as involved in it.

I’ll try to outline a solution of this problem in
terms of the idea of contradiction, which is central
to dialectic. The idea of contradiction is also, of
course, central to analytical philosophy. But on this
matter the two traditions face each other with blank
incomprehension. For both, contradiction is a concept, or rather a category, of logic; and it’s in the
philosophy of logic of each tradition that the differing conceptions of science have their roots.

Roughly and briefly, the Hegelian view is that
reality is in a constant process of change, and that
this temporal, historical process of change is due
to the contradictions within the essence of things.

These contradictions oppose each other, and change
is the resolution of that opposition and the replacement of those contr~dictions by other contradictions
on a higher plane, so that change through resolution
continues. Now Hegel was, of course, an idealist,
and though analytical philosophers claim to see some
truth in the claim that ideas can be contradictory,
the Marxist dialectic is materialist, not idealist,
and from the analytical point of view the doctrine
that there are contradictions in material reality
seems nothing short of outrageous. In such a context, the concept of contradiction, it seems, must
lose its specifically logical content and cease to be
a category of logic: it can only mean something like
‘conflict’ or ‘opposition between forces’. Marx himself sometimes speaks of ‘collisions’ rather than
‘contradictions’; and many Marxist writers when
discussing dialectic seem satisfied with this evacuation of the specifically logical content of the idea of
contradiction, or at least fail to take up the point
seriously, as if they have no understanding of the
basic pOSition from ID ich the objection is made.

The Cna’y~ical view: dialectic
not logic
We can see the analytical side of this lack of comprehension starkly represented in Popper’s critique
of the idea of dialectical logic in his’ What is
Dialectic?’ (Mind, 1940, reprinted in Conjectures
and Refutations). Popper claims that.dialectic is
most plausible as an empirical theory about the
temporal or historical development of thought. But
under that interpretation, it precisely cannot be
logic, and this for three general reasons that can be
identified in Popper’s argument and its background
of modern philosophy of logic:

(1) There are no contradictions in reality. Popper
approvingly quotes the words of the mathematical
logician Hilbert: ‘The thought that facts or events
might mutually contradict each other appears to me
as the very paradigm of thoughtlessness’. Now it
might be supposed th~t this doctrine is true of mater·
ial reality and thus undermines the Marxist .dialectic,
dialectical materialism. But, it might be argued, it
could be taken to be true of the whole of reality only
if the common philosophical contrast between thought
and reality misled us into believing that thought itself is not a part of reality; and of course, thought
is a part of reality, and in that part of reality there
can be contradictions. However, to the extent that
it’s admitted that there can be contradictions in
thought, the concession is heavily qualified. For the
argument that there can be no contradictions in real4

ity seems to apply in some sense to any part of
reality, thought included. The argument is that if
the propOSition ‘p’ contradicts the proposition ‘q’,
the proposition ‘p & q’ must be false, i. e. JlOthing
in reality can correspond to it. In other words, if
the proposition ‘p’ contradicts the proposition ‘q’,
it is logically impossible that both .l? and 9..: there
can be no state of affairs corresponding to a

(2) As this argument presupposes, logical relations
a:: ‘ruth-value relations between propositions. In
the 11aper ‘What is Dialectic?’ Popper speaks of
sentences, but whatever the word used they are denizens of what Popper now refers to as the Third

(3) Logical relations are atemporal, not chronological relations. Logic, unlike dialectic, is not concerned with temporal or historical change, with
processes. In particular., it is not concerned with
the origins of processes or with genetic or causal
explanations of them. It is not developmental (or any
other kind of) psychology, or history, or sociology.

These three doctrines are the basis of the philosophy of logic characteristic of twentieth century
analytical philosophy” and constitute a central part
· of the self -reflective theoriSing involved in the development of the special discipline of modern logic,
and with it the logic and methodology of science,
between Frege and Popper.

An analytical model of science
With this in mind, I want now to reconstruct a
simple but influential model of science incorporating
these ideas, and show how it relates both to our original question of science, values, and action, and
to the connected question of dialectic. The relevant
aspects of the model are articulated in Wittgenstein’s
Tractatus. The logic and methodology of science
represents science as a body of propositions between which hold certain truth-relations (including,
perhaps, probability-relations). The basic notion
of truth is essentially concerned with the relation
of a proposition to the reality it is about, the relation of a propOSition to its subject-matter – to what,
in view of the tradition, we had better call its object.

It’s often said that the aims of science are to describe, explain, and predict. In the philosophy of
science these aims are represented in the claim
that scientific theories are descriptive, explanatory,
and predictive. But it’s essential to ask: descriptive,
explanatory, and predictive of what? The answer is
that these categories of description, explanation,
and prediction characterise ways in which scientific
theories relate to their object; or perhaps better, as
in Popper’s account (with description replaced by
testing) these three characterise aspects of the
single way in which scientific theories relate to
their object. At any event, scientific theories are
propositions that describe, explain, and predict the
reality they are about. Guided by the central importance of this distinction and relation between theory
and reality, or what a different tradition would have
called subject and object, we realise that if a theory
is self-contradictory it is logically impossible for
reality to be truthfully described by it. There can be
no contradictions in reality.

Sc:ienoe as practical: technology
It seems to be a consequence of the structure of this
model that in being descriptive, explanatory, and
predictive of reality, scientific theories cannot be
evaluative or practical, cannot have any evaluative
or practical implications. Yet is this really the
case? One vitally important kind of evaluative and

practlcai implication is commonly attributed fo
science eonceived in this way, namely technological
implications. Indeed, it might be said that given
science conceived in this way, technology is its only
possible evaluative and practical role, so that as a
paradigm of rationality in. theory, science under
this conception constitutes for practice the paradigm
of technological rationality. For example, Ohm’s
Law in theory of electricity says that in any electrical circuit the voltage, current, and resistance
stand in a constant relationship, that is, with a
given voltage and a higher resistance the current
flow will be lower. From this there seems to follow
a technological implication, i. e. an implication that
can be characterised in a variety of such general
ways as that it tells us: what to do in order to do
something else; or, how to do a certain thing; or,
by what means or in what way we can do something.

In this example, Ohm’s Law seems to imply that in
order to lower the current flow in a circuit with a
constant voltage, we must or mayor ought to increase the resistance. It’s this piece of technological know-how that’s embodied in the electrical device known as a rheostat, a variable resistance that
can be wired into a circuit, e. g. in a wireless
receiver, to enable us to control the current flow in
the instrument. In general, it’s by virtue of this
sort of implication that scientific knowledge, in
Bacon’s aphorism, is power. It’s by virtue of this
sort of implication that science conceived in this
way gives us mastery or control over nature, makes
us, in Descartes’ words, ‘masters and possessors
of nature’. This is certainly at least a part of what
was in Marx’s mind when he urged tlie crucial role
of science in man’s relation to Nature and society:

at present they dominate and master us, but with the
knowledge science gives us we enter a cosmic
struggle in which we can ultimately realise the
ancient Faustian dream without its awful penalty;
we can turn the tables on Nature and society, liberate ourselves by mastering them, and so move
from the realm of necessity to that of freedom, in
which at last we make our own history.

These dramatic possibilities, long dreamed of by
the great visionaries of the scientific revolution,
seem at this very moment to be starting their conversion into reality, as advanced industrial societies
move into the so~ called post-industrial stage, into
technological society, their essential structure
changing to bring about this unity of theory and practice, the systematic application of scientific knowledge to the problems of production through technology. That being so, it’s of some interest to. note
that philosophers, especially analytical philosophers,
have devoted so little time and effort to investigating
and clarifying the concept of technology, by which
scientific theory seems to come into such close
logical relation to practice. It’s this idea, of course,
that Hume is seeking to characterise in his famous
aphorism ‘Reason is and ought only to be the slave
of the passions’; Kant considered it in his account of
‘hypothetical imperatives’; Sidgwick says some
things to the point in The Methods of Ethics; and in
.The Language of Morals Hare developed a theory
that has since been sporadically examined and critiCised by others. Significantly, all those contributions have been made by ethics: though this is
clearly an area of important overlap between ethics
and tl?-e philosophy of science, the philosophy of
science has on the whole steadfastly ignored the
problems of technology, apparently conceiving itself,
perhaps with unconscious but understandable elitism,
as the philosophy of ‘pure’ science rather than the
philosophy of science both ‘pure’ and ‘applied’. As

far hs our present topic is concerned, the chief
problem in this area of technology is precisely
whether, and if so how, scientific theory) or more
generally factual, empirical, or descriptive propositions, can have evaluative and practical implications: for instance, how, if at all, Ohm’s Law can
imply a technical imperative or value judgment
containing the word ‘ought’ or one of its family,
e. g. that in order to increase the current in a
circuit with a constant voltage, one must or mayor
ought to lower the resistance.

I shan’t pursue that problem here (having said
something about it in Reason in Theory and Practice,
at 4.11): I’ll simply record my view that technological statements, though not moral judgments, are
genuinely prescriptive, practi~al ~” or evaluative, and
really do follow from empirical state”ments of fact
and scientific theolies; and therefore, that technology represents a crucial breach, from within
science itself so to speak, of the supposed logical
barrier between fact and value, between theory and
practice. But what kind of practice is legitimated
by the idea of technological rationality? The first
thing to note is that technology is not simply the use
of knowledge for some practical purpose, as if
knowledge were here just a means to some practical
end: the idea of technology is not just the idea that
knowledge is practically useful. For instance, the
knowledge that a diplomat is homosexual may be
used to blackmail him. In this sense, the knowledge
is a means to an end external to its content; whereas
in technology it’s the content of the knowledge that
represents theoretically the real relation of those
states of affairs that a practical point of view represents as means to ends. As we’ve seen, among
the categories involved in this idea are those of
power., control, and domination; and just as it’s
essential in characterising science as descriptive,
explanatory, and predictive to ask ‘Descriptive, .

explanatory, and predictive of what?’, so it’s
essential here to ask ‘Power, control, and domination over what? ‘. The answer is, of course, the
same in both cases. What a scientific theory, as
technology, gives us power, control, or domination
over is what it is descriptive, explanatory, or
predictive of: .that reality, or part of it, that constitutes its subject-matter or object. As a theory of
or about electricity, Ohm’s Law in its technological
applications enables us to control electrical phenomena. We could say that in technology the power
relation has the same object as the theory whose
application it is. More generally, if we can talk of
scientific knowledge as a relation between subject
and object, between a knowing subject and what he
has knowledge about, we can say that the power relation has the same terms as the knowledge relation:

the subject with the knowledge also has the power,
and the object he has knowledge about is what his
knowledge gives him power or control over. This is
one of the main reasons why the human sciences, if
conceived according to the doctrine of the unity of
science on the model of the natural sciences, can
seem to be oppressive rather than liberating in their
practical implications. Unlike the natural SCiences,
which as technology give power to human subjects
over non-human nature, the object of the human
sciences is or essentially involves people, and it’s
over people that these sciences as technology give
power. If in these sciences subject and object were
identical this technology would constitute (one kind
of) self-control. When subject and object in the
human sciences are different, or thought of as
different, as in our society or the technocratic
society some sociologists foresee for the post5

industrial phase, the human sciences as technology
constitute the power of some peopl-e over others: in
B. F. Skinner’s honest but menacing designation, the
behavioural sciences, for instance, yield a
‘technology of behaviour control’.

Soience as critical practice
Even if it’s the case, then, that the idea of technology helps to bring fact and value, theory and practice, into some kind of unity, it’s far from obvious
that this is the kind of unity envisaged by Marx’s
conception of science as dialectical. Indeed, this
kind of unity, characteristic of technocratic society,
seems to be involved in an essentially non-dialectical
conception of scientific theory as purely descriptive,
explanatory, and predictive of its object. It’s
because the relation of theory to object is conceived
as purely descriptive, explanatory, and predictive
that the practical relation of subject to that object is
a relation of power, the object of the· theory conceived in that theory’s practical implications as
under the control of the subject. One important
thing that’s missing from this model of scientific
theory if it’s compared with Marx’s conception of
social science is the idea of criticism. Marx’s
social science is socialist science by being, as
science, among other things a critique of its object,
capitalist society.

Now the simple model of science already outlined
contains not only the embryonic idea of technology
but also the implicit notion of criticism. The notion
is impliCit rather than explicit because the model
represents only the relation of a single scientific
theory to reality, its object. But if we enrich the
model with a second theory about the same object,
and consider the relation not of theory to object but
of theory to theory, the possibility arises of a relation between the two theories that is a relation at
once both of contradiction and of criticism. Given
two theories about the same subject-matter, one can
contradict the other and in doing so implicitly
criticise it as wrong, as mistaken. This notion of
wrongness or mistake, whether of action or theory,
is evaluative, as criticism or appraisal in general
is evaluative. It is not technologically evaluative.

Nor is it morally evaluative. The familiar and widespread tendency both to identify values with moral
values and to regard reason as value-free is simply
a fundamental part of the prevailing ideology of

Popper himself sees criticism, as well as descrip·
tion, explanation, and prediction, as crucial to
science; and he therefore sees scienc~ as in some
sense essentially evaluative. But at vital points in
his account he reveals how his Third World conception of logic, specifically his anti-psychologism in
the philosophy of logic, misleads him. One central
part of·Popper’s argument in ‘What is Dialectic?’

concerns ‘the dialectical saying that the thesis
“produces” its antithesis. Actually, ‘ he objects,
‘it is only our critical attitude which produces the
antitheSis, and where such an attitude is lacking which often enough is the case – no antithesis will be
produced. Similarly, we have to be careful not to
think that it is the “struggle” between a thesis and
its antithesis which “produces” a synthesis. The
struggle is one of minds … ‘. And later: ”l’be only
“force” which propels the dialectic development is,
therefore, our determination not to accept, or to put
up with, the contradiction between the thesis and the
antithesis. It is not a mysterious force inside these
two ideas, not a mysterious tension between them
which promotes development – it is purely our decision, our resolution, not to admit contradictions … ‘


What is at least strongly suggested here is that the
notion of contradiction, in being a category of logic,
is not itself evaluative or critical, and does not
imply criticism: characterising something as contradictory, Popper seems to say, is one thing, a logical thing; criticising it is another, logically independent, thing, a matter of psychological attitude and
decision rather than of logic.

I have argued elsewhere that the connection here
is on the contrary internal and conceptual: that to
characterise something as a contradiction, where
tha~ concept is a category of logic, is. at least by
implication, to criticise it; and moreover that to
criticise a theory is to criticise the actual or possible acceptance of that theory by some actual or
possible subject. It is in fact difficult to make much
sense of Popper’s notion of criticism, given his view
that what one criticises are theories, and his Third
World doctrine of knowledge without a knowing subject, i. e. of theory without a theoriSing subject.

What would be the point of criticising a theory, if
not to criticise the actual or possible acceptance of
that theory? Contrary to the Platonic conception of
logic that has characterised the subject from Frege
to Popper, logical categories are themselves
implicitly critical, and in their use as characterisations of theories or propositions criticise or
appraise those theories by criticising or appraising
their acceptance by actual or possible subjects. The
connection between logic and the faculty of reason
cannot be just contingent.

It follows from this, or is perhaps a presupposition of it, but in any case is true, that people, as
well as propositions, can contradict themselves, i. e.

that people can hold contradictory views; the critical
point of characteriSing a theory in terms of the logical category of contradiction therefore implies or
presupposes that in this sense there can be contradictions in reality. To say ‘Smith contradicted himself’ is to make a statement about Smith that is itself non-contradictory and at once empirical, logical
and evaluative, i. e. critical: it could not be critical
if there could not in this sense be contradictions in
reality. The contradictory thing Smith said of course
putatively describes something that is logically
impossible; but his asserting and believing it is
logically pOSSible, though logically impermissible.

In this way, science in general must be critical
and evaluative. But as has already been suggested,
the evaluative nature of scientific theories in relation to other theories and views can’t be understood
Platonically, simply in terms of logical implications
holding between descriptive propositions on the one
hand and value-judgments on the other. Just as, in
construing these value-judgments as criticism we
imply that in the sense outlined what is criticised,
e. g. a contradiction, can have a real existence in
some subject’s thoughts and attitudes, so the criticism itself is empirically instantiated as: opposition
– opposition to what is being criticised. Indeed,
criticism is an activity or practice, the activity or
practice of opposing, and without that activity there
could be no such thing as science. Science understood philosophically, i. e. Platonically, as a logical structure of theories would be impossible and
unintelligible without the idea of scientific activity,
theoretical practice, including the practice of
criticism; and with it the understanding of an argument not abs-tractly, as a set of propOSitions distinguishable into premises and conclusion, with
some logical relation between them, but concretely
as the activity of arguing. Science essentially involves arguing against people’s theories and views,
that is, critically opposin~ them: or, as we some-

times ~y, attacking them. The representation of
science simply as an attempt to understand the world
forgets that its point in so doing is also to change
that part of it that consists of misunderstanding.

‘The real is partly irrational: change it’: that is the
imperative of science.

Social science as criticismof its
How however true all that might be, it will no doubt
be objected that it’s irrelevant. For all these claims
about the critical nature of scientific activity fail to
come to grips with the essential feature of the Marxist conception of science as dialectic. Of course, it
will be said, science involves criticism, but the object of that criticism, what is criticised, is always
some other theory: the critical relation is always
between theories, it’s horizontal, so to speak, never,
vertical, never a relation between a theory and its
object, the reality it’s about. In relation to its object, a scientific theory is always descriptive,
explanatory, and predictive, never !ritical. For
example, the cosmological theory that the universe
is expanding may by implication be critical of the
theory that the universe is stable, but it is not critical of its object, i. e. of the universe itself and of
its size from one moment to another.

I’m willing to concede that point, as a point about
natural science; provided, as I’ve argu”ed, that the
criticism of theories is understood as having, even
in natural science, a social target, i. e. as the criticism of the acceptance of those theories by possible
subjects, including social institutions (e. g. the
Church as a target of Copernican criticism). But
Marx’s theoI:Y of capitalism is social Science, and
though it’s sometimes held by Marxists that all
science is or should be dialectical it seems indubitable that in Marxism dialectic is primarily and
essentially intended to characterise social science.

I think that if we claim that all science, including
natural science, is or should be dialectical, we
must also recognise some crucial differences in
what we might call degree of dialecticity between
natural and social sciences. If we hold that the natural sciences are dialectical that means: (a) that the
reality investigated by natural science has an underlying core (‘essence’) that differs radically from
(conflicts with) its phenomenal appearance; (b) that
this underlying core is constituted essentially by
conflicting forces; and (c) that the natural sciences
develop historically through theory change centrally
involving determinate contradiction between theories,.,
such that new theories both negate and preserve old

But in the social sciences there are further vital
dimensions to the dialectic, involving the logical
category of contradiction both at the level of the object and in the relation, the interaction, between
theory and object. For the object of social science
is or essentially involves people in society; people
are peculiar as objects of scienc:!e in being also subjects with their own theories, views, and ideas,
scientific and otherwise, about their activities,
about their social practices and institutions; these
theories, views, and ideas stand in much closer
logical relation to those social practices and institutions than do theories, views, and ideas about the
natural world to their object; and in particular, the
logical relation of contradiction, at least in its form
as inconsistency, can be instantiated not only between people’s thoughts but also between their actions
and practices. Marx says that people’s ideas about
their social practices and institutions reflect the

society they live in. SOCiety is itself a human product, and its production and reproduction have to be
seen partly in terms of the ideas that constitute the
self-understanding of the members of that society.

More specifically these ideas reflect and are instantiated in the surface features of the social structure,
and thus form an ideology that obscures the underlying realities of that structure. Scientific critique
of this ideology reveals that its appearance as consistent contradicts its own deeper nature: under
examination it is revealed as confused and selfcontradictory, and even in that ‘reflects’, though it
does not assert, the confused and self-contradictory
nature of the underlying social reality. In ~his way
social science, in criticiSing other, ideological
social theories and ideas as deeply contradictory,
and so contradicting them, at the same time criticises as contradictory, and so contradicts, the
society in whose structure those inconsistent and
conceptually muddled theories and ideas are
realised. Mar:x’s critique of what he calls ‘the
system of bouregois economy.’ attacks at one and
the same time both the theories and concepts of
political economy and capitalism itself.

It may be thought that this brief account fails to
recognise that the Marxist dialectic is materialist,
not idealist. My reply is that as a theory of society
Marx’s materialism asserts that what is basic in
society is the economy – that part of the structure
concerned essentially with the production of material
goods and thus the satisfaction of material needs.

That this ‘material base’ of social activities is inseparably” interwoven with ideas is evident from the
section of Capital on ‘The Fetishism of Commodities’.

Thus the critical practice constituting Marxist
social science involves practical opposition to the
basic self-contradictions of capitalist society, its
aim (and thus prediction) being the supersession of
those contradictions. In two crucial ways, Marx’s
critique is not a moral or ethical critique, and its
practice is not “moral practice, at least as those
notions have often been understood. First, its
criticism is not of personal immoralities but of
society’s structural irrationalities. Second, it is
not doctrinaire in supposing that the changes required can necessarily be effected by ideas alone,
i. e. by the theoretical practice of reasoning with
and exhorting people. Whatever morality is, in both
ways Marxism is not morality as distinct from
science: its central values are (and need only to be)
those of reason, i. e. dialectic.

~To conclude self -reflectively: if that is the role of
science, what place is left for philosophy? Coupled
with the descriptivist conception of science has been
a view of philosophy as itself analytical and descriptive: philosophy can (in the end) only describe the
structure of (scientific and other) language,’ and
must leave everything as it is. But in this paper I
have been doing philosophy: my aim has been also
to show by example that just as science in general
can and must be critical, and at an epistemologically
basic level critical of existing concepts, and just as
social science in particular can and must be critical
of its object, society, so philosophy can and must
be part of that same general project of social
criticism, distinguished if at all only by the fundamentality of its target, the basic categories instantiated in society, in terms of which reality, including the social reality of science itself, is currently
understoad and shaped. I have criticised a dominant
conception of science, and therefore a powerful
tendency in the current social practice of science
and the emerging technological society in which that
conception” and practice have a central role.


Download the PDFBuy the latest issue