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37 Reviews

Elementary Illusions

Nancy Cartwright, How the Laws of Physics Lie, Oxford
University Press, 1983, 1..16 hb, 1..7.95 pb
The classic work of C.G. Hempel established as orthodoxy
the view that scientific explanation consists in subsuming
phenomena under covering laws. With varying degrees of
plausibility the analysis was extended to cover ordinary,
everyday explanations, which were construed as abbreviated or elliptic versions of the genuine article. Whether
the laws concerned are statistical or strictly universal,
there is no doubt on the Hempelian view that they represent attempts to get at ‘the truth’ about the phenomena
concerned. They fall short of this goal in so far as they
fail to represent things accurately or completely, but these
faults are to be repaired by subsuming low level, limited
laws under laws of ever greater generality.

This picture is nicely in accord with the Official View
of physics which portrays scientific progress in terms of
unification of its fundamental laws – whether achieved
through ‘consilience of inductions’ or ‘revolutionary conjectures’. As fundamental physics approaches ‘The Truth’ so
the explanatory power of its diminishing number of principles increases, and no less a theoretician than Stephen
Hawking believes that The End is in sight, when we will
have One Fundamental Law which explains everything. We
have many historical images of this goal: the Pythagorean
harmonies; the Cosmic Idea wrought in matter by Plato’s
demiurge; the Thoughts of Kepler’s God; the Formula of
Laplace’s Omniscient Intelligence. The secularised modern
version sees science as a Quest for The Truth, and this
idea inspires both the popular and the professional imagination. But an implication of Nancy Cartwright’s argument is
that this Quest does not survive secularisation. Indeed, she
argues, a presupposition both of the official view of scientific progress and of Hempelian orthodoxy in the philosophy
of science is radically mistaken. ‘The truth doesn’t explain
much,’ she declares. The more the laws of physics are true
the less they explain; the more they explain, the less they
are true.

There would be nothing particularly new were this an
exercise in reckless epistemological anarchy. And the view
that science can do no more than ‘save the appearances’

and that its theoretical entities are mere convenient fictions has a venerable antiquity. A thorough-going instrumentalism seems impossible to confute – what can a realist
point to but the very success in prediction and control
which the instrumentalist says is the whole essence of

Nevertheless, despite the soothing way instrumentalism

helps one to stop worrying about the paradoxes of quantum
mechanics, a realist stance does seem to accord better
with our strong intuitive feeling that the physical sciences,
particularly as deployed in high technology, really have got
onto something! Cartwright’s argument cuts across this
long-running dispute. She is toughly realist when it comes
to theoretical entities and causal connections, and she is
quite unashamed of the practical success of the sciences.

But she is an anti-realist about laws – it’s a lie to say the
fundamental laws of physics represent The Truth, on the
contrary they aren’t true of anything at all.

What gives her analysis particular force is the way she
deploys detailed examples from real physics. Unfortunately,
this very fact may limit the readership sinte,even though
most of the argument is directly accessible, it may be difficult for the non maths or physics graduate to exercise
independent judgement on the technical illustrations. However, anyone who has had such a training will recognise the
practices she describes and may then wonder why they
accepted that the Hempelian account fits science any
better than it fits everyday life.

Her account makes considerable use of a distinction
which is drawn within physics between ‘phenomenological
laws’ and ‘fundamental laws’. The former involve the
detailed, accurate description of specific, concrete physical
processes. These lawlike descriptions are known with great
reliability and are tested and refined with extraordinary
accuracy – she cites the example of a commercial laser
manufacturer who continuously runs a quarter of a million
dollars’ worth of lasers to destruction to check on their
performance characteristics. These phenomenological laws
are the closest we can get to the truth about what is going
on in real situations, but they aren’t explanatory. Explanation is what is provided by the fundamental laws when we
try to subsume the phenomenological laws under them.

But this never works out simply and cleanly. For
example, the law of gravitation gives the correct value for
the force on an object only if no other forces are involved,
and all relevant objects are included. But these conditions
can never be satisfied, so we are faced with a dilemma:

either we say the law is actually false, or we reformulate
it so it remains true but counterfactual (i.e. it would apply
if things were other than they actually are). However, the
latter solution precludes the use of the law in precisely
those situations where we make use of it, viz. to calculate
the contributions of different factors to a composite

Nancy Cartwright concludes that all fundamental laws
come with small print saying ‘other things being right’, but
this is tantamount to admitting that the fundamental laws

are really false. What fundamental theory is able to explain
is a ‘simulacrum’ (an idealised model of the situation).

When it comes to explaining our highly accurate phenomenological laws, physicists start making approximations in an
ad hoc fashion. Some approximations involve blatantly unrealistic assumptions in order to get the theory to fit the
facts. Others involve piecemeal ‘realistic’ additions to get
a better match. Either way the idea that the fundamental
theory is ‘true’ emerges pretty battered, and that idea is
made to appear still more precarious by an examination of
the variety of theoretical approaches available in concrete
situations. Different approaches are useful for explaining
different models. Sometimes the order in which approximations are made has a critical influence on the result. All of
this argues that the process of connecting fundamental
laws to facts is more of a negotiation than a Hempelian

The profligacy of theoretical devices used in such
negotiations stands in stark contrast to the uniqueness
which physicists require of causal explanations. As Cartwright sees it there is just one situation in which you can
make an inference from explanatory success to a ‘best
explanation’ – and that is where you are citing causes. She
rejects the Humean analysis of causes in terms of associations, and reinstates a causal nexus. That causality is real
is presupposed by the possibility of the practice of devising
effective strategies for coping with the world. Humean
associations are inadequate for distinguishing effective
from ineffective strategies.

Now causal connections are supposed to exist between
the objects to which the fundamental theories of physics
refer. Thus we can speak of them existing independently of
the theories in which they are customarily embedded and
hence allow different theories to be theories about the
same real objects. But this claim, though appealing, is far
from being unproblematic. Would it make sense to argue
that the atoms of Democritus and Newton’s particles of
light were the same objects as Gell-Mann’s quarks and
Einstein’s photons?

There surely comes a point when the changes in theory
are such that we say we are talking of different things
rather than just revising the way we talk about them. And
the existence of theoretical entities hardly seems less precarious than our theories of them. Such venerable entities
as Aristotle’s crystalline spheres, Galen’s humours, magnetic poles, austral and boreal fluids, phlogiston, electrick
fluids, caloric and the luminiferous aether have all passed
into oblivion despite the causal roles attributed to them.

None the less a central part of Cartwright’s thesis remains:

a proliferation of causal explanations for the same phenomenon is not tolerable. Causal explanations compete in a
way that other types of theoretical explanation do not.

Cartwright deploys her combination of ‘theoreticalinstrumentalism’ with ‘causal-realism’ to dissolve one of the
perennial puzzles of quantum mechanics: the so-called
Measurement Problem. As is well known, when a stream of
photons is sent through a pair of closely placed slits, their
behaviour differs from that which occurs when the slits are
opened alternately. Quantum mechanics represents this
situation by associating a complex mathematical function
with the photon which exhibits wave-like ‘superposition’

showing how the possibilities of passing through either slit
‘interfere’ with one another. This ‘state function’ evolves
in a deterministic fashion, governed by Schri:1inger’s equation, and it would seem that if a particle is once put into a
state of super position, then so must be all systems with
which it subsequently interacts.

But this has the apparently absurd consequence that
the act of performing a measurement will put both our
apparatus and ourselves into a state of superposition. In
fact we always find our particles in specific states: it is as
if the act of observation caused a sudden and indeterministic ‘collapse’ of a wave-packet, and this kind of evolution
of the state function is governed by a different equation:

von Neumann’s projection postulate. This focus on measure-


ment has led some people to make curious assertions about
the role of consciousness in determining physical reality.

Others, trying to preserve a realist interpretation of
Schrdinger’s equation, have argued that quantum mechanics
shows the world is constantly splitting into an everincreasing number of parallel universes.

The more orthodox interpretation has taken an instrumentalist stance: the state function is related to the probability of the particle being detected at a particular location. Positivistic slogans are used to prohibit us from talking about such particles having locations independently of
observation. If we suppose they do have real, but unknown
positions, then the two-slit experiment is rendered completely inexplicable – how can the slit the particle does not
go through affect its behaviour? The tensions implicitln
this account generate difficulties for either the logical or
probabilistic concepts used in quantum theory.

Cartwright wants to preserve realism about entities
and causal connections, but finds the conventional story
about the collapse of the wave-packet unconvincing.

Reductions of the wave-packet occur in all kinds of indeterministic transitions and not only in ‘measurements’.

She argues that where the state function makes itself felt
is in calculating the probabilities of these transitions, and
that if we concentrate on using this to interpret the formalism instead of thinking of positiion probabilities as fundamental, even though they have no causal role, then we will
eliminate some of the logical puzzles of customary quantum

Cartwright’s position seems to imply that there are two
kinds of evolution of a quantum system: Schrdinger evolution and von Neumann evolution. But this recreates a new
form of the Measurement Problem: how does the system
know which way to evolve? Her response is to argue that
the evolution of quantum systems is governed by a more
general quantum statistical equation in which the two kinds
of situation are represented by a formal mathematical difference. This move is exactly what you would expect from
someone who thinks that fundamental theory can get progressively ‘nearer to the truth’, except that she insists that
there is no reason to suppose this difference marks a real
physical property. In the end she dissolves the Measurement
Problem as the product of a mathematical convention.

However, if one source of philosophical perplexity
evaporates on this analysis, another hardens and crystallizes. Nearly fifty years ago, Einstein, with his co-workers
Podolsky and Rosen, proposed a thought-experiment designed to show that the new quantum mechanics was ‘incomplete’. They envisaged two systems in known, ‘prepared’

states which are allowed to interact and subsequently to
separate. It appears that measurement on one of the separated systems will allow us to calculate the state of the
other without interacting with it in any way.

The initial thrust of this argument was that, given certain minimal assumptions about ‘physical reality’, we have
to acknowledge that quantum systems have well-defined
properties independently of observation, even though quantum mechanics does not enable us to determine them. The
only alternatives seem to be either that the system remains
a composite ‘whole’ even when its parts have become in-

definitely separated, or that there is a kind of magical
‘action at a distance’, whereby fixing the state of one subsystem instantaneously fixes the state of the other. In the
early ‘sixties, J.S.B. showed that the predicted correlations
between the states of the two subsystems differed in quantum mechanics from what you would get if you assumed
these states were fixed by ‘hidden variables’ when the
systems were in contact.

In the ‘fifties, David Bohm pointed out that a version
of the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen experiment could be realised with electron spins or the polarisation of photons. And
in 1982, Alain Aspect reported on the conclusion of a long
series of experiments designed to discriminate between the
predictions of quantum mechanics and those of hidden variable alternatives. Hume stipulated that cause and effect
had to be ‘contiguous’; in modern physics this has become
‘the principle of local causes’. Aspect’s work seems to
show that this principle fails in quantum mechanics – action
on one system alters the state of another even though
there is no time for an ‘influence’ to propagate from one
to the other.

Nancy Cartwright’s approach to quantum mechanics
avoids the puzzles which arise from taking position probabilities and Shrdinger evolution as fundamental, instead
our attention is directed to transitions and their causes,
but the price is that the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen paradox
becomes more vivid. We do indeed have instantaneous
action at a distance in physics. As she acknowledges, it is
characteristic for solutions to the Measurement Problem to
leave the EPR-paradox untouched, and vice versa. Nevertheless her programme for a less mystifying interpretation
of quantum mechanics deserves to be worked out in the
form of a full-fledged textbook.

Nancy Cartwright’s world is a rich profusion of things
and properties linked together by causality. This world

sometimes – amazingly – behaves in a discoverably regular
way. We should be pleased we can sometimes explain things
economically, even if the laws we postulate are demonstrably not true of the real world. Her argument has wider
implications than merely a revision to the traditional explication of ‘explanation’ in the philosophy of science. If
she is right, then we foster metaphysical illusions about the
nature of science in thinking of its fundamental laws as
getting us closer to the Truth.

Though it is not her avowed intention to do so, she
strengthens the case for insisting that theoretical scientific
knowledge has a socially constructed character. Yet with
her firm insistence on the reality of theoretical entities
and the reality of causes she indicates a clear role for the
physical world to play in the determination of our scientific knowledge. What is at stake is a metaphysical picture.

Pierre Duhem once contrasted the deep but narrow character of French science, insisting on the elegant mathematical formulation of fundamental principles, with the broad
but shallow character of British science, filling the cosmos
with ghostly confections of late Victorian engineering.

Unlike Pythagoras, Plato, Kepler, Newton or Einstein,
Nancy Cartwright’s God has ‘the untidy mind of the
English’. Of course, it may be that Stephen Hawking’s awesome struggle from his wheelchair to gain intellelctual
mastery of the universe by finding the One Law to rule all
the laws of nature will actually succeed. It would however
take an eternity to show that this Law was True. What
Nancy Cartwright has done is to show that this goal indeed
belongs to the eschatology of science, and that there is no
certain warrant in the success of its present practices for
beieving that there is any such Truth to be found.

Jona than Powers

Physical Attractions

Jonathan Powers, Philosophy
Methuen, 1982, 1:..3.95 pb





The advent of relativity and quantum theory earlier this
century produced a host of philosophical problems which
were engaged by some of the leading philosophers and physicists. These developments in physics led Planck, Einstein,
Bohr, Heisenberg, Schlick, Reichenbach and numerous
others to probe the foundations of physics and to re-assess
the problems of time, space, causality, determinism and
realism. Their discourse constitutes the ‘grand tradition’ in
the philosophy of modern physics.

During the last few decades, however, this tradition
has declined. Kuhn may be right in claiming that scientists
only examine the fundamentals of their subject at a time of
‘revolution’; it is certainly true that, with few exceptions,
physicists exhibit little interest in the philosophy of their
subject and the philosophy of physics – unlike the philosophy of biology – is in the doldrums. Jonathan Powers’

book is to be welcomed for several reasons, not the least
of which is that it aims to rekindle interest in the philosophical problems raised by modern physics.

In the opening chapter, Powers outlines a number of
philosophical systems which have been deployed in science

and finds them all wanting. Instead, he defends the modest
claim that physical theories are not fully dictated by the
structure of the natural world but possess a conventional
component. The following three chapters are structured
round the theme of conventionalism. The first deals with
classical physics and in particular Newton’s laws of motion;
convention entering in the postulation of absolute space
and time. The special theory of relativity is the subject of
the next chapter, which shows elements of convention involved in the intepretation of space and space-time. Finally, a similar line is adopted in respect to quantum theory
and especially the concepts of complementarity and indeterminacy. In a short concluding chapter, Powers draws
some general lessons from these specific case studies.

There are a number of different ways of reading this
book. It could, for example, be approached as a nonmathematical introduction to the new physics. In this it is
very successful and Powers obviously enjoys, and is accomplished at, teaching physical theory to non-physicists. Most
of his discussions and examples are succinct, although on a
few occasions they are so compressed as to be difficult to
comprehend. Secondly, the book is a useful primer in the
philosophy of physics and succeeds in showing how the philosophical problems of physics have been discussed by the
advocates of different philosophical systems and the limita-


tions to such approaches. Thirdly, the book contributes to
the history of physics. Powers is well-read in the primary
source material and, while he often trades on conventional
wisdom, there are some places – most notably his discussion
of the Michelson-Morley-Miller experiments – where he
strikes out on his own. Finally, this is a consciousnessraising book, less in terms of the specific philosophical
issues which Powers raises than because he frequently comments on such subjects as the role of myth and the importance of appreciating the social influences affecting

Powers is to be congratulated on encompassing such a
wide range of issues in 170 pages and for making a highly
technical subject accessible and stimulating to the nonspecialist. It is, however, hardly surprising that in such an
eclectic book the main themes are not sustained. In respect
to conventionalism, for example, Powers displays ambivalence; for while he often exploits the role of conventions
he admits at other places that ‘it can hardly be denied that
the process of scientific development is, to a large extent,
driven by problems and goals’ {p. 168, emphasis added}, and there are sections of this book in which
physics is portrayed in this very manner. In such sections
the theme of conventionalism is lost from sight.

While conventionalism provides Powers with an interesting and philosophically important approach to physics,
there remains some doubt as to how to characterise this
central theme. The examples cited appear to illustrate very
different types of convention. For example, Powers rightly
calls Einstein’s light postulate a convention in that it was
not dictated by empirical evidence. However, it could be
argued that Einstein adopted this postulate on grounds of
simplicity since to assume that the velocity of light was
different on the outward and return paths would have
played havoc with the laws of physics. This example illustrates a type of convention very different from that involved in Powers’ more general claim; that owing to the
underdetermination of scientific theories, scientists adopt
conventions reflecting their social, political or religious
interests. This latter thesis is, however, potentially applicable to other examples of underdetermination; for example,
the different interpretations of quantum theory. Thus not
all cases of convention leave open the possibility of
explanation in social terms (in any strong sense).

A related problem concerns the account we give of the
decisions taken by scientists. At a number ofj)laces in this
book Powers cites specific examples which appeal to
explanation in terms of extra-scientific causes; thus
Newton’s advocacy of absolute space is related to his theology, cultural factors are cited as influencing the rise of
indeterminacy {the Forman thesis}, and some of the antipathy towards relativity is accounted for by antisemitism.

In these and similar cases, Powers is appealing to the history of physics or, more precisely, the history of physics as
distilled by certain historians of science. Thus he – like
many other philosophers and sociologists of science – looks
to history as providing an immovable point of reference on
which to hang his interpretations. However, the history of
science cannot fulfil this function so directly since historical interpretation is often a matter of considerable dispute, as in the case of the Forman thesis cited above. It is
not that I intend to challenge any of the specific historical
interpretations offered by Powers but rather to point to
the disparity between his highly critical attitude towards
interpretations of physical theory and his less critical
acceptance of certain current interpretations in the history
of physics. Part of Powers’ account of conventions among
physicists thus derives from the current conventions among
historians of science.

Another, more fundamental, issue raised by this book is
the current state of the philosophy of physics. In this
country it tends to be an elusive subject with few institutional niches. Powers tells us that his book is based on lectures to STS {science, technology and society} students,
humani ties students and science teachers. Noticeably absent

from his list are students of physics and practising physicists. Such omissions are not peculiar to the institution
where Powers teaches but may also be taken to indicate a
general lack of communication between physicists and
philosophers of physics. There are indeed few places where
physics students confront the philosophical problems raised
by their discipline. Powers has the best of intentions in
directing his book to the physics constituency {among
others} since he believes that ‘students of physics should
take time between rounds of laboratory exercises and problem sheets to think about conceptual puzzles of their discipline’ {p. xiv}. It would indeed be laudable if they did;
but, one is tempted to ask, why should they? The reason
given by Powers is disappointing – ‘for experience shows
how easily profound misunderstanding can be masked by
technical facility – important though that is’.

The importance of studying the philosophy of physics
needs to be argued in stronger terms. Of the several further such arguments, let me indicate three. Firstly, philosophy should provide the physicist with a critical awareness
of methods, concepts and the nature of scientific enterprise. Not only will this contribute to the individual’s insight, but it can also increase the intellectual vitality of
physics. Secondly, philosophy has been a major source for
the critical evaluation of scientific theories and practices.

A contemporary example is the realist critique of the
Copenhagen interpretation, which has led to the call for
experimental tests to discriminate between the Copenhagen
interpretation and a family of alternative theories founded
on the principle of locality. Thus, philosophical issues have
reappeared at the very heart of modern physics. {See, for
example, T.W. Marshall, E. Santos and F. Sellari, ‘Local
realism has not bee refuted by atomic cascade experiments’, Physics Letters, 98A (1983), 5-9.} Finally, and most
importantly, there is the need for the philosophy to provide
the social and ethical perspective on science as a social
activity with social consequences. For example, physicists
are progressively being called upon to make public statements about the safety of nuclear reactors.. All too often
they possess neither the philosophical understanding nor the
tools to deal with such issues. These arguments, and particularly the last, emphasise the need to include philosophy
within scientific education.

While Powers seems uncertain about the role of the
philosophy of physics, he appears to doubt whether the
traditional techniques of the discipline will produce any
conclusions of importance to the physics community. We
first encounter this scepticism in the chapter on quantum
mechanics: ‘But a peculiar fact about quantum theory
is that the formalism preceded the interpretation, and so
disagreements over interpretation need not affect its
experimental usefulness’ {p. 138}. By the end of the chapter
Powers seems convinced that philosophy is irrelevant to the
real ball-game of physics {pp. 163-4}. Moreover, in the concluding paragraphs of the book he inverts the foundation
metaphor, thus removing philosophical issues far from the
concerns of the practising physicist.

What are we to make of this deconstructionist exercise? This book not only indicates that Powers has broken
with the ‘grand tradition’ but also {when taken with other
indications} that the philosophy of physics, as traditionally
conceived, is lacking direction and in a far from healthy
state. Is it worth reviving? How can it be revived? I leave
these questions to philosophers of physics. Powers at least
wants to offer some suggestions as to the way forward. At
the didactic level he seems to feel that the philosophy of
physics has a consciousness-raising role to play for students
of physics. {Moreover, it can count on a lay audience;
theologians, in particular, revel in the puzzles of quantum
theory.} Again, Powers sees that the strong programme in
the sociology of scientific knowledge offers a potentially
insightful way of connecting philosophy with sociology and
historical studies. To these suggestions we must add the
need for the philosophy of physics to confront not only the
intellectual, but also the social and ethical dimensions of


The philosophy of physics may possibly receive a new
impetus from these or other directions, but one fundamental problem still remains; how to reconnect the subject
with its source of vitality – physics. Certainly Powers is
more aware than many of his colleagues that the philosophy
of physics must confront post-war developments; he briefly
mentions such innovations as Feynman diagrams and the
theory of gluons. Yet such valiant attempts pale beside the
larger problems of effectively combining the two subjects.

Perhaps we will have to wait for another Kuhnian revolution before physicists will rush in droves to knock at the

door of philosophy departments. In the meantime, stronger
institutional links need to be forged between the subjects.

(However, in the present climate such institutional innovations seem unlikely.) Another possibility, and a highly likely
one, is that the philosophical puzzles of relativity and
quantum theory will simply take their places beside other
puzzles left behind by largely-defunct traditions. The clock
paradox and the criticisms of the Copenhagen interpretation share much in common with the puzzles of angelology
or the mystery of the trinity.

Geoffrey Cantor

Under the Spell

Charles Webster, From Paracelsus to Newton: Magic and
the Making of Modern Science, Cambridge University Press,
1983, 1.12.50 hc
Magic poses crucial problems for the historical understanding of science. Is it simply diametrically opposed to
science, as the founders of twentieth-century sociology and
anthropology assumed? Max Weber, for example, saw the
modern understanding and control of nature as deriving
from an Entzauberung, or ‘disenchantment’, of the world.

Magic was the mode of cognition characteristic of a ‘primitive’ society, in opposition to which understanding of modern society was to be constituted. But was the historical
relation between magic and science in fact one of total
disjuncture? Or did the transition between the two systems
of knowledge-production and validation actually include
elements of continuity? The period of the sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries focuses these questions historically,
for it was during this period in Western Europe that
science assumed significant features of its modern form.

Charles Webster’s Eddington Memorial Lectures, given
at Cambridge in 1980, and published in this volume, take
their point of departure from Lord Keynes’s description of
Isaac Newton as ‘the last magician’. Webster claims that
Paracelsus and Newton, far from occupying the completely
incommensurable intellectual worlds of ‘magic’ and
‘science’, in fact show significant similarities of doctrine.

He traces continuities and patterns of transmission between
Reformation Germany of the early sixteenth century and
late seventeenth-century Restoration England, with particular reference to three areas of occult knowledge:

prophecy, spiritual magic, and demonic magic.

Discussing prophecy, Webster argues that an eschatological understanding of time and history, and a providentialist metaphysics, provided the framework for cosmological debate throughout the period. Paracelsus’s ontology
allowed for descending astral influences, although he criticised the actual practices of judicial astrology. Newton’s
cosmos, far from running like clockwork, depended on similar spiritual agencies of divine intervention. Comets, for
both men, were agents of God’s will, and portents of
changes in the earthly realm. Millenarian expectations
flourished in the turbulent political climate, both of Reformation Germany, and of the English Revolution. Furthermore, the importance of spiritual magic can be understood
only be reference to this eschatological framework.

The improvement of man’s earthly condition, whether
by the Renaissance magus, or the experimental ‘scientist’,
was a sign of the prophesied last age. Paracelsus’s advocacy of ‘natural magic’, with its high valuation of the
manual arts, and attention to detailed observation, pointed
the way to the co-operative experimental and technical
enterprises of Francis Bacon’s followers in seventeenthcentury England.

In the 1660s, the Royal Society took over this tradition, adapting it to the conservative climate of the Restoration, while some of its members, including Newton,
retained an interest in subjects like alchemy. Finally,
Webster argues against those who have assumed that it was
the new natural philosophy of the late seventeenth century
which disposed of the previously prevalent belief in witches
and demons. He shows that several prominent Restoration
scientists insisted that the existence of demons was essential to a non-materialist ontology, while the standard arguments against the existence of witchcraft, which ascribed
the belief to delusions of the imagination, had already been
canvassed by Paracelsus.


Webster’s overview provides a very necessary corrective to those historians who have denied the importance of
the magical tradition in relation to the origins of modern
science, or who have too readily assumed an identity
between the ‘rise of science’ and the ‘decline of magic’.

But I doubt that his emphasis on the continuities over this
period can really give other than one side of the picture.

This was, after all, the period when distinctively new features of a natural-philosophical theory and practice did
emerge; and when the occult tradition suffered what Brian
Copenhaver has called its ‘disappearance of cognitive
authority’ •


Webster declares his intention of shifting the focus of
analysis away from the ‘rise of the mechanical philosophy’,
but in doing so he fails to offer an adequate response to
those who see the new philosophy of the mid-seventeenth
century as forged partly in opposition to aspects of the
occult tradition. Historians such as Margaret and James
Jacob have attempted to locate this dialectic socially, in
the context of the English Revolution and Restoration. A
full synthesis would surely require some assessment and
integration of these accounts of discontinuity in the period;
and given his qualifications to do so, it is a pity that

Webster has declined the opportunity to present such a

What he has presented is a skilful and lucid interweaving of some vitally important themes from early
modern intellectual history, with wide-ranging reference to
primary sources, and complemented by some fascinating
illustrations. The result is a provocative study, certain to
stimulate much re-thinking and debate among those interested in the origins of modern science.

Jan Golinski

Constructing the Unconscious

Richard Lichtman, The Production of Desire: The Integration of Ps choanal sis into Marxist Theor , The Free Press,
New York, 1982, 27.95
Richard Lichtman’s book, The Production of Desire, is an
original contribution to the literature about the relationship between Marxist and Freudian theories. What distinguishes Lichtman’s work from that of other authors in this
field (Marcuse, Jacoby, Lasch, Reich, Schneider, Fromm,
Lacan etc.) is that it is not eclectic. Thus, Lichtman’s
integration of Freudian insights into Marxist theory,
especially those insights concerned with the repressed unconscious, proceeds from a clear cut view of the internal
unity of both Marx’s and Freud’s entire corpus. His construction of the unity of Marx’s work takes for granted an
underlying continuity between the early and later Marx
and, in terestingl y, Engels.

His construction of the internal unity of Freud’s corpus
is concerned to show that Freud’s meta-psychology cannot
be re-interpreted in a non-causal, phenomenological way
and that his clinical practice cannot be separated from the
assumptions of his meta-psychology.

The point about
Freud’s clinical practice is made by a thorough re-examination of ‘The Case of Dora’. Freud’s evidence only supports
his conclusion, Lichtman argues, when it is put in the context of both his theoretical and unrelective social assumptions. Lichtman is, accordingly, critical of the integration
of Freud’s insights into Marx’s theory in the manner of
Marcuse, who merely accepts a quasi-biological theory of
individual drives, or Reich or Jacoby, who want to treat
Freud’s theory as describing an area of reality distinct
from that treated in Marx’s theory.

‘The key to demystifying Freudian theory,’ according to
Lichtman, ‘is the translation of its “natural” categories into
their social meaning.’ His critical assessment of Freud’s
own evidence is meant to bear out the view that the existence of drives, instincts or desires outside the realm of
rational self-determination should be understood as a result
of social relations rather than as a datum in the study of
the human condition. This is the sense in which desire is
produced. Lichtman argues further that the gap left in
Freudian theory by a critique of its foundations can be
made good by integrating Freud’s insights into a Marxist
theoretical framework.

What results is a theory of the unconscious which, unlike Freud’s, see it both as social in content and as being
required by particular social relations. The point here is

that exploitative social relations, as a condition of their
own existence, require false consciousness as well as the
repressed unconscious.

Thus Lichtman argues against
Godelier, as a representative ‘structuralist’, that, on the
assumption that the fetishism of commodities, as a paradigm of ideology, is an inverted reflection of reality,
structuralism cannot account for the way in which the real
relations are concealed from the agent merely by claiming
that they are independent of the agent. ‘Search as one
will, it is impossible to locate “appearance”, “reversals”, or
“mystifica tions” of any sort independent of the mind.’

Lichtman’s solution to this problem is to enlist the
concept of the repressed unconscious to show how individuals bear social relations. It is to this end that he has
sought to eliminate Freud’s concept of instinct from the
theory of the repressed unconscious. As the bewildering
variety of rival Marxisms and Marxist philosophies testifies,
Marx did not adequately address the relationship between
individual subjects and social structure. Thus, on Lichtman’s view, Freud’s theory fills a logical gap in Marx’s
theory as well as adding to its explanatory power.

Lichtman makes use of his integration of Marx and
Freud to evaluate the possibilities and limits of ‘individualised’ therapeutic practice in capitalist society. What he
calls for is a therapy which can recognise the social
character both of the self and of the objects of our deepest needs. This therapeutic process is described as ‘collective transference’ and its medium is found in the budding
movement for democratic socialism.

Lichtman’s book, in my estimation, is pregnant with
important but unsystematic suggestions about the relationship between his reconstruction of Marx’s theory and contemporary political practice. From a philosophical point of
view, his underlying theme that nature and society describe
the same reality at different levels of abstraction is interesting and controversial. Lichtman, in effect, argues that a
desire, at one level of description, involves biological
energy, but also that such a fact is too general to explain
the socially constituted object of desire, e.g. ‘love’, or the
social form that desiring takes. In my opinion, it is necessary to see that biological and cultural descriptions are
about the same reality in order to grasp the hypotheses of
cultural anthropologists about certain distinctively human
trai ts, e.g. the loss of a female oestrous cycle in the
course of human evolution, the development of a distinctively human symbol-processing central nervous system in
the course of human evolution, not to mention the opposable thumb. Lichtman’s work will also be of interest to



philosophers for what amounts to a direct assault on the
distinction between reason and passion which runs through
the tradition of Western moral philosophy as well as
through Freud’s thought.

What is lacking in Lichtman’s reconstruction of Marx’s
theory is a view of the way in which personal experience,
which mediates the fetishised appearances and the underlying reality of capitalist production, is to be understood in
relation to class conflict. If the hold of the relations of
production depends on enforcing the false, inverted appear-

ances of the reality of social relations, how are these relations, in turn, affected by the gradual restoration of the
social dimensions of self in class struggle? How, in turn, is
class struggle affected by the intractability of social relations? One wants to be convinced that, in arguing against
the structuralists, Lichtman has not yielded too much to
them in the way of the passivity of personal experience.

Anatole Anton

Manichean Visions
John Marks, Science and the Making of the Modern World,
Heinemann, 507 pp., !.9.50 pb
In the recent, and most excellent, film ‘Under Fire’,
President Somoza’s CIA sidekick asserts there are but two
possibilities: either Somoza restores ‘stability’ to Nicaragua
or ‘the Commies take over the world’. Something of the
same Manichean vision permeates this book, albeit more
subtly. (And for ‘Somoza’ one should read ‘Popper and von
Hayek’.) The subtlety lies in introducing the book as one
aiming to provide students with ‘a coherent intellectual
framework within which they can appraise current trends in
the history, sociology and philosophy of science’, and concluding it by saying: ‘Because their fundamental structures
are so compatible with those of science and the scientific
community, liberal capitalist societies are likely to continue to be much more successful than Marxist socialist
societies in developing and applying science’ (p. 498).

In order to achieve the reader’s agreement, the author
needs to have shown that science is a good thing, and that
other polities have made – and will continue to make – a
worse job of it than ours has. The first of these is shown
through a rapid surveyof the history of science and technology since the seventeenth century, the latter through
chapters comparing the fate of Jewish scientists in Nazi
Germany, Lysenkoism in the USSR, the impact of the
Cultural Revolution on Chinese science, and so on. This
part is rather interesting, and usefully collects together
material usually dispersed through the literature. But
whether these examples make John Marks’s case is another
matter. Evidently there have been, and are, many ghastly
regimes. Equally evidently, a ‘liberal society’ sounds rather
nice – ‘underpinned by the values of tolerance, pluralism
and individual freedoms’ (p. 382) – especially if it had any
other virtues that come to mind: justice; equality; happiness; love ••• Does anyone know where one of these Utopias

individual freedoms and the free flow of information’ are
also described as ‘the values of the scientific community’ this is what is meant by ‘their fundamental structures are
so compatible’ – which leads one to ponder what kind of a
world John Marks lives in. We know what he means, of
course: that any number of scientists will say (and believe)
that these are the values of their calling and by which
they live and work. And it could well be that many
approach such values more closely than do, say, the members of the present Government. But evidence for his claim
is not only lacking, it is positively ruled out by the limita-

tions he has placed on his source material and approach. As
he boldly – or defensively – proclaims in the introductory
‘Postscript for the Academics’, in this book ‘The sociological sections are largely empirical and do not deal
directly with approaches which speak of “the social construction of scientific knowledge”. The philosophical sections emphasize the old-fashioned virtues of induction and
empirical falsifiability and do not deal with topics such as
the writings of “critical theorists” of the Frankfurt school
or with those who believe that, methodologically speaking,
“anything goes”; These omissions are deliberate.

(The reader should not assume from this small list of ‘omissions’ that much else of an exciting or relevant nature that
has happened in these areas in the last twe~tyyears is discussed, either.) And there is a stronger statement in the
‘Guide to Further Reading’ (p. 499): after recommending
Ben-David’s The Scientist’S Role in Society and de Solla
Price’s Little Science, Big Science – his only two suggestions in this field – Marks says: ‘Both these books are more
accessible to the general reader, and more in tune with the
spirit of science and the scientific community, than many
more recent writings by sociologists of science.’

A thought-provokling judgement, certainly; I will be
content to observe that it is hardly helpful to students in
whom one is claiming to encourage ‘an informed and intelligent contribution to contemporary debates’ (p. vi) to steer
them away from any recent work on what scientists actually do, such as Latour and Woolgar’s Laboratory Life or
Goodfield’s An Imagined World. It’s even less helpful in the
light of the injunction on page 81: ‘how important it is to
try to establish what scientists actually do rather than
simply to accept what they say they do or even what philosophers of science say they do’. Very sage – but the
student is given no indication of how to put this into

But let us turn from what isn’t in this book to what is.

In reading the pages devoted to the history of science about two-thirds of the book – I was struck by the appropriateness and reflexivity of a remark quoted (Kuhn’s
judgement on Descartes, in fact, p. 63): ‘His vision was inspired, and its scope was tremendous, but the amount of
critical thinking devoted to anyone of its parts was negligibly small.’

This book covers a lot of ground, and in
clear and simple prose; the latter an old-fashioned virtue
too often neglected nowadays and so to be welcomed here.

But this makes the simplicity of the author’s approach to
history all the more glaring: you feel it ought to be serialised in the Boy’s Own Paper. There are lots of great men
and discoveries and pictures and anecdotes, but ultimately
a sanitized blandness which must stem from Marks’s view


of science. An example will illustrate the problem. We
learn this about Francis Bacon: ‘For many years Bacon’s
ideas were neglected but, in time, his views on empirical
observa tion, on the usefulness of science and on the necessity of organising scientific activity came to be quoted
again and again as authoritative statements on how and
why science should be fostered’ (p. 81). Now the problem is
not that this is untrue, but what it’s doing in a book
attempting to foster ‘informed and intelligent contributions’. We may conjecture that the reason the reader is
just left here, with an illustration of truth eventually
triumphant, is that (a) Bacon’s views are Marks’s views which is fair enough, were it not that (b) this prevents the
recognition that to encourage a historical/critical attitude
in students the important questions are: why were Bacon’s
views resuscitated and plugged? In whose interests was
this? Whose views were being undermined or attacked by
invoking Bacon? What was the social/political/institutional
context? Without some such rationale for making the observation, the impression is left that things just happen or are
discovered because they are true, which is misleading and
mystifying to students at any level.

But John Marks is Lord Acton himself by comparison
with Lady Caroline Cox, who contributes four chapters to
the book. Under a photograph of the Olympic stadium, the
Hippocratic Oath appears, then after Galen we do a bit of
time-travelling: ‘Europe had descended into the Dark Ages.

Then the universities emerged, Europe experienced the
Renaissance, and the natural sciences started to burgeon’

(p. 296). And with one bound, Jack was free.

(The Hippocratic Oath is fascinating, actually, though
we’re given no clue as to what we’re supposed to do with
it: learn it? use it to make inferences about something?

Obviously doctors can’t hold to it any more, as it contains
‘I will not cut, even for the stone, but I will leave such
procedures to the practitioners of that craft’, which presumably refers to some trade union squabble of long ago.

Or does it? This is the recurrent frustration of being
deluged with non-contextualised, un motivated historical information; without knowing why things are told us, the
principle of selection and so forth, we’re no further
advanced in understanding or critical awareness.)
The history in this book is unsatisfactory not because
it is inaccurate sentence by sentence (except occasionally,
which is bound to happen in a book this length, though I’m
surprised that Lady Cox gives quite such a misleading
impression of Pasteur’s rabies work), but because it is so
innocent of any sense of the difficulty of the enterprise,
and so unself-critical as to subvert entirely its value as a
student text for developing skills and competences and
critical faculties in a young audience. But there should be
no hesitation about recommending this book to alert and
critical students of more experience: there has long been a
need for a text such as this, that clearly and unselfconsciously demonstrates in practice the impossibility of
writing value-free history of science.

John Fauvel

Understanding Understanding

Josef Bleicher, The Hermeneutic Imagination, Routledge
and Kegan Paul, 1982, 1.5.95 pb
It is Bleicher’s contention that none of the contemporary

theoretical approaches to sociology can be understood
without reference to the ‘hermeneutic paradigm’, and that
only a dialectically understood hermeneutic social science
can engage properly with the social world at a level which
can understand the meanings and structures which it generates, and adequately stimulate a practical apprehension of
the requirement to further social emancipation as an internal and essential element of social theory itself.

A central premise in Bleicher’s argument is that the
social world is irredeemably normative, moral and dialogical, and that social science must accept that it cannot
be detached from the processes, contexts and structures of
the social world it reflects on. Social theory is a clarificatory practice within the social world and one valued
for its critical force and self-awareness. Social theory cannot then just be scientific, structured in the usual subject/object paradigm, rather it has to be fully reflexive in that
it attempts to bring to full awareness not only the prejudices and principles which guide its investigations, but also
those determining factors – labour and domination – which
structure perception and action. Critical dialectical hermeneutic social science is thus an extension of Hegel’s insight – recently excavated by Gillian Rose – that social and
historical preconditions underlie cognition and thus limit
the possibilities of acting reciprocally.

In Bleicher’s view, social theory has three elements. It

is historical and shaped by cultural and linguistic traditions. It is dialogical – essentially revisable and subject to
clarification, and dialectical since it is committed to relating self-understandings to the objective forces which limit
their scope. And, thirdly, it includes ‘ideal’ moments; inscribed in its project is the notion of the ‘good life’, of
values engendered by historical development but not actually realised in social practice. It is Bleicher’s hope that a
properly constituted critical social theory could foreclose
on the gap, now so evident, between rapid technological
change, and moral sensibility – and thus ‘progress towards a
lessening of the dangers of international confrontation and
possible self-extinction’ (p. 153).

Bleicher first outlines the universality of the hermeneutic claim whereby it ‘aims at uncovering the conditions
of science and its truth claim by considering it as a “project”: a mode of mastering and using objectifiable processes
which is linked to a particular way of viewing the world
and of knowledge-acquisition’ (p. 3). Hermeneutic reflection
disavows the scientistic claim that only a scientific
methodology can provide us with knowledge, and claims to
show that ‘theoretical Reason has itself a normative basis’.

The central argument which Bleicher deploys, through
an elucidation of the nature of scientism as it found expression in the Vienna Circle, is that the hermeneutic
dimension of intersubjective agreement and given understandings are central to the growth of science, and its
mystified self-understandings. Every scientism involves hermeneutic dimensions, whether concealed as in Carnap and
Schlick, or given a pragmatic emphasis as in Quine and
Peirce. Disavowing the hermeneutic dimension not only con-



ceals dimensions of knowledge from participants in the
social world, but, by cancelling practical knowledge as a
form of technical expertise, it shrinks the ground upon
which socially responsible and rational choices can be

The central chapters provide the reader with an analytical discussion of the rise of scientistic sociology in its
empiricist, functionalist, structuralist and interpretative
forms, as well as providing an evaluation of the evolution
of a form of sociological reflection – in Dilthey, Betti and
Gadamer – which re-instated practical and normative considerations into the body of social theory. These chapters
also evince interesting discussions of symbolic interactionism, Schutz’s critique of sociology and Garfinkel’s ethnomethodology. Bleicher also recognises the strengths which
late Wittgensteinian philosophy, with its emphasis on language and social convention and on intersubjective forms of
social existence, grafted onto the purely empirical philosophy of science characteristic of much Anglo-American
philosophical expression.

Bleicher’s strategy is to show how each of these theoretical approaches to social theory either ignores the ‘hermeneutic’ dimension foundational to their very enterprise, or
how it is not fully realised in non-scient is tic theories due
to the distorting conceptual framework established within
the subject/object dichotomy. Bleicher thus raises a canon
of theoretical competence against which social theories can
be judged.

Although Bleicher’s argument is sketched rather than
concisely argued, it is nevertheless fairly successful in
bringing out the weaknesses and contradictions evident in
much theoretical social science. And Bleicher does make an
effective case for the ‘hermeneutic imagination’ as an indispensable element in social theorising, and it will, when
given greater theoretical expansion and direct illustration,

contend strongly as a philosophical posltiOn able to begin
to solve certain of those problems which stand currently in
the way of the full investigation of social objects, and of
those approaches to the subject which invariably screen out
the practical and moral implications of sociological reflection.

To penetrate to those elements which are presently
bearing in on, and rapidly undermining, the social cohesion
and political consensus which has marked the social and
cultural landscape of Britain since the war, to make clear
their interlinking and overwhelming force in enacting
changes in social consciousness, seems an increasingly difficult, if not impossible, task. Not only do we seem to lack a
coherent system of ideas or the moral imagination to confront those overlapping crises, but the changes themselves,
operating at structural levels, seem to starve the community of the intellectual capacity to think through the problems clearly and in the universal mode which match their
universal impact.

It is fairly certain, however, that it will be from within
th~ debates that currently engage around the construction
of an adequate critical social theory that any progress will
be made, and, incontestably, hermeneutic argument reinforced by critique will find its force and essential place.

Although Bleicher has only written an introductory
text, it will also prove useful to those wishing to survey
the field of contemporary theoretical work in the social
sciences, and to those wishing to see how critical hermeneutics functions as a form of argument which aims to
clarify and to develop in dialogical fashion the space for
public awareness, of and control, over those technocratic
imperatives which now govern so much of social and economic life.

Vernon Martel

The Numbers Game
Philip Kitcher, The Nature of Mathematical Knowledge,
Oxford University Press, 1983, l15 hb
Fresh from his forays against Creationists (see review of
Abusing Science, above), Philip Kitcher has turned his
attention to a more subtle and widespread, if less newscatching, group of opponents, the Apriorists. These people
lurk in every mathematics department and school commonroom, and believe in teaching to the innocent young that
mathematical knowledge is independent of experience, but
resides in some Platonic realm of eternal truths.

Unlikely as this belief may sound, it is even more difficult to see what alternative view could account for the
relative stability of cumulative mathematical development
down the centuries, and the feeling of other-worldly certainty which attends mathematical discovery. And it is an
influential, and convenient, belief politically, in asserting
that mathematics thrives pure and unsullied above the mundane struggle, its success a paradigm for what any selfrespecting science should aspire to, untainted by ideology
or human abuse.

But there are problems: most notably, how can a world
of non-empirical, mind-independent truths possibly say anything about our physical world? This is what Wigner has

called ‘the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics’. And
as our century has shown, mathematics and its applications
are all too terrifyingly effective. So a convincing alternative account of how mathematical truth has an empirical
basis is to be welcomed. Philip Ki tcher has now supplied
the most thorough discussion to date. He is not the first to
attempt such an enterprise, but is to some extent amplifying and making more rigorous the views of John Stuart Mill
that mathematics is an empirical science. (Mill’s own, less
sophisticated, arguments having retired with egg all over
their face, from the witty ridicule of Gottlob Frege.)
Kitcher goes far beyond Mill in demonstrating his claim
for all of mathematics, including its most abstract achievements. He rightly observes that two obvious facts have
generally been neglected in philosophical discussion: that
mathematical knowledge is learned and passed on within a
social community; and that mathematical knowledge has
developed historically. For Kitcher, knowledge is sufficiently explained by analysing how it has come to be passed
along and developed by a chain of knowers starting from
‘rudimentary knowledge acquired by perception’, several
millenia ago.

This last assertion poses a problem for Kitcher’s argument that he doesn’t altogether guard against. It is a historical claim he is making that mathematics started by ord43

inary sense perception. ‘In this way our remote predecessors acquired the first items of mathematical knowledge’

(p. 96). Now this may of course be true, but it’s quite unsubstantiated here. (There’s one thing to be said for Plato,
that he knew when he was purveying myth.) If another
scenario should turn out to be more plausible – for instance, Seidenberg’s arguments that early mathematics
stems from religious ritual – then Kitcher’s impressive edifice seems left without a foundation stone. I think in fact
his later arguments, once the baton of mathematical activity gets started, depend less importantly than Kitcher
believes on any particular hypothesis about the firing of
the starting pistol. Perhaps he couldn’t then call his thesis
‘mathematical empiricism’ any longer, but that might not

The last part of the book describes some episodes in
the history of mathematics when informed by Kitcher’s
philosophical position. He is quite right to draw attention
to the way the aprioristic beliefs of past historians constrained the history they wrote and the questions they
asked. But Kitcher’s historical account, of the development
of analysis, doesn’t in the event look very different from
anyone else’s; and indeed retreats from the implications of
his earlier recognition that mathematics is taught and developed within a social context. So this is not the place to

look for – or at any rate, to find – a radical historiography.

For he is essaying historical discussion in order to illustrate something about his account of mathematical knowledge: that mathematical development is rational.

The emphasis on this point is perplexing. It is almost as
though during the course of writing Kitcher became increasingly aware of a bogey-man over his shoulder getting
ready to shout ‘irrationalist’ or ‘relativist’ or ‘Feyerabendian’ or some such term of abuse, who had to be appeased
or guarded against. Which is a pity. This defensive concentration on whether mathematical development is ‘rational’

precludes discussion of more interesting questions; for instance, the extent to which some of Wittgenstein’s remarks
are consonant with Kitcher’s approac;::h, or whether the history of mathematics has not a more serious and illuminating
role than it is allowed here. Doubtless in a future edition
Kitcher will take account of more of the work of scholars
on this side of the Atlantic, such as David Bloor and Luke

Still, this is a rich, deeply argued and thoughtprovoking book. It is especially gratifying that with no fuss
or awkwardness the author uses ‘she’ as third person
throughout. So it can be done.

John Fauvel

Transcendent Aspirations

Lawrence LeShan and Henry Margenau, Einstein’s Space
and Van Gogh’s Sky, Harvester Press, 1983, 1..12.95 hc
‘Einstein’s space is no closer to reality than Van Gogh’s
sky.’ Thus Arthur Koestler in typically suggestive – and
quotable – form, with a remark which seems to question
many common sensical notions of matter, truth and mind.

The aim of this book is to show the way in which developments in physics and psychology now render such notions,
and the classical conceptions of quantification, determinism
and mechanical models, untenable – as it were, neither
physically common nor philosophically sensible.

The idea that quantum and relativity physics entail
great philosophical and psychological readjustments is hardly new. Ever since Einstein, Heisenberg and Bohr reflected
on the wider implications of their work, the whole realm of
waves, particles, matter and anti-matter, not to speak of
1001 strange entities, has been colonised by positivists,
Catholics, Buddhist and Taoists, all determined to plant
their banners in firm scientific soil. So perhaps the first
question to ask of another work dealing with the relations
of the new physics and philosophy is whether it is more
coherent and original than its predecessors.

The answer, so far as I understand the book, is no.

Though it is claimed that the dialogue between a physicist
(Margenau) and a psychologist (LeShan) will break new
ground, indeed, that it will provide the elusive synthesis of
physics and psychology as well as of ethics, sociology,
psychiatry, economics and parapsychology, what is actually
offered is startlingly banal. There are intermittent insights
into the springs of artistic creativity and an interesting
section is given to research into ESP, but what is at first
impressive are the new or redefined terms used and the

analytical models which are intended to account for the
scientific production process.

The authors deploy concepts such as the ‘protocol
experience’ and the ‘construct’, and these are meant to
capture what underlies all verifiable knowledge whatever
realm it treats. Yet, despite the fresh gloss, what is being
appealed to is a simplistic notion of empirical verification,
a process which by correspondence rules linking experience
and concept is designed to connect physical observable
entities and psychical unquantifiable terms. This at any
rate seems to be the message, though at root it is difficult
to gauge whether the authors wish to offer a grand synthesis of knowledge (e.g. p. 39) or instead, and in the name
of anti-reductionism (‘transcendent elaboration with continuity’) to argue that different realms require distinct
investigative procedures (e.g. p. 215). The thrust of the
book culminates in a notion of mind as sui generis, which
somehow transcends the body but interacts with it (p. 239),
a defensible position no doubt, but one which the
disparate sections of the book hardly support.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – ————

The arguments in the text are further hampered by a
mass of trivial and seemingly irrelevant examples of the
‘just suppose’ and ‘let’s imagine’ variety – the case of the
businessman who hears his child crying upstairs, then takes
his wife out dancing, and then dreams about a kangaroo,
described in some detail over four pages would be taken as
a parody of the genre in any other book; here however it is
meant to illustrate the day in the life of a consciousness.

It may be that some readers will be impressed by this book,
but, before succumbing to its charms, they will have to negotiate mountains of alarmingly bad grammar and errors of
fact (Hume, for instance, is referred to as a 19th century
philosopher), the kind of obstructions any competent editor
should have -cleared away.

Following this, they should be warned that the historical sections are, almost without exception, naive, crude, or

simply false. Readers of Radical Philosophy will not need
to be told that Comte was not a Renaissance figure (p. 30),
or that Marx was not a rigid determinist (p. 147); they
should however know that the Copernican Revolution socalled had neither the characteristics nor the immediate
consequences the authors declare (pp. 26, 65-66). It is laudable that Harvester should be publishing texts on the
history and philosophy of the sciences, but they would have
done better to make available Milic Capek’s Philosophical
Impact of Contemporary Physics (New York, 1961) or
Thomas Goldstein’s Dawn of Modern Science (Boston, 1980)
– both more original and more coherent than what is on
offer in Einstein’s Space and Van Gogh’s Sky.

Mike Short land

Science and Survival

Gonzalo Munevar, Radical Knowledge: A philosophical
inquiry into the nature and limits of science, Avebury
Publishing Company, 1981, l16 hb, l8 pb
This book is a discussion of problems of epistemology within a scientific and, in particular, a biological and evolutionary framework. Its case for radical knowledge starts
with the ‘simple idea’ that ‘at an elementary level the experiences of an organism are the result of an interaction
between its biology and its environment’ (p. 20). Perception, and, ultimately, intelligence and science also, depend
on a ‘frame of reference’, and, according to the author’s
principle of Relativity, ‘no matter how good a perceptual
or conceptual frame of reference is, many others may be
just as good (there are no “preferred” frames)’ (p. 18).

The appropriate model for knowledge in this situation
is, simply, ‘performance’: ‘a theory provides knowledge insofar as it enables the species that holds it to “get along”
in its universe’ (p. 52). Rationality is based, not upon
standards, but on our preparedness to change’ (p. 7), and
rational changes are those that improve performance: ‘if
the practice of science is set up in such a way, that it not
only permits but promotes “getting along” in the universe,
then it is rational’ (p. 120). Against this background
science appears as a social or communal enterprise to be
judged in terms of its survival value for the species that
practises it.

Munevar has written a short (125 pp.) book which
tackles the most central and complex issues in the philosophy of science. Misgivings about it arise chiefly from the
fact that he has not given himself room to deal adequately
with these issues, and on some it is not left entirely clear
what his position is. The problem may be illustrated by his
treatment of rationality. On his ‘official’ view, rationality
is a kind of blanketing concept applicable to whatever
changes promote ‘getting along’, so that, methodologically,
‘anything goes’. But we are also given more traditional formulations: ‘rationality lies in how we proceed and change,
not in whether our growth is cumulative’, and whether
changes are rational ‘will depend on the manner in which
the alternative we choose leads to the growth of our know-

ledge’ (pp. 103-04). If it is a question of the ‘how’ and the
‘manner’, we are surely returning to the discarded idea of
rationality as a matter of methodological standards.

Moreover, we are now entitled to ask which ways of
choosing and which sorts of connection between choices
and the growth of knowledge are the rati6nal ones. But
these are questions which Munevar, in view of his official
commitments, cannot begin to answer. Matters are not
helped by the fact that the key notion of ‘getting along’ is
seriously undertheorized. The fullest characterisation is as
follows: ‘what we have in mind by “getting along in the
universe” is that a species be able to survive, avoid great
hardships, better the lot of its members and so forth’ (p.

71). What this seems to amount to is the claim that science
is rational knowledge by virtue of yielding a powerful technology. But doubters may feel that this does not so much
solve the problem of the rationality of science as restate it
in a way that brings home its urgency for our culture.

Limitations of space do not prevent Munevar’s handling
of some questions from being entirely convincing and successful. This is true, for instance, of his challenge to the
conventional division between philosophy and science, with
its reminder that ‘philosophers make crucial and often
implausible, empirical assumptions in what they think are
pure conceptual investigations’ (p.3). There is also his demolition of the main pillar of traditional empiricism, the
assumption of a theory-neutral observation language.

Munevar’s conclusions about this are, of course, now widely
accepted, but it is valuable to have the case presented as
trenchantly as it is here.

The entire book is written in elegant, vigorous,
jargon-free prose that captures something of the manner of
Paul Feyerabend, who contributes the Foreword. Indeed,
readers may well feel that, although Munevar is indisputably
his own man, there is something Feyerabendian about the
general conception of his project and the spirit of its execution. As such, his book will be seen as one of the surprisingly rare, successful attempts to do independent creative work in that vein, and it deserves to be read by everyone interested in contemporary philosophy of science.

Joe McCarney


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