The unscientific foundation of science

Harvard political science Professor Harvey Mansfield in a speech accepting the Bradley Prize on May 11:

“To scientists, the university is divided into science and non-science; the latter is not knowledge and is likely to be mush (in this last they are right). Scientists easily forget that science cannot prove science is good, that their whole project is founded upon what is at best unscientific common sense. They do not see that the unscientific foundation of science leaves science far short of wisdom, whether practical or theoretical. Science has no idea why human beings resist science at least as strongly as they embrace it. It cannot say why knowledge is better than prejudice. It is the job of the humanities to make non-science into something positive that could be called human in the best sense. This crucial work, which is necessary to science and, may I add, more difficult and more important than science, is hardly even addressed in our universities. Leading this trend — ‘leading from behind’ in a recent phrase — is the humanities faculty at Harvard, and to give credit where credit is due, at other comparable universities. They are the ones who have established change as the principle that, for lack of anything better, can be agreed upon. In its more thoughtful expression, that principle is known as postmodern. What is modern is faith in science and progress, and what is postmodern merely comes after that — the modern then ‘still present as left behind.’ Postmoderns don’t have the courage to attack, much less abandon, science and its numerous benefits; so they merely accept them, and let their ill grace serve as a sign of bad conscience. When there is no basis for what we agree to, it becomes mandatory that we agree. The very fragility of change as a principle makes us hold on to it with insistence and tenacity. Having nothing to conform to, we conform to conformism — hence political correctness. Political correctness makes a moral principle of opposing, and excluding, those of us who believe in principles that don’t change. The few honors I have had — I’m not asking for more; how could they compare to this one? — have come from Republican presidents and conservative foundations. All major universities and the political-science profession have very thoughtfully not disturbed my quiet or done anything to stir my gratitude. After all, it’s a free country, and I’m thankful for that, as I am for the signal distinction I receive tonight”

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3 Responses to The unscientific foundation of science

  1. Chris Reagan says:

    This is a similar story about the truth of the sciences and puts them into question.

    http://www.radiolab.org/blogs/radiolab-blog/2011/may/03/cosmic-habituation/

  2. John says:

    Cool stuff, thanks Chris.

    I like that they continue to use science, or the scientific method, to test the science.

    I also think there is more uncertainty in the softer sciences, as in the psychological effect he was studying. But it holds in the harder sciences too. Your theory is only the best theory until the next one comes along that fits the data better.

    • Chris Reagan says:

      Yeah, It is just really interesting. I love management, which Im studying right now at UCF, and there is a LOT of psychology and sociology influences all over motivating performance, setting norms, and almost every other aspect of management. I enjoy the learning, but none if it will do you any good if you don’t understand the human condition and our limited cognitive ability. Also, a lot of people are so limited that they can barely express empathy for another person, or see outside of our own perspective, it creates conflict. Science can try all it wants to define management as a science but, related to your post, who defining the science?

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