The moral sciences as the ethics of scientific method.

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David hume

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Philosophy of science.

'Science' has meant mainly the achievements and methods of natural science. From the seventeenth century, its model became mechanics, the science of the laws of motion. These few general laws were not really questioned and qualified, till the turn of the twentieth century.

Deeply under the same influence, many pioneers of social science also tried to explain their studies in terms of a few guiding principles. This esthetic passion of the theorist explains much of the charm of science for that kind of scientist. It was sought to generalise history from comparable chains of individual events. This is the notion that history repeats itself.

The lament, 'Why do we never learn anything from history?, implies we make the same mistakes, that could have been avoided by breaking from that harmful pattern.

But some historians and philosophers, notably German scholars, continued to stress the importance of unique circumstances, as against universal factors, in social science, as compared to natural science. Foremost was Immanuel Kant, woken from his 'dogmatic slumbers' by David Hume.
Hume said it was illogical to derive ethics from science: you can't derive an 'ought' from an 'is'.

This is true but irrelevant. Kant's unifying answer, to Hume's dualism, is followed here. Kant's distinction, between the natural sciences and 'the moral sciences' or social sciences, is not fundamental, but between seeking more or less universal or individual knowledge, respectively.

Nineteenth century biology lent some credence to the importance of particular knowledge. As life evolves, it becomes more specialised. Differences between human beings are most significant of all.

Natural science itself has become natural history, as R G Collingwood said was happening. The history or true story of the universe is of an increasingly individual creation, perhaps one of many individual creations in a multiverse. Physical laws, once thought universal, are beginning to look like chance divergences between this universe and possibly other more or less related individual universes.

By definition, the universe is one, a whole and not a part that could be acted upon by some other part. There is nothing to determine a universe but itself. Therefore, the universe implies its own freedom or self-determination. Likewise, the universe is individual, in the sense of 'not to be divided'. It is no less than its whole self. The universe has the freedom of the individual.

On balance, human individuals should have more freedom in society. This might also be true of the multiverse as a society of universes.

The logic of a universe being a free agent also implies an informed intelligence. The freest choice knows all the choices to make: universal knowledge is of individual freedom.
Yoga or the unitive life, whose goal is liberation from self (or perhaps selfishness) likens independence to oneness (or 'kaivalya') of God. Sir James Jeans remarked that the universe seemed less like a great machine and more like a great thought.

The deductive model of science conclusively explains an occurence, in terms of a universal principle that may be said to apply if certain particular conditions are met.

For example, Darwin infered the unity of life from perceiving the individual diversity of life forms. Biblical theory was that species were exactly similar special creations. Darwin remarked on slight differences even between individuals of the same species. And there are gradations of difference between different species. He suggested all species were more or less closely related. This led him to conclude their evolution from one another.

Darwin showed that even the most exotic and unusual species had 'natural' reasons for evolving that could be traced back to some common ancestor to other species. That is not to deny the wonder and mystery of species variety.

G and L Beadle, also Jacob Bronowski talked of 'the language of life'. Species, like words, translate into diverse new meanings or go out of fashion and become extinct.

An interpretive science of particular events was also the main concern, especially of nineteenth century German historical scholarship. But an interpretive element is also hinted at, in modern physics, from the start.
For Galileo, the book of nature is written in the language of mathematics. He saw geometric forms as symbols representing shapes observed in nature, such as trajectories following the paths of conic sections.

A modern astronomer called the Crab Nebula a 'Rosetta Stone' to decifer the language of the universe, because the fate of this destroyed star was believed to somewhat resemble the explosive expansion of the cosmos.

Nucleic acid, as discovered in the simple virus, also proved to be a 'rosetta stone' of the 'genetic code'. The nucleic acid coil of the virus is the means it bores into, and takes over, other cells, to reproduce the virus instead of the host cell. Nucleic acid was thus interpreted to be the general mechanism of cell reproduction.

'Science' means 'knowledge', a word which shares the same Latin root as 'nominate', which means 'to name'. Naming is the essential function of language, which, at root, science is.
Nominalist philosophy held that knowledge is merely naming classes of things. Things that differed least between themselves were conveniently classified to bring order out of confusion.
Darwin realised that the classification of species was to pigeon-hole the infinite variety of life. His nominalism (which may have influenced American pragmatist philosophy) led away from the Biblical idea of special creations to evolution.

This philosophy of more or less difference, or relative rather than absolute differences (say, between species) leads to more scientific measurement. For, the measure of knowledge is not merely to classify things but order classes of things across their whole range of diversity.
A science progresses along these and further scales of measurement or recognised stages of more accurate knowledge.

To take another example of progressive measurement, candidates may be classed into parties. But, as individuals, their opinions will merge across party lines, in a political spectrum. If every voter for a party candidate is classed by the counting system as a partisan, the result will be a foregone conclusion in terms of the voters' commitment to the parties. For, such a system disregards the represented and the representatives as individuals.

Nominalism is such individualist doubt about how valid are rigid classifications and their consequences. Perhaps the first lesson of scientific method is: Dont presume what you are setting out to prove. A theoretical assumption, such as that voters are unqualified partisans, must be open to unambiguous refutation.
Having made the usual distinction between theory and experiment, in scientific method, the textbooks soon advise the reader to remove presumption or prejudice from theory and ambiguity or dilemma in testing it.

Immanuel Kant

Scientific theory as language.

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As a student, reflecting on Nagel's 'The Structure of Science', I realised that a scientific theory is really a language.
(I soon learned that my insight was common knowledge. Also, one of our lecturers, John Phillips put us on to the importance of language in philosophy and social science.)
Like a language, a theory is a world of words. It holds together in a logically related structure or 'grammar' and anchors securely at many points to the common ground of our experiences. (Karl Pearson's classic is called 'The Grammar of Science'.)

Even the disagreements, as to the nature of theories, lend themselves to the idea of a theory as a language:

The descriptive view of theories suggests the purpose of language, which is to describe things. Also, the word 'script' means writen language.
But this view is held to have the short-coming that several apparently different theories, such as the different quantum models of the atom, give quite different descriptions.Their importance, therefore, is put down to their use as 'tools' rather than descriptions of 'the truth'.

This competing theory of theories descends from nominalism and is called pragmatism or instrumentalism.
However, language and tools have in common that they 'evolve'. Tools reproduce and mutate as they are adapted to a new environment of usages, they are instrumental in creating. Indeed, language and tools are the common sense fore-runners of science and technology. So, it should be no surprise that theories are considered as either descriptions or tools.

A rejoinder, in turn, to instrumentalism, is the realist view of theories. This argues that, in the history of science, there have been concepts or working ideas, which had no known reality at the time. They were merely found to be useful ways of looking at a thing. But increased knowledge over-took ideas, which had only been useful 'tools' and made them realities.
This was the case with atoms and genes, and quarks - which Murray Gell-Mann believed from the start were real.

Ernst Mach's doctrine of positivism is realism made into a program that concepts always should positively identify real things to our observation. This was so theories were not vague and could be properly tested. This basis for clear acceptance or rejection was meant to serve scientific progress.

But Max Planck criticised this extreme exclusion of all creative concepts, whose reality was not immediately known. He justified his position in practise, in 1900, with the most revolutionary concept in twentieth century physics, the quantum.

Planck's view is akin to that of theories as analogies. These are foreign patterns of thought that may not be literally true of the subject they are introduced to, but could help to understand it better. A helpful analogy is like learning to speak the language of a problem.

Mach's view of theories, balanced by Planck's, may be illustrated by voting methods.
An x-marks-the-spot vote, for more than two candidates, cannot ensure any one candidate will get an over-all majority. Only the candidate with the most votes 'first past the post' is elected. But the truth is that he may not be past the post of a democratic majority. Election of only the largest minority makes a fictional concept of first past the post as a majority system.
Mach's doctrine would rightly require here a voting system with a real conception of majority representation.

In this respect, Planck's experience of theory construction need not conflict with Mach's, because a real majority system required creative new concepts both in the vote and the count of elections, namely preference voting and quota counting. This was the system invented independently by Andrae and Hare, nowadays known as the single transferable vote.

(As explained elsewhere, the Droop quota generalises the single majority count to the new conception of a 'multi-majority count'. This is consistent (as theories should be) with the conception of a preference vote actually offering many preferences, instead of the one preference offered by an x-vote.)

Proportional representation, if without a personal preference vote, merely rations the voters to a party choice of candidates. Voting for 'a party' fits Mach's criticism of a presumptive concept that has no reality, except in the individuals who comprise it. A party vote is a fiction that denies the reality of personal support.

There are different notions about theories but they seem compatible with the idea of a theory as a language. The structure of a theory is held to consist of, firstly, a formal stage. One or more abstract general principles derive a whole system of ideas by logical implication. This grammar of science doesnt mean anything by itself but can be used to say any number of different things.

Secondly, an operational stage states rules for testing a formal system's implications in practise. One goes thru this kind of thing in learning a language. I remember my excitement as an infant finding out the practical rule of pointing at things, to ask the formal question, 'What's that?' It was a new world in which everything had its name.

Thirdly, an interpretive stage imagines the formal system in as many ways as meaningful models can be found to suit it. A model may indeed be a model for theories in other fields, if it has a mechanism of broad application.
In this respect, Darwin's theory of natural selection is one of the most 'creative' models in science. It has been adapted to 'evolutionary' theories of molecules, reflexes, memories, neural networks, even of universes, as well as languages and tools.

Measurement is a formal progression of logical stages that operate as the successive scales of measurement. The practise of electoral method has been 'evolved' to the single transferable vote, which broadly meets these standards of scientific measurement.

Social science as the study of democracy.

Looking at science as language can bridge natural and social science. If natural science is the universal language of nature, social or moral science is the individual meaning or purpose of life.
As one of my old sociology lecturers told us at a party, 'language is the key'. Language offers a universal knowledge to the community that uses it. Science stems from that. The social use of language is in freely sharing that knowledge. This is the prototype of the so-called social function of science. It is the recording, publishing, explaining, discussing of discoveries, the parliamentary side of science.

Peter Winch, in 'The Idea of a Social Science', said that 'social science' is more akin to the social function of science. If natural science is knowledge (of freedom), social science is freedom (of knowledge). Freedom of information is essential to both science and democracy.
The social function of science is really the operation of a parliamentary democracy in science.

Under the 'common law' of language, or shared grammatical rules, everyone is free to represent their meanings.

Even if social science should be primarily about human freedom, some general law of society, however trivial, should be implicit in it. After all, it's been argued that universal knowledge is of individual freedom.
Suppose sociology's universal law IS society or the community of human individuals. Then a deductive theory or explanation of society will be in terms of the community, as its universal principle. The individuals, who make up the community, are the condition of its existence.

This condition to the principle enables the deduction of a conclusion. The truism of a condition that individuals make up society rules out corporatism, as in party list voting for a group instead of individual candidates, or legal privileges to corporate finance.

Now, the community is a common understanding between individuals, or a shared language, in the wide sense, not only of shared speech but customs and rituals with their symbolic meanings. Individuals can interpret the meaning and purpose of their community, because they are more or less representative of it.

An individual is socially representative of the people he has lived with, and who have influenced his character. These people are the 'constituents' of his personality. This basic outlook is used to justify the science of sociology, as distinct from psychology. That the personality is social is how sociologists justify their existence.

If sociology studies the social representation of the individual in the community, then, for instance, political science studies the political representation of the individual in the community. And the social sciences, in general, study kinds of representation, such as the representative 'economic man'. But this makes the branches of social science special studies in democracy.

To be consistent, the sociologist has to study society as (more likely) she, for a fact, considers herself: a free agent. As the sociologist expects others to be responsible to her, she has to be responsible to them. Logically, the studied have to be on equal terms of freedom with the studiers. Sociologic is of democracy.

The alternative is an oligarchy of knowledge or kind of secret priesthood, advocated by Auguste Comte, sociology's founder, at his worst. The barbarous jargon of a pseudo-science is a symptom of elitism. At the most basic level of learning, inconsistent English spelling privileges those with more time and money to waste, as Thorstein Veblen remarked.

Since societies are conditional upon language, then the democracy of language is a general law of society. Democracy is, to that extent, like the general laws in the natural sciences.

If language is the democracy of thought, then a democracy of action should follow from it. But political (or economic) democracy may not be the case. Then the conditions are not fully met for the democratic principle to work properly in a society.

This is as if, in natural science, the conditions, that a general law applied in, were not properly specified. But it is part of the 'social function' or democratic process of science to do this. As a necessary complement to this, social scientific progress is a process of making society more democratic.

But such progress is not for some ideology to presume. All sorts of politics claim to be 'democratic'. We are three times warned of dubious credentials, by a 'peoples democratic republic'. This is no good, unless recognised scientific standards can be satisfied for democracy.

To say there should always be democracy in society is a moral law. A moral law is unscientific if it is only an imperative or unconditional statement, such as: you should do this or not do that. But an ideal of democracy can be progressively re-stated, as in natural science, by ever more precisely specifying the conditions for a general rule (of the people) to hold.

History as the history of democracy

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Force of conquest has attempted human unity. But the importing, for instance, of a religious symbolism, or language in the broadest sense, paid lip-service to cohesion by such peaceful means. Benedetto Croce is the philosopher of history as the history of liberty. Heinrich Heine also spoke in such terms.

H G Wells' Outline of History was an education in world unity and its democratic conditions. Thorstein Veblen was coming to similar conclusions in The Nature of Peace. Wells tells history as one story of mankind, like a novel, in which the characters are introduced separately, before their paths cross.

Wells' and Croce's ideas combine for a history of unity in liberty, that is history as the history of democracy.
Both Wells and Bertrand Russell said that rulers have sought to impose unity and the ruled have sought to liberate themselves. (Hence the current struggle for and against a Euro-state.) Wells saw representative democracy as their only possible peaceful reconciliation.

Wells began the debate resulting in the 1940 Sankey Declaration of Human Rights:

It has been the practise of what are called the democratic or parliamentary countries to meet every enhancement and centralization of power in the past by a definite and vigorous reassertion of the individual rights of man.

Section 11 includes: 'electoral methods which give effective expression to individual choice.'

Human history has the story-telling interest of not knowing how it will turn out. Woodrow Wilson wanted to make the world safe for democracy. Wells wanted democracy to make the world safe. In this respect, historical turning points have influenced the world for better or worse.

Sociologists consider what might have happened, 'if only' some crucial event had gone the other way. Max Weber conducted imaginary experiments with history. The Greeks only won the battles of Marathon and Salamis against all the odds. So, it was realistic to consider what might have happened had they lost.

Moreover, Weber knew by other Persian conquests, such as of Judea, that priestly authority was asserted over the prophets. Likewise, Greece would have lost its intellectual independence. Weber argued this would have been fatal for the development of Western civilization. (Such as it is!)

Weber used exactly the kind of thought experiments Einstein used with nature. Einstein imagined an accelerated spaceman, who, in dropping a weight seemingly acted upon by gravity, was leaving it behind by its own inertia. From this, his 'principle of equivalence', of acceleration to gravity, was derived for prediction and test.

Whether Weber was right is debatable. (Zoroaster's religion was progressive, and he may be the main source of the world's monotheism.) The real point is that Weber's contrary-to-fact statement, of orthodoxy ousting free thought in ancient Greece, implies a law of the progress of knowledge depending on freedom.

Weber's historical conjecture can neither be proved or disproved. It was a unique event that cannot be repeated with a probable difference of outcome. But the general statement that knowledge depends on freedom is like a scientific law that can be tested in principle by checking the effects on knowledge of the presence or absence of freedom.

Knowledge is language in that 'to speak the same language' means seeing the world in the same way. Unanimity is over some common ground, which offers a starting point for the freedom to differ and achieve ultimately a broader measure of agreement.

Conditions of democracy.

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Science, consisting of theory and experiment, must respect both logic and evidence. The logical dependence, of unanimity on liberty, is that if people are not truly free, they cannot truly agree. But without some way of testing this statement by the evidence, it becomes a meaningless assertion or dogma.

The evidence might well show that allowing liberties destroyed unity. This could be explained as 'taking liberties' that upset a country's equilibrium of rights. When liberty appears to end unity, we cannot merely say it was 'license', to suit our argument. That proves nothing except one's prejudice, which is unscientific.

Likewise, if one said the appearance of solidarity without dissent wasnt 'true' unity or liberty, without explaining what one means by the truth, one doesnt allow oneself to be proved wrong. So, nothing meaningful or scientific about the world has been said.

From a critical survey of the evidence, we might decide which was true, unity with or without liberty. But a general rule of observation, one way or the other, if one could be found, is different from a logically deduced conclusion. For, we have no reason to believe that an empirical generalisation is more than a long, if suggestive, coincidence, that might cease to continue.

For example, a long unified people might decide to split up. There might be special reasons for this, such as a new threat that their integration somehow posed to their having enough elbow-room. But this could only be judged with regard to the evidence.

A coincidence of evidence might be no more than an accidental generalisation. One cannot make a logically certain deduction from it. One could not say for sure that if such a thing were the case, then something else would have to follow.
Most people are familiar with this kind of statement as: 'If only I had known then what I know now, everything would have been different.' This is saying that knowledge gives freedom: know the truth and it will make you free.

These 'If only...' statements of contrary-to-the-fact conditions (counter-factual conditionals) are used, in the philosophy of science, to tell natural laws from accidental generalisatons, because only laws can imply them.

An overwhelming one-party vote is an accidental generalisation, due to the 'accident' or contingency of the people being allowed no other choice. Therefore, no disproof of this apparent monomania is possible. In 1987, Izvestiya 'officially admitted that the 99.99% yes vote at Soviet elections was a farce.' (The Sunday Times.)

A false unity can thus be defined as one commanded by a monopoly of power, as held by a one-party state or established church. An engineered unanimity is not some determinist law of history that people march thru as one party in one mind - historicism, as Karl Popper called it. In science, a law-like statement is conditional, such as: unanimity only in liberty.

The simplest test, of whether a country was truly united behind a single group in power, would be to ask public opinion, allowing independent groups and individuals to compete with the rulers for the popular choice of government.

As a test for evidence, free elections are a result of the scientific attitude. This work began because most people still do not realise that a free electoral system is required for a proper test of popular choice. The electoral test of true unity would be effective only with elections that truly gave freedom of individual choice.

The condition of unanimity in liberty could be precisely tested when it was put in electoral terms by Carl Andrae and Thomas Hare.
Suffice to say here that John Stuart Mill, perhaps the leading philosopher of science in the nineteenth century, immediately realised its significance (in Representative Government, ch.vii, footnote 1):

In the Danish Constitution...the equal representation of minorities was provided for on a plan so nearly identical with Mr Hare's, as to add another to the many examples how the ideas which resolve difficulties arising out of a general situation of the human mind or of society, present themselves, without communication, to several superior minds at once.

Richard Lung

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