Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Limitations of Science: Enlightenment Philosophy

Since the dawn of time man has attempted to explain his surroundings. Only recently has man developed the physical sciences which he has used to help constitute meaning in his surroundings. Many, ranging from Jacques Derrida to Theodor Adorno, question sciences' ability to liberate man from his chains of bondage. For them, the Enlightenment failed to provide the answers it strove for, failing to free man from his reliance on myth. Science claims a divine right, in a sense, to emancipate mankind from myth and turn him towards the truth and knowledge that science can discover. As Adorno (pictured right http://www.nndb.com/people/754/000026676/adorno.gif) so eloquently put it, "What men want to learn from nature is how to use it in order wholly to dominate it and other men. That is the only aim." What he assails is the idea that gaining power over nature, as science does in its attempt to predict repeatable circumstances within nature, is emancipatory. The idea that man is more free as a result pf science, neglects the fact that in a society dominated by science the freedom of individuals is limited by the framework of scientific thought: "...the Enlightenment has always aimed at liberating men from fear and establishing their sovereignty...[but what] Enlightenment [is] is totalitarian." Totalitarian in the sense that it creates a world in which man must operate with it as the absolute, the unquestionable, and the incontestable path to the truth. Science and the Enlightenment enslave man for it does not allow other ways of constituting meaning to arise, for scientists believe that they control the correct method for constituting said meaning.

Jacques Derrida's (pictured below http://www.pyke-eye.com/a/phil/1988/JacquesDerrida.jpg) concept Differance places into question the hierarchy that is inherent in the practice of science. Science credits its own discoveries and theories with the idea that empirical data, which depends heavily on technological advances to collect, holds sway over all theories unable to "produce": "producing" meaning the ability to supply data that aligns with a specific theory, while at the same time casting doubt on any opposing theory. What Derrida proposes is that science does not allow for different opinions to gain any ground in the field because society is obsessed with the 'truth' that science has already presented society with. Derrida's Differance describes how we are able to see this hierarchy and realize that it is only due to the deferment of desire and the difference between the accepted theories and the proposed ones.

In summary, the limitation of the natural sciences is its inability to accept new theories regarding how the world works and how we constitute meaning. Science does not allow us the possiblility for unquestionable knowledge that will guide society to a new and better future, rather it creates a system in which most, if not all of society accepts its conculsions as truths, when in fact they are merely theories based on empirical evidence, evidence which is only viewable with the help of technology that is only created to further science. What we must do is create a view that opens itself to critique of all kinds, not in the sense that untestable theories should be given priority, but that we must be careful to the power we grant the sciences in their quest for knowledge.

Quote 1:
Kearney, Richard and Mara Rainwater Eds. The Continental Philosophy Reader. Pg. 199

Quote 2:
Ibid. Pg. 199.
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