‘Doing Science: In the Light of Philosophy’ reviewed by Sheldon Richmond


Doing Science: In the Light of Philosophy

Singapore, World Scientific, 2017. 225pp,. $28.00 pb.
ISBN 9789813202771

Reviewed by Sheldon Richmond

About the reviewer

Sheldon Richmond is an Independent Scholar and author of Aesthetic Criteria: Gombrich and the …

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Science is cultural.  Does it follow that science is culturally-relative?  Science is factual.  Does it follow that science is politically neutral?  Those on the far right inveigh against climate scientists and Darwinism.  Those on the left inveigh against the political neutrality of science.  Hence, do those on the opposite ends of the political spectrum regarding climate change and Darwinism vs. Creationism, strangely agree that science is culturally relative and politically biased.  Mario Bunge cuts the tangled knots of the debate between right and left by arguing that though science is far from political indifference and neutrality, science is cultural but not culturally-relative, and so factual.  How, then, is science politically potent? Bunge implicitly argues that because facts bear on the moral, social, and political decisions of rational people, the facts of the social sciences, the biological sciences, the climate sciences, and even the physical sciences, have political relevance.

How does Bunge ‘s argument, in its specifics, cut through the confusions about that many on the sides of the left, and everyone on the right for that matter, have about science?  My discussion below attempts to answer this basic question.

Bunge’s premise is that understanding science requires looking at what scientists do in the material conditions of their work: looking at the labs where they do their research, the offices where theoretical-mathematical physicists do their thinking, or in the field, where naturalists observe the habitats of species, or archaeological sites and museum labs, and so forth.  However, Bunge proceeds at a more abstract level, similar to the many philosophical thinkers whom he derides for not having a working knowledge of physics nor any of the sciences, social and natural.  According to the abstraction of science that Bunge develops, science starts with problems and problems are, minimally, questions.   However, a reader will be hard pressed to find the exact question stated by Bunge, or even a set of questions, or even a general problem (or problem-situation to borrow a term from Karl Popper, the philosopher whom Bunge pounces upon most often in this book).  What is Bunge’s exact problem-situation for this book? The reader will have to construct the problem-situation from the various clues in the text.  I propose that the problem-situation is the following:  since the standard set of views of science fails because the standard views do not look at the material conditions of the working scientists, what do scientists really do in their work as scientists—within the institutions of scientific work? (See pp. 25ff.)  Moreover, this problem-situation encompasses the narrow problem that still consumes many philosophers. This is the demarcation problem (32-34) or, to use Bunge’s term, scientificity.  Unlike other disciplines, especially those that are not merely non-scientific, and which are instead fake science (or pseudo-science), science is “the self-correcting intellectual process” (34, italics in original). The most widely known philosopher of science that emphasizes the self-correcting feature of genuine science is Popper. Bunge takes Popper to task at length regarding Popper’s theory of the self-correcting nature of science that is supposedly due to scientists’ constant attempt to falsify their own and each other’s conjectures. (See pp. 38-40).  Bunge concisely sums up his arguments against Popper’s falsifiability criterion of demarcation: “…Popper’s advice, to try and topple one’s favourite guesses, is psychologically false in addition to being logically and met[h]odologically flawed” (39). If philosophers had focused on the materialistic question of how scientists actually operate in their places of work (or, on what scientists actually do), philosophers would have come up with the answer:  scientists work within research projects.  Research projects involve many factors, and one of them is that “every new research project builds on previous findings and, if successful and intriguing, it may suggest further projects in the same field” (48, my italics). Popper would say, in contrast to Bunge, that research projects engender new projects and questions not when their theories and discoveries are successful, but when their expectations or predictions turn out to fail (because they are falsified).

Though Bunge rejects falsification and falsifiability as an engine in the development of research programs, in an apparent and unadmitted concession to Popper, Bunge acknowledges that there are scientific controversies (unlike Kuhn where controversies indicate either pre-science, or the beginning of a scientific revolution followed by the supposed normal science where no controversies occur.) Moreover – and this is a huge and unadmitted concession to Popper – Bunge argues that internal criticism or endoheresy  is an important engine in driving research programs (54). Falsification is a form of internal criticism or endoheresy. It entails attempting to refute scientific theories that are part of research projects, through pointing out failed predictions through experimentation and observation. What, then, distinguishes Bunge from Popper? The unique and novel feature of Bunge’s approach to the philosophy of science is that he turns philosophy of science on its head. The philosophy of science as it has usually been pursued by philosophers, including Karl Popper, sidelines metaphysics or minimizes metaphysics as inspirational for developing properly formed scientific theories and scientific research projects, or turns metaphysics into an extrapolation of science, and thereby turns metaphysics into a subdiscipline of science. Bunge flips the standard roles of metaphysics and science by making scientificity depend on the appropriate form of metaphysics.

The very first criteria for the scientificity of a research project is metaphysical. If a research project is not realist and not systemically materialist, it should be rejected. Hence, metaphysics outweighs the empirical, including empirical falsifiability. A careful reader might note here that, contrary to first appearances, Bunge is giving more weight here to metaphysics or philosophy than to science. Bunge urges philosophy to become evidence-based. Bunge says: “Everyone knows that the new science [of the Scientific Revolution and later Darwininsm] knocked down many a popular philosophical myth.” (101) Moreover, “…evidence-based philosophy is still a tantalizing research project, to which this author [Bunge himself] has made some contributions” (102). However, when the reader continues, the it becomes apparent that Bunge has still turned the tables on the separation of philosophy and science.  Bunge does more than put science and philosophy on the same level as two partners in a dialectal discourse, such as Popper did in his later work, where science is used to either refute or carry forward metaphysical research programmes. Rather, Bunge puts metaphysics upfront and forward in research projects that are to be scientific. Yet Bunge does not advance just any metaphysics. He puts forward a realist metaphysics (See especially, section 8.9 pp. 111 ff.). Moreover, Bunge puts forward not just any realist metaphysics, but one that is materialist, and furthermore, systemic.  Moreover, according to Bunge, systemic materialism is non-eliminative and non-reductive, and must include emergentism.  Not only must matter be the ultimate condition for the existence of higher orders and the properties of the higher orders (such as: matter is the basis for life, life is the basis for consciousness, consciousness is the basis for societies and social institutions, and the social, including language, is the basis for human products such as blueprints and philosophy, and memes or themes). Rather, all such orders must emerge from matter, and as emergent, they have special properties, and systems for self-organization.  An endoheretical reader might interject: Emergentism has failed so far in one basic field: quantum mechanics. How does the classical world of ordinary objects emerge from the quantum world? The classical world is the world of “…everyday life.  Suffice it to recall what we do every time we wake up:  we become aware of our immediate surroundings and start navigating in it, avoiding the obstacles in our way. That is, we behave like realists even while professing some irrealist fantasy” (111). The endoheretic might add: we behave like naive realists even while professing some sophisticated realism where we treat solidity as a mere appearance, especially when attempting to avoid walking into  a brick wall. So, emergentism may, after all, become another philosophical myth as we develop better theories in the various sciences, natural and social. To be fair, Bunge has generously appended two essays by colleagues, one (by A. Ibáñez, et. al.)  about how free will is an emergent property or function of the brain, and the other (by M. Mahner) about how the philosophy/science of mind needs a better systemic and emergent metaphysics along the lines developed by Bunge.

In sum: the originality of this book is that it reverses the tables on all current schools of philosophy, where philosophy and metaphysics are separated and isolated from the sciences. Bunge teaches that the best in metaphysics is supposed to lead the sciences in new directions. Don’t think that the last two chapters in any way reduce in Bunge’s eyes the constructive role of metaphysics in the development of new scientific research projects. The penultimate chapter advocates applying science to all intellectual endeavours (scientism). The final chapter advocates keeping technology and science as independent ventures. Technology aims for practical goals that at their best promote human benefit and democracy. Science/scientism aims for truth and the discovery of new facts in all domains of genuine learning. The bottom line for Bunge is that science/scientism must be directed by the appropriate form of metaphysics to remain scientific. The punch line for Bunge is that practitioners in all intellectual fields need to adopt the appropriate form of metaphysics. Only then will they be enabled to create scientistic research projects. Moreover, only then do we gain a factual basis for making our most important political, moral and social decisions about our environment, and about human well-being.

15 March 2018

9 comments

  1. That the modern western science (MWS) is intrinsically connected with a positivist metaphysics or worldview is well-known, but the truth emerges more clearly when one studies MWS in relation to premodern sciences. In India, Panini produced the Sanskrit grammar which is still unsurpassed and serves as a model for all. Similarly, the Ayurveda, the science of long life, is a wonderful and highly effective system of medicine based explicitly in Sankhya metaphysics. The metaphysical grounding of modern western sciences has also been revealed through a series of divergent critiques starting with Goethe and passing through Husserl, Heidegger and some Frankfurt theorists to contemporary ecologists, feminists, postmodernists and others.
    The connection between science and philosophy/ metaphysics, or facts and values, exists. However, I have yet to see how Mario Bunge argues his case.

  2. In his useful book, Mario Bunge wants to criticize “the belief that scientific research is just a combination of common sense with rigorous logic, meticulous observation or computation, and honest reporting; that it is always data-driven, never curiosity nor hunch-driven; that it has no philosophical underpinnings; and that its results may be condensed into simple formulas, neat diagrams, or succinct technical reports.”

    He provides arguments to show that “modern science endorses materialism”. Materialism is “the set of philosophies according to which all the constituents of the universe are material rather than spiritual. Although materialism is sometimes confused with realism, the two are logically independent from one another, since materialism is an ontology, whereas realism is an epistemology.”

    The greatest achievement of materialism in modern times, Bunge argues, is not its breeding atheism, which had preceded science (for instance in original Buddhism), but its having inspired atomic physics and chemistry, “mechanistic” (non-vitalistic) biology, evolutionary biology, scientific anthropology and historiography, and cognitive neuroscience — whose guiding principle is “Everything mental is cerebral.” Incidentally, this principle shows that materialists do not underrate ideas; they just place them where they happen.”

    Bunge regards spiritualism as “basically wrong”, while dialectical materialism is “wrong in the best of cases, and confused in the worst”. The opinion that class struggle is the engine of history “fails to explain all the most salient historical events, from the rise of agriculture and the state to the Hun and Mongol invasions to colonialism and the two world wars.”

    The advantages of systemic materialism are pluralism, in the sense that it admits the multifarious qualitative variety of the furniture of the world as well as that of the disciplines that study it” and “a general concept of matter, namely as whatever is changeable — or, if preferred, whatever can be represented by a state space with more than one element”.

    In making his argument, Bunge affirms that science is always influenced – for better or worse – by prevailing general cosmologies, metaphysical views and ideologies which transcend the verifiable facts of experience. His claim then is, that some of those transcendent beliefs are more conducive to scientific inquiry than others, they help scientific discovery more than they hinder it. That seems a perfectly acceptable argument, which can be backed up with historical evidence. Yet there are several issues which Bunge doesn’t address in a very satisfactory way.

    (1) Since metaphysical theories are by definition not testable or refutable, it is not possible to prove that they are “wrong” either. That is precisely the difficulty with metaphysical beliefs; they can in principle persist – for better or worse – whatever the evidence of experience might be.

    (2) Human spirituality at the basis is not about religion or spiritualism as such, but about the freely chosen creation and adherence to personal or shared meanings by the human mind. Whereas the creation of those meanings ordinarily presuppose a material substratum, such as a body and a brain, they are not reducible to it. If that reduction was possible, then a lot of philosophizing about it could easily be dispensed with once and for all.

    (3) When Marx & Engels proclaimed rhetorically that “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles, they specifically meant “all written history”. The first invention of writing is probably occurred circa 3100 BC in Sumer, so we are only talking about five millennia. Moreover, Marx & Engels never claimed that this segment of human history is simply “reducible” to the history of class struggles. That is a different sort of claim.

    (4) If it is proposed that all scientists should be materialists, because this is generally most conducive to science, then by his own evidence, this might also get in the way of scientific progress, since scientific discoveries can and have been made in the presence of all kinds of beliefs.

    As regards (1), Bunge can sustain this argument only by saying that, with hindsight, some belief systems get in the way of scientific progress. That seems plausible, but it is difficult if not impossible to prove definitely. At best one could say that the aim of science is to test ideas experientially, and any belief system which forecloses that possibility is contrary to science.

    As regards (2), it just remains unclear how the domain of human spirituality can be reconciled with materialism, if the creation of meaning transcends matter in some sense. Bunge’s materialism would rule out the existence of spirituality since “all the constituents of the universe are material”. This is itself a metaphysical claim, but why rule out the very existence of a domain of human meaning by ontological fiat?

    As regards (3), for Marx & Engels, the materialist interpretation of history was only a “guiding thread” (the 1859 Preface) and “not a doctrine but a method” – it “does not provide ready-made dogmas, but criteria for further research and the method for this research” (letter of Engels to Sombart, March 11, 1895). A doctrine of historical materialism was a Marxist invention.

    As regards (4) Paul Feyerabend makes a strong case for rejected the notion of one standard model which can define the rationality or scientificity of all scientific methods a priori. We simply do not know everything in advance about how scientific discoveries may occur, because human creativity by definition involves something new that may never have existed before.

    So, altogether we are on stronger ground, if we say simply that a science consists of systematic, sustained inquiry which aims to test hypotheses for their truth-content against experience, however that process may occur. The main difference between science and metaphysics is, that while scientific statements are fallible and in principle testable, metaphysical beliefs by definition cannot be proved right or wrong. The important thing is to be aware of the distinction.

    Metaphysical personal beliefs can help or hinder scientific progress, but we do not always know in advance if they will do either. If this is so, then from the point of view of scientific progress, it is a mistake to tell people what they ought to believe. At best we can say, that there are good reasons to be given for accepting or rejecting some beliefs, because they are likely to be more or less conducive to scientific achievement.

    1. Thank you for your keen insights and enlightening perspective on this book by Bunge. I have one minor disagreement. The question is: does metaphysics lead science or does science lead metaphysics? You seem to say the latter: that we can learn from a failed research programme in science, that the metaphysical core of the research programme is mistaken. I think this is the view of Joseph Agassi, not Bunge. Bunge’s view is that you have to have the correct metaphysics–systemic materialism (realism, emergentism…and so on) before a scientific research programme can even get underway and have a hope of becoming fruitful. I personally agree with Agassi and not Bunge regarding the metaphysics/science dialectic. Though Bunge is critical of the Copenhagen Interpretation of physics for its phenomenalism/idealism, instrumentalism, and in short, its wrong metaphysics, the Copenhagen Interpretation, it is hard to deny, has driven QM for much of its history and has produced novel results–such as entanglement, the basis now for quantum computing, and experiments in teleportation. Hence, I would guess that science needs to lead metaphysics and not the other way around, pace Bunge.

      1. Sheldon,

        In reply to your comment – “Does metaphysics lead science, or does science lead metaphysics?”

        What comes first, the chicken or the egg? This way of posing the question is itself metaphysical, I think. Whether fertilized or not, the chickens and the eggs are always both present at the same time, that’s the point, and we have to discover the ways in which they are, in reality, related. Which I think is also what Mario Bunge is trying to do, in his constructivist narrative.

        I have absolutely nothing with Joseph Agassi, although I recognize that he is a progressive Jewish liberal of sorts, trying to sprinkle liberal-democratic enlightenment on the Zionist theocratic state. I am, in the field of philosophy of science, mainly interested in the schools of Stefan Amsterdamski, Imre Lakatos, Paul Feyerabend and Karl Marx. And like-minded thinkers who are not wellknown.

        I do not think that Bunge is claiming you absolutely have to be a believer in systematic materialism in order to do science, or be successful in science. He cannot really maintain this, because he himself has noted that very successful scientists, who aided scientific progress greatly, have had all kinds of quirky personal beliefs.

        I think Bunge intends, rather, that (i) if you are a believer in systematic materialism, that sure helps a lot in pursuing all kinds of scientific research, and (ii) if you are not a materialist, then this stance of yours can get badly in the way of all kinds of science, and, in fact, it might disqualify you from all sorts of sciences. So this is primarily a “compatibility” issue, or a “heuristic rule-of-thumb” issue, a methodological issue.

        And there must surely be a lot of truth in that. There aren’t many dedicated pacifists to be found in military science, there aren’t many serious numerologists to be found in the mathematical sciences, and so on. Bunge is not really interested in ramming materialism down people’s throats, he is interested in creating a coherent view of the foundations of science that is consistent with what scientists actually do. Karl Popper maintained, that scientific theories are built on “a swamp”, where you drive piles into it so far as necessary, to maintain the construction meantime. Bunge implies such an interpretation is misplaced.

        Bunge is furthermore opposed to postmodernist “shit education” in science, where you just get served a smorgasbord of fuzzy concepts and meaningless algebra, where just about “anything goes” and where people pretend to be fantastically creative and profound, although they basically lack any competence to do the simplest things. He thinks there is a place for rules, principles and axiomatics, “old-fashioned” and unsexy as it may sound (he defends among other things a moderate axiological realism). He is interested in better models for teaching science.

        We might well argue, that in the ideal situation, science does “lead metaphysics” or should “lead metaphysics”. Namely, scientists would be discovering many new things in the world, previously blotted out by metaphysical fiat, and that would then change world-views – in the direction of more verifiable knowledge – knowledge that “really works”, because we can test it, find out why it works, and prove that it works successfully.

        Metaphysical world-views would, in that case, transform more and more into scientifically-based world views. People would be efficiently adopting the views which enable them to learn the most they can, from the experience that they actually have. There would be a convergence toward optimal learning processes.

        It’s certainly an attractive proposition, and I am, in a way, quite keen on that, as ideal. There are also quite a few people experimenting with that sort of idea right now. Yet, if we are aware of human nature and historical experience in these matters, this ideal is also a bit of a pipedream, for quite a number of reasons.

        In the real world, sometimes metaphysics “leads science”, and sometimes “science leads” metaphysics. Either can be a good thing, or a bad thing. If we want to understand how and why this is so, we have to get much more specific, and understand a particular science, in the context and environment of the times.

        When you do that, then pretty soon you confront the same kinds of problems that Marx & Engels were grappling with: how ideas arise out of people’s life circumstances, how the ideas become detached from that source, and how they react back on those conditions of life. Unfortunately, though, there exists no philosophical “master key” that will unlock the secrets of the logic in this process. You have to study how it works, and for that you have to know how to study it.

  3. Didn’t Michael Polanyi resolve these questions in ‘Personal Knowledge’ (updated for the computer-age by Mike Cooley in ‘Architect Or Bee’)? (Just asking.)

  4. Michael Polanyi’s insights, which are a sort of descriptive hermeneutics, are certainly worth considering. But he does not give a rigorous rational explanation of the transitions between subjectivity, inter-subjectivity and objectivity.
    ‘Personal knowledge’ is something that can easily let you off the hook as well, when rational explanation fails.

    Mario Bunge suggests, that we can best avoid reifying and misrepresenting science, by looking at what science actually does. We know that science is influenced by ideology, and by personal ideosyncrasies. Nevertheless science also has a rational identity and objective status, independent of ideology and the personal ideosyncrasy of scientists.

    If something is scientifically true, it is true independent of any particular scientist or scientific authority, and independent of any particular ideological belief system. We want to defend scientific research as a rational, progressive activity, with a methodology that can be explicated and learnt to a large extent, but we also want to recognize its role in society, and the influence of ideology and personal factors on science.

    The question then is, how you can do that in a credible way, without falling into logical and empirical inconsistencies, unwarranted relativism, irrationality, ontological and epistemological errors, etc. It is not so easy to do this, and arrive at a set of concepts and categories which can cover all cases. Because, as soon as you have a general theory of something so complex as science, the theory is likely to be so general, that it is actually not a lot of use in practice.

    Philosophers, historians and sociologists then try to create an account of science, which is sufficiently general, so that it covers all or most cases, and distinguishes it from non-science, but also sufficiently specific, so that the theory is useful, and can provide real guidance. Yet the question often arises, whether this “philosophy” of science or “meta-scientific” activity is not also an “ideology” of science, with plenty hidden presuppositions and value orientations.

    There are always plenty people around, who like to make the rules and norms for other people in other branches of activity. Sometimes they think they know better, and sometimes they want to tell others what to do. But the question arises, of who is best positioned to make the rules and norms – who knows best, the people who actually have to work with the rules, or the people who stand outside them?

    In the real world, it is often a bit of both. But the success of the rule-making endeavour depends very much on how exactly the two are combined. Typically, if the prescribed rules are unworkable, people will acknowledge them formally, but do something different informally.

    1. I think you have Polanyi all wrong. He similar to his Nobel Laureate son, John Polanyi, worked in the field of laser spectroscopy applied to chemistry, though unlike his son, he was also a medical researcher, economist, social theorist, and late in his life, a philosopher of science. (My book about Gombrich discusses Polanyi and his family friend, Popper.) In short, Polanyi similar to Bunge, was a working scientist who developed his philosophy of science on actual scientific practice. Polanyi’s main contribution, I think, is an update of the Meno problem: how can science produce novel knowledge at a higher and richer level than its current state of articulate knowledge without having already ‘known’ it? Polanyi came up with the theory of “tacit knowledge” as his solution to the Meno problem.

      1. Sheldon,

        There is also another interpretation of Michael Polanyi, based simply on what he actually said himself.
        If you actually read Michael Polanyi’s book The Tacit Dimension (I first read it in 1980), you can verify that he himself traces the origin of his philosophical concerns back not to Plato’s Meno, but to a conversation he had with Nikolai Bukharin in Moscow, 1935 (p. 3 f.).

        At the time (he was 44 years old), Polanyi was rather shocked by Bukharin’s grandiose and imperious technocratic rants about science. Polanyi was repelled Bukharin’s brazen rejection of the validity of pure science and autonomous scientific thinking as antiquated practices, in the brave new world of large-scale “social engineering” that was emerging. But Polanyi was even more shocked and repelled, by the concept of human nature which it implied.

        Versions of the “technocratic movement” already existed in the West at that time, it was an international tendency (as Polanyi knew very well – he was concerned with civilization as a whole, not just with Russia) but in the Soviet Union, it took its most exaggerated, ultimate and extreme forms, because a whole society was being turned upside down and reorganized from top to bottom, under the guidance of the party, the army, engineers and scientists (aided also by internationalist enthusiasts who arrived from places as far away as New Zealand, Japan, South Africa, the Netherlands, Argentina and North America).

        The Party’s leadership, armed with Marxist-Leninist science, was said to be infallible. Socialism was the inevitable outcome of the laws of history. There was nothing that people could or should do, except to adapt to, cooperate with and conform to this new reality, and work constructively with it. Resistance was not just seen as an obstructive nuisance. It was also regarded as completely futile, because the inevitable march of history was in the opposite direction.

        In the social and cultural field, the Stalinist modernization program included breaking the power of the church and eradicating religion, in favour of science, youth groups and sports; mass education, to conceptualize and incalculate the new social order; large-scale and pervasive social engineering; socialist realist art to bring home the message of modernization; and remoulding human psychology in line with the image of socialist man and the philosophy of dialectical materialism.

        During his meeting with writers in preparation for the first Congress of the Union of Soviet Writers, Stalin famously toasted: “The production of souls is more important than the production of tanks…. And therefore I raise my glass to you, writers, the engineers of the human soul” (Joseph Stalin, “Speech at home of Maxim Gorky”, 26 October 1932). So, the modernization program was to be carried through comprehensively, thoroughly and totally, even into the farthest and deepest recesses of the human mind. The human soul itself, insofar as it existed, would be retooled.

        There was simply no place in this new, modern communist order for any “subjectivist fictions” such as religious spirituality, the Freudian or Jungian unconscious, artistic idiosyncrasy, or any kind of subjectivity that was not directly observable, manipulable, testable or provable. These things were now regarded as “relics of the old order” that had to be got rid of. They would be tolerated meantime to some extent, but the expectation was that they would wither away.

        The communists became increasingly interested in conceptions of human nature, which facilitated social control by the communist party, and from this point of view too, the more elusive, intractable and intangible characteristics of the human mind became problematic and a nuisance.

        Namely, the “unconscious” or “tacit” features of the human mind are obviously not things which you can control, police or shape much at all. They appeared as an obstacle or a threat for socialist construction, and, therefore, the easiest thing was simply to deny their existence as “bunkum from the past”.

        When Polanyi confessed that he found all this highly disturbing, and that it set him thinking, this was not really because he was experiencing a middle-class moral panic, or because he was sexually not very savvy. Rather, Polanyi’s skeptical objection as a scientist was, that the technocratic model of human nature, of cognition, and of science was simply not true.

        The Stalinist model did not even provide an accurate reflection of working-class consciousness, never mind scientific inquiry and human knowledges. The question then arose, of what would be a much more realistic and accurate model of human consciousness and human knowing, than the model presented by the positivistic, scientistic and technocratic elites – in the East and in the West.

  5. BTW when Marx originally wrote in Das Kapital about the differences between spiders, bees and humans (Pelican edition 1976, p. 284), he never referred to an “architect”. He actually used the term “Baumeister” (master builder), and not “architect”.

    When the translators Edward Aveling and Samuel Moore substituted “architect” in the first English edition of Das Kapital, realized in 1886, they probably did that, because the French translation realized by Joseph Roy in 1872 has used the term “architect” instead of “maître de construction” or “maître constructeur” (MEGA2, II/7, p. 146).

    In the new Penguin translation of 1976, Ben Fowkes likewise used the term “architect”, rather than “building master”.

    What is the importance of this? Perhaps not so much. But the difference between the average architect and a building master is, that the building master is actually on the site, to supervise the construction activities, while the architect is usually remote from the scene, except, possibly, to check that the building is built according to the required specifications, or to make some adjustments to the plans and drawings. That is, the architect “designs’ something, but does not actually “build” it, in the usual situation.

    So when the English translation reads “what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is that the architect builds the cell in his mind before he constructs it in wax”, the point is, that the architect himself ordinarily does not “construct” anything except designs, building specifications and drawings.

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