From Fourth International, Vol.16 No.2, Spring 1955, p.71.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
The Permanent Revolution in Science
by Richard L. Schanck
Philosophical Library, Inc., New York. 112 pp. 1954. $3.
In the foreword to this book, C. West Churchman, editor of the Journal of the Philosophy of Science, announces that it is the first of a series “by a group of scientists dedicated to the founding of an Institute of Experimental Method, whose major goal would be the development of methodology as a science in itself.”
On the jacket of the book, the publishers list some of their other publications, including works by Albert Einstein, John Dewey, Jacques Maritain, George Santayana, Alfred North Whitehead, etc. The author holds the impressive titles of Chairman of the Department of Sociology at Bethany College and Lecturer at the Carnegie Institute of Technology.
All this would indicate a promising development – that an influential group of intellectuals has turned to serious consideration of one of the major problems facing science today, its methodology. The author’s introduction sounds even more promising:
“The emergence of a new economic order or society is usually accompanied by what the philosopher, Kant, chose to call ‘Copernican’ shifts in attitude toward the world ... Kant brought an end to naive empiricism and rationalism with his revolutionary Critique of Pure Reason. His successor, Hegel, confronted with the problem of interpreting progress in history as it related to an organism of ideas, developed a new logic which put the syllogism of the ancient world to work at new and dynamic tasks. In Germany and Austria the influence of these modern philosophies resulted in the development of two of the most influential systems of modern thought: ‘Marxian Economics’ and ‘Freudian Psycho-Analysis.’”
Schanck affirms his agreement with Hegel’s logic and with the materialist outlook of Marx and Freud. In his opinion the latter two “anticipated modern scientific thought in physical science by nearly a hundred years.”
Schanck scores those who from a literary or philosophical background write book after book telling us what “Freud or Marx really meant” but who only demonstrate their complete failure to understand the meaning of modern scientific method. Moreover he holds that those, like Max Eastman, who attack Marx or Freud as being “mechanical” or unscientific don’t know what they are talking about.
In his first chapter, Schanck starts out with the “law of combined development” through which the scientists in other fields should be able to take over the advanced method developed by Marx. However, they haven’t. Instead, slowly and painfully, groping their way, they have proceeded empirically. In so doing, however, their very subject matter has forced them to become dialectical to one degree or another. Schanck proposes to show how this has occurred and what progress has been made.
He starts with Newton when the shift from Aristotelian speculation to modern experimentation occurred. Then he considers the mechanistic method and its limitations which led in physics to a logic of contradiction, of the interrelation of such categories as quality and quantity, and of the development of statistical laws. Then chemistry with its basic concept of dynamic equilibrium, “the mutual penetration of opposites.” Next biology with its emphasis on the relationship between the internal and external environment of the organism, and finally the contributions of Freud and Marx, particularly their conscious use of dialectic logic and their emphasis on the continuous, revolutionary development of the individual and of societies.
Despite its extreme sketchiness, this sounds so good that it may appear at first sight simply carping to call attention to a major error in his presentation of Marx. According to Schanck, Marx saw free enterprise and monopoly as “the two basic trends” in capitalist society out of whose conflict a third force tends to rise.
As students of Marx are well aware, the basic contradiction is in the conversion of labor power into a commodity – of the worker into a thing – and the conversion of the labor process into a process of creating surplus value, where the worker as a thing becomes the means to an inhuman end, the accumulation of capital for its own sake. From this stems the class struggle between those possessing nothing but the commodity, labor power, and those possessing the means of production.
Having evaded the class struggle and the problem of the political forms it takes, Schanck turns to ethics in his next to the last chapter. Here he follows Edgar A. Singer, founder of a wing of the school of pragmatism that includes such figures as William James and John Dewey. Singer’s ethical norm, according to Schanck, is to work for the cooperation of mankind in the struggle against nature, a mankind, however, abstracted from all societies and all time.
Marxists, in contrast, take mankind as it has developed concretely in class formations. Their ethical norm is to favor or join in the struggle of that class whose rule makes possible the greatest possible development, of the productive forces at a given time, the objective being achievement of a material base of such enormous productivity as to relieve mankind of the need for drudgery, thus permitting every individual to develop his full capacities as a human being. Today that means fighting for a planned economy. The principal difference between capitalist and socialist ethics lies in the fact that in the socialist society of the future the worker in control of the means of production becomes an end in himself. With that, class society is transcended.
In the final chapter, Schanck suffers a “Copernican” shift in attitede landing in the most vulgar pragmatism. The students of Singer, he reports, have organized an Institute of Experimental Method that aims at making “a science of scientific method.” Already they have scored conspicuous successes. At the University of Pennsylvania in May 1946 they made a study of consumer “interest.” The results of this won ever Wroe Alderson, “a marketing expert,” and Edward Deming, “a sampling expert.” At Oberlin, the senior planner of the Cleveland Planning Commission was attracted by what the Institute might accomplish in his field, particularly architecture. (Determining the “purpose” of a given project, “efficiency” in achieving it, etc.) At Ohio State University, Mr. W.A. Shrewhart of Bell Telephone became interested. And then the Institute, getting into “welfare work,” came to the aid of a New York City Settlement House in “discovering what contemporary humans wanted of them in their own neighborhood.” Other universities similarly welcomed the work of the Institute. In fact in questions of “methodology” in many industrial and governmental problems, the Institute has been so impressive that it can be favorably compared to the wartime military operations research teams to which it is similar “in form.” Its future among industrialists and government bureaucrats thus seems assured.
“And so this survey of science comes to a close,” Schanck says and concludes with a quotation from Singer: “More humane than soup-kitchens, more practical than cannon, must be every advance toward a sound theory of evidence.”
Comes to a close just two chapters late, we might add, otherwise we might have been left puzzled over the book, lacking the “evidence” to prove that what we are dealing with here is a clear case of schizophrenia.
Last updated on: 2 April 2009