Dialectical Materialism (A. Spirkin)
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Philosophy as Methodology

The general concept of methodology. The world presents us with a picture of an infinite diversity of properties, connections and events. This kaleidoscope of impressions must be permeated by an organising principle, a certain method, that is to say, by certain regulative techniques and means of the practical and theoretical mastering of reality. Practical and theoretical activities follow different methods. The former indicate the ways of doing things and corresponding human skills that have been historically formed and socially established in the instruments of labour. The latter characterise the modes of activity of the mind resulting in the finding truth and the correct, rational solution of problems.

A methodology is a system of principles and general ways of organising and structuring theoretical and practical activity, and also the theory of this system. Genetically methods go back far into the past, when our distant ancestors were acquiring, generalising and handing down to new generations their skills and means of influencing nature, the forms of organising labour and communication. As philosophy emerged, methodology became a special target of cognition and could be defined as a system of socially approved rules and standards of intellectual and practical activity. These rules and standards had to be aligned with the objective logic of events, with the properties and laws of phenomena. The problems of accumulating and transmitting experience called for a certain formalisation of the principles and precepts, the techniques and operations involved in activity itself. For example, in ancient Egypt geometry emerged in the form of methodologically significant precepts concerning the measuring procedure for the division of land. An important role in this process was played by training for labour operations, their sequence, and the choice of the most effective ways of doing things.

With the development of production, technology, art, and the elements of science and culture, methodology becomes the target of theoretical thought, whose specific form is the Philosophical comprehension of the principles of organisation and regulation of cognitive activity, its conditions, structure and content. For example, in the work of Heraclitus "knowledge of many things" is contrasted to reason, the latter being a Particularly reliable means of understanding the dialectics of the universe--the universal Logos--and to be distinguished from the diversity of the "opinions" and legends acquired by unreliable means. The rules of reasoning, of effective proof, the role of language as a means of cognition were the subject of special inquiry in the philosophy of the Greek Sophists (Protagoras and others). Socrates, Plato and Aristotle occupy a special place in discussion of the problems of methodology. Socrates, for example, gave priority to the dialogical nature of thinking as the joint attainment of truth through collation of different notions and concepts, their comparison, analysis, definition and so on. He regarded his theory of Proceeding by means of induction from vague notions to clearly defined general concepts as a method of Perfecting the art of living, of achieving virtue; logical operations were subordinated to ethical aims. According to Socrates, the acquisition of true knowledge should serve action with a moral purpose. The purpose should be determined by means of appropriately organised work of the intellect. This Socratic principle had a deep influence on various trends in the evolution of methodology, especially on the teaching of Plato, who developed a dialectic of concepts and categories the purpose of which was to find the principle in everything. In order to achieve this, our thoughts should move according to the objective logic of the objects under consideration as the embodiments of incorporeal essences. The world of these essences, or ideas, was also regarded as a realm of beauty, of the good which the soul could attain through strenuous effort.

Assuming like Plato that the object of true knowledge was the universal, Aristotle taught that this universal was to be discovered by investigating individual, empirically given things. The methodology of such research is set forth in Aristotle's logic, which closely analyses the principles for defining a term or constructing a statement, the rules of inference and proof, the role of induction and deduction in attaining truth, and so on. Aristotle's aesthetics expounds the principles of creativity and analysis in works of art. He also gives us a methodologically important elaboration of the theory of categories as the organising forms of cognition and their dialectics.

Until modern times, however, the problems of methodology had no independent place in the system of knowledge and arose only in the context of logical and natural philosophical arguments. Scientific progress is not limited to the accumulation of knowledge. It is also a process of evolving new means of seeking knowledge. The rapid advance of natural science called for radical changes in methodology. This need was reflected in new principles of methodology and corresponding philosophical ideas, both rationalistic and empirical, directed against scholasticism. The principles of mechanics marked a breakthrough in methodology. According to Galileo, scientific knowledge, by uniting the inductive and deductive methods, should be based on planned, accurate mental and practical experiment.

In Descartes the problem of methodology is central. Methodology is required to establish on what basis and by what methods new knowledge may be obtained. Descartes worked out the rules of the rationalistic method, the first rule being the demand that only propositions that are clearly and distinctly comprehensible may be accepted as true. The first principles are axiomatic knowledge, that is, ideas perceived intuitively by reason, without any proof. From these immediately perceived propositions new knowledge is deduced by means of deductive proof. This assumes the breaking down of complex problems into more specific and comprehensible problems and a strictly logical advance from the known to the unknown.

Another line in methodology was represented at this time by English empiricism, which sought to devise modes of thought that would help to build a strictly experimental science guided by proofs of scientific truths arrived at through induction.

The limitations of both trends were revealed by German classical philosophy, which produced a searching analysis of the conditions of cognition, its forms and organising principles. In contrast to mechanistic methodology, which metaphysically interpreted the ways and means of cognition, classical German Philosophy developed a dialectical methodology in idealistic forms.

Kant produced a critical analysis of the structure and types of man's cognitive abilities and defined the constructive and regulative principles of cognition and the relationship between its form and content. Whereas Descartes' initial methodological principle was to subject everything to doubt in order to obtain sound and unquestionably authentic knowledge and Hume had doubted the very fact of the existence of the world, for Kant a critical attitude to present knowledge was the methodological basis for overcoming dogmatic and metaphysical views of the world. His work was aimed against both dogmatism and scepticism and sought to defend the principle of the authenticity and general significance of knowledge. Dualism and apriorism however, prevented consistent realisation of this principle.

In Kant's analysis of the process of cognition there were elements of dialectics. These were developed on a higher plane by Hegel, whose philosophy took the form of a universal method of cognition and of intellectual activity in general. The categories and laws of dialectics evolved by Hegel provided a system of thought that made it possible to investigate the interconnection and contradictions between being and thinking, the dialectics of the development of human culture, from a new standpoint based on the principle of historicism Foremost in Hegel's methodology is the principle of ascent from the abstract to the concrete, that is, from the general and limited forms of sensuality and rational judgements to analytical and highly meaningful concepts, and thence to a system of concepts revealing the object to the full extent of its essential and, in this sense, concrete characteristics.

The achievements of the methodologies of Preceding periods were generalised and reviewed on a consistently materialist basis in Marxist Philosophy, enriched by the latest advances in science and social practice The dialectical method was radically revised. From being a method and analysis of forms of knowledge in themselves, regardless of reality and the objective laws of its development, it became a method of the fullest and most meaningful investigation of this development, an instrument not only of theoretical cognition but also of revolutionary transformation of reality. In the methodology of Marxism spontaneously dialectical methods of thought, which had stimulated progress in the natural and social sciences, acquired their theoretical substantiation. This methodology clarifies the nature of the relationship between theoretical and empirical knowledge, and also the role of practice in organising both forms of cognition.

The relationship between theory and method. Whereas theory is the result of a process of cognition that reproduces a certain fragment of existence, methodology is a way of obtaining and building up such knowledge. Theory characterises knowledge itself, its structure, content and the degree to which it corresponds to the object; method characterises the activity involved in acquiring knowledge. It characterises the conditions for obtaining true knowledge. In practice, the distinction between theory and method may sometimes be functional: having taken shape as a theoretical result of past inquiry, method acts as the point of departure and condition for further investigation. Thus the law of the conservation of matter and energy as a theoretical principle expressing the fundamental condition for the existence of the world is simultaneously a methodological requirement for the investigation of any phenomenon. The methodological principle of the determinist explanation of the world is the organising principle of the corresponding physical, biological and social theories. After being tested by social practice, these theories in their turn may perform a methodological function, that is, serve as a guiding principle in further research.

The methodology of Marxism has a universal character and may be concretised when applied to various spheres of human activity according to their conditions and aims. Whereas the concept of methodology was at one time mainly concerned with cognitive activity (with the result that the methodology of science was better developed), the new approach to methodology established by Marxism has made it possible to expand its sphere of application and provide a philosophical substantiation for the ways and means of organising the whole gamut of forms of human activity. The specific nature of these forms calls for methods corresponding to the objects that are studied and transformed. In the sphere of art, for example, such a method is the realistic method, portraying reality with all its contradictions and perspectives.

The effectiveness of a method is judged mainly by its correspondence to the object concerned. In what way does the truth of a theory differ from that of a method? Theory relates only to its object and is characterised by the degree to which it truly reproduces that object. But a method may be true—in the sense of effective--in one cognitive situation, while leading to false conclusions in another. The methods of physics are applicable to physical reality, including those cases when it is part of biological objects. If there is a diversity of methods there inevitably arises the problem of choosing one and assessing it as a possible way of solving specific theoretical and practical problems This gives methodology an axiological (value) aspect and prompts us to assess methods from the standpoint of both truth and effectiveness. Though methods may differ in quality they all have a common basis in the integral dialectical-materialist methodology.

Hierarchy of methods. It is important to sort out the relationship between Philosophical methodology and the complex hierarchy of general scientific and specific ways and techniques of activity in material and intellectual production organised at various levels. At the philosophical level methodology actually functions not in the form of a rigid system of standards, "prescriptions" and techniques--such an interpretation would inevitably lead to dogmatism--but as a general system of assumptions and guideline of human activity, world-view being most vital of them. Dialectical and historical materialism is such a general system. World-view provides the assumption and the basis of methodology. Philosophy cannot, for example, give physics specific methods for studying quantum mechanics. But it is concerned with the general approach to discovery of truth in physics. It deals not with the "tactics" of the research process, but with the strategy in the battle for truth.

One must first master Universal Philosophical principles, and then the particulars of the various levels are more easily assimilated. If we go about things in the opposite order we cannot Properly master either the one or the other. Philosophical methods "work" in science not directly but mediated by other more specific methods. For example, the principle of historicism as a universal method evolved by philosophy has in biology taken the form of evolution theory—the methodological basis of the modern biological disciplines, and in astronomy this same principle has generated a whole set of cosmogonic hypotheses. In Social research dialectical materialism combined with historical materialism performs the function of a method for all the social sciences Methods that have a general scientific character, such as comparison, analysis and synthesis, abstraction, idealisation generalisation, ascent from the abstract to the concrete, modelling, formalisation, induction and deduction, also have to be concretised in each separate science.

In science, methodology often decides the fate of a research project. Different approaches may lead to opposite conclusions being drawn from one and the same factual material. Describing the role of correct method in scientific cognition, philosophers have compared it to a torch illuminating the road for the traveller in darkness. Even a lame man who chooses the right road will arrive ahead of the aimless wanderer. It goes without saying that method in itself cannot guarantee success in research. Not only a good method but skill in applying it are required.

A characteristic feature of the development of philosophical thought in the 20th century is the rapid growth of methodological research and the increase of its specific share in the general system of scientific knowledge. This is due to the conversion of science into a direct productive force, to the rapid development of science as a special form of intellectual production and to the differential and integrative processes occurring in it, which has led to the specific changes in the classical disciplines and the appearance of many new ones. The development and perfecting of methods is a crucial element in all scientific progress. Contemporary society is confronted with global problems whose solution demands large-scale programmes that can be carried out only through the collaboration of many sciences, programmes designed to cope with the problems of ecology, demography, urbanisation, space exploration, and so on.

The need thus arises not only to pool the efforts of specialists in various fields, but also to combine scientific data in situations where there is in principle no complete or definite information about the object as a whole, as a system. The deepening of the interconnection of the sciences leads to the results, models and methods of some sciences being increasingly widely used by others that are relatively less developed in the methodological sense and more complex in their object of study, for example, the application of physical and chemical methods in biology, psychology, and medicine. This gives rise to the problem of methods of inter-disciplinary research and has led to the evolution of methods that can ensure effective interaction and synthesis of the methods of various sciences and reveal research techniques, a logical apparatus and scientific language for unifying separate concepts and trends and giving them general scientific status. One may cite, for example, the principles of cybernetics with its categories of control, information, feedback, etc.; systems analysis as the further creative development of the principles and categories of dialectics; or the concept of the noosphere of Academician V. I. Vernadsky, which has been developed in the idea of a planetary energo-information field.

Modern science is becoming more abstract and lends itself more easily to mathematical methods of research. Particularly relevant are the problems of interpreting the results of research performed with an extensive use of formalisation techniques. This has led to the special elaboration of methods interpretation and modelling.

There are several classifications of methodological knowledge. One of the most popular is the division of methodology into substantive and formal methodology. The former includes such problems as the structure of scientific knowledge in general and scientific theory in particular, the laws of the generation, functioning and mutation of scientific theories, the conceptual framework of science and its separate disciplines, the definition of the explanatory patterns accepted in science, the structure and Operational composition of the methods of science, the conditions and criteria of scientificalness

The formal aspects ,of methodology are related to analysis of the language of science, the formal structure of scientific explanation, description and analysis of formal and formalised methods of research, particularly the methods of constructing scientific theories and conditions of their logical truth, the typology of systems of knowledge, and so on. It was the elaboration of this set of problems that raised the question of the logical structure of scientific knowledge and the development of a methodology of science as an independent field of knowledge. This field embraces the whole diversity of methodological and methodic principles and techniques, operations and forms of constructing scientific knowledge, Its highest and definitive level is the philosophical methodology, whose guiding principles organise methodological work both at the general scientific level (including the logico-methodological apparatus applicable to many disciplines) and at the specialised scientific level, Where special methods of research and derivative specific methodical systems are devised and applied. Method is concretised methodology. Through the method of the concrete science it reaches the research desk. The concrete sciences, which are specific in relation to philosophy, may in their turn be methodological in relation to the narrower fields of their specific sphere of knowledge. For example, general biology arms botany, zoology and other narrower disciplines with general methods of research. Relying on Philosophy, general biology works out the methodological problems related to all the departments of biological science. This principle is to be found in other sciences as well.

The present-day system of methods in science is as diversified as science itself. We talk, for example, of experimental method, the method of processing empirical data, the method of building scientific theories and their verification, the method of expounding scientific results, i.e., the classification of methods based on the classification of stages of research activity.

According to another classification, methods are divided into philosophical, general scientific, and special scientific methods. Yet another classification relies on different methods of qualitative and quantitative study of reality. The distinction between methods depending on the forms of causality—determinist and probability methods—is of considerable importance in modern science. For example, in biology dialectics is seen through the prism of general scientific methods (systems analysis, the principles of self-regulation, etc.), in specific research projects through apply ing special scientific methods and systems of methods (electronic microscopy, the method of tagged atoms, etc.). One or another method makes it possible to know only separate aspects of the object of research. In order to comprehend all the essential aspects of the object, there must be complementarity of methods. The whole system of methodological knowledge necessarily involves a world-view interpretation of the basis of the research and its results. It should be stressed that general methodology is always at work in the brain of every scientist but, as a rule, it is kept in obscurity, as the intellectual background of a searching mind. This obscurity is sometimes so complete that the scientist may even deny that he acts according to any philosophical methodology, and insist that he is in general free of any philosophy. But this is merely an illusion of the consciousness.

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