Chris Knight: Marxism and Science - Part One

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jk1921
Chris Knight: Marxism and Science - Part One
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The discussion that follows was prompted by the article: Chris Knight: Marxism and Science - Part One. The discussion was initiated by jk1921.
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jk1921
This is an important piece.

This is an important piece. It will be very interesting to see where Dr. Knight takes the investigation in future articles. However, there seems to be an underlying assumption in this whole enterprise of examining Marxism and Science that is left unquestioned. Should we assume that what we take as "science" is always fundamentally "progressive"?The tone of all this seems to be that science is inherently beneficial, all we need is the proletariat to uncover its rational core underneath the torrent of bourgeois ideological distortion.

I won't rehash the arguments completely here, but there has been a long tradition in the 20th century of questioning the relationshio of science and humanity, in the face of--among other things--an unprecedented ecological crisis and the massive growth of various forms of social repression carried out in the name of science ("social" or "natural"). Not even modern medicine is immune from these criticisms, witness the backlash against psychiatry and the medical-pharmaceutical complex, from various points in the culture. There is a growing sense of despair in the culture that taken too far, science has a boomerang effect that ends up making man its slave rather than liberating him, or at the very least there are certain problems which are in the end genuine antinomies that cannot be solved, i.e. mind vs. body problems in medicine, etc.

Do these trends reflect the continued dominace of science by ideological influences from bourgeois society or is there something more sinsiter about science itself that inevitably tends to "objectify" humanity (i.e., Adorno and Horkheimer's Dialectic of Englightenment). It would seem to me that Marxists need to confront and examine these ideas, especially as they have often been advanced by figures who claim at least some tendential lineage to the Marxist tradition.

Looking forward to the next installment.

Zanthorus
No Hegel?

Surely any text which claims to present a Marxist view on 'science' should examine the connection between Hegel's view that what makes philosophy a science is it's comprehension of the self-movement of the categories, his summary critique of political utopianism, Marx's utilisation of the critique of political utopianism in the critique of utopian socialism and the connection of his view of communism as the real movement unfolding before our very eyes with Hegel's views? 

LBird
Scientists' authority or the proletariat's?

On the recommendation of Alf, on the thread Beliefs, science, art and Marxism, post 145, I have read the first third of Chris Knight’s contribution, and already have some early comments and criticisms.

From the section Social conditions of scientific objectivity:

Chris Knight wrote:
Karl Marx knew – and …every Marxist worthy of the name knows that it is only real science – the real discoveries of scientists working independently and for science's own autonomous ends – which can be utilised by humanity as a means to self-enlightenment and emancipation.
[my bold]

Chris separates ‘scientists’ from ‘humanity’, and suggests that ‘science has its own ends’.

I fundamentally disagree with this formulation. ‘Science’ has no ‘ends’ (as neither does ‘history’), and there will be no scientists ‘independent’ (whatever that means) of ‘humanity’ who actively provide ‘discoveries to be [passively] utilised’, but, on the contrary, there will be an active humanity which engages in science for itself. Science must be a generalised activity which is under our democratic control. To argue otherwise, is to ignore Marx’s warning in the Theses on Feuerbach, III, about separating society into two parts, the educators and the educated.

At the end of this section, Chris argues (without a direct quote from Marx):

Chris Knight wrote:
Far from arguing for the subordination of science to politics, Marx insisted on the subordination of politics to science.

On the contrary (again!), I think Marx argued for the complete opposite, the subordination of science to the conscious proletariat.

At the very start of the next section, Autonomy and class interest, we don’t find confirmation for Chris’ stance from Marx, but from Engels. Chris merely suggests that:

Chris Knight wrote:
Engels wrote: "...." We can be confident that this accurately expressed Marx's own views.

Isn’t Chris aware of the massive philosophical disagreements between Communists about the similarity or otherwise of Marx’s and Engels’ views? For many (including me) a quote from Fred just won’t suffice!

Chris Knight wrote:
It is in and through science alone that workers internationally can become aware of the global, species-wide strength which is already theirs. And it is only in becoming aware of its own power that the 'international working class' can politically exist. There is no question, therefore, of science being subordinated to a pre-existing political force. The political force is science's own and cannot exist without it.

We must argue that the ‘science’ we seek is produced by the proletariat itself, and that the ‘political force’ is that of the conscious proletariat, not that of an undefined ‘science’ (in fact, it will be ‘defined’, but by a force external to the democratic proletariat).

Furthermore, if we look up Chris’ footnote 8, we find a quote from Charlie himself.

Karl Marx, Poverty of Philosophy, wrote:
from this moment, the science produced by the historical movement, and which consciously associates itself with this movement, has ceased to be doctrinaire and has become revolutionary.

Elsewhere in the passage, Marx makes it clear that ‘the historical movement’ is ‘the struggle of the proletariat’.

To me, this means that a ‘proletarian science’ will be produced by the proletariat itself. ‘Scientists’, as a special body, will cease to exist. There will be no ‘autonomous’ science or scientists, just a collective activity controlled by humanity, in the interests of humanity, through democratic means.

No ‘scientific authority’, just ‘humanity's authority’.

LBird
Ultimate test is democracy

Chris Knight wrote:
Internal coherence (agreement between the theory's parts) will find expression in widespread social agreement. Such a capacity to produce agreement is the ultimate social test of science.[16]

Surely, the only way to express such 'widespread agreement' is through democratic voting?

And in note 16, Chris says:

Chris Knight wrote:
Marx probably derived this idea at least in part from Feuerbach, although it is also a powerful theme in Hegel's writings. Feuerbach writes: “That is true in which another agrees with me – agreement is the first criterion of truth; but only because the species is the ultimate measure of truth.

How can the human species be the 'ultimate measure of truth' without deciding for itself, as a species?

Our 'species', not 'scientists', is the measurer of the 'truth'.