The Great Social Science Schism
Tales from the Methodological Woods
Harry Hillman Chartrand, May 2002
Revised November 2002
0.01 A deep schism exists in the Social Sciences. It exists in all disciplines including Economics (Friedman 1953), Political Science (Miller 1972), Psychology (Hillman 1980) and Sociology (Merton 1984). It concerns the rules and admissibility of evidence to the court of professional social scientific opinion. It concerns what constitutes ‘knowledge’. It has continued for more than 200 years. Both sides have had their ‘day in the sun’ only to be eclipsed by the other, in turn. It is a veritable ‘dance of the dialectics’ (Beech 1978). To some observers, from time to time, it threatens disciplinary viability (Hillman 1980; Miller 1972; Merton 1984; Parker 1993).
0.02 One camp is composed of those known as behaviourists, empiricists, positivists and/or realists; the other, of historicists, institutionalists, nominalists, normativists, phenomenologists and/or relativists. These protagonists exist, in varying strengths, in each of the Social Sciences; their waxing and waning apparently not synchronized, i.e., one may be dominant, at a given point in time, in a given discipline, while the other may be ascendant in another. The dynamic tension between the two has caused much ink to be shed in defense or attack of one another.
0.03 In introduction, it can be said that the one party – the Positivists - believe
admissible evidence is that which can be ‘tested’, i.e., empirically
verified. In epistemological terms,
they believe there is an absolute, objective, empirical social scientific
reality subject to ‘laws’ that are eternal, immutable and knowable, like those
governing the celestial mechanics of
0.04 The other side – the Relativists – believe there is no objective social scientific reality. Rather there is an ever evolving, mutating matrix of human relationships in which evidence cannot be restricted to that which can be tested against an imaginary eternal external reality. Evidence must be extended to embrace the expanding spectrum of wants, needs and desires as well as the growth and development of human consciousness itself (Neumann 1954). Relativists are concerned about both what is and what ought to be.
0.05 In this essay I will establish the diachronics of this Great Schism (Piaget 1973, 33). I will demonstrate:
0.06 To conclude this Introduction, let me state my bias: I am a Relativist and the evidence presented refers specifically to institutional evolution in the so-called West.
1.0 Origins & Evolution: Of Alchemists & Astrologers
1.01 I assume that
Positivists are rooted in the Natural Sciences; Relativists in the
Humanities. These two are the
parents of the Social Sciences. The source of the Great Schism is to be found in
their distinct and separate beginnings.
The Humanities emerged in the 12th century
C.E. with creation of the first European universities in
1.02 While it is
popularly believed that the ‘rebirth’ (Renaissance) of ancient knowledge took
place in 15th century C.E. Italy, knowledge of the Ancient World
1.03 But Protagoras’ saying was not the only supposedly ‘lost’ knowledge. Much of ancient mythology and thought was preserved and replicated in the palaces of the Princes of the Church (Filoramo 1990). Art and texts, hidden from an illiterate laity, continued to circulate and be preserved in Church abbeys, monasteries and other clerical libraries. This atmosphere of secrecy therein is chillingly captured by Umberto Eco's novel, The Name of the Rose, in which Brother Jorge's fear of the power of comedy (contained in a supposedly lost treatise by Aristotle) to endanger the authority of the Church feeds a medieval tale of murder and the destruction of a great library - the collected enlightenment of an age - by the fires of censorship (Eco 1980).
1.04 In addition to works by the ‘Philosopher’ (as Aristotle was known to Church Fathers) knowledge of alchemy and astrology persisted and were secretly practiced (sometimes by Princes of the Church). The role of these ‘Dark Arts’ in fostering the emergence of the Natural Sciences has not been as fully documented as has, relatively speaking, the role of the Puritans and Pietists (Merton 1984). Nonetheless a sense of their mindscape has been captured in the works of C.G. Jung especially Vol. 12 Psychology and Alchemy (1953); Vol. 13 Alchemical Studies (1968); and, Vol. 14 Mysterium Coniunctionis (1955-56).
1.05 In the most general of terms, one can say European alchemy descended from the Gnostic alchemy of late Roman times. Many believed that God had become trapped in matter at the time of Creation and it was humanity’s responsibility to release Him from His imprisonment. In fact, according to Jung, the alchemist actually projected active psychic content into their experiments. The patterning of such projections provided him with a template with which to identify shared psychic structures of humanity - across time, space and especially culture. It led him to the ‘collective unconscious’: a stratum of psychic life shared by all peoples and cultures throughout history and empirically evidenced in their artwork, literature and mythologies. In a moderated form the psychic projection of the alchemists is today called ‘experimenter expectation’.
1.06 Whatever role
alchemy and astrology may have played in the emergence of the Natural Sciences
(e.g., in the work of Kepler and
1.07 In the most summary way, one can say that Platonists believe that there are ‘universal forms’ in the mind of the individual preexisting ‘real’ forms found in the physical world. In later theological and philosophic debate this would become known as ‘Nominalism’. This ‘subjective’ premise provides the basis for modern Relativists. Everything is knowable but only relative to, i.e., in ‘subjective’ context with, these universal forms. Cultural, economic, historic, political, psychological and/or social ‘realities’ are but shadow plays of preexisting Universals. Furthermore, sensory data of such shadows ‘realities’ is mediated by the human mind structured by such Universals. This raises a question: If the ‘mind’ or cognitive faculties of human beings has, and continues to evolve then do the Universals change, i.e., does the repertoire of Universals grow and mutate along with their carrier - human consciousness (Neumann 1954)?
1.08 By contrast, the Aristotelians believe Universal Forms exist in the material world, i.e., there is an objective external world unmediated by human consciousness. Before inception of the experimental method, it was through observation and deduction that the laws of this ‘real’ world called ‘Nature’ were revealed. In subsequent theological debate this school of thought became known as ‘Realism’.
1.09 Adoption of these
alternative ways of ‘knowing’, i.e. epistemologies, by Humanists in the
12th century was filtered, and sometimes fueled, by the
fires of the Inquisition. The
Church, until the founding of secular universities, was the sole judge on
matters of ‘Knowledge’ as well as Faith; the secular State was its
executioner. The works of both
Plato and Aristotle played an instrumental role in development of official
theology. In the early years of the
1.10 The Germanic
tribes, who invaded, then cut up and divided the
1.11 With respect to ‘hidden’ knowledge, even before the fall of Rome, at the Council of Nicaea in 325 C.E., the Church (invested with authority by the Emperor Constantine, the first Christian Emperor who also moved the capital to a new Christian or ‘second Rome’ - Constantinople) began banning the written word especially the written word of Arius. The Patriarch of Alexandria, Athanasius, contended Christ was of one substance divine (Monism out of Plato). Arius, remembered as an Alexandrian priest, contended Christ was of two parts (Dualism out of Aristotle) and the divine did not die on the Cross but was raised up into heaven. Ironically, perhaps, Islam and Mormonism also assert that Christ did not die on the Cross but was rescued by God. Athanasius won: Arianism was declared heresy. Arian missionaries, however, were the first to reach and convert the Germanic tribes penetrating the borders of the Empire.
1.12 Ironically, a
similar ‘battle of the missionaries’ led up to the 1054 C.E. schism between the
Catholic and Orthodox churches with the Pope's formal excommunication of the
Patriarch of Constantinople.
Paralleling the success of the Arians in converting the Germanic tribes,
brother Saints Cyrus and Methodius, on behalf of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch,
reached the Slavic tribes in the 9th century converting them to the Eastern rite
and, in the process creating a new alphabet - Cyrillic script - still used in
most of eastern Europe including Russia.
This rivalry between east and west Christendom continued during the
Middle Ages with catholic Teutonic Knights taking lands in the East - Drang nach Osten - from pagan and later
orthodox Slavs until 1400 C.E. when they were finally stopped after taking
Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia - less than 100 years before Columbus ‘discovered’
America. Half a century later the
Russian Orthodox Church assumed supremacy of eastern Christendom with the fall
1.13 In the later
Middle Ages (i.e., after Charlemagne, 742-814 C.E.), internal conditions in
1.14 An unexpected
benefit of the Islamic Conquest of Spain was that many supposedly ‘lost’ works
of Aristotle became available to Christian scholars through translations from
the Arabic into Latin by such great 12th century
Jewish scholars as Maimondes (Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, 1135-1204 C.E.). There was, at that time, little leakage
and even slower translation of surviving Greek originals from the contracting
1.15 Gradually the Aristotelian position ascended but, absent the experimental method, it led not to Natural Science but to ever more sophisticated ‘philosophical speculation’ of a theological kind (Merton 1984, 107). What to modern eyes appears as metaphysical speculation was methodically engaged by Thomas Aquinas in his famous question: How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?
1.16 It was to move the Philosopher and his ‘method’ into the secular world that scholars and students banded together to form the new universities and escape under the theological thumb of Church hierarchy. Of course ‘secular’ monarchs of the day cultivated and supported these new knowledge institutions to counter a literate clergy with a new independent source of ‘talent’. For the new Humanists it was not God who would be the measure of Man: it would be Man himself! This politically incorrect statement can be justified for reasons similar to that put forward by Merton in treating the rise of the Natural Sciences:
… The reference to “men” sans women in this quoted passage is no inadvertent sexist statement; there simply was no place provided for women during the 16th and 17th centuries in what was known first as “natural philosophy” and later as “natural science.” (Merton 1984, 1095n)
1.17 In moving out
from under the Church, the new ‘Humanist’ universities assumed some of the
former roles of monasteries and abbeys in conserving knowledge, i.e., they
created secular libraries. They
also admitted some (but not all) evidence ‘proscribed’ by the Church. While formal censorship by the
advocated a judge-centred court with absolute powers... There was nothing, therefore, very novel about the procedure used by the famous papal Inquisition... The Inquisition was a special ad hoc court commissioned by the papacy to deal with heretics. It basically followed civil-law procedure, and there was certainly nothing original in its use of torture as far as the history if Roman law is concerned. (Cantor 1969: 343)
b) The Natural Science: Of Puritans, Pietists & Physicians
1.14 The new Universities also gave shelter to two professional faculties: medicine and law. In the case of law, Aristotelian deduction reigned – deduction from principals as in the European Civil Code, from precedent in the Anglo-American Common Law and, in both, from the ‘evidence’. In the case of medicine, Aristotelian observation reigned. Thus in addition to searching for ‘lost’ works, inductive observation became part of the Humanist methodology. The intensity of this observational method is captured in the words of Paracelsus (1493-1541), more properly Theophrastus Phillippus Aureolus Bombastus von Hohenheim:
The internal character of a man is often expressed in his exterior appearance, even in the manner of his walking and in the sound of his voice. Likewise the hidden character of things is to a certain extent expressed in their outward form. He ought to look with his own eyes into the book of Nature and become able to understand it. The knowledge of nature as it is - not as we imagine it to be - constitutes true philosophy. But he who is not true to himself will not see the truth as it is taught by nature, and it is far easier to study a number of books and to learn by heart a number of scientific theories than to ennoble one’s own character to such an extent as to enter into perfect harmony with nature and to be able to see the truth. Wisdom in man is nobody’s servant and has not lost its freedom, and through wisdom man attains power over the stars.
Epithet: From Paracelsus quoted in Frank Lloyd
1.15 Born in
1.16 Unfortunately there was another epistemological implication to the new Faculties of Medicine (originally called ‘Physics’), i.e., professionalization. The old ‘folk medicine’, chiefly practiced by women quickly became condemned as witchcraft and ‘The Burning Times’ began (Read 1990). In this regard it is important to note that biology is one of the three elemental natural sciences including chemistry and physics. Unlike it sisters, however, biology, particularly in its human incarnation as medicine, is engramed with cultural constraints on application of the experimental method. Medicine, from before Paracelsus up to the 21st century, has had a ‘dark side’, e.g., body snatching, use of concentration camp inmates as experimental subjects and Mary Shelley’s 1818 book: Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. It is interesting to note, etymologically, that the word ‘biology’ only entered the English vocabulary from the German in 1819.
1.17 Concentration on
observation received a significant boast with the Reformation, beginning with
Martin Luther’s (1483-1546) posting of “95 theses” in Wittenburg
1.18 As documented by
Robert Merton, the Protestant Reformation, in effect, rejected the complicated
Aristotelian metaphysical theology of the Catholic Church. Many, especially the Puritans in
The generic hypothesis under discussion holds that at a time in Western society when science had not become elaborately institutionalized, it obtained substantial legitimacy as an unintended consequence of the religious ethic and praxis of ascetic Protestantism. (Merton 1984, 1093)
1.19 In terms of
epistemology, the Natural Sciences accepted the Aristotelian position that
universal forms exist in Nature (God’s Creation), not in the mind of
1.20 A corollary to innovation of mechanical instruments was a burgeoning of Mathematics as the language required to analyse their ‘quantitative’ results. As noted in the Brief History of Cambridge University (an extreme institutional case):
The mathematical work of the seventeenth century had
developed its full flower in the career of Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727), who
with his followers pursued scientific investigations of all sorts. This is reflected in the rapid
establishment by the University and by private donors of a series of
professorships for mathematics (the Lucasian), chemistry, astronomy (the
Plumian), anatomy, botany, geology (the Woodwardian), astronomy and geometry
(the Lowndean), and experimental philosophy. The professors encouraged the provision
of teaching aids within the University: this is the time when the Botanic Garden
Despite the provision for natural sciences and arts,
from the late 17th century, mathematics came to dominate studies in
1.20 In many ways the emergence of the Natural Sciences out of the Humanities approximates an ‘emergent process’ identified by Emery and Trist (1972). Such processes require resources. In their early stages of development their energy requirements are met parasitically. i.e. they appear to be something else. This is the major reason why the key emergents are typically unrecognized for what they are while other less demanding novel processes are quickly seen. As they grow, so do their energy and resource requirements. They nonetheless remain hidden from view by, in effect, sharing parts of existing institutions. However,
[b]ecause it is a growing process, its energy requirements will be substantially greater (relative to what it appears to do) than the energy requirements of the maturer process which it apes. Because it is not what it appears to be, the process will stretch or distort the meanings and usage of the vocabulary which it has appropriated. (Emery and Trist 1972, 25)
1.21 At some point the energy and resource requirements of such emergent processes leads to symptoms of debility in the host structure (first the Church and then the ‘Humanist’ university) that finds it increasing difficult to mobilize resources and meet new demands. As development continues symptoms of intrusion within the host structure appear and when the new structure becomes roughly equal in energy and resources with the host, mutual invasion occurs, e.g., the Natural Sciences gain epistemic and institutional recognition within the university hierarchy (Emery and Trist 1972, 26).
1.22 Merton opens, but does not explore, another aspect of the emergence of the Natural Sciences, i.e., the different kinds of science likely to have been favoured by different Protestant sects:
… That line of inquiry … would explore the possibility that Puritanism and Pietism might have generated interest in substantively differing fields of science and in significantly differing styles of scientific work. The streak of antirationalism in Pietism might have led to prime interest in the largely descriptive (rather than analytical) kinds of science advocated by Francke (cf. Merton  1968, p. 643, n. 62) and might have led to a focus on the tinkering technical interest of the practical inventor rather than on work deriving in some deductive style from scientific theory. In contrast, the kinds of science proving more congenial to the Puritan ethos with its inclusion of an emphasis on rationality might tend to be, to put it anachronistically, of a more nearly hypothetico-deductive sort, in which experiment and observation more fully connect with an often mathematically expressed sequence of deductive reasoning. (Merton 1984, 1100-1101)
2.0 Social Sciences: Of Positivists & Relativists
2.01 The ‘experiential’ extension of human vision (macro- and microscopic) by “Natural Philosophy” (later to become the Natural Sciences) could not but rebound on the Humanities. An entire domain of knowledge was effectively separated from the Humanist mainland. The physics (and other ‘physical’ science) of Aristotle were quickly displaced by the experimental and practical results of the Natural Sciences. What was to be done?
2.02 To some, the epistemological movement from Aristotelian observation to experimental measurement appeared generic. Its methodologies could be adapted to the study of Man – individually and collectively. At the epistemic extreme, measurement of external forms (and behaviour) would reveal patterns that could be elevated to the status of ‘scientific law’ like Newtonian celestial physics. Man was to be seen, increasingly, as another ‘natural’ phenomenon (like stars and planets or sulphur and mercury) and no longer the measure of all things nor the centre of a Universe vastly expanded through the mediation of physical technology - not through the convoluted metaphysical mutterings of philosophers nor the theological mumbo-jumbo of clergymen.
2.03 To others such
methods were considered appropriate for ‘materialist’ phenomena but not for
moral and ethical ones. A ‘hard
core’ of the Humanities remained.
Nonetheless, in the universities, first came ‘Moral’ (opposed to Natural)
Philosophy. And it was out of Moral
Philosophy that Adam Smith emerged to found the first Social Science – Economics
in 1776. Over the next hundred
years the other Social Sciences arose generally retaining, however, an
increasingly tenuous connection with ‘Moral Philosophy’, or in the case of
Adam Smith, who has strong claim to being both the Adam
and the Smith of systematic economics, was a professor of moral philosophy and
it was at that forge that economics was made. Even when I was a student, economics was
still part of the moral sciences tripos at
2.04 As a moral philosopher, Smith was torn between two philosophical forces - reason and sympathy – contending in a physically ‘real’ world. The effect of Natural Philosophy on Smith’s thinking is reflected in the following passage from his early 1750 work History of Astronomy:
Even we, while we have been endeavouring to represent all philosophical systems as mere inventions of the imagination, to connect together the otherwise disjointed and discordant phaenomena of nature, have insensibly been drawn in, to make use of language expressing the connecting principles of this one, as if they were the real chains which Nature makes use of to bind together her several operations. Can we wonder then, that it (Newton’s System) should have gained the general and complete approbation of mankind, and that it should now be considered, not as an attempt to connect in the imagination the phaenomena of the Heavens, but as the greatest discovery that ever was made by man, the discovery of an immense chain of the most important and sublime truths, all closely connected together, by one capital fact, of the reality of which we have daily experience. (quoted in Thomson 1965, 222)
2.05 This second epistemic ‘defection’ from the Humanities, was not, epistemologically, as extreme as the first, i.e., the Natural Sciences cut themselves off and restricted themselves (relatively speaking) to the mysteries of the external physical world. The Social Sciences exhibit characteristics of both the Humanities and Natural Sciences. Thus a ‘popular’ encyclopedia defines the Social Sciences as the:
term for any or all of the branches of study that deal with humans in their social relations. Often these studies are referred to in the plural as the social sciences. Although human social behavior has been studied since antiquity, the modern social sciences as disciplines rooted in the scientific method date only from the 18th cent. Enlightenment. Interest at first centered on economics, but by the 19th cent. separate disciplines had been developed in anthropology, political science, psychology, and sociology. The 19th cent. was characterized by the development of wide-ranging theories (e.g., the work of Auguste Comte, Karl Marx, and Herbert Spencer). Developments in the 20th cent. have moved in these directions: the improvement and increased use of quantitative methods and statistical techniques; increased use of the empirical method, as opposed to general theorizing; and the direct practical application of social science knowledge. Social science departments are now firmly established in universities, and social scientists are increasingly called upon to advise industries and governments for future planning.
http://www.bartleby.com/65/so/socsci.html (The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001)
3.0 Ideology: Of Bentham and Marx
3.01 An ideology can be defined as the integrated assertions, theories and aims that constitute a sociopolitical program. Thus Auguste Comte (1798 - 1857) used the marriage of humanistic values (ought) and natural science (is) to create not just a Social Science called Sociology but also an ideology called Positivism: a philosophical system recognizing only facts and observable phenomena. Comte attempted to define the laws of social evolution and use them for social reconstruction, i.e., he had a ‘sociopolitical plan’ to reorder human life. It was, however, from Economics that the actualized ideologies of the 20th century emerged.
3.02 Economics, as a discipline of thought or “a recognized field of tooled knowledge” (Schumpeter 1949: 143) appeared in the late 18th century at about the same time as the political rights of the individual became a reality with the American and then the French Revolutions. Adam Smith, writing just as the flood tide of revolution began to inundate the Old Order of Privilege and Preference, demonstrated both a sensitivity to the methodologies of the Natural Sciences and a strong awareness of the cultural (or relativist) matrix of economic phenomena (Smith 1776). One of his successors, however, stripped economics of its relativist context - Jeremy Bentham giving to the world a new philosophy – Utilitarianism - and preparing the way for a new ideology: Market Capitalism. Another, Karl Marx, made ‘historical materialism’, i.e., relativity, the focus of an ideological movement that for half a century held much of the world under its sociopolitical sway in the guise of World Communism.
a) Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832)
3.03 Jeremy Bentham was a lawyer turned reformer. He believed in “La Raison” (Schumpeter 1949, 115) as the ultimate test of value to society. To Bentham, neither God nor some “natural harmony” was at work in human affairs. Furthermore, it was Bentham who introduced the premise that culture, custom and tradition are not relevant to economic analysis:
… he wrote little on economics himself, but he went far towards setting the tone of the rising school of English economists at the beginning of the nineteenth century ...[who] therefore were inclined to think that the influence of custom and sentiment in business affairs was harmful, that in England at least it had diminished, was diminishing, and would soon vanish away: and the disciples of Bentham were not slow to conclude that they need not concern themselves much about custom. It was enough for them to discuss the tendencies of man's action on the supposition that everyone was always on the alert to find out what course would best promote his own interest and was free and quick to follow it (Marshall 1920, 628-9).
3.04 As a pragmatic political reformer, the opening terror of the French Revolution, its Napoleonic second act and its denouement -- the reactionary Holy Alliance -- restrained Bentham from advocating the logical conclusions of his radical egalitarianism, i.e. not only redistribution of wealth but also of property.
Another way in which he influenced the young economists around him was through his passionate desire for security. He was indeed an ardent reformer. He was an enemy of all artificial distinctions between different classes of men; he declared with emphasis that any one man's happiness was as important as any other's, and that the aim of all action should be to increase the sum total of happiness, he admitted that other things being equal, this sum total would be greater the more equally wealth was distributed. Nevertheless so full was his mind of the terror of the French Revolution, and so great were the evils which he attributed to the smallest attack on security that, daring analyst as he was, he felt himself and fostered in his disciples an almost superstitious reverence for the existing institutions of private property (Marshall 1920, 628-9).
3.05 While the political implications of Bentham's radical egalitarianism were held in check by terror of revolution, it had significant implications for economic thought. First, Bentham assumed that all the pleasures and pains of an individual resulted from simple physical sensation that could be measured (in utiles) and added into a quantity called ‘Happiness’. Assuming the happiness of each individual was weighted equally, individual “happinesses” could, in turn, be summed into a social total which was equal to the common good or welfare of society. Thus the social good was the sum of individual sensations of pleasure or pain -- the only ultimate realities (Schumpeter 1949: 131) -- the two sovereign masters of humanity (Clough 1964, 825). This elevation of pleasure and pain is ironic in view of Plato’s warning:
… we must remain firm in our conviction that hymns to the gods and praise of famous men are the only poetry which ought to be admitted into our State. For if you go beyond this and allow the honeyed muse to enter, either in epic or lyric verse, not law and the reason of mankind, which by common consent have ever been deemed best, but pleasure and pain will be the rulers in our State (Plato, Book X, 1952, 433-434).
3.06 In effect, Bentham presumed a technical device capable of measuring units of pleasure/pain without the intermediation of a human subject. When this presumption could not be technically satisfied it was then assumed that pleasure and pain could be reified (an abstraction made concrete) as money. Lack of money was the source of misery. Enough money was the source of happiness. This led to equating value to society -- of an object, product, process or person -- with its dollar price in the marketplace. This assumption fostered development of an illusory calculus which became the centrepiece for the economic theory of consumer behaviour -- the marginal utility theory of value (Blaug 1968, 304). It also provided Marshall and Pigou with the foundation for contemporary welfare economics.
3.07 In the Benthamite tradition, however, maximizing pleasure was restrained by the tenets of Ethical Hedonism, a very Protestant Ethic. This ethic, beyond concern with the moral value of work, also involved social inhibitions against conspicuous consumption (Veblen 1899). Such ethical or moral restrictions were reinforced by the lingering effects of feudal sumptuary legislation which made “status forgeries illegal and created the disincentive of trial and punishment” (McCracken 1988, 33). But, as noted by Daniel Bell (Bell 1976, 20-22), when the Protestant ethic collapsed during the Industrial Revolution, only the hedonism was left -- in all its unrestrained, irrational incarnations. Without a generally accepted moral code, the law became the accepted social institution to moderate individual pleasure-seeking. Benthamite traditions concerning crime and punishment in fact continue to guide both the law and economic research, e.g. Bentham's famous and seemingly plausible dictum “the more deficient in certainty a punishment is, the severer it should be” (Becker 1968).
3.08 Second, for Bentham culture, custom and tradition were irrelevant to economic analysis because they were irrational and interfered with application of pure reason in the maximumization of Happiness, a neologism coined by Bentham himself (Bell 1976, 224). Yet this radical individualism flies in the face of demonstrable traditional and ideological attachments which shape an individual's actions into collective acts (Bell 1981, 70-72).
3.09 Third, in the Benthamite tradition all men were not just equal but also nondescript and malleable (Schumpeter 1949, 132-4). Therefore, tastes were the same, or would become so through another Benthamite policy - compulsory education. Questions of taste and style were, therefore, irrelevant to economic investigation.
3.10 Even aesthetics were affected, shrinking to analysis of the pleasurable sensations evoked by a work of art. In this aesthetic, a thing is beautiful because it pleases, it does not please because it is ‘objectively’ beautiful (Schumpeter 1949, 126-7). This aesthetic, combined with Benthamite emphasis on functional utility, meant that application of artistic effort to contribute beauty of form to the function was rejected as “irrational”. In industrial design and architecture, this aesthetic reached its logical conclusion in the aphorism: form follows function. This contributed to the development of a simplistic and sterile consumer theory of economic behaviour and a theory of production in which design is not a factor of production.
3.11 Fourth, Bentham's Utilitarianism reshaped not only the definition of means but also the ultimate ends of human activity. As a philosophy of life it ruled out as contrary to reason all that is really important to the individual. The Utilitarians are credited with:
having created something that was new in literature... namely, the shallowest of all conceivable philosophies of life that stands indeed in a position of irreconcilable antagonism to the rest of them (Schumpeter 1949,132-4).
b) Karl Marx (1818-1883)
3.12 While Bentham was
restrained by the terror of revolution, Karl Marx saw revolution as the hope for
the working man and for the final triumph of human reason in economic and
political life. Perhaps this
reflects the fact that Marx was born into the romance rather than the terror of
revolution. In many ways, however,
Marx is the direct heir of Bentham. In a sense, he simply extended Bentham's
logic beyond the inhibiting fear of revolution. It is interesting to note Vacel Havels’
interpretation of the end of Communism in 1989. He suggests it signalled the end of ‘The
Age of Reason’, an age in which human beings could rationally plan their destiny
3.13 By the mid- to late-19th century, Economics had split into two opposing camps, each serving as the base for an ideological program and reflecting, among other things:
· conflicting views concerning the impact of culture or stage of cultural development on economic behaviour - yes for Marxists, no for the mainstream;
· conflicting theories of value, specifically whether labour was the only productive economic factor as Marxists believed or, whether capital was also productive as the mainstream contended;
· conflicting beliefs in the efficacy of collectivist solutions to political economic problems such as the role of the Party as revolutionary vanguard and the dictatorship of the proletariat versus individualist solutions such as pluralistic democracy and the market mechanism; and,
· conflicting theories about the legitimacy of private property deemed exploitive by the Marxists and essential by the mainstream.
3.14 The intensity of this schism became, by the mid-20th century, as potentially apocalyptic as the European Religious Wars of the 16th and 17th centuries. It was, as suggested above, out the turmoil of these wars of the Reformation that secular science emerged. The schism, however, completed the fissioning of the old Moral Philosophy -- the total of all the sciences of mind and society (Schumpeter 1949: 141) -- into sociology, political science, psychology and what can be called mainstream or Market Economics. This further contributed to Economics (and the other Social Sciences) moving increasingly into an Positivist posture losing its original sense of culture and context to increasingly become an abstract discipline assuming itself immune and unaffected by culture and disembodied from the volitional behaviour of labour which was cast as homogenous units (Boulding 1972, 267).
c) The Benthamite Legacy
Bentham, each generation of mainstream economists struggled for release from
Utilitarian inhibition. John Stuart
Mill tried to modify Benthamite confidence in the calculus of happiness by,
among other things, observing “better Socrates dissatisfied than a fool
satisfied” to express that there are different orders of pleasure and the
importance of qualitative as well as quantitative factors in economic analysis
(Barber 1967, 94-5). He also
highlighted cultural factors contributing to the subjugation of women (Mill
3.16 Keynes, like Mill and Marshall before him, thought that he and his generation had finally thrown off restrictive Protestant hedonism and escaped the Benthamite tradition (Innis 1951, 79-80):
I do now regard that as the worm which has been gnawing at the insides of modern civilization and is responsible for its present moral decay. We used to regard the Christians as the enemy, because they appeared as the representatives of tradition, convention and hocus-pocus. In truth, it was the Benthamite calculus, based on an over-valuation of the economic criterion, which was destroying the quality of the popular Ideal. Moreover, it was this escape from Bentham, ... which has served to protect the whole lot of us from the final reductio ad absurdum of Benthamism known as Marxism (Keynes 1949: 96-7).
3.17 In spite of
Keynes’ hope, as well as his involvement with
Paul Samuelson has noted that many economists would “separate economics from sociology on the basis of rational or irrational behavior, where these terms are defined in the penumbra of utility theory.” Utility is defined as egoism, or self-interest, and rationality is defined as consistency - that is, preferences are transitive ....
Yet the crucial question is whether the obverse of the rational is the irrational rather than the non-rational , and whether or not non-rational motivations can provide a valid assumption for an understanding of economic behaviour, i.e. to behavior which seeks to enhance the wealth and welfare of mankind (Bell 1981, 70-72).
3.18 Put another way, can non-rational motivations provide the foundation of an inclusive or catholic economics to balance the materialistic, protestant, exclusionary positivism of contemporary economics? In this regard, Tibor Scitovsky (1972, 1976, 1989) has gone further than anyone in re-tooling economics to account for ‘irrational’ behaviour, e.g. cultural activities including the arts. Where Bentham used the associationist psychology of his day to define pleasure and pain as the ultimate principles of behaviour, Scitovsky, after investigating contemporary clinical psychology, substitutes ‘comfort and stimulus’. But the Scitovsky model still uses marginal utility. On the one hand, he argues that the similarity between productive and cultural activities explains why the economist's neglect to include culture explicitly in the model of human behaviour has not detracted from its usefulness. On the other, he notes the ultimate obstacle to greater artistic creation is the Puritan ethic (Scitovsky 1989). He does not accept that a Benthamite cultural bias has become part of the analytic mechanism itself.
3.19 In his critical review of the state of Economics, “Can Economists Save Economics?”, Richard Parker highlights how many founders of the Positivist school of thought in contemporary Economics bemoan its constricting influence on what is studied and what evidence is admitted (Parker 1993). In Sociology, Merton in rebutting Becker, highlights the confusion of many Positivists between ‘simple’ and ‘complex’ falsification of a theory (Merton 1984). In Political Science, Miller, perhaps prematurely, forecasts the ‘Post-Behaviorist’ era after contrasting the Relativists with the Positivists (Miller 1972). In psychology, James Hillman complains how the urge to classify using ‘Jungian types’ (the Briggs-Myer Type Indicator ® is reportedly the most widely used psychological test in history) endangers the very uniqueness of the individual that is the core of analytic, complex or depth psychology (Hillman 1980).
3.20 But in all the concerns about the stultifying effects of the Positivists, little or no consideration has, to my knowledge, been given to the implications to the Social Sciences of not possessing at present, or in the foreseeable future, instrumentation capable of measuring cultural, economic, psychological or social sensory data without intermediation by a human subject.
4.0 Limitations: Trust Only the Machine
4.01 Not only do segments of each of the Social Sciences maintain links with the Humanities through shared concern about ‘values’ (‘ought’ rather than the ‘is’ of measurable facts), they continue to lack instrumentation to measure sensory data without the intermediation of a human subject. Crudely put, in the Natural Sciences ‘the machine is the measure of all things’. In the Humanities and in the Social Sciences, humanity remains the measure. Whether it is survey instruments, census and tax forms, business records, all the ‘sensory’ data collected by the Social Sciences is intermediated, all along the evidentiary trail, by human subjects exercising volition, i.e., they can lie or misspeak. Atoms, cells, molecules, non-sentient organisms, quarks and stars cannot. Identified in Economics as the problem of ‘revealed preference’ (Samuelson 1948) the problem exists in all the Social Sciences. The purported solution – Behaviorism – (extant in all the Social Sciences) concludes: “Don’t listen to what they say, watch what they do”.
4.02 There are two technical problems limiting the meaningfulness of the Behaviorist (or Positivist) methodology: one exists at the fountainhead and the other at the processing end of the evidentiary trail.
4.03 First, if evidence is to be collected without interfering with behaviour (hence tainting the evidence) the Social Sciences must rely on a data foundation laid down, not by Social Scientists, but by accountants, bureaucrats, businesspeople, doctors and lawyers, i.e., the self-regulating professions. Accordingly, in eliciting evidence from citizens such ‘knowledge agents’ do not tailor their requests to the theoretical needs of Social Scientists. The needs of such agents and the veracity and life ways of their respondents put human subjectivity directly in the quantitative measurement loop, i.e., numbers have parents who have their own wants, needs and desires. Thus even point-of-sales evidence, probably the least intrusive contemporary measurement technology, is controlled by business interests who, for privacy and commercial reasons, do not make such evidence available even to most governments - without a court order or its equivalent – let alone to Social Scientists.
4.04 A corollary to the problem at the source of the Behaviorist paper trail is the time and effort that Social Scientists put in to manipulating such evidence into theoretically usable form. In the case of Economics, with an apparent wealth of business and government data spun off in the course of daily affairs, ‘field work’ is a rarity usually restricted to a sub-discipline called Industrial Organization. This failure to ‘go to the source’ reflects, perhaps:
… the characteristic indolence of economists. It is hard work to plow through file after file of company documents and to interview dozens of executives, cross-checking each observation to guard against bias and misinterpretation. It is much easier to work with census data punched into IBM cards which can be interrogated in the comfort of the home, answer all the questions without evasion, and never complain when bent or spindled.. (Scherer 1971, p. 7)
4.05 At the end of the
evidentiary trail is ‘testing’, more specifically testing an hypothesis against
the evidence using a specific language with a specific grammar, syntax and
vocabulary as well as its own alphabet – mathematics. Marshall McLuhan, following the lead of
his mentor, Harold Innis (Innis 1950, 1951) noted we recognize the fundamental
difference between perception of literate and preliterate peoples but we do not
appreciate the impact of alphabets.
It is possible, even today, to encounter highly educated people who are
quite unaware that only phonetically literate man lives in a ‘rational’ or
‘pictorial’ space. The discovery or
invention of such a cognitive space that is uniform, continuous and connected
was an environmental effect of the phonetic alphabet in the sensory life of
4.06 If a phonetic alphabet creates a rational space then mathematics can be said to create a ‘surpra-rational’ one. In this extreme space only the most rational of hypotheses can be formulated if they are to be testable. Given that the Social Sciences (as moral philosophy) maintains that not just reason but also sentiment or sympathy guides human behavior, then the use of mathematics rules out a whole range of alternative hypotheses. In this sense, those Social Scientists that insist that the only valid statement is one that can be tested are ‘Absolutists’. Those who accept ‘quantitative’ evidence, for what it is, as well as admitting other forms of evidence are Relativists. Some ‘empirical’ evidence from cognitive psychology appears, however, to support the Relativist insistence on the role of ‘emotion’ in intentional behaviour (Freedman 2000) and that what is called ‘ego consciousness’ may not always have been, nor necessarily will remain, the dominant form of human consciousness (Jaynes 1978).
4.07 A corollary to reliance on mathematics is alienation. Numeracy is a language. As with the different forms of languages some people are naturals, pre-wired if you will (Chomsky 1983). Others, however, find learning some languages a struggle. Skill levels vary. Given the poor quality of sensory evidence (relative to the Natural Sciences), the Positivist camp has prided itself in development of ever more sophisticated mathematical techniques of ever greater sensitivity. To the degree their results are presented without translation, they are meaningless to the unenlightened (including most policy makers) and lead to alienation of outsiders and the forming of a charmed circle by those within. In some ways Aristotelian deduction together with reductionism and mathematical hypotheses making in the Social Sciences sometimes appear to approach the real world relevance of St Thomas Aquinas’ question: “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” This sense is caught in the Positivists attitude towards assumptions: “… we have seen that a theory cannot be tested by the “realism” of its “assumptions” and that the very concept of the “assumptions” of a theory is surrounded with ambiguity. (Friedman 1953, 23).
5.0 Conclusions: The Missing Third
5.01 The Positivist/Relativist Schism in the Social Sciences is rooted in an argument between two old Greek men nearly twenty-five hundred years ago. One, Plato (428-348 B.C.E.), argued, in effect, that sensory data from the external world was but a shadow play of true Universal Forms that exist within human consciousness. Everything one knows is relative to that consciousness. The other, Aristotle (384-322 B.C.E.), argued, in effect, that the shadow play takes place in the mind and that Universal Forms exist in an external, objective reality. The only things that can be ‘known’ are those that can be observed (later tested) against that reality. What both agreed upon, however, was that reason, that is intellectual thought, was the preferred mechanism by which one knows. Other faculties or ways of knowing – intuition, emotion and physical sensation – were inferior functions that would lead one astray from true knowledge.
5.02 At about the time our chief protagonists were acting out their respective shadow plays, another old Greek, Epicurus (341-271 B.C.E.), argued that there was no shadow play (inside or outside of human consciousness); there was in fact no God: there was only sensation. A radical materialism based on an atomic theory that allowed for no god or any ultimate principle: just sensation – pleasure and pain – and ‘knowledge’ coming from the pleasure or pain things bring: this was the Epicurean or Hedonistic (pleasure-seeking) Philosophy (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy 2002). This atheistic materialism was condemned by Aristotle and by Plato’s successors. It was condemned as heresy by the Roman Catholic Church – books were burnt, so were people. It became ‘lost’ knowledge.
5.03 While Epicureanism was something both Catholic theology and Humanist mainstream could ‘officially’ suppress, it lurked in the shadows of thought emerging, albeit in a veiled corrupted form, in Bentham’s Utilitarianism and Karl Marx’s Communism. For Bentham pleasure and pain were rulers of the state and if one could measure ‘subjective’ pleasure and pain then one could mold and control human behaviour. He assumed, however, that there were inherent constraints (we might say genetic inhibitions) that limited the scope of ‘normal’ pleasure-seeking. Without the physical technology to measure pleasure and pain (without the intermediation of a human subject), all it took was a simple Aristotelian ‘let us assume’ and money became reified as the unit of account in a Newtonian game of constrained maximization that became Market Economics.
5.04 As for Marx, he accepted the radical atheistic materialism of the Epicurean Canon but adopted a calculus that began, not with the individual, but with the collective good. He ruled out self-interest and anticipated a centralized calculation of material balances to replace the marketplace. The ‘information overload’ this calculus produced was anticipated by von Hayek (1945) and realized in the collapse of World Communism.
5.05 The Great Social
Science Schism can be seen as the result of a failed marriage between the
Natural Sciences and the Humanities rooted in a long distant and continuing
dispute between two old Greek men who became Christian ‘saints’. A ‘schizoid’ child was, however, spawned
– the Social Sciences.
Dealing with both what “is” and what “ought to be” is the only
hope for healing the wound. The
Positivists in their pure and perfect pursuit of what ‘is’ should be humbled by
the compromised nature of their instrumentalities to collect
‘sensory-data’. The most
elegant mathematical formula still excretes garbage if that is what it is
feed. The success of the Natural
Sciences rests, to a degree, on their ability to obtain sensory data without the
intermediation of a human or divine being.
In the Social Sciences, this was not, is not and probably never will be,
the case. The Relativists, however,
need be humbled by their disputes over ‘values’ and what ‘ought to be’ that has
and possibly will in future lead to powerful ideologies sweeping entire
civilizations into the dustbin of history, e.g., the effects of Communist
5.06 A closer examination of the Epicurean Canon is in order to develop a possible middle way through the Great Schism. But beyond the nature of sensory data (subjective/objective like the wave/particle of physics), the additional ‘Universal Forms’ revealed by subatomic physics and biogenetics need to be incorporated to provide new “metaphoric isomorphs” for the Social Sciences. Furthermore, the insights of analytic (Freud, Jung & Adler) and cognitive (neurophysiological) psychology need to be more fully gleaned.
5.07 Finally, my last words: a schism in the very fabric of ‘knowledge’ has lasted two and half millennia. It cannot be sealed in a single essay.
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