[part two of two]

The Contemporary Attack on Science

András Gedö

Marx conceived of this activity as the practice of radical social change. Not the activity itself but an understanding of its necessity, its possibilities and tendencies, is the concern of science, an understanding which contributes to the activity and becomes changed by it. That necessity results, according to Marx, from a texture of social antagonisms, within which science is enmeshed in a conflictive manner. Incorporated into the process of the reproduction of capital, it appears "as an alien, hostile power over against labor and dominating it" (Marx and Engels 1982, 2061); nevertheless, in the context of, and in spite of, this subordination, it is, at the same time, a historically predominating revolutionary power. "Exploitation of science, of the theoretical progress of humanity. Capital does not create science but exploits it, appropriates it for the process of production" (Marx and Engels 1982, 2060). For Marxist theory and practice, revolutionary change is also considered as the liberation of science.11 The previously unfamiliar developments in the cognitive and social situation of science do not invalidate this thought and this act; rather, they bestow upon them new emphasis and new import and, in addition, open up new possibilities of alliances between the labor movement and the intelligentsia.12

Marx's view reveals that the dilemma between the positivistic, scientistic concept of rationality and the antirationality of life-philosophy is a false consciousness of the bourgeois world. "Whoever conceives one's social action, on the one hand, as utmost technical and strategic rationality and, on the other hand, as irrational ‘faith' in ultimate values is up-to-date in the West. It has, however, also been said--with good reason, in my opinion--that these contemporaries, then, are pathologically affected by the schizophrenia of the Western world," so states Paul Lorenzen (1986, 112), well known as head of the "Erlangen School," which is quite distant from Marxism. If the "spiritual poverty of the Western world" is discerned in this predicament, a dialogical relationship with Marxism can hardly be rejected in the long run. Marxism battles against this "spiritual poverty," traces out its social motives and develops a philosophical, scientific conception that prepares the way out of that dilemma. The "spiritual poverty" manifests itself also in the continually resumed proceedings against science and rationality, which are conducted against the background of a positivistic, scientistic interpretation of science. In these proceedings, there took place, with Spengler, the annulment of the "Faustian man," and with Heidegger, the disavowal of modern science. The form of indicted science is inherent in a "spirit of the age" that Goethe's "Faust" repudiates, just as Adrian Leverkuhn in "Doctor Faustus" disavowed Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. The repudiation of modern science also brings with it the disavowal of Galileo's intellectual revolution. Since Duhem, accounts have been circulating in the history of science, which concur with Galileo's theological adversaries and persecutors. Lately, the "non-Galilean revolution" has been highly praised, which, contrary to Galileo's scientific revolution, is supposed to restore subjectivity and inwardness to their rightful place and proclaim a knowledge that "is a gnosis in quest of occult signs. These are revealed to those who are worthy to be initiated into the mysteries of Being" (Gusdorf 1982, 394).

At the opposite pole to this disavowal ranks Brecht's Galileo episode, which resulted from the fusion of two kinds of experiences: the experience of Galileo's historical contours and biography as well as the experience of the social and personal drama of physics and physicists in the twentieth century. In The Life of Galileo Brecht had the old Galileo, who has undergone his process of inquisition, say: "The struggle for the measurability of the heavens is won through doubt; the struggle of the Roman housewife for milk must always be lost anew through piety. Science, Sarti, is involved with both struggles" (Brecht 1981, 1:677). Undoubtedly Brecht had in mind the experiences and dangers of our century, which he understood in the Marxist sense, when his Galileo reflected that the progress of science can "be a progression away from humanity." "The cleft between you and it can one day become so great that your shout of exultation over any new achievement could be answered by a universal cry of horror" (Brecht 1981, 1:677). Likewise, in order to avoid or to overcome this, science has "to be involved with both struggles"; it can do this only as natural science and social science and, at the same time, as philosophy. The two struggles, along with science which is involved with them, need a philosophical theory which itself belongs in this science, affirms it in its contradictory character, comprehends its objectivity in its social and historical nature, and explores the connections of both struggles with science--a philosophical theory, namely, that plays a part in both struggles.

Department of Philosophy
Institute of Political Studies
Budapest, Hungary


1. Cf., also, Urban (1983, 14ff.). Daniel Bell's neoconservative return of the sacred corresponded to Theodore Roszak's call for restoration of the religious dimension, which was formulated in the neoromantic, mythologizing rendition of the New Left in the United States. See also Roszak (1973).

2. In the bestsellers of the Daniken variety, which mix science fiction with mysticism, and in Hans Kung's theological writings on the search for God, even cursory observation ascertained a common tendency and traced the success of both to a common source, to "the shaking of confidence. . . . in reason and science." "A new irrationalism--or, rather a new and novel religiosity--is apparently emerging" (Der Spiegel, no. 12/13, 1978, 228). And at the beginning of the 1980s, the article "Auf einer Welle des Okkulten" maintained: "Astrology, decked out now even with computers, is experiencing a boom. . . . ‘We live', stated the American philosophy professor Paul Kurtz, ‘in the early stages of the era of pseudo-scientific irrationalism'--a modern Middle Ages" (232 and 238).

3. In the spiritual scene of the USA, "One faces a mass movement which is, of course, by no means homogeneous, yet displays common characteristics of intolerance, irrationalism and anti-intellectualism" (Zuelzer 1981, 21).

4. These life-philosophical approaches were not typical of romanticism as such but only of one of its trends, and even these are not to be reduced to the life-philosophical approaches developed therein.

5. "That the dazzling achievements of physics and chemistry have served capital alone is a fact about which there is no longer any doubt today for thinking persons, but it would not even be difficult to show the same alignment in the dominating tenets themselves," wrote Ludwig Klages in 1913 in his essay "Mensch und Erde." As a champion of conservative views, he declared that "‘progress,' ‘civilization,' ‘capitalism' signify only different aspects of a single tendency of will" and ascribed original sin to history as such: "There is everywhere, however, one and the same meaning of that reorganization with which ‘history' begins, namely, that above the soul rises the mind, above the dream a comprehending wakefulness, above life, which comes into being and passes away, an activity oriented upon permanence" (Klages 1974, 626ff.).

6. In their polemic with sociobiology, Rose, Kamin, and Lewontin noted that "following the publication of Wilson's book [Sociobiology (1975)] a stream of works echoing, modifying and extending the theme of sociobiology rapidly appeared. . . . Sociobiological explanations began to appear in the literature of economics and political science, and Business Week offered 'A Genetic Defense of the Free Market' . . . . The general appeal of sociobiology is in its legitimation of the status quo. If present social arrangements are the ineluctable consequences of the human genotype, then nothing of any significance can be changed." (Rose, Kamin, and Lewontin 1984, 235ff.).

7. On the characterization of this outlook, see Polak (1984, 742ff.).

8. Compare, among others, Stove (1982).

9. See, for example, Duerr (1981).

10. Labor appears "in its material unity subordinated to the objective unity of machinery, fixed capital, which objectifies scientific thought into an animated monster" (Marx and Engels 1981, 377ff.).

11. On the problematic of the workers' movement and science, see, among others, Dialektik 3 (1981); Buhr and Steigerwald (1981); Sandkuhler (1982); "Wissenschaftlich-technische Revolution und Verantwortung" (1986).

12. Compare, among others, Intelligenz, Intellektuelle und Arbeiterbewegung in Westeuropa (1985).


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SOURCE: Gedö, András. “The Contemporary Attack on Science”, Nature, Society, and Thought, vol. 3, no. 2, 1990, pp. 179-195. [Part two: pp. 189-195.]

© 1990 Marxist Educational Press. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of Marxist Educational Press.

Click here for part one of this article

"The Historical Character of the Concept of Nature" by András Gedö

Crisis Consciousness in Contemporary Philosophy by András Gedö:
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: "Two Aspects of Bourgeois Crisis Consciousness"
Chapter 2: "The Contemporary Crisis in Bourgeois Philosophy"
1. Neopositivism: Linguistic Philosophy and Critical Rationalism
2. Life Philosophy (Lebensphilosophie)

Positivism vs Life Philosophy (Lebensphilosophie) Study Guide

"Why Marx or Nietzsche?" by András Gedö

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