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by Igor Naletov

The contemporary development of scientific knowledge is characterised by certain peculiar trends very important for understanding the relationship between philosophy and science. These trends testify to the fact that dialectics is a replica of objective reality and therefore provides the best method for its cognition. For one, dialectics highlights the objective character of such a profound intrinsic contradiction of scientific and technical progress as the unity of integration and differentiation of science. These two processes account to a considerable extent for the growing complexity of the structure of scientific knowledge and cannot but affect the progress of philosophy itself. Their objective and veracious presentation and assessment can only be undertaken by a philosophy which is fully cognizant of its own dependence on the general trend of scientific development yet is not susceptible to particular influences within each special science. It is only this kind of philosophy that is capable of viewing the development of science “from the inside” by virtue of its being its integral part and, as it were, its “spokesman”, and “from the outside”, as the exponent of its most general laws, principles and categories.

From the viewpoint of dialectical materialism which is the only philosophy capable of the above approach, the main and most essential trend in the development of modern science consists in the growing interdependence of natural, social and technical sciences. This trend does not fall in with either positivist or any of the “post-positivist” models of the development of science. It is highly significant that this fruitful cooperation is based on modern production and its achievements, on the one hand, and unsolved problems, on the other. Marx’s prediction that science will eventually turn into a direct productive force of society is coming true and this fact is gaining ever wider recognition. Understandably, this applies primarily to natural and technical sciences. Their increasingly close interaction stems not only from the needs of production and from social tasks, but also from the inner logic of scientific development, from the vital tasks of fundamental and applied research. The very links between science and production, the effectiveness of scientific investigations and fundamental research depend to a considerable extent on the depth of integration of scientific knowledge.

An important feature of scientific progress in our time which is overlooked or deliberately ignored by all modern “philosophy of science” is the rapidly increasing significance and theoretical independence of social sciences. Their growing prestige is connected with spectacular achievements of Marxist thought in transforming social relations and in the successful management of society in the socialist countries, with the consolidation of the principles of socialist ethics and social humanism. Yet the immediate objective cause of this process is the increasing role of social sciences in the sphere of social production.

Under the conditions of modern scientific and technical progress profound knowledge of the achievements and problems of social sciences becomes a prerequisite for the successful development of natural science and should be regarded as an important element in the general scientific and cultural background of a modern scientist. The role of social sciences should not be confined to giving a specialist in natural or technical sciences a certain minimum of knowledge just to broaden his outlook. They should also provide him with relevant social information to permit solving complex problems he may encounter in his more or less narrow field of activity, let alone the tasks of preparing him for socially useful activity, solving organisational problems, broadening his philosophical horizon and improving ideological education. The very logic of scientific progress, the law of the development of modern science calls for a broad humanitarian education of the so-called narrow specialists.

Under the impact of the current scientific and technological revolution social sciences, particularly some of their applied disciplines, penetrate into the very core of production processes revealing new possibilities for the solution of important theoretical and practical problems and for enhancing the efficiency of production. The revolution gives a powerful impetus to the development of new forms of interaction between theoretical and experimental investigations within the framework of natural, social and technical sciences.

The current scientific and technological revolution is connected primarily with the discovery and use of atomic energy for peaceful purposes, with the development of automation and computers, breathtaking achievements of chemistry, rapid progress of biology and space flights. Natural science plays today a crucial role in developing qualitatively new instruments of labour and new materials, in introducing basically new technological systems, designing automatic machine lines, introducing on a wide scale automated control systems and in solving many other important problems. Tremendous achievements of modern science and technology have made it possible to start fundamental investigations of the structure of matter in micro- and macrocosm, to design and develop complex technical systems, investigate and reproduce the most intricate systems of living nature, including the human organism.

The current scientific and technological revolution is also characterised by the essential enhancement of the human factor in production, i.e. of the role of man as the subject of the production process, by a radical change in the man-science-technology system and by the growing complexity of organisation and management. A crucial role in the investigation of all these phenomena belongs to social sciences whose representatives take an active part in the development of the theoretical principles of scientific control over socio-economic processes, in the study of numerous factors stimulating creative activity and in improving industrial engineering and production schemes. The influence of social sciences in the sphere of production is constantly growing and its cooperation with natural and technical sciences is becoming ever closer and more fruitful.

The penetration of social sciences into the sphere of production affects not only the systems of control and organisation. Changes in the man-science-technology complex go side by side with the revolution in the very foundation of production processes. The growing complexity of the design and operation of modern machines, their increasing role in the automation and management of production make ever more exacting demands not only on natural, but also on social sciences which have to supply the necessary data for engineering solutions. The present level of integration of social, natural and technical sciences makes it incumbent on engineers, designers and specialists in cybernetics to take accurate account of social, psychological and other “human factors” in production, in the service industry and in other fields.

The development of new technology and the extensive use of automation, data-processing equipment and computers are primarily the result of the labour of mathematicians and specialists in cybernetics and electronics, yet the achievements in these fields are also creditable to the creative endeavour of logicians, linguists, psychologists, specialists in mathematical economy and economic cybernetics. It is common knowledge that computers which are indispensable in modern production systems cannot be constructed and operated without the solution of economic, psychological, logical and linguistic problems. As a result, new sciences come into being, such as applied linguistics, human engineering, and economic cybernetics, The computerisation of industrial processes is impossible without the modelling of numerous thinking operations, so far comparatively simple, and without solving the problems connected with translation from human language into machine language. The highly accurate operation of automatons is known to be controlled by algorithm-base programmes representing the models of production and social processes. The creation of artificial languages, the systematisation of terms and symbols, the development of modelling systems have expanded the scope of application of linguistics which was originally confined to the problems of teaching the native or foreign languages and translating from one language into another, and had very little to do with direct production processes.

The extreme complexity of systems which include man as their component, calls for new research methods essentially different from the traditional physico-mathematical analysis. Linguistics, for instance, holds out much promise in the field of modelling such systems as it permits using not only digits, but also words and even whole sentences of the natural language. Profound investigations into the structure of the natural language, the analysis of the laws governing its formation and functioning are also helpful in the solution of certain technical problems, such as the improvement of the quality standards and responsiveness of the press, automation of some editing and publishing processes, etc.

The acceleration of scientific and technical progress, the development of effective control systems result in the rapid increase of information flows which have to be processed at an ever growing rate. The participation of linguists in the improvement of production and social processes with the use of computers finds its expression today in a new linguistic method of investigation—the modelling of the linguistic system and speech processes. The results of this modelling are materialised in special artificial languages and various linguistic algorithms. Particularly accurate should be the modelling of speech processes when developing dialogue-type systems and other advanced methods of man-machine interaction.

Applied linguistics is called upon to make its contribution to the essential improvement of all systems using the natural language and to the enhancement of their effectiveness. Specifically, it should enable computers to receive information in its natural forms, without any preliminary preparation by man. Computers should manipulate semantic units instead of textual elements, sharply expand the volume of information required for the automatic solution of intellectual problems and open up new possibilities for its complex logical processing. To achieve these aims, it is necessary to develop machine languages approximating to the natural one, create identification devices capable of recognising human voice or its optical images, and improve the general standard of self-control and self-perfection of machines within the man-machine system. The solution of this latter task is now becoming quite feasible owing to the fact that the substance of man’s creative activity yields ever more readily to mathematical description. An important role in this process belongs, for one, to human engineering which describes man’s mental characteristics and functions in terms of mathematical language. This can be easily translated into a machine language to fit in human and machine characteristics. A similar function is performed by bionics, particularly psychological bionics.

The investigation into the role of the human factor in modern technology throws a new light on such philosophical problems as the man-machine relationship, the specific features of man-machine languages, substantive and formal moments in reproductive and creative thinking, artificial intellect and self-organisation, the unity of the algorithmic and heuristic principles of thinking.

Social sciences play an increasingly important role in the solution of questions pertaining to the development of a single classification system for various items and terms, to the unification and standardisation of documents with a view to producing uniform information for various control systems in production and other fields of social life. In this connection a need arises to start a more profound investigation into the theoretical problems of terminology, the language of science, and to join the efforts of scientists studying these problems. The creation of such classifiers, as well as the development and introduction of uniform documents, single systems of technical, economic, financial and other indices should not only reflect the growing information unity of social, natural and technical sciences, but also take into account new trends in the improvement of the organisational structure of the economy, the new level of the development of democratic centralism in the sphere of management and control. Classifiers not only record essential balance links between the economy and control systems, but also serve as the source material for economic and mathematical modelling in all spheres of the national economy.

Automation of production and many other problems of social, scientific and technical progress provide yet another channel for the penetration of social sciences into the sphere of production and for their drawing closer to natural sciences. The more difficult the tasks and the more complex the processes subject to automation, the more imperative the need for studying man and the full diversity of his individual qualities, the social ones inclusive. The focus of attention is shifted on man’s activity, and the results achieved in these studies determine to a considerable extent the solution of many crucial problems, both practical and theoretical.

From the viewpoint of theory, the investigation of human activity acquires special importance in modelling man’s actions and thinking processes. Computers can only simulate the operational and technical functions of human thinking. The procedures characteristic of the actions of machine and man are entirely different, let alone the difference of the mechanisms themselves. The extremely complex nature of human activity cannot be reduced to logico-mathematical algorithms. Attempts at formalising certain elements of thinking processes, extremely useful as they are, do not yet give grounds for excessive optimism about the possibility of all-round modelling of man’s mental activities, developing a full-scale artificial or hybrid intellect, etc. Computers can essentially facilitate, speed up and improve the accuracy of the decision-making process, yet they can also accelerate the implementation of an incorrect decision.

The experience gained in the operation of computers has provided convincing evidence that, in contrast to the solution of simple and similar type problems when man’s role in automated control systems is limited to setting a task, inserting initial data into the computer and interpreting the formal decision, the attainment of substantive solutions is only possible on the condition that man intervenes in the decision-making process at each stage of the machine operation. It has turned out that the elements of creative approach to the solution of complex problems, particularly in unforeseen circumstances and in cases when logical and mathematical formalisation proves difficult, are needed much more often than in the case of simpler problems. Such operations as the identification of new targets in research, the breaking up of the general task into subtasks, the development of new criteria for a new situation, the selection of the classification base and methods of equivalent transformations and many others include numerous elements which do not yet lend themselves to formal and algorithmic presentation. Therefore the need for direct interaction between man and machine, i.e. for the man-machine dialogue becomes more and more imperative.

As a result, social and technical sciences find themselves confronted with the extremely interesting problems of the organisation and design of human activity in its unity with automation facilities ranging from elementary means to most complex and sophisticated equipment.

The difficulties and miscalculations in the development of automatic control systems and automatic devices are not infrequently traceable to the underestimation of the data provided by social sciences. The specificity of economic processes characteristic of a given industry, industrial amalgamation or enterprise is not always taken into account by automation development engineers who tend to concentrate on secondary problems, mainly related to accounting, rather than to tackle the key issues of control such as scientific prognostication, scientific and technical progress, etc.

New technical means not only make work easier, they change essentially the very nature of labour and shift the emphasis onto man’s intellectual abilities by complicating the process of data apprehension and analysis and increasing demands on his ingenuity, creative powers and ability to make quick decisions in a changing situation. These features of modern production account for the need to extend scientific investigations beyond the traditional field of physical and chemical characteristics of the instruments of labour, quality of materials and energy problems, and to enlist the services of social sciences. Scientific investigations in the field of labour activity should not be confined to technical facilities as such and to man as the subject of production. They should concentrate more and more on the correspondence between man’s physical and mental possibilities, aesthetic tastes and other social qualities, on the one hand, and the properties of modern technical systems, on the other.

The problem of man, his concrete role in the transformation of nature and society is becoming one of the key issues stimulating the most profound integration of social, natural and technical sciences. Therefore, in considering the task of optimising human activity as part of the general problem of the rationalisation of labour, philosophers jointly with sociologists, psychologists and engineers ought to think of how to avoid the restriction of man’s creative activity by the further automation of production. Non-automated and semi-automated production processes not only limit the worker’s freedom of action, but also make it difficult to change from one occupation to another. While projecting new trades and professions in connection with the deepening processes of automation, special measures should be taken to neutralise these negative trends. Seeking to make work easier and more interesting, the development engineers engaged in the rationalisation of production processes and technical means and in the improvement of environmental conditions at industrial enterprises are already confronted with the need for designing specific labour operations. These should relate both to individual elements of production (a concrete working place, a specific man-machine system), and to technical complexes (a production line, a shop, etc). The designing of new kinds of labour activity, of more rational forms of interaction between man and nature, man and machine, etc. is still behind practical needs. However, this trend represents yet another important field where natural, social and technical sciences join their efforts to achieve a common goal.

Modern science regards man, machine and the production environment as a complex dynamic system, with man playing the leading part. A comparatively new branch of science known as ergonomics or human engineering studies the role of human factors in modern production and other spheres of activity and analyses the integral characteristics of the man-machine system. Investigations in this field cannot be reduced to the analysis of the characteristic features of man, machine and production environment separately from one another, even if they are viewed in the aggregate. Ergonomics as a science is evidently confronted with the task of developing its own theory and devising its specific methods of investigation into the man-technology-production environment system.

A comprehensive approach to the problem of man’s labour activity based on the achievements of social, natural and technical sciences throws a new light on many theoretical and practical problems. It makes it possible to correctly assess not only the role of the instruments of labour, technical means and the real significance of the factors of production environment, but also the place of man in modern social production. Such an important category as the quality of labour, for instance, acquires a new meaning. Economists are at present mainly concerned with such characteristics of labour as its complexity (calling for the workers’ appropriate qualification), intensity, physical hardness, importance for society, etc. All these characteristics are taken into account in wage rating practices at state enterprises. However, they cannot reveal in full scope the social effectiveness of labour. The analysis of its quality only from the viewpoint of narrow practical criteria does not fully reflect the specificity of labour under the conditions of developed socialism. Yet the quality of labour is an integral characteristic which represents the product quality and quantity indicators referred to the indicators of man’s health and intellectual level.

At the present stage of industrial development it becomes technically possible to realise projects on the basis of a comprehensive approach to man’s activity. Under the conventional pattern, design work on a system generally starts from its estimated technical characteristics which determine the place and the functions of the man-operator, the latter’s role being mainly assessed in terms of limitations (a relatively small amount of information the operator is capable of processing within a unit of time, a relatively slow response, a comparatively weak resistance to noise, etc.).

Time has evidently come to reverse this order and try the alternative method. Specifically, in developing a technical assignment the designers should proceed from the idea of the secondary, auxiliary function of machines and, consequently, take into account, first and foremost, the positive qualities of man as the real subject of labour, i.e. his advantages over the machine, but not his demerits. This approach opens up basically new possibilities for enhancing the efficiency of labour and will eventually make it possible to shift the focus of attention from the solution of the pressing problems of industrial engineering, the improvement of available technical means and the adaptation of man to the existing technological norms onto the design of new forms of human activity based on comprehensive theoretical investigations into man’s physical, mental and intellectual potentialities now being studied by ergonomics. As has been pointed out in the recommendations of the Second International Conference of Scientists and Specialists of CMEA Countries and Yugoslavia on Ergonomics (Bulgaria, 1975), the trends in the development of modern production will evidently bring about a situation in which the main design problems will .be connected not with the investigation of equipment characteristics, but with the search for ways and means ensuring optimal interaction between man and technical means. The main criteria for such optimisation must be the provision of the most rational equipment (depending on the concrete achievements of scientific and technical progress) and the maximum satisfaction of man’s need for creative work.

Besides the mutual influence of their ideas and methods, the growing interdependence of social, natural and technical sciences finds its expression in the emergence of new branches of knowledge on the borderlines between them. Ergonomics, engineering aesthetics, applied linguistics, economic cybernetics, etc. can hardly be classified among purely natural or purely social sciences. They do not study man as such or objective relations between people, or the technical aspect of production. The subjectmatter of these disciplines which constitutes the basis for the synthesis of social and natural sciences is the interaction of man and technical systems, production and natural environments, etc.

In this context special importance attaches to the analysis of complex methodological problems underlying the synthesis of social, natural and technical knowledge. It is the diversity of possible approaches to man’s labour activity in modern production that presents the main difficulty in developing a single language for different specialists concerned with ergonomical problems. Understanding among economists, designers and psychologists can only be achieved on condition that the synthesis of social and natural sciences is not reduced to a mechanical combination in some aggregate system or conglomeration of knowledge, or even to the establishment of some kind of “subordination” between them, but is based on the general theory of labour activity.

This task deserves most serious attention and calls for extensive investigations (alongside the solution of applied problems) into the general principles of human activity. Such investigations should be aimed at revealing the laws governing the perception of data, the shaping of combined pictorial-conceptual models, visual thinking and decision-making processes. Much has already been done in this direction, yet the development of a comprehensive theory of labour activity is still a matter of the future. As a result of the weakness of the general theoretical basis technical systems are often designed without due regard for the human factor. For instance, man is viewed merely as an auxiliary technical element, and very “inconvenient” at that, of a control system, and the system is understood as some kind of a computerised complex differing from the conventional one only by the number of technical means employed and by the method of its operation. Such an approach is absolutely untenable from the methodological viewpoint and leads in practice to serious technical and economic miscalculations.

Ergonomic investigations are mainly aimed so far at attaining specific aims, rather narrow by nature: the improvement of technical means to meet the requirements of modern production, the optimisation of machine-tool configurations, the rational arrangement of instruments or control desks and auxiliary equipment, the improvement of controls, etc. True, the scope of these investigations is gradually expanding: besides the equipment improvement and layout optimisation problems, specialists in ergonomics jointly with designers study the possibilities of “domesticating” the territory of industrial enterprises so that it may merge naturally with the city or suburban complex. They concern themselves more and more often not only with the quality and external appearance of one or another industrial product, but also with the conditions, both natural and social, under which it is to be used.

It stands to reason that the scientific solution of the problem of optimal interaction between man and machine in the socialist countries is directed not only towards enhancing the efficiency and economic effect of new technology in connection with the new role of man in the system of modern production. Even a more important aim of this investigation consists in creating the best possible conditions for the development of man and for freeing him from the strain of tedious and monotonous work. The new technology, the extensive use of electronic computers and the overall improvement of production conditions testifies, first and foremost, to the humanitarian mission of science opening up new possibilities for improving man’s welfare and ensuring his all-round harmonious development.

An important factor in the strengthening of links between social, natural and technical sciences is the tendency towards the integration of their cognitive potentialities, both theoretical and experimental, as regards the rational use of nature, environmental protection and the solution of other global problems.

The synthesis of social, natural and technical sciences in the process of the comprehensive solution of various problems leads to the emergence of numerous “gravitation centres” where specialists in most diverse fields of science join their efforts to achieve a common goal, and accounts for different levels of analysis, including the highest level of the integration of social and natural sciences on the basis of materialist dialectics which becomes in this case the theoretical and methodological basis for complex scientific investigations. This tendency results in a considerable enhancement of the role of Marxist-Leninist philosophy as the most general theory of the development of nature, society, thinking and the methodology of science. Lenin’s idea of the alliance between Marxist philosophers and representatives of special sciences is demonstrating its increasing viability. Under the conditions of socialism, this alliance derives its strength from the principles of dialectical materialism—the objectivity of knowledge, development, causality, existence of objective laws, etc.—which provide a solid methodological basis for natural, social and technical sciences. From its inception, Marxist philosophy has been absorbing the outstanding achievements of natural and social sciences and developing as the methodology of natural knowledge, social knowledge and the world-transforming revolutionary practice.

At the turn of the 20th century Lenin wrote: “It is common knowledge that a powerful current flowed from natural to social science not only in Petty’s time, but in Marx’s time as well. And this current remains just as powerful, if not more so, in the twentieth century too.” [1] The truth of Lenin’s words is once again confirmed by the large-scale penetration of the mathematical methods of analysis into social sciences which use them as an important instrument of sociological, economic and psychological investigations, and by the application of computers and data processing equipment in the sphere of public opinion studies (opinion polls). The development of science is characterised today by powerful currents of ideas not only from natural to social sciences but also in the opposite direction—the problems, ideas and methods of social sciences exercise an ever increasing influence on natural and technical sciences. An important role in their integration belongs to cybernetics, the probability theory, the games theory and the theory of information. For instance, cybernetics has not only made a valuable contribution to the development of the methodology of some social sciences and to the very style of scientific thinking, but has itself benefited from the alliance with social sciences. As a matter of fact, its very first steps could not but be influenced by such general concepts of progressive social and philosophical thought as target setting, control, systems analysis, etc. The concepts of memory, teaching (in relation to automatons), game, collective behaviour and others made their way into cybernetics together with the new problems and specific methods of psychology, sociology and linguistics. The investigation into the so-called artificial intellect problems also testifies to the influence of humanitarian sciences on the orientation of cybernetics. The development of data converters and machine programmes in line with cybernetic concepts emphasises the imperative need for studying the nature of man’s creative activity and heuristic art and highlights the importance of the knowledge of man and society.

The growing interdependence of social, natural and technical sciences and their methods of investigation, the emergence and rapid development of the marginal branches of knowledge, the tendency towards comprehensive investigations of major economic and fundamental scientific problems by joint efforts of sociologists and natural scientists—all this tends to enhance the role of dialectical-materialist methodology. The new conditions causing social, natural and technical sciences to draw ever closer together pose a number of complex problems of world outlook and methodology before Marxist-Leninist philosophy. Most serious attention, for one, should be given to such problems as the main directions and concrete forms of the integration and differentiation of sciences, the use of methods employed by natural science in sociological investigations, the mathematisation of knowledge.

The analysis of dialectical transitions between the abstract and the concrete, the general and the particular, the empirical and the theoretical, the substantive and the formal in scientific cognition is a necessary condition for the effective implementation of the ideas of mathematics, mathematical logic and cybernetics in other sciences. Of special importance is the dialectics of the abstract and the concrete, the general and the particular in the analysis of social relations carried out with the use of abstract mathematical and cybernetic notions. In this field the correct “subordination” of notions, methods and techniques plays a decisive role. Any formalism and eclectic “dovetailing” of social, natural and technical concepts is absolutely inadmissible.

All this shows that the increasing differentiation and deepening integration of scientific knowledge pose extremely important tasks before dialectical materialism as the philosophical and methodological foundation of the cooperation of sciences. The philosophic interpretation of the latest achievements of social, natural and technical sciences is one of the important prerequisites for the further development of scientific world outlook and methodology. Yet the task of philosophy cannot be confined either to the passive registration of these achievements or to their so-called generalisation consisting essentially in attaching the tags of philosophical categories to some general concepts worked out by science. The philosophy of dialectical and historical materialism cannot and must not be just a “pedlar” of new ideas and data obtained by other sciences. This philosophy is indeed “open” for all new and fruitful ideas, yet it does not mean that it is a mere vessel for accumulating general scientific information. Its function is to give a creative interpretation and a dialectical synthesis of new data. This, in turn, presupposes the creative development of Marxist-Leninist philosophy itself, its enrichment with new ideas, the further concretisation of its categories representing the sum total of the entire history of man’s cognition and transformation of the world.

The complexity of integration processes accounts for considerable difficulties in the solution of these problems. The rapprochement and close cooperation of some sciences, such as psychology and physiology, tend -to gradually obliterate the borderlines between them and lead some scientists to an erroneous conclusion that their objects coincide. This view is fraught with the danger of overlooking qualitative distinctions between the objects of investigation by these sciences and this, in turn, may result in the absolutisation of certain methods and concepts at the expense of others. In fact, such sciences as psychology and physiology of higher nervous activity study different aspects of the activity of the brain and, consequently, the objects of their interest must not be confused. The psychologists’ task evidently consists in studying the socio-historical origin of the most complex forms of consciousness regarded as an independent object of investigation which cannot receive an exhaustive explanation in terms of physiological processes alone, though the latter constitute the basis of the complex forms of man’s conscious actions. It is this task which determines the basic methodological principle of the interaction between psychology and physiology. The identification of the subject-matters of the physiology of higher nervous activity and psychology bars the way for understanding the socio-historical laws that govern the formation and development of the higher forms of psychic activity and is in fact tantamount to denying psychology as a separate science. Similar difficulties arise in the realisation of comprehensive research programmes, since their effectiveness largely depends on the assignment of the field of activity for each specialist and on the understanding of his possibilities and advantages in a given investigation.

Such synthesis, however, should not be regarded as the simple summation of knowledge obtained by individual sciences. The purpose of a comprehensive analysis is not to obtain data characterising different aspects of an object and to present them in a summarised form. It consists, first and foremost, in defining the main factor which constitutes the system under investigation and accounts for its specificity and integrity. It is therefore very important to assess correctly the significance of the problems of theory, methodology and world view arising in the process of the integration and interaction of individual sciences in a complex investigation. The adequate idea of the basic integrated properties of a complex studied by different sciences can only be provided by a more general theory. Indeed, the experience gained in the development of comprehensive programmes of cooperation of natural, technical and social sciences attests to the fact that such programmes, born out of the needs to solve certain practical, applied problems, tend to advance new theoretical questions and actualise philosophical problems pertaining to the activity of man in general, his interaction with machine, the relations between production and the environment, nature and society, etc.

Complex methodological problems of the interaction of social, natural and technical sciences arise not only in connection with the definition of their objects of investigation, but also as a result of the mutual penetration of their concepts and methods. Laying aside the question of the possible forms of such interaction, we shall merely emphasise here that each attempt to apply the methods and concepts of one science in the field of another science should be preceded by a dialectico-materialist analysis of the possibilities of such extrapolation and, consequently, should be viewed as a philosophical problem. Nothing but harm will result from the oversimplified understanding of this process and from the underestimation of those philosophical and methodological principles which underlie the development of social, natural and technical sciences and their creative possibilities. The uncritical, mechanistic transfer of the concepts and methods of one science, ungrounded extrapolations and formal generalisations can only mislead a scientist. The borrowing of the ideas and methods by one science from another presupposes their creative assimilation and reassessment in accordance with the specific object and tasks of the former. Under such conditions special importance attaches to the analysis of dialectical “transitions” from one field of knowledge to another. Any underestimation of the importance of the methodological, philosophical analysis of the borrowed ideas and methods leads either to negativism regarding the possibility of the integration of the methods of social, natural and technical sciences, or to a kind of euphoria, ungrounded enthusiasm about the cybernetisation, mathematisation, formalisation and ecologisation of science often prompted by nothing more than the desire to keep up with vogue.

Though the positivist concepts of the relationship between philosophy and special sciences, as well as between social and natural sciences have gone never to return, the reductionist illusions regarding the relationship between the social and the biological, the social and the psychological prove to be very tenacious. For instance, striving to trace the roots of crime, some authors are inclined to see them in genetic, i.e. essentially molecular-biological mechanisms. Similar tendencies are also in evidence in the interpretation of the so-called biosocial nature of man. This formula looks attractive enough due to its laconicism, yet it tends to oversimplify the mediated relationship between the social and the biological, camouflaging a number of essential intermediate links between them. It is precisely owing to the complexity of this relationship, its mediate character, that social phenomena do not yield either to direct biological explanations or to an interpretation in terms of the so-called parallelism of social and biological factors. To be sure, the dialectico-materialist analysis of high-level psychological processes or social phenomena with all their links and relations of mediation should not ignore the natural determinants of human behaviour. Such determinants, however, must be taken into account in unity with all other factors revealing the definitive role of social motives in the activity of man.

It stands to reason that the integration and differentiation of science alongside the increasing importance of theory tend to complicate the structure of modern scientific knowledge and its further development. The emergence of such sciences as cybernetics, the games theory, the information theory, and others which study very general laws applicable to entirely different objects and phenomena of reality partly accounts for an illusion that positive sciences no longer need a philosophy and that philosophical knowledge can be at last replaced by general scientific concepts capable of providing the necessary methodological and scientific basis for more concrete sciences. Some contemporary Western philosophers go even as far as asserting that the prophecy of positivism has at last come true and that science assumes the methodological prerogatives which hitherto belonged to philosophy.

True, modern science can no longer content itself with the means of the “local” synthesis of knowledge. A need arises to synthesise the knowledge of interdisciplinary character and to develop additional means for such a synthesis: special integration theories, new branches of knowledge and new scientific trends, such as cybernetics, semiotics, system investigations, a general theory of modelling, a theory of similarity and dimensions, investigation of operations, etc. The additional means for such a synthesis also include new hardware—automatic data processors, such as cybernetic modelling machines and computers which essentially enhance the efficiency of brain work by mechanising and automating mental operations, particularly in the bibliographic information service, which is thus enabled to solve new complex problems. This “intellectual industry” permits improving the accuracy of weather forecasts, developing many branches of the national economy, accelerating technical progress, etc. Without its aid it would be impossible to carry out extremely complex calculations, exercise control over space flights and solve many other problems.

The peculiar position of general scientific disciplines which serve as intermediaries between philosophy and natural sciences results from the two main functions they perform. First, they provide a theoretical and methodological basis for a number of positive sciences. Characteristic in this respect is the connection of these sciences with mathematical methods of investigation which enable them to carry out more general qualitative and quantitative analyses and to apply the general rules of calculation in a given concrete field of investigation. Second, they serve as an intermediate methodological link between certain positive sciences and materialist dialectics as a whole.

For instance, the specific methodological function of the theory of similarity which covers physical and physico-chemical processes manifests itself in processing and generalising experimental data and in modelling physical processes. The conceptual body of the theory of investigation of operations is not limited to mathematics. Its categories and the general principle of investigation provide a particular methodological approach in the investigation of any complex goal-oriented activity, its elements being individual operations. This theory is used in the investigation of many different kinds of human activity, as well as in the analysis of man-machine complexes representing automated control systems. The main principles and categories of cybernetics provide particular methodological guidelines for sciences concerned with living nature and social life, as well as for technical sciences investigating control processes in terms of data-processing operations. These include the questions of automatic regulation, self-adjustment, instruction and self-instruction, self-organisation, self-reproduction and the development of natural and artificial systems. Hence, from the theoretical and methodological viewpoint integrative sciences provide, as it were, a kind of a bridge to the highest theoretical generalisations and methodological principles, i.e. to philosophy.

As we see, the growing complexity of scientific knowledge and the emergence of general theoretical disciplines make the question of the role, of philosophy even more topical. Scientific progress in our time leads not to the “witheringaway” of philosophical methodology, but to the further enhancement of its role. The interpenetration of social, natural and technical sciences and their methods, the appearance and rapid development of boundary scientific disciplines, the trend towards comprehensive scientific investigations of major socio-economic problems which call for joint efforts of social and natural scientists—all these processes attest to the growing significance of philosophical methodology. Such is the viewpoint of materialist dialectics and such is the trend of scientific development.

Within the province of professional philosophers remain, as before, the investigation into general trends in the development of science, the study of interaction between new scientific trends, their relative independence, the applicability of the methods of certain scientific disciplines in the fields of other disciplines, the extrapolation of theoretical concepts to new fields of investigation, reduction problems (criticism of reductionism) in their numerous aspects, the unity of scientific knowledge alongside the extreme diversity and dissociation of individual scientific schools, etc., not to speak of the “eternal” problems arising with new force under the present-day conditions: the objectivity of scientific knowledge, causality, determinism, the dialectics of scientific cognition, and others. The solution of these problems not only calls for excellent knowledge of the latest scientific achievements and of the history of science in general, but also presupposes profound philosophical background and good acquaintance with the history of philosophy.

The acquaintance with the basic principles of materialist dialectics is far from sufficient to guarantee success in scientific investigation—no less important is the ability to use them. The successful solution of scientific problems under modern conditions, in the face of highly complex and widely ramified scientific disciplines, depends on the ability to assess available knowledge in the light of general scientific concepts which is impossible without good knowledge of modern theoretical ideas and the history of science. Philosophical knowledge, owing to its special relations of mediation with concrete empirical and applied scientific investigations never reveals itself in its pure forms. It is represented in current theoretical ideas and concepts, in the theoretical knowledge related to a given specific field.

The influence of philosophy on the character and results of scientific investigation is in fact much more subtle than is purported by some popular scientific and philosophical publications intended to demonstrate with maximum possible clarity the role of methodology and world outlook in scientific knowledge. To be really successful and fruitful, scientific activity must rest on the entire system of dialectical materialist philosophy understood as a single harmonious, integrated world outlook, but not on dissociated scraps of philosophical knowledge, interpreted at that in a very primitive manner.

It would be naive to expect that universal theoretical problems can be solved by a specialist in cybernetics, the general systems theory or by a representative of some other scientific discipline, however broad its field. No less groundless would be a hope that such a task could be successfully accomplished by a philosopher who would be capable of digesting the enormous amount of information obtained by positive sciences. There is no alternative to the alliance between philosophers and representatives of natural and social sciences. The problem, if there is any, can only be over the selection and development of the most effective and adequate form of this alliance.

A modern scientist specialising in boundary problems and investigating the crossroads of traditional scientific trends can hardly expect to gain any success in his work even if he is well versed in one of the special fields. It becomes more and more obvious that the more important discoveries in modern science await not a narrow specialist, but a scientist of broad theoretical outlook, a thinker, an intellectual. We may be now returning to the epoch of the Encyclopaedists, but on a new level of scientific knowledge. At any rate, such a return to the seemingly old appears to us quite possible and certain symptoms of the advent of a new age of Leonardo da Vinci and French Enlighteners are already in evidence.

In our time, when much of the tedious work required to accumulate and classify facts can be handed over to machines with their constantly expanding possibilities, the value of experience in some special field of knowledge stands as high as ever, yet the importance of philosophical, methodological knowledge increases immeasurably since it is precisely this knowledge that can bridge the age-old gaps between physics and biology, biology and physiology, psychology and mathematics, economy and mathematics, etc. The new disciplines emerging on the borderlines between these sciences are notable for practically direct scientific application of philosophical knowledge. In contrast to 18th-19th-century natural philosophy, it plays the role of general theoretical, philosophical principles and concepts and does not claim to provide final solutions to concrete scientific problems.

Present-day scientific knowledge is highly dynamic. The current scientific and technological revolution is notable not only for rapid changes in the content of knowledge itself, but also for abrupt shifts in the value approach to different branches of knowledge. It was only quite recently that physics was the idol of the youth. The changing tide then lifted up cybernetics and the representatives of this promising branch of science enjoyed universal attention. The recent breakthrough in genetics and the acuteness of the ecological problem have sharply increased the prestige of biology. The value and prestige of one or another science and, consequently, its impact on social life and on the style of thinking constantly fluctuate. It is no secret that the current period is marked by a steadily growing interest among the youth in social, humanitarian sciences. Yet it is not only the young that turn up in increasing numbers at these sciences’ “enlistment centres”. Far more significant is the fact that humanitarian problems attract more and more full-fledged natural scientists engaged in their specific investigations. Understandably, the natural scientists’ attention to humanitarian issues results, first and foremost, from their social, civic interests. A modern scientist cannot conceive of activity removed from social problems and the tasks of scientific, technical and ethical progress.

Under contemporary conditions philosophy alone can provide scientists with an effective means to cope with the increasing flow of information and expand their theoretical horizon and world outlook. First, it gives them the necessary methodological instruments for safe navigation in the boundless sea of scientific theories and concepts and guards against unfounded hypotheses and unrestrained imagination. Second, it provides guidelines for the investigation of social problems giving the necessary information on their character and disclosing the basic principles underlying the development of social, humanitarian knowledge. Such information is essential for scientists in all fields irrespective of the particular questions they are concerned with. If we view the progress of science from a broad perspective and take full account of the modern tendencies in its development, we cannot but come to the conclusion that success in research and the advance of science as a whole depends as much on the scientists’ special knowledge, as on their theoretical background. The latter implies that a scientist should not only be well versed in the adjacent fields directly related to his sphere of interest, but also be familiar with the entire complex of social, natural and technical sciences. The development of science in the 20th century has convincingly shown that the concepts of the “flank” and “rear” in the overall scientific offensive have become completely antiquated, just as the title of the “leading science” which now reminds one of a challenge prize kept by the winner as long as he is in the heyday of popularity. The prize will inevitably pass on to another science as soon as it draws the public’s eye.

The concepts of “adjacent fields” and “boundary problems” are becoming anachronistic, too. The unidimensional structure of scientific knowledge is giving way to a multidimensional one. Not long ago physics or, more accurately, mechanics, was considered to be the only science adjacent to engineering disciplines. Now they have got other “neighbours” as well, such as engineering psychology born of the engineering and psychology borderline problems. The study of the “architecture” of living organisms carried out within the framework of bionics has brought closer together engineering and biological disciplines. Such examples are numerous. The shoots of new scientific knowledge, new scientific trends are appearing and will appear in most unexpected nodal points of this crystal lattice. The boundary problems holding out the greatest promise for scientists should therefore be visualised now in terms of solid rather than plane geometry, i.e. as being disposed in some imaginary multidimensional space where each science can find points of contact with any of its counterparts.


[1]  V. I. Lenin, “Socialism Demolished Again”, Collected Works, Vol. 20, 1972, p. 196. [—> main text]

Contents of
Alternatives to

SOURCE: Naletov, Igor [Naletov, I. Z. (Igor´ Zinov´evich)]; translated from the Russian by Vladimir Stankevich. Alternatives to Positivism. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1984. 470 pp.

Vienna Circle, Karl Popper, Frankfurt School, Marxism, McCarthyism & American Philosophy: Selected Bibliography

Salvaging Soviet Philosophy (1)

Positivism vs Life Philosophy (Lebensphilosophie) Study Guide

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