Home > Uncategorized > The naiveté of science as the history of Ideas

The naiveté of science as the history of Ideas

from Robert Locke

I am constantly perplexed by the way people on this blog handle the development of science as a history of ideas.  I find this view particularly expressed in the exchange of opinions Asad  Zaman provokes in his posts and comments to which others respond.  I have noted that trying to explain the development of science without going into the political, social, and economic environment in which science exists, will not bear much explanatory fruit.  Here are three examples of what I mean: 

  1.  To understand  the development of science during the Enlightenment (17th and 18th centuries), the grow of its institutionalization outside traditional universities, in the newly founded academies of science, the spread of scientific knowledge through the multiplications of philosophical societies, and it propagation through collective knowledge projects, i.e., encyclopedias have to be examined, as well as, the resistance that other institutions posed to the spread of new ideas, e. g., the Inquisition, the traditional universities that defended Aristotelian- Ptolemaic mechanics into the 19th century.
  2. The second instance occurred in the 18th and 19th centuries in Germany with the transformation of universities from places that possess knowledge into ones involved in a process of its constant creation through research seminars and graduate qualification degrees (research doctorates and Habilitationenschriften). (The point is that it is not the specific scientific idea that matters but the institutionalization of the discovery process that does)  This institutionalization of knowledge creation took place first in non-natural science fields, e.g., philosophy and philology, then in natural science, e.g., Justus von Liebig’s research seminar in chemistry at Giessen, then in graduate studies in technical and commercial institutes.  (Graduate research degrees in the UK and in the US hardly existed at the time)  The networking of German universities and institutes spawned science based industries in organic chemistry, pharmaceuticals, electo-technology, and metallurgy in the late nineteenth century that enabled Germany to take over leadership in Europe in high technology industrialization, c. 1914. And you cannot get off the hook by making a distinction between fundamental and applied science; their development is inseparable.
  3.  The final instance is the emergence of the triple helix as a causal factor in the creation of science based industries at the end of the last century.  Famous publicly funded state-run research institutes existed in America, but the US government allots most of its research budgets to laboratories in public and private universities, and to private firms.  The government permits researchers on its projects, who work in these laboratories, to retain individual property rights to their discoveries and the laws permits universities to grant licenses to commercial firms to exploit the discoveries that government-funded researchers make in university laboratories.  The universities and the researchers share in the dividends garnered from this government-paid research.  If the research results in a start-up firm, the university can allow it to exploit university-held patents in exchange for stock in the new company, and the university professors are not only allowed to leave academic positions to work temporarily for firms, with rights to return to university positions, but, while remaining in their university chairs, they are permitted to work on a firm’s board of directors and/or to work as a consultant.  The triple helix is elitist; in 1997, seven great US universities took in 60 percent of the royalties from firms exploiting their discoveries.

There is much anecdotal evidence about the scientific advantage gained from this symbiosis between university research and private firms in Silicon Valley.  “At Stanford,” William F Miller wrote, “as well as at the University of California at Berkeley, there are lively interactions between industry professionals and executives with faculty and students through many seminars and conferences.” C-M Lee, W Miller, et al, eds., The Silicon Valley Edge: a Habitat for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Stanford UP, 2000.  Also Robert R Locke and Katja Schoene, the Entrepreneurial Shift: Americanization in European High-Technology Management Education.  Cambridge UP, 2004)

The fact that scientists in Islam made great discoveries while Europe was an intellectual backwater does not explain why and how science developed or did not develop subsequently –to do that not the ideas themselves must be examined but the knowledge networking institutionalized in regions and civilizations.

In any event, the inclusion of economics in the discussion is misplaced, because its axioms and mathematical models are not, compared to those in natural science, scientific.  Its development can best be explained by the creation and spread of institutions historically, i.e., during Britain’s maritime based empire in the 18th century, during the rise of Germany in the great power rivalries of the late 19th century, and through the spread and institutionalization of American views on economics and scientific management during the Cold War.

  1. May 31, 2016 at 2:35 pm

    “The fact that scientists in Islam made great discoveries while Europe was an intellectual backwater” … I don’t get it. Why does everyone think that the Islamic world made any significant contribution to science? Have you ever looked at a standard college physics textbook? Are there any Muslims mentioned there as responsible for any of the laws of physics? Or what exactly do you mean by ‘science’?

  2. jlegge
    May 31, 2016 at 2:41 pm

    Steam power was critical to the industrial revolution; but the science of thermodynamics lagged 50 or more years behind the practice. Carnot was (roughly) a contemporary of the Stephensons but he was not recognised until Thompson, Lord Kelvin acknowledged him in the second half of the nineteenth century. The idea that there is a linear pathway from science to engineering to successful innovation is deeply misleading. Once science caught up we got the triple expansion compound engine and international seaborne trade grew dramatically; but it didn’t start with the science.

    • blocke the
      May 31, 2016 at 7:36 pm

      “Once science caught up we got the triple expansion compound engine and international seaborne trade grew dramatically; but it didn’t start with the science”

      Not during the first industrial revolution which was not driven by men of science, but in the second industrial revolution it was different, If one did not have an idea of science, the technology of steam could not advance, the organic chemical industry, e.g., coal tar dyes, develop, or the metallurgy of high speed tolerant steels come into being, etc. or diesel engines, etc.

      • jlegge
        June 1, 2016 at 4:48 am

        Men like Perkins and Diesel were scientifically literate but their innovations weren’t based on original scientific research. The electric motor was discovered by accident sixty years after Faraday discovered the relevant science.

        You mention metallurgy: people had been experimenting with alloys since the dawn of civilization. X-ray crystallography and other experimental techniques came later: they explained earlier results and assisted in technical refinement but metallurgy didn’t start as a scientific discipline.

        I am not anti-science; but I am against the bad policies that appear when politicians believe the linear white coat/grey coat/fancy tie model of innovation.

      • blocke the
        June 1, 2016 at 10:07 am

        I think you missed the point of my entry. It was not about fundamental and applied science but about the development of a system of education in Germany that, unlike any other in the world, included scientific knowledge, through graduate research training, in its practicality. Diesel was scientifically knowledgeable, which was essential to the development of the Diesel motor in his work with M.A.N. Perkins, who studied with Hoffmann, pupil of the research chemist Liebig at Giessen, accidentally invented aniline dyes but the color dye industries, which German firms dominated in 1914, developed there instead of England, which produced the most textiles, because market demand did not determine where the industry would be located but a system of higher education that produced the scientifically trained research chemists necessary to the industry. See the marvelous book by Sydney Higgins, Dyeing in Germany and America, with a special chapter on Colour Production. A report Manchester, 1907. Everybody has research graduate studies in universities now, but before 1900 they had been institutionalized in higher education uniquely in Germany.

      • jlegge
        June 3, 2016 at 6:10 am

        Thanks for your clarification. I fully agree that the superior technical education provided in Germany during the later nineteenth century was critical for its industrial development and innovations. In my book I wrote:

        “The pattern of development of Germany through the nineteenth century showed a further, more subtle development: while at the start of the twentieth century Britain remained dominant in the first generation industries of the Industrial Revolution—pottery, textiles, iron, and steam power—German firms dominated the second generation
        industries of steel, chemicals, and electricity. Much of English manufacturing industry remained essentially artisanal while
        Germany had moved to a scientific approach. The English scientist and entrepreneur W. H. Perkin (1838–1907) invented aniline dyes, but German firms such as I. G. Farben soon dominated their manufacture.”

        Wilhelm II apparently thought that Germany needed colonies if it were to compete with Britain. Ignorance and stupidity leading to disaster.

      • blocke the
        June 3, 2016 at 6:49 am

        We are on the same page. Wilhelm II was described as “approaching every question with an open mouth.” a la Trump. But he was interested in the wedding of technology with science, hence his creation through royal edit in 1900 of the degrees of Dipl.Ing and Dr. Ing as university equivalent.. The engineers loved him for his efforts to raise the status of their profession in public esteem..

      • July 15, 2016 at 11:29 am

        Jlegge on June 1st: I agree except for “The electric motor was discovered by accident sixty years after Faraday discovered the relevant science”. Perhaps just the 3-phase electric motor? See https://www.eti.kit.edu/english/1376.php.

        Following the detailed time-line on this, it would be interesting to hear the views of Egmont Kakarot-Handtke on where the experimental applied science stopped and the engineering began. My view is that it depends on the motivation of the experimenters: were they trying to find out and demonstrate what combinations of Newtonian and Faraday science would work in applications of Faraday’s discoveries, or trying to engineer for production? Faraday’s science is not just an application of Newtons: it is a new science at a higher level of complexity, taking account of electrical and magnetic forces as well gravitational ones.

  3. May 31, 2016 at 2:45 pm

    Further to the last remarks, have a look at this list in your hunt for Muslim scientists: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_scientific_laws_named_after_people

  4. May 31, 2016 at 3:16 pm

    Just a side note on the issue of economics as (not?) a science…

    That “axioms and mathematical models [of economics] are not, compared to those in natural science, scientific” is not entirely true. Economics may be science (on par with psychology) insofar as it seeks to explain and model human behaviour and its material consequences within a particular system of economic and related conventions (state of technology, political/legal system, form of the medium of exchange). In that sense it deals with real effects of abstract stimuli. On the other hand, economics may be concerned only with logical analysis (of implications, inconsistencies, ambiguities) of economic and related conventions, like pure mathematics. In this second sense it is not a natural science but rather a branch of philosophy. This second sense of economics may still be applicable and usable in modelling of economic reality of the first sense.

    Now, considering how much abstract, explanatory content is projected into natural sciences, the extreme degree to which abstraction conditions technology, which in turn mediates between the ever more distant object of research and the human observer, technology which does not facilitate direct access to the object but is already its contingent interpretation, reveals that science and economics are not as far apart in their degrees of objectivity as some would like believe. And perhaps there is more ‘truth’, objective truth, in pursuing logical consistency of our beliefs than in the belief that observation alone can reveal the object as it really is (for every possible observer).

    There is certain comfort, a sense of grounding, associated with the belief that natural sciences are closer to objective reality than the conventions within which we function. Sometimes that may be true, but that is certainly not a given. What makes a belief more or less objective/true, as far as it matters to us, is not the quality of observation but the degree and consistency with which a particular belief affects all individuals who function within a particular context. The context itself may be pure fantasy, but if it’s effects are more real than observation of the natural world, when this fantasy is so deeply assimilated by all that it affects our chances of survival, then, it seems to me, we should not relegate it to the realm of fantasy but judge its reality by the material significance of its effects.

    One could say: objective reality, its human core, is a set of beliefs performatively or implicitly affirmed by every individual, even if these beliefs are explicitly denied. If you can think of a better definition of objective reality then please share.

    • May 31, 2016 at 4:44 pm

      You wrote: “Economics may be science (on par with psychology) insofar as it seeks to explain and model human behaviour and its material consequences …

      Economics neither explains nor models human behaviour. Its ability to pose as a science lies in its insistence that that is what it does. In reality, there are no human beings in economics, including the theory of the consumer; and, given that utter absence of human beings, it cannot pretend otherwise.

      You also wrote: “On the other hand, economics may be concerned only with logical analysis (of implications, inconsistencies, ambiguities) of economic and related conventions, like pure mathematics. In this second sense it is not a natural science but rather a branch of philosophy. This second sense of economics may still be applicable and usable in modelling of economic reality of the first sense.”

      All forms of philosophy as such lies upon foundations, each brick of which is well-defined. ‘Utility’ is an ambiguous notion in economics: not a well-defined term. One cannot maximize such undefined units. Nor can one reasonably apply mathematical functions to such undefined units.

      So, sorry. I disagree that economics is a science in your first sense; or a philosophy in your second sense. Mainstream economics is, at best, an ideology disguised in mathematical form.

      • June 1, 2016 at 4:31 am

        I am sympathetic to your objections. They are reasonable considering persistent failure of economics to predict future events. But I argue that a better rationalisation is still possible, that failures of economics are not a proof that it is not science but only that it still bad, unrefined or corrupted science. Couple more points I want to make in your context.

        “In reality, there are no human beings in economics, including the theory of the consumer; and, given that utter absence of human beings, it cannot pretend otherwise.”

        According to your criterion there are no individual human beings in sociology either, or in epidemiology, or in anthropology… And i don’t even disagree. It in fact proves my point that science, all science, deals with the ‘idea’ of a human (or any other object) and never with real human beings (or real objects) as they are in-themselves and for-themselves.

        On the other hand I do not claim that all economics (or all science) is good science, that if can accurately predict future events. But then is a genuine attempt to do good science perhaps already science, the only science we can hope for, because only time, a lot of time, can show if it really was good science.

        “All forms of philosophy as such lies upon foundations, each brick of which is well-defined.”

        As a full-time philosopher i can tell you that nothing could be further from the truth. If the objects of philosophy were well defined there would be no philosophy: most philosophical debates are about contexts and definitions of the terms of reference, which are never fixed but perpetually evolve via creative discourse. In this sense we impose new levels of abstraction onto reality in order to better explain our experience of reality, our reasons for action, our conceptions of value, utility, freedom etc. I grant that these are vague abstractions, but they are nonetheless the currency of daily human interaction which is also vague, subjective and often inconsistent.

        I am suggesting that this view is more productive then simply dismissing economics as an undesirable, unscientific discipline. We have no choice but practice economics or we suffer, and that alone proves that it deals with something real. Rather than dismiss it outright we must work to make it a better kind of science, and perhaps internally distinguish its scientific aspects from its creative aspects.

      • June 2, 2016 at 12:36 am

        Actually I agree with much of what you are saying.That said, let’s say that I embarked on a study of rats and rat behavior using ‘tokens’with which they could purchase food goods, but, prior to observing rats and their behavior in buying food goods, I stated that, for purposes of starting my science, I would be studying only rational rat ‘behaviour’. Let me then add that rational rats, as well as irrational ones have, in their minds, preference functions for food goods {always being positively satisfied with any food goods they can purchase with their tokens}, but, well, because irrational rats don’t make proper maximizing ‘choices’,, I will exclude them from the outset.

        I will simply say that rational rats act as if they are maximizing using Lagrangeans. Say a rational rat has B tokens to spend on x and y, for instance, then B = px*x + py*y. Then form the Lagrange function V = f(x,y) + lambda(B – px*x -py*y) such that dV/dx = f1 – lambda px = 0; dV/dy = f2 – labda py = 0; and, dV/d{lambda} = B – px*x – py*y = 0.

        This, naturally leads to f1/f2 = px/py AND this can be rewritten as f1/p1 = f2/p2 = lambda. Which is, obviously, how a rational rat/consumer must behave.

        Now, and obviously, rats may not know that they are maximizing their always positive pleasure or satisfaction from getting anything at all with their tokens. This is NOT a problem. As Henderson and Quandt forcefully point out, “The consumer {rational rat} is not assumed to be aware of the existence of marginal utilities, and only the economist need know that the consumer’s RCS {<i.er, rate of commodity subsitution between food goods} equals the ratio of marginal utilities." Microeconomic Theory, A Mathematical Approach p.11.

        Now I can simply dispense with the study of rat behavior in a token economy. I need no rats nor any observations of rat behaviour to ‘complete’ my micro-token theory of rat behavior. All I need are assumptions … and since anything I might observe may not agree with these assumptions, clearly the rats are themselves irrational and thus not worthy of scientific studies.

        I hope I have gotten my point across, Mr. Kowalik.

      • June 2, 2016 at 5:06 am

        I don’t contest this point. If you study only ‘rational rats’ (that do not exist) and not ‘irrational (to a degree) rats’ (that do exist) then what you do is pure abstraction, logically consistent speculation at best, but not science. I agree that examples of pseudo science and bad science abound, especially if there are powerful interest groups who profit from economic ignorance of others.

      • June 2, 2016 at 9:51 am

        Excellent points across the board. But I’m not quite on the same page with you. For example take this. I’m an expert on “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” I believe I know every aspect of the story, the author, the reviews, the studies, etc. dealing with the story and book. And others besides myself concur in my expertise. I’ve observed story and book in as many ways and with as many tools as I could find or imagine. I’ve even gone so far as to do analyses of the paper used for the books and the translators for each translated book and type font used in printing. And I’ve made detailed studies of the push of the book into the digital domain. Is my work scientific? I’d say yes. Even if the object of the work (the story) is fantasy. So it is with economics. Scientific study of fantasy, that is make believe economic actions and interactions is possible. The issue for me is intent and result. If the intent of economists is to create a science of make believe economic arrangements, I’m okay with that. If the intent of economists is to create a science of economic arrangements created by people in the world, regardless of whether they are supposedly “rational” I’m okay with that. If the intent is the latter but ends with the former, I’m not okay with that. Besides being anti-scientific, it’s also deceptive and dangerous to the common good. I believe that’s where we stand in large part today with economics.

  5. May 31, 2016 at 7:04 pm

    History delivers the questions but not the answers
    Comment on Robert Locke on ‘The naiveté of science as the history of Ideas’

    It is rather trivial that a scientific/mathematical proposition/law/discovery/theorem emerges in a specific social, historical, geographical, biographical context. But for the question of whether, for example, the Law of Universal Gravitation* is true or false these specifics are absolutely irrelevant.

    What, then, is relevant?: “Research is in fact a continuous discussion of the consistency of theories: formal consistency insofar as the discussion relates to the logical cohesion of what is asserted in joint theories; material consistency insofar as the agreement of observations with theories is concerned.” (Klant)

    Everything else, e.g. calendar time, religion, nationality, gender, etc., is a distraction from scientific problem solving and absolutely irrelevant for the assessment of the truth/falsehood of a theory. Historians are occupied with the context of discovery, scientists are occupied with the context of justification, i.e. the logical and material consistency of a theory.

    Science is about general and invariant features of reality (= deep structure), history/evolution is about unique event configurations on the surface which never repeat themselves. This is known since Heraclitus and that is why Descartes said that history was not a science. Science abstracts from historical detail.

    No way leads from the history of falling apples to the universal Law of Falling Bodies. No way leads from the historical fact that Einstein wore no socks to the understanding of the Theory of Relativity.

    Economics is about the underlying structural laws of the economic system. If you do not understand these (e.g. the Profit Law**) you neither understand the present nor the past.

    The current state of economics is this: economists got the premises/basic concepts/axioms of economic theory hopelessly wrong. Because of this, the whole theoretical superstructure that in turn informs economic policy is defective. What we actually have is folk psychology, folk sociology,*** storytelling, political blather, senseless model bricolage, the history of money since the cowrie shell, and utter methodological confusion.

    Egmont Kakarot-Handtke

    * See Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newton%27s_law_of_universal_gravitation
    ** See Wikimedia https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:AXEC08.png
    *** See post ‘How to get out of the Econ 101 PsySoc woods’ http://axecorg.blogspot.de/2016/05/how-to-get-out-of-econ101-psysoc-woods.html

    • blocke the
      June 1, 2016 at 10:25 am

      “The current state of economics is this: economists got the premises/basic concepts/axioms of economic theory hopelessly wrong.”

      And after two centuries of trying you, EKH, think you have got it right? So did neoclassical economists, with results as you state that are “hopelessly wrong.” Historians have the last word. What are the probabilities that you have succeeded when so many have not? Most historians classify this as delusions of grandeur. And the same comment applies to Michael’s idea that economics is valid because we can have the hope it will become a science. Hope is an insufficient basic on which to base your claim..

  6. June 1, 2016 at 4:11 am

    I agree that why and how science developed or did not develop are important questions. To answer them we must first say what science is and is not. Far as I know there is no widely let alone universally accepted answer to this question. Science is says Egmont Kakarot-Handtke about general and invariant features of reality (= deep structure). It is about what is true or false. Or in the words of Okasha Samir, “Surely science is just the attempt to understand, explain, and predict the world we live in.” Or maybe historian Clifford Conner hits it with this, “If science is understood in the fundamental sense of knowledge of nature, it should be not be surprising to find that it originated with the people closest to nature: hunter-gathers, peasant farmers, sailors, miners, blacksmiths, folk healers, etc.” Then there’s Einstein’s famous view of science as the consideration of the universal operation of the law of causation. It seems at the heart of all these definitions are universal laws of nature revealed. This is fine and wonderful but for one problem – the observer, humans. The laws may be universal but the observer is as noted by Heisenberg and others not. Which means uncertainty is always a part of science. So universal laws and precisely determined measurements of position and momentum are out the window. As for humans, they may think they know what rationality is but even if they all agree on that definition (unlikely) they can never live up to it. So again the observer problem. Anyone who has read General Theory of Relativity or Feynman on Quantum Mechanics is aware of all this. And Chaos mathematics makes the points even clearer.

    So now we’ve settled that we don’t really know what science or universal laws or precise measurement are we can get a little more down to Earth! In what sense are economics and economists’ theories “not scientific?” No universal laws? Improper use of mathematics? Axiomatic reasoning, exclusively? My answer it that economics is not scientific because economists do not acknowledge or accept the points I made in the first paragraph above. They don’t even consider the difficulties of science in practice, measurement in actual situations, of finding patterns that often do not hold in every situation, are often not linear, frequently where cause and effect relationships are chaotic. In simple terms economists’ approach is pre-relativity, pre-quantum mechanics, and pre-chaos. With these impairments economists’ failures are not surprising – actually to be expected. In this context, logical, mathematical, or observational consistency are not bad things. So long as we accept and expect the results of the observer problem, relativity, quantum mechanics, and chaos. As far as I can see there is no “work around” for any of these problems. The world we’re attempting to understand, explain, and predict is just this complex.

    • blocke the
      June 2, 2016 at 10:01 am

      So, if the laws might be universal, but the human beings are not, this makes science a pursuit of knowledge tempered by the subjectivity of the individual observer, and by extension the political, economic, and social subjectivities specific to historical time and place. Science become the history of science, which is tentative since what future steps might be are unpredictable. Sorry EHK but your 19th century definition of science is antiquated. .

      • June 4, 2016 at 1:21 pm

        Robert Locke

        You say: “ the pursuit of knowledge tempered by the subjectivity of the individual observer, and by extension the political, economic, and social subjectivities specific to historical time and place.”

        I agree. Just because of this economics has to leave all subjective/behavioral/human nature issues to psychology, sociology, history, politics, etc. and focus on the systemic aspect of the (world-) economy.

        This is what the shift from subjective-behavioral microfoundations to objective-structural macrofoundations is all about. And this is the economic methodology of the 21st century.

        Egmont Kakarot-Handtke

  7. June 10, 2016 at 7:09 am

    I am constantly perplexed by the way people on this blog handle the development of science as a history of ideas.

    Why? It is the most usual, natural & correct way. Avoiding it is like insisting on producing Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark.

    The same remarkable point of view is here: to do that not the ideas themselves must be examined but the knowledge networking institutionalized in regions and civilizations.
    Or here The point is that it is not the specific scientific idea that matters but the institutionalization of the discovery process that does

    And most boldly in a comment on Zaman’s earlier Emergence of Science
    Most historians consider the use of ideas (the history of ideas) as causal agents to explain the development of science as bad history

    I strongly doubt this. What evidence is there for this astounding claim that most historians are that opposed to a primary aim of the history of science? Were this extreme externalism true, hardly anyone would be interested in the history of science. It would means “good history” carefully ignores the subject & would be comparable to the history of a language or literature – by someone who didn’t speak it. Science is ideas – so the central factor in the development of science – “the causal agents” are the ideas – what else could be? Most people, all scientists & I daresay most historians would call such “bad history” – “good, interesting, valuable history of enduring interest” or “the best history, but the hardest to do a good job of”.

    Iirc you epigraphed one of your books with Hegel’s famous Owl of Minerva quote, and may have made some appreciative comments elsewhere.

    So here is that mighty thinker on this matter – note that his attitude is not to deprecate external history but to deprecate deprecation. From Quentin Lauer – Hegel’s Idea of Philosophy With a New Translation of Hegel’s Introduction to the History of Philosophy [1825-1826 version] – Fordham (1983)

    p89

    “The tendency to be abstractly historical, to be occupied with lifeless objects, has in recent times gained ground. …

    If I know thoughts, truths, cognitions, only historically, they remain outside my spirit, i.e., for me they are dead; neither my thinking nor my spirit is present in them; what is most interior to me, my thought, is absent. The possession of merely historical knowledge is like the legal ownership of things which I do not know what to do with. If we simply stop at the knowledge of what this or that philosophy has thought, of what has been handed down (überliefert), then we surrender (überliefert) ourselves, and we forgo what makes man to be man, we forgo thinking. … When the historical tendency has taken over a given age, it can be taken for granted that the spirit has fallen into despair, has died, has given up the attempt to satisfy itself otherwise it would not be concerned with the sort of objects which for it are dead.

    In the authentic history (Geschichte) of thought it is thought with which we are concerned; there we have to consider how the spirit enters into its own depths in order to arrive at consciousness of itself, as man renders to himself an account of his spirit’s consciousness. In order to do this, man must be present to his own spirit. Here, however, I speak only against the merely historical (geschichtliche) attitude. In no way should this make the study of history as such something to be despised. … Still, when an age treats everything historically (historisch), thus being constantly occupied solely with the world which no longer is and so wanders around in mausoleums, then has the spirit given up its own life which consists in its thinking itself.

    Connected with the purely historical (historischen) manner of treating philosophy is the demand that one who teaches the history of philosophy be uninvolved (unparteiisch). This insistence on non-involvement means for the most part simply that the one who teaches history of philosophy shall act like a dead man in presenting philosophies, that he should treat them as something separated from his own spirit, something external, that he should himself be without thought in treating them.”

    Lauer notes: “Ordinarily Hegel distinguishes sharply between the inner movement which is history (Geschichte) and the external account (Historie) of this movement. Here the terminology becomes somewhat confusing.”

    Finally, note p. 94

    “B. Relation of the History of Philosophy to the Rest of Spirit’s Manifestations

    As we know, the history of philosophy is not independent (für sich) but is connected with history in general, with external history as well as with the history of religion, etc. It is natural, then, that we should recall the principal moments of political history, the character of the time and the overall situation of the people, wherein philosophy comes into being. In addition, however, the connection with general history is internal, i.e., essential and necessary, not merely external; nor is it merely a question of one being simultaneous with the other (simultaneity is no relationship at all).”

    Precisely. Again, external history (in the modern sense, connections with general history) is not to be disparaged, not external in Hegel’s sense. Polonius, Ophelia, Gertrude, Horatio, Claudius etc and all their goings on are integral to the play. But what is proverbially the most absurd to omit from the play is Hamlet – & his soliloquys. The one thing most absurd to omit from or disparage in the history of science is science – & its soliloquys.

    • robert locke
      July 16, 2016 at 2:58 pm

      Why am I perplexed? Because when I took my PhD in history it did not take long for me to learn that intellectual history, the history of ideas, was mostly disparaged by historians because it was decontextualized. I see that you don’t give credence to the idea of contexualization, Take a good course in historiography and you might learn to appreciate the historians point of view.

      • July 16, 2016 at 7:44 pm

        I see that you don’t give credence to the idea of contexualization, Not at all. I hoped for more serious reading. Following Hegel, I am perfectly clear on this point a few lines above: it is “integral to the play.”

        What is perplexing is finding my view, which is the view of almost everyone at RWER, and which I assert is the viewpoint of historians, scientists, philosophers & historians of science, and everyone else – that science is integral to the history of science, that the history of ideas is NOT “bad history”, that productions of Hamlet should have the Prince – is perplexing. And claiming that such a strange view is “the historian’s point of view”!

        I have read some historiography – it and history & the history of science is not at all in such a sorry state, does not hold this strange view. For I have never read any other author who would be as perplexingly perplexed, who disparages the history of ideas to the extreme length your statements above do. Do such exist?

      • July 16, 2016 at 7:58 pm

        To accept the position Calgacus has taken one would have to accept that “ideas” are from the mind (not the brain mind you) and that the mind is wholly detached from other events and things in the world. First, that is not possible as far I know based on physiology. Second, such detachment if possible would soon lead to madness. Ideas develop in interaction with other events and things, and change and are changed by these interactions. And this process goes on over time. That is, it is historical. Examples of this process in science are too numerous to even begin to describe here. Bur eureka there is one you should remember from high school.

      • robert locke
        July 17, 2016 at 5:35 am

        It has to do with “cause and effect,” that ideas beget ideas in a great chain of becoming that is decontextualized. You are certainly right about the RWER, but I never have gained much insight from reading the posts here. My insights come from reading people like James Breasted, Conquest of Civilization, 1936. David Landes, The Unbound Prometheus, and articles in the Operational Research Journal that challenged the ideas on which OR is based, i.e., Russel Ackoff’s The Future of Operational Research is Past, 1979, or C-M Lee, W. Miller, et al, The Silicon Valley Edge: A Habitat for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (2000), where you won’t find any “ideas beget ideas” line of causality decontexualization around.

      • July 18, 2016 at 11:13 pm

        Ken:To accept the position Calgacus has taken one would have to accept that “ideas” are from the mind (not the brain mind you) and that the mind is wholly detached from other events and things in the world.

        Wuhhh? How on earth does one get anything like that from what I said? Or from anything quoted from Hegel’s careful statements, most of my comment? Apparently NOT needless to say, I of course do not believe what “one would have to accept”. So I of course strenuously deny “one would have to accept” such things to agree with me. Of course (among other places) ideas are in mind(s), which happen in brains. Ideas, minds, brains are not detached from other events and things. What particular relevance this has to anything I said or quoted is obscure to me.

        Will reply to Locke later, but all I am doing is expressing the naive position, which is the true position and is the position that practically everybody in ordinary life and in any academic discipline believes, holds and says.

        These days, “naive”, when used pejoratively, often means “not crazy” or “obviously true”. As in – the naive child said the emperor wasn’t wearing any clothes. So I suggest that one should consider it as a term of praise, a sign that the view or person described is on the right track. I often have to remind myself of this, a failing I admit to.

        As I said above, I hoped for more careful reading.

      • July 19, 2016 at 3:56 am

        The problem I have understanding your meaning, and I apologize if I missed it is that you don’t really say anything. You quote what other people say but don’t really add much of your own. How you reached the conclusions you cite I have no idea, except by selectively quoting from Hegel and others. Why is it most usual, natural, and correct to view the history of science as the history of ideas? There is empirical research on science dating back now nearly 50 years that clearly shows this is not the case for scientists. Similar research shows science journalists don’t consider science this way. And the polls show that the public generally sees the history of science as laboratories and other large institutions, technology, and discoveries that change their lives. All this supports the claims made by researchers in science and technology (including historians) that science is created via relationships among many actors, both human and nonhuman. In simpler terms science is skills and patterns of thought and actions built up via these interactions. So science is just like the rest of our lives in the way it is created. But different in terms of the objects of its focus. So the worries I think you express about the history of science being separated from history in general are without merit. Nothing is omitted, including ideas.

      • July 21, 2016 at 9:30 am

        Your disputes with Locke are your own. As to the simple 2+2-4 it’s a cultural convention. It’s useful, some say even beautiful. But still just a cultural convention. Science is partly ideas. But science too is cultural convention. I need look no further than the historical, geographical, societal differences in what’s labeled science to show that. As to knowledge=ideas please read some philosophers other than Hegel. Their works are interesting and they demonstrate that knowledge is more than ideas. For example read Merleau-Ponty, Edmund Husserl, Heidegger, or Michel Serres. Some psychologists might help you as well, e.g., Viktor Frankl, William James, or Rollo May. Anthropologists like Bruno Latour or sociologists like Michel Callon might help you as well.

        Some science and technology studies references that that might help you understand the points I’m attempting to make:
        Steven Shapin, The Scientific Revolution
        Steven Shapin, The Scientific Life
        Stephen J. Gould, The Mismeasure of Man
        Bruno Latour, Science in Action
        Sergio Sismondo, An Introduction to Science and Technology Studies
        Laura Nader, Naked Science: Anthropological Inquiry into Boundaries, Power Knowledge
        David Wootton, The Invention of Science: A New History of the Scientific Revolution
        Clifford D. Conner, A People’s History of Science: Miners, Midwives, and Low Mechanics

        Science certainly includes ideas. But so does business, religion, and just about every other aspect of human societies. But it’s reductionist to say that science is “only” ideas. It’s also reductionist to say that ideas are not involved with and owe their growth to that involvement. In simple terms ideas are created in interactions with other things and events. I fully agree that science is a thing of its own. It is not simply just a consequence of the political, cultural, or social environment in which it is situated. But it could not be that thing (including ideas) without the interactions with things that are not science. That’s my message in a nutshell.

      • July 21, 2016 at 6:17 am

        The problem I have understanding your meaning, and I apologize if I missed it is that you don’t really say anything.

        You later say I am wrong in several places – so how could I be not really saying anything? In a way you are right, I am saying 2 + 2 = 4, things everyone knows [on some level]. The impetus for my comment was this post of Locke, where he asserts 2 + 2 = 5, that this is “the historian’s view” and correct, unlike “the naive view” above. I also assert that basically nobody else says or believes the things Locke does (thank God). (This includes the people he mentions, as far as I have read.) He has produced no evidence to the contrary, nor has anyone else. For reasons partly explained above I quoted Hegel (and parenthetically a commentator/translator) and will quote as much more fully as anyone asks. Again, that’s more evidence than anyone else has provided though.

        How you reached the conclusions you cite I have no idea. I explained how above. More fully: Science is ideas. And that’s the only thing – e.g. from your list – that one can say so simply “Science is”. Ideas are the essence of science. “Science” etymologically, historically & forsooth means nothing but “knowledge” (= a bunch of “ideas” in the knower’s head). You couldn’t avoid saying this determination of “science” while apparently trying to disagree – read what you wrote. :-)
        Therefore the history of science is the history of ideas [“scientific ideas”]. QED. Productions of Hamlet should have the character Hamlet – as the most prominent character, even. Histories of France should be mostly about – France & what happened mostly inside France.
        That is the naive, childish view, yes. (And I say it is the correct & practically universal outside RWER view.)

        “History of X” would not be “a thing” unless X had enough internal history to be “a thing” & this would naturally be the central topic, the focus in “The history of X”. Or “X” & “The history of X” could not be “a thing.” Since we all agree that “Science” & the “History of Science” are each “a thing” – I am just saying that Locke or maybe you hold self-contradictory views, views that contradict this. [I think I am channelling Bergson :-) ]

        Why is it most usual, natural, and correct to view the history of science as the history of ideas? [me:see above] There is empirical research on science dating back now nearly 50 years that clearly shows this is not the case for scientists. Well, please quote it. Whatever it is, I expect clear misinterpretation. I’ve bumped into and known plenty of scientists & more mathematicians – they would all disagree with you or Locke & all agree with me. Without exception. You probably disagree with Locke here – his adjective “naive” suggests that it is at least widely held, probably by scientists & naive children.

        So the worries I think you express about the history of science being separated from history in general are without merit.
        That’s more Locke’s worry. It is mine because of the extremity of Locke’s position, his extreme case of the syndromes Dr. Hegel diagnosed above. Locke repeatedly suggests that I propose “decontextualized” history, even after I pointed out how I explicitly said the opposite in my first comment. Locke is actually proposing decontextualizing – can you really call a production of Hamlet without Hamlet – a “contextualized” version of Hamlet? For in Locke’s strange history, which avoids looking at the ideas themselves – because they have little explanatory force – and focuses on the knowledge networking & institutions etc – which supposedly have so much more – there is nothing being put into context.

        I note that Locke thinks his views are different from yours and everyone else here. I basically agree with him on that. Perhaps people should reread him if they don’t see that big gap.

      • robert locke
        July 21, 2016 at 9:55 am

        Calgacus. I repeat, take a good course in historiography and you will find that historians do not disparage ideas, they just want them to be contextualized. Why do we have Darwin’s ideas, could it have something to do with the development of the British empire and the opening of the world through it to the discovery of species. No British imperium, no Darwin. You get it? In historiography, we all read Voltaire’s Age of Louis XVI and Carl Becker’s the Heavenly City of Eighteenth Philosophers, and Hegel’s Philosophy of History and Philosophy of Right, and what Feuerbach and Marx said about Hegel, whose philosophy requires the creation of God, quite an assumption. Since I Stopped teaching historiography forty years ago I don’t know the new course material. But why don’t you read Frijof Capra’s The Turning Point (1982), if you want to see the importance of contexualization in the history of ideas. Finally, this blog is suppose to be about economics, people stray off into discussions of natural science, by assuming, I suppose, that economics is one of them, when it isn’t. Economics is just history. The spread of neoclassical economics has much more to do with America’s geopolitical predominance in 1945 than with the ideas in neoclassical economics. There is a mountain of evidence on that subject. Just look in the bibliographies of my numerous publications. I fear you do not know them, and without knowing them how can you say what I think.

  8. July 15, 2016 at 5:08 pm

    “This is known since Heraclitus and that is why Descartes said that history was not a science. Science abstracts from historical detail”.

    Agreed; but history provides an essential part of the data from which science is abstracted. What is absolutely [hence always] true must have been true in the past, and indeed the only fundamental axioms are those necessary to theorise about what already existed at the beginning of time, and how it evolved into what we have now.

    As I see it, the fundamental material axiom amounts to a philosophical choice between there being something rather than nothing, this ‘something’ now being understood as the immaterial energetic motion which in light forms electro-magnetic pressure waves. The fundamental formal axioms amount to localisation of motion requiring orbiting (circuital channelling), symmetry (hence the motion from a point being in all directions until constrained by discontinuity), and Cartesian coordinates to artificially bound regions of complete directional difference (exemplified formally in geographical regions like the NE but to dimensionally map the breaking of ocean waves into spray at the discontinuity of a shore). Hence anyway my point. There are two fundamental forms of science: the one formed by abstraction from direction (i.e. physics) and and the other by abstraction from force (information science). Applied to the possibilities for communicating direction and mis-direction supplied by economic theories and practice, the circuit logic/information capacity/error control paradigms of Shannon are much more appropriate than even the mature Newtonian paradigms of gravitational force and electromagnetic light.

    • July 15, 2016 at 8:04 pm

      Science is difficult to “get to” because it is a part of most of what humans do and think. When the archer or artillery officer fires the arrow or shell the skill (science) of hitting what one is aiming at is difficult to deconstruct. I’d say impossible to deconstruct entirely. This “simple” task requires knowledge of several forms of mathematics, geography, atmospherics, social science, metallurgy, materials structure, physics, chemistry, and of course human physiology. The archer or artillery officer may study such topics separately but combining them to hit the target intended is an art that no science can cover or comprehend. Science is in my view the effort to understand how things work and to use that knowledge to do some job or jobs. Even if the job is just writing a book or dazzling an audience with light shows. And science can’t be used to explain science. So how do we study and explain science?

      • July 16, 2016 at 11:19 am

        “Science is difficult to ‘get to’ ” if one is not prepared to distinguish fundamental from applied science. Agreed archery is a skill, but application of fundamental information science to control of directional errors has advanced from directing uncontrolled flight to continuous steering to automated navigation and reliably target-finding guided missiles. Developments very relevant to the theories of an automated “invisible hand” and steering “the ship of state”.

      • July 16, 2016 at 11:45 am

        But do scientists distinguish a fundamental from an applied science? In most instances they do not. In most instances making such a distinction is difficult and unnecessary. And even when it’s made the dividing line is always changing. As far as skills are concerned what do you think science is? It’s a group of skills. Even theory building is a skill. Everything you say about the changes in “controlling” missiles (of all sorts) supports this conclusion. As to steering the “ship of state,” this too is a group of skills. Some overlap with missile control. Others do not. Building and decomposing skills groups is an art beyond the scope of any particular science. But that should not deter us from trying to figure how these groups of skills are constructed and maintained.

      • robert locke
        July 16, 2016 at 2:39 pm

        As I have pointed out frequently, making this distinction between fundamental and applied science is a peculiarity of the English thought world. Germans invented a thought world that included Technic, which is not the equivalent of applied science but something apart from fundamental and applied science. That is why people who get Dr-Ing in German Hochschulen are not looked down upon by people who study “pure” fundamental science in Germany. The scientific status of the technical Hochschulen cannot be understood within the British intellectual categories of fundamental-applied science. The idea in Germany is that all good science is a necessary blend of both.

      • July 16, 2016 at 7:40 pm

        Dividing “fundamental” from “applied” science is possible. Divisions in life can be set up in many ways, for many reasons. But in the world scientists study no such division in inherent. As Bob has pointed out the Germans certainly drew the dividing lines in different places than in the US and UK. And the impacts of these differences can be seen in how science is created and practiced in these places.

  9. July 17, 2016 at 10:06 pm

    Robert Locke, 31 May : “The naiveté of science as the history of Ideas”. [Being a critique of Asad Zaman on Muslim science being a precursor of Baconian technological science].

    Egmont K-H, 31 May: “[Science being about invariant structure and history about unique events] is known since Heraclitus and that is why Descartes said that history was not a science”. [My response on 15 July was to this, following on but not addressing comments by
    Bob [criticising EKH and Michael], Ken, Bob, Calgagus,Bob, Calgagus and Bob again. I will defend EKH against Bob by reading personality type rather than arrogance into his way of writing, and as knowing he is looking in the right place rather than delusions of grandeur. My July 15 response outlined in a couple of paragraphs my inverse use of the scientific history evolution in establishing axioms, and the significance of force and direction as distinguishing physical and information science and the directive roles of human methods and languages. Bob misreads Michael, who on June 1 was distinguishing good from bad science, not science from non-science]. Ken (as always) and Bob (sadly) go on to misread me, when I have always expressed agreement with him, as follows:

    Calgagus, 10 June: ” I am constantly perplexed by the way people on this blog handle the development of science as a history of ideas”. … 16 July: “disparages the history of ideas to the extreme length your statements above do”.
    Bob, July 17: “It has to do with ’cause and effect,’ that ideas beget ideas in a great chain of becoming that is decontextualized.” July 16: “Technic, which is not the equivalent of applied science but something apart from fundamental and applied science”.

    So Egmont’s little box chart relating what he sees as science, indeterminate science and non-science to orthodox and heterodox economics, I see in terms of the phase sequence (science, technology, engineering and use), with problems at each level being resolved by recourse in the first instance to the previous level, those in normal (applied) science being resolved by reconsidering the foundations of science (Kuhn’s [potentially] revolutionary science). These are ultimately philosophical choices between the perceived physical alternatives on the one hand, necessary (circuital and orthogonal) logical forms and appropriate (static and dynamic) forms of linguistic indexing and encoding on the other. In this schema, technology is at the first level of rejoining the physical with the logical (developing materials and methods), whereas engineering applies knowledge already embodied in technology to physically distinct structures and processes, leaving users needing to know only how their own objects work and how to recognise and correct their most likely failings. Were such technology pursued in economics, it would be concerned not with information technology as user, but with logical capabilities embodied in the physical structure of agents, institutions and their intra/inter communications channels, much as programs are in computer hardware (with only the operating system defining the capabilities of the computer). The possibilities for re-engineering economies and economic doctrines hinge on this.

    It seems to me the German Technic conflates what I distinguish as technology and engineering; but perhaps it just does not distinguish Technologists and Engineers, who are continually pushing the boundaries of as well as taking advantage of new technology? Perhaps Bob can comment on that.

    Turning then to the comments which followed mine on fundamental science involving information as well as physical science, I think I have already answered Ken, but I have just elaborated what I said. What science is taken to be hinges on philosophical choices not only between energy or consciousness but on the types of logic (static and/or dynamic) and language (transparent, transparently referential, or referential in four completely different ways). Humpty Dumpty (like Egmont) may have been joking when he said “Words mean precisely what I say they mean”, but he had a point, and Egmont has a point when he talks of “formal consistencey”. Some ways work out, and other’s don’t. My point (and experience) was that the minimally complex choices embodied in the scientific language Algol68 work out, whereas invisible money and simply referential language does not. Ken’s second point, that most scientists would not agree with me, I reject as irrelevant. In any case, most scientists work in specialised applications and have not studied logic and language for half a life-time.

    In conclusion, let me disagree with Bob’s “The scientific status of the technical Hochschulen cannot be understood within the British intellectual categories of fundamental-applied science” only insofar as to say that I have just shown him that it can: by this scientist if not by philosophers, politicians and economists more self-rightously incorrigibly ignorant than perhaps German ones are. (I’m thinking of Lord Fulton’s 1967 inquiry into the structure of the British Civil Service and the Administrative Class stalling until the advent of Thatcher in 1979 enabled them to sell off Science and promote a few of the residual Scientific Class overseers as their scientific spokesmen).

    • July 17, 2016 at 10:41 pm

      Apologies for some omissions and layout glitches which didn’t show up in the drafting: most frustratingly in a key statement which should have read “my inverse use of the scientific history OF evolution in establishing axioms”.

      My wife announcing bed-time perhaps took my eye off omission of an intended agreement with Bob’s position on July 17, to the effect that “ideas beget ideas in a long chain of causality” obscure the reality that ideas EXPRESSED beget other ideas which when EXPRESSED beget perhaps different ideas. This is like Marx schematised the reality of capitalist economics as a chain of MCM involving a commodity even though the formal result is MM. See for example https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch04.htm.

    • robert locke
      July 18, 2016 at 7:44 am

      Dave, my views are based on living in England and Germany, as, for example, when on a Dover to London train, sharing a compartment with a young Englishman, he volunteered that he had studied physics at Cambridge, although he was really interested in engineering. His professors and fellow students convinced him that a degree in engineering was inferior to one in physics. That wouldn’t happen in Germany. There it is assumed that theory and practice are inseparable.

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