[-empyre-] Ontology again

Brian Holmes brian.holmes at wanadoo.fr
Mon Oct 22 08:38:58 EST 2007

sdv at krokodile.co.uk wrote:

> To argue that 'science is not THE best way to explain everything' well 
> that's just nonsensical, what do you have left but religion, faith, 
> magic, transcendentalism, humanism none of which explains anything.

Well, this could be a semantic issue, but "science" nowadays refers most 
commonly to a method of experimental verification that doesn't bring 
ontology into question. I have very strong reasons to suppose that the 
organic chemist with whom I discussed cellulose polymers on my last 
airplane trip does not for a moment suppose that the form, procedure and 
results of his experiments have anything whatsoever to do with his basic 
right to be the master and possessor of nature, i.e. everything that is 
not him! I really do think that "science" based on the strict 
subject-object distinction is NOT the best way to explain everything. It 
certainly does not explain the basic valuations that motivate humans in 
their life choices, and crucially, in their political allegiances, 
despite the crucial effects those allegiances ultimately have on the 
transformation of the world and its "nature."

After all that, if you want to extend the word "science" to cover every 
kind of deliberate reasoning, and if you want to refer to the rare (but 
of course, still numerous) scientists and philosophers of science who do 
question their first principles, then OK, proclaiming science in this 
incredibly broad sense as the best way to explain everything becomes a 
near-tautology. However, if we start to make less crude distinctions, 
then there is clearly a kind of Marxist humanism, of which Lukacs for 
example has been a serious representative, which does not elide or 
simply mathematicize the observer, but rather takes into account the 
inertia of historical time and the struggle against the hierarchies that 
have sedimented in the course of time. That is a very different position 
and definition of the subject of inquiry, with very different results in 
terms of the thinking of human destiny.

I am relatively ignorant vis-a-vis the philosophy of sciences, but for 
example, Prigogine's inquiries into the "arrow of time" and all that any 
serious consideration of it does to previous formulations of the truths 
of science, appear important to me. Heidegger would clearly be another 
example, not a trivial one either, even if you do not agree with his 
understanding of what it is to be human (I do not personally agree). 
Furthermore I think the idea that religion explains nothing is a bit 
rash. When you try to tell a group of people that their ontology and all 
its consequences simply mean nothing, it's symbolic murder, and that 
will invariably produce a violent reaction. I think an enlarged 
philosophy of life would take on the plurality of ontologies and the 
need for dialogue that ensues. Indeed, I think that process of 
negotiation describes the real situation now in the world, since the 
collapse of hegemonic modernizing programs. However, the difficulties of 
this dialogic process, and the time it takes to go through them (as 
opposed to thinking, as the militarists do, that you can just bomb the 
others into submission) are not sufficiently recognized today, with the 
result that the negotiating process takes on quite horrible and tragic 
contours. A real dialogism would accept that the creation of values is 
the greatest human power, and that negotiation over the consequences of 
divergent values is the greatest human challenge. Imho.

all the best, and yes, warmly, Brian

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