3.798 Notes and Queries (125)

Willard McCarty (MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca)
Tue, 28 Nov 89 23:22:20 EST

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 798. Tuesday, 28 Nov 1989.

(1) Date: Tue, 28 Nov 89 03:19:08 EST (67 lines)
From: Rich Mitchell <MITCHELR@ORSTVM>
Subject: Help: Ethics/Positivism

(2) Date: Tue, 28 Nov 89 09:07:04 -0500 (10 lines)
From: lang@PRC.Unisys.COM
Subject: Yeah yeah

(3) Date: Tue, 28 Nov 89 09:47 CST (11 lines)
From: Michael Ossar <MLO@KSUVM>
Subject: novelistic stunts

(4) Date: Tue, 28 Nov 89 11:12:00 EST (7 lines)
Subject: yeah, yeah

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Tue, 28 Nov 89 03:19:08 EST
From: Rich Mitchell <MITCHELR@ORSTVM>
Subject: Help: Ethics/Positivism

Can anyone offer comments on the validity and possible origins of
the following arguement regarding the ethics of a positivist
social science? I am over my head here, though if valid this
seems an important condemnation of mainstream sociology-
psychology-economics. Also what happened to the relationship
between "reason" and ethics between Aristotle and Aquinas and
between Aquinas and the enlightenment? Any help appreciated.

"The positivist ethic predates both positivism and the
modern social sciences. It is one variant of a durable
Western tradition with roots in Helenic philosophy that ties
propriety to the exercise of human intellect, that links
'good' with Reason. In Aristotle's Ethics,
'good,' as the summum bonum ethical achievement, was to be
found in diligent exercise of Reason in the parallel pur-
suits of contemplating nature and controlling the self.
Thomas Aquinas' sanctified Reason, identifying it as both
the best and most distinctive of humanity's potentialities,
the one shared with God, who is pure 'good,' pure Reason.
Aquinas rejected "contemplation based on the sciences that
have the lowest things for their objects" in favor of
reflection upon the "most noble intelligible objects," that
is, "divine things" (Aquinas, 1945:60). The Enlightenment
brought Reason back down to earth. Voltaire, Montesquieu
and Diderot, Kant, Hegel, Comte and Toennies were among the
several who celebrated the potential 'good' of progressively
embodying Reason in social institutions and practices. From
the Enlightenment to modern social science the reasoning
road straightened, and narrowed. From the celebrative
search for humanity's's place and possibility in the
universe the social sciences declined toward the
intellectual sclerosis of logical positivism. As this
transformation progressed Reason found its most laudable
form in Scientific Reasoning, the hallmark of which was the
scientific method. Scientific method narrows Reason to
logic and narrows logic to one proposition in logic, the so-
called modus tollens (McCloskey, 1985:13). Fundamental to
this proposition is the notion that all scientific
hypotheses must be falsifyable through some crucial test.
Thus 'good' metamorphsizes into the ability to reject null-
hypotheses: `Good' is achieved where confidence in that
rejection process is maximized. Paradoxically, such con-
fidence is greatest where individuals are, for purposes of
research, most totally dehumanized, treated solely as
objects, denied the categorical respect Kant argued is due
all bearers of Reason (see May, 1980: 363). Positivism, in
Kantian terms, is ethically bankrupt. Husserl expresses the
phenomenologist's view that this is symptomatic of a greater
crisis, a crisis of Western science wherein an extreme form
of technization, an "objectivist rationalism" has displaced
the very idea of Reason as the highest and best form of
human expression (see Gurvitsch, 1956). The positivist
legacy is "a world where there are but facts and in which
man himself appears as nothing but a most complex fact," a
world where "there is no room for the norms and ideas of
Reason" (Gurwitch, 1956:382). Existentialists such as
Sartre rile at this reduction.

"If I am to be an object, a process, a pure phenomenon, then
~L I am a fraud. And if scientific thought thus requires me to
regard myself as a fraud, the science is not a boon to
mankind, but a curse."
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------29----
Date: Tue, 28 Nov 89 09:07:04 -0500
From: lang@PRC.Unisys.COM
Subject: Yeah yeah

I remember reading this story in the preface or introduction
of a book by Barzun. I don't know that the book was *by* Barzun;
it may have been a collection of essays edited by him.

(3) --------------------------------------------------------------19----
Date: Tue, 28 Nov 89 09:47 CST
From: Michael Ossar <MLO@KSUVM>
Subject: novelistic stunts

Re: the message on novels lacking letters. Don't forget Georges Perec's
novel La Disparition--a 300 page novel that contains no "e." I heard that
Perec's publisher read the whole manuscript without noticing this fact.

Michael Ossar
Kansas State University
(4) --------------------------------------------------------------14----
Date: Tue, 28 Nov 89 11:12:00 EST
Subject: yeah, yeah

That "distinctly New York ethnic voice" alluded to by Joel Goldfield
belongs to none other than Sidney Morgenbesser of Columbia, long may he