Commentary on Political Economy

Wednesday 7 November 2018

The Birth of Bourgeois Science and the Rise of Nihilism

La idea de sustituir la tradicional «filosofía de las palabras» por una «filosofía de las obras» ya estaba presente en la mente de Francis Bacon cuando era aún un jovenzuelo: «Cuando todavía estaba en la universidad,
100 Francis Bacon: De la magia a la ciencia
alrededor de los dieciséis años, tuvo por vez primera un sentimiento de rechazo (como Su Señoría se complació en decirme) hacia la filosofía de Aristóteles; sentimiento que no estaba causado por desprecio hacia el autor al que siempre tributó grandes alabanzas, sino por la ineficacia del método; pues se trataba (como Su Señoría solía decir) de una filosofía que sólo era apta para las disputas y controversias pero estéril en las obras provechosas para la vida del hombre...» «Bacon —prosigue el biógrafo William Rawley— se mantuvo fiel a este juicio hasta el día de su muerte» '. (Rossi, Francis Bacon)

The idea of substituting the traditional «philosophy of words» for a "philosophy of works" was already present in the mind of Francis Bacon when he was still a youngster: «When I was still in college,
99 100 Francis Bacon: from magic to science
around sixteen years of age, I had for the first time a feeling of rejection (as the honourable Member was pleased to tell me) towards the philosophy of Aristotle; a feeling that was not caused by contempt for the author whom I always worshipped and praised, but by the inefficiency of the method; For it was (as the honourable Member used to say) a philosophy that was only suitable for disputes and controversies but sterile in the profitable works for the life of Man... " "Bacon," continues the biographer William Rawley —  “remained faithful to this judgement until the day he died. " (Rossi, Francis Bacon)

The dissolution of Cartesian rationalism must be placed in the context of the fallacious juxtaposing of philosophy as the pursuit of knowledge as wisdom and of science as the degradation of philosophy into the instrumental pursuit of knowledge as power and domination. This corruption of philosophy as critique of human praxes such as the one stultifyingly called “science” can be traced in part back to the evident apories and antinomies into which Cartesianism ran and therefore to its inability to bridge the theoretical chasm between the res cogitans (mind) and the res extensa (world). But the source of this inability – the separation (chorismos) of mind and matter – was not purely theoretical: it was above all social in origin. Descartes and his philosophy represented a social order tied to absolutist states founded on the feudal economy and closely aligned with the Catholic church. This social order relied on fundamental tenets that Descartes and most of his contemporaries could not challenge intellectually, let alone politically. The first tenet was the undisputed and indisputable supremacy of religion in all human reality – and therefore the categorical pre-eminence of the spiritual over the mundane. The second, a corollary of the first, was the superiority of intellectual reasoning over manual labour and other practical pursuits – of philosophy and logic over technology and science.

Clearly, these two tenets implied also the overwhelming dominance of logico-deductive “knowledge” over technico-scientific “doing”. And this is precisely what the rise of the capitalist bourgeoisie in Europe overturned. The political essence of capitalism is the subjugation of human living labour through its fictitious “exchange” with objectified dead labour – leading to the easier reproduction of the working population on an expanding scale – leading in turn to overpopulation and the systematic destruction of the ecosphere. The abstract introspective and abstrusely speculative bent of the old “knowledge” or gnosis – epitomized by and encapsulated in Augustine’s “in interiore homine habitat veritas” – sought indeed to preserve the original telos of philosophy as the love of wisdom, as the pursuit of the good life expounded primordially by Socrates in Plato’s dialogues. In this specific context, its political goal for humanity was indeed rational in a substantive sense and capable of leading to a rational human society in balanced and sustainable coexistence with its environment.

In its distorted Judaeo-Christian, Aristotelian and Scholastic versions, however, this “knowledge” could not but vacillate and retreat in the face of the broad social transformations coinciding with the rise of capitalist industry during the Renaissance. This “knowledge” (or the Scholastic gnosis, or sapience, or the Hellenic episteme) confused “truth” with the “certainty” of a priori logico-mathematical deduction and had the nefarious consequence of stifling empirical research and experimentation leading instead to practico-technical stagnation – in line with the interests of absolutist theocracies that relied for their stability on the rigidity of the feudal socio-economic and political hierarchy founded on land ownership. With the rapid expansion of capitalist manufacturing industry and the concomitant cataclysmic social transformations it occasioned – not just the humanist Renaissance, but also the religious Reformation -, there were irrepressible socio-economic forces associated with “doing” that needed to assert their expanding socio-economic power into the more overtly political activities associated with the old “knowledge” – and could so expand only by intruding on the old Scholastic gnosis of the theosophical absolutist feudal order.

It is the very ‘fixity’ of Scholastic truth that seals its ineffectuality, its untruth, its “sterility”, because it denies that human understanding has a history related to “the changing needs” of humanity. The reality of “need” is what confirms the limitations of our knowledge and our need for “doing”, as well as our subjection to the “laws” of nature. And it is against this Scholastic abuse of logico-mathematics, and particularly of the syllogism as the quintessential tool for the advancement of learning – this rhetorical swindle, this Eskamotage based on empty tautologies - that the sharpest bourgeois proponents of the new Scientia inveniendi (Francis Bacon and Thomas Hobbes) rile, basing themselves on the defiantly empirical-inductive practices of the burgeoning capitalist manufacturing industries that will soon transform the face of the Earth.

Cartesian rationalism starts with the imprescindible postulate of the existence of God, from which all other “truths” and “sciences” can be derived logico-deductively through the quasi-divine power of Reason. Thence follows the necessary transcendental link between God and the soul, the soul and the mind – all of which, as spiritual entities, seal the rule of the res cogitans, of the Spirit or Reason, over the res extensa or Nature. The Subject rules over the Object, and therefore logico-deduction rules over empirical induction. The medium of this cosmological order, of this Reason, is language because reasoning is done exclusively through language. But this language of reasoning, Latin as learned Scholastic language used in logic and theology and law, was increasingly divorced from the menial tasks of rising manufacturing industry that owed its expansion in large part now to the experimental “doing” of producers. The preferred, the essential, indeed perhaps the only tool of the old gnosis was the syllogism and the associated science of rhetoric – which is the most certain, irrefutable source of “truth”, seen as “certainty” derived from analytical deduction.

XIV. The syllogism consists of propositions; propositions of words; words are the signs of notions. If, therefore, the notions (which form the basis of the whole) be confused and carelessly abstracted from things, there is no solidity on the superstructure. Our only hope, then, is in the induction. (F. Bacon, Novum Organum.)

Despite Descartes’s own mechanicist turn, even Renaissance thought, to which he undeniably belonged, was still constrained and restrained by the theocratic and theological perception that human knowledge has insight into divine omniscience and certainty. The ability of humans to understand – indeed, to decipher - Reality, places humans at the very centre of the universe next to the Divinity. In this sense, the early theoreticians of the scientific method represent the apogee of Renaissance humanism.   If indeed it is possible for humans “to read” what Galileo and Descartes called “the great book of the universe”, then it is impossible to see how this grand “great book” can ever change, given that presumably it has been written by the Divinity with eternity in mind! After all, the novel theories of science coming out of the Renaissance were founded on the inertia of mechanical motion (Galileo, Newton) and on the conservation of mass and energy (Lavoisier, Mayer). The inescapable corollary to this necessarily deterministic vision of the cosmos is that, quite apart from “understanding” Nature, human beings are thereby unable to transform it by acting upon it. Hence, human beings are entitled to act upon Nature solely in an effort to understand it – and thereby elevate themselves to the passive status of mortal gods in terms of humanizing their environment. Homo homini deus. Human activity does not change the universe, it does not create but only transforms, because this activity is itself purely physical in nature – and so measurable and calculable. Renaissance thought, Descartes included, still sees knowledge purely as the gathering of wisdom, and scientific research as the quest for divine enlightenment. The practical applications to which this knowledge could be put were not the main object of early scientific research and experimentation. Indeed, even as late as Mach, at the threshold of the 20th Century, “pure”, dis-interested, dis-passionate scientific research occupied a different circle of the scientific empyrean from its “applied” engineering counterpart.

At the beginning of the bourgeois era, the mischievous misapprehension takes hold that philosophy and the instrumental activity universally known as “science” are merely different stages of a single process known as the acquisition of knowledge or, in the title of Francis Bacon’s magnum opus, “the advancement of learning”, where knowledge and learning are understood as power and dominion over an indomitable nature extrinsic and alien to humans. In this perspective, science and philosophy have the same homogeneous object: - that is, the pursuit of knowledge as power and domination by human beings over the life-world and, per extenso, over one another.

Gradually, however, an epochal revolution takes place in the theorization of humanity’s place in the life-world and in the approach to scientific research from pure observation of natural occurrences to the artificial reproduction of events. (Cf. Rossi, Birth, Intro.) Science now comes to be seen as the pursuit of universal goals by instrumental means – through induction and manipulation or experimentation where the creation of an artificial environment goes hand in hand with establishing the “validity” or “success” of “scientific experiments and discoveries”! Far from being mere observation, science now becomes an infinite insatiable quest to transform and manipulate the life-world – including the human body!

Yet what we call “science” is not an independent sphere or dimension of human knowledge understood as an innate intellectual and cerebral faculty – the way logico-mathematics or music and art are. Instead, as we seek to illustrate historically here, science is simply “technique” (techne’ as against episteme or indeed poiesis). Nor is science a “technical-neutral” dimension of human action whose “truth” is independent of human social relations and practical goals. In sum, “science” is a non-entity; scientific methodology is a mirage pure and simple.

To be sure, Cartesianism represented already a significant departure from the Scholastic gnosis prevalent in feudal society. As we saw earlier, Descartes had been forced to indicate (to point to) the “methods” adopted by the manufacturing, artisanal crafts as the blueprint for his own philosophic-scientific method, - not, indeed, as an illustration of the theoretical foundation for such a method, but precisely because it became clear to him that no such foundation was exactly definable or even theoretically possible! In seeking to theorize his scientific method by reference to the mechanical tasks of the burgeoning manufacturing industry necessitated by the new bourgeois-capitalist industrial order, Descartes effectively demonstrates that “doing” (practical-technical behavior based on social relations) precedes not just the old “knowledge” of the Hellenic and feudal orders, but also the “knowing” (“science”) of the humanist Renaissance in the sense that all “knowing” is merely the rationalization of social relations of production.

Our method…resembles the procedures in the mechanical crafts, which have no need of methods other than their own, and which supply their own instructions for making their own tools. If, for example, someone wanted to practise one of these crafts…but did not possess any of the tools, he would be forced at first to use a hard stone…as an anvil, to make a rock do as a hammer, to make a pair of tongs out of wood…Thus equipped, he would not immediately attempt to forge swords, helmets, or other iron implements for others to use; rather, he would first of all make hammers, an anvil, tongs and other tools for his own use (Rules).

It is certainly true that early bourgeois natural philosophers like Bacon highlighted the importance of the artisanal and mechanical activities: yet, it is also true that they did so only to stress the need for human learning to change methodology from logico-mathematical speculation (“the philosophy of words”) to technical-scientific re-search and dis-covery (“the philosophy of work”): here the emphasis is still laid heavily on the philosophical aspect of this “search and discovery”, not on its practical industrial applications. The emphasis has certainly shifted from thought (meta-physics) to nature (physics) – but the dignity of the search is rescued in the phrase “natural philosophy” with which early bourgeois science sought to identify itself. Bacon merely promotes the imitation of the methods of industry, of their productivity, but does not equate science with industry!

At the centre of the new science there is a hard core of quasi-Pyrrhonic scepticism (cf. R. Popkin, The History of Scepticism from Erasmus to Spinoza). The abandonment of Latin in favour of national languages, already advocated by Cusanus (cf. E. Cassirer, Individual and Cosmos), to eschew “the idols of the market” – meaning the stifling orthodoxy of theocratic Scholastic and Aristotelian learning endorsed by absolutist monarchies –, is a constant theme in the rising “scientific” literature of the late Renaissance. The danger to guard against here is posed by the crystallization of prejudices in words and languages in the sense that, far from being shaped by experience, words and language filter and shape our experience of reality, con-ditioning (setting the direction and boundaries for) our empirical research or practico-technical activity.

LIX. The idols of the market [idola fori] are the most troublesome of all, namely those which have entwined themselves round the understanding from the associations of words and names. For men imagine that their reason governs words, while, in fact, words react upon the understanding; and this has rendered philosophy and the sciences sophistical and inactive. Words are generally formed in a popular sense, and define things by those broad lines which are most obvious to the vulgar mind; but when a more acute understanding…is anxious to vary those lines, and to adapt them more accurately to nature, words oppose it.

In other words, as early as the sixteenth century, even earlier than Descartes, Bacon understands the intrinsic epistemological nexus between language and “reality”, and the socio-economic interaction of language and social structure in shaping and directing scientific activity. And he understands that this language (Latin) has to change to accommodate changes brought about by empiric-inductive discoveries connected to the rising manufacturing industry. It is both intriguing and revealing that Bacon should refer to this “conventional wisdom” (Marx’s and Nietzsche’s “crystallization”, Lukacs’s “reification”) with the phrase “the idols of the market” – because, in effect, Bacon is actually emphasizing the importance of the inductive-empirical approach of the new manufacturing industries – which, of course, rely on “the market” – against the most obvious opponents of this “market”, that is, the Latin-speaking theocratic and monarchic establishment. It is obvious that already (!) from the dawn of capitalist industry and its “marketplace society” Bacon identifies “society” – even the feudal absolutist society preceding capitalist manufacturing industry (!) - entirely with “the market”, rather than with a “community”, a civil society or a status civilis that are prior to and even independent of and different from “the market mechanism”.

Bacon, then, fails to distinguish between, on one side, the moribund theocratic-absolutist mediaeval order which had the vice of abusing empty terminology or nomenclature and derivative syllogisms, to the detriment of practical empirical-inductive “research” – and on the other side, the “market society” that is the real social carrier of the artisanal crafts that he is championing. Bacon wholly fails to see the strict nexus between capitalist industry and his “new organon” because he mistakenly sees the two activities – manufacturing industry and mechanical experimentation (“scientific research”) - as separate, distinct human activities.

En realidad Bacon se convierte en intérprete de una actitud fundamental de su tiempo y da a conocer algunas de las más vitales exigencias de su época cuando se fija en las «artes mecánicas» (que le parecieron apropiadas para revelar los verdaderos procesos de la
54 Francis Bacon: De la magia a la ciencia
naturaleza) y ve en ellas la capacidad de producir inventos y obras de las que carecía el saber tradicional, o cuando, polemizando contra la esterilidad de la lógica escolástica, proyecta una historia de las artes y las técnicas como presupuesto indispensable para conseguir una reforma del saber y de la propia vida humana. De hecho en la obra de Bacon la protesta contra la «esterilidad» de la cultura tradicional está fundada en la insistencia en el progreso que caracteriza a las artes mecánicas que, a diferencia de la filosofía y las ciencias intelectuales, no son adoradas como perfectísimas estatuas, sino que se muestran siempre tan vitales que pueden pasar de no tener forma a ser cada vez más perfectas en relación a las cambiantes necesidades de la especie humana. Esto es lo que sucedió, según Bacon, en los desarrollos de la artillería, la navegación y la imprenta; piensa que la causa principal de estos progresos es que muchos talentos colaboraron en la consecución de un único fin. En las artes mecánicas no hay lugar para el poder «dictatorial» de un solo individuo sino que sólo cabe un poder «senatorial» que no exige en ningún caso que sus seguidores renuncien a su propia libertad para convertirse en esclavos perpetuos de una sola persona. Así, el tiempo va a favor de las artes y en cambio contribuye a la destrucción de los edificios, inicialmente perfectos, que construyeron los filósofos.

Bacon actually becomes an interpreter of a fundamental attitude of his time and publicizes some of the most vital demands of his time when he fixates on the "Mechanical Arts" (which seemed appropriate to reveal the true processes of
54 Francis Bacon: From Magic to science
nature) and sees in them the ability to produce inventions and works that lacked traditional knowledge, or when, polemicizing against the sterility of scholastic logic, he projects a history of the arts and techniques as an indispensable precondition to achieve a reform of knowledge and human life. In fact, in Bacon's work the protest against the "sterility" of traditional culture is founded on the insistence on the progress that characterizes the mechanical arts that, unlike philosophy and intellectual sciences, are not worshipped as most perfect sculptures, but are always shown to be so vital that they can go from not having shape to being more and more perfect in relation to the changing needs of the human species. This is what happened, according to Bacon, in the developments of artillery, navigation and printing; He believes that the main cause of this progress is that many talents collaborated in achieving a single purpose. In the mechanical arts there is no place for the "dictatorial" power of a single individual but only a "senatorial" power that requires in no case that his followers renounce their own freedom to become perpetual slaves of a single person. Thus, time is in favor of the arts and instead contributes to the destruction of the initially perfect buildings that the philosophers built.

Knowledge-as-power or “doing” and tools

In this precise regard, and at this crucial historical juncture, the all-important epochal transformation in the mode of thinking that Francis Bacon brings to renaissance thought, and then to technical-scientific practice, - the transition from knowledge as the path to wisdom, on one hand, and knowing as the acquisition and accumulation of material power – is given just and timely emphasis by Rossi in his distinctive compendious fashion:

Ya he tenido ocasión de subrayar cómo en Bacon no está acentuada, o simplemente se muestra irrelevante, la adhesión a los aspectos «místicos» de la visión metafísica de la realidad que estaba unida a las investigaciones de la magia o la alquimia. Lo que él acepta de la tradición mágica es la concepción de un saber como poder y de una ciencia que se hace ministro de la naturaleza para prolongar su obra y llevarla a plena realización, que, en fin, llega a hacerse dueña de la realidad y a ponerla, casi por astucia y a través de una continua tortura, al servicio del hombre 78.

I have already had occasion to underline how in Bacon the adherence to the "mystical" aspects of the metaphysical vision of reality that was linked to the investigations of magic or alchemy is either not highlighted or is simply irrelevant. What he accepts from the magic tradition is the conception of knowledge as power and of a science [by means of which man] becomes a minister of nature to prolong its work and take it to full realization, and through which, finally, man seeks to become the owner of reality and put it, almost by cunning and through continual struggle, to the service of man.78

I. Man, as the minister and interpreter of nature, does and understands as much as his observations on the order of nature, either with regard to things or the mind, permit him, and neither knows nor is capable of more.

III. Knowledge and human power are synonymous, since the ignorance of the cause frustrates the effect…

Bacon’s new organon (Novum Organum) is distinct from the old deductive and sterile, barren and effete gnosis or sapience of Antiquity and of feudal times in that it is based (a) on “observations” and (b) on practical tools or instruments as against the sterile syllogism and (c) on the division of labour. Bacon’s “new organon” is not a stagnant and sterile mode of knowledge but much rather an aggressively productive one, one militantly aligned with the socio-political and economic needs of bulging capitalist interests. With Francis Bacon we find the earliest refusal of the static, sterile, unchanging character of Nature (“nature free”), to privilege the action of humans in its transformation (not creation! What he called “nature bound”). An “accidental” effect, an epiphenomenon, a mere “incident” or “co-incidence” is mere contingence – it does not form part of an infinitely repeatable experiment – and therefore it does not confer “power”. Power is the ability to obtain an “effect” with certainty – a “result” (the German word is “Erfolg”, success, esito in Italian). If knowledge is power, then power over nature is the defining moment of what the bourgeois era presents to us as “science”. But science – and therefore all “knowledge” – are defined in this industrial productive light: whatever can be produced indefinitely and infinitely for the purpose of endless capitalist accumulation – endless dominion over “nature”. What these new, unprecedentedly powerful social relations of production were – nothing less than the epochal emergence of capitalist society – is something that neither Descartes nor Francis Bacon could suspect, let alone comprehend, in their time: nevertheless, their pioneering opening to scientific enterprise and their theorization of the scientific method, however fallacious, is central to the understanding of the nascent bourgeois society that has characterized human history since then

LI. The human understanding is, by its own nature, prone to abstraction, and supposes that which is fluctuating to be fixed.

La idea de un hombre carente de naturaleza, que puede darse a sí mismo la naturaleza que desee, es uno de los temas centrales de la filosofía del Renacimiento que podemos encontrar —por citar sólo dos nombres— en Pico y Bovillus. Pero tal idea es sustancialmente ajena al pensamiento de Bacon. El poder del hombre no es en modo alguno infinito: es obsessus legibus naturae y ninguna fuerza humana puede desunir o romper los nexos causales que regulan la realidad natural 66. El deber del hombre no consiste, pues, en celebrar su infinita libertad ni en mantener su esencial identidad con
1. Las artes mecánicas, la magia y la ciencia 69
el todo, sino en darse cuenta de que la potenciación de las dotes limitadas del hombre exige una adecuación a la naturaleza y la voluntad de seguir sus mandatos y proseguir su tarea. Sólo esta voluntad de adaptación puede permitir una real y no ilusoria autoridad sobre la naturaleza. El hombre deviene dueño de la naturaleza sólo en cuanto él mismo es ministro e intérprete de esa naturaleza; por eso es peligrosa y carece de significado la pretensión humana de penetrar con los sentidos y la razón en la esfera de lo divino, por eso la posibilidad de una operatio libera en la naturaleza no quiere decir en absoluto que se puedan realizar todas las operaciones que se quiera sino que las operaciones de transformación que se atienen a las leyes naturales y llegan a ser como una prolongación de la obra de la propia naturaleza jamás encontrarán límites 67. Sólo teniendo en cuenta esta concepción baconiana de la situación del hombre en el mundo podrá quedar claro el concepto baconiano de ciencia y encontrar justificación el interés de Bacon por la objetividad de la vida ética, su pasión por la fisionomía y el arte del éxito personal y sus simpatías hacia el naturalismo de Maquiavelo.

The idea of man as a creature devoid of [separate from] nature, who can give himself the nature he desires, is one of the central themes of the philosophy of the Renaissance that we can find — to cite only two names — in Pico and Bovillus. But such an idea is substantially alien to Bacon's thought. The power of man is in no way infinite: It is obsessus legibus naturae and no human force can break down the causal links that regulate natural reality 66. The duty of man is therefore not to celebrate his infinite freedom or to maintain his essential identity with
1.       The mechanical arts, the magic and the Science 69
 the whole, but to realise that the empowerment of the limited endowments of man demands an adaptation to nature and the will to follow its mandates and to continue its task. Only this willingness to adapt can allow for a real and non-illusory authority over nature. Man becomes the owner of Nature only when he himself is minister and interpreter of that nature; That is why the human pretension to penetrate the senses and reason in the realm of the divine is dangerous and is devoid of meaning; so the possibility of an operatio libera in nature does not mean at all that you can perform all the operations that are sought by man, but that those operations of transformation that comply with natural laws and become like an extension of the work of  nature will never find limits 67. Only taking into account this Baconian conception of the situation of man in the world can be clear the Baconian concept of science and find justification for Bacon's interest in the objectivity of ethical life, his passion for physiognomy and the art of success Staff and their sympathies towards Machiavelli's naturalism.

Hence, the laws of nature, though fixed, are as infinite as there are combinations of atoms in the world – which is why humans will never acquire quasi-divine, definitive knowledge (“knowledge-as-omniscience”) but rather will be confined to incessant knowing (“knowledge-as-power”, unlimited production and accumulation of wealth) – as ministers and interpreters of nature. For Bacon, a fixed definitive, omniscient science (knowledge) such as the one sought by early Renaissance scientists would be no science at all because no further scientific activity would be possible. Science would cease to have a history (Bacon was a keen historian): once we know all the laws of nature that determine it, no further “action” is possible – including scientific research - because the “actor” is strictly aware of all the causes and all the effects of that action ab aeternitate. Put differently, our absolute awareness of the “action” would nullify our awareness of it as action (Latin, ago, agere, actus, to initiate) and so activity would turn into mere mechanism. No life would be possible! (Cf. Heidegger’s erroneous insistence on “thought” instead of “life”, albeit compensated by his ubiquitous concern with Being.)

IV. Man while operating can only apply or withdraw natural bodies; nature internally performs the rest.

For “nature” to be able “internally to supply the rest”, it is obvious that human beings cannot dictate to nature but must be subject to its “laws”. And for humans to be subject to natural laws, our understanding of these laws must be limited and indefinite so that there can never be an end to experimentation. The fallacy of Renaissance science as well as alchemy was to think that it could unlock the workings of nature, that it could find the clavis universalis in keeping with the quasi-divine status of the human spirit. But if, as Bacon contends, the laws of nature are indefinite and the outcomes of scientific discovery infinite as the combinations of atoms, how do we know that there are laws of nature?  A historical science (knowing) can never be differentiated from doing – and thus it becomes mere conjecture, a pro-ject, a hypothesis - not science in the sense of a body of definite and definitive, objective rules or laws of nature. (A similar conclusion was reached earlier by Cusanus with his notion of conjecture, see E. Cassirer, Individual and Cosmos.) If, as Bacon rightly asserts (echoed much later by Max Weber), the laws of nature are infinite, then they become indefinite: they are no longer laws but purely conventional guides to or tools for actions that humans take consciously in directions they choose! (For instance, if we chose to ignore the outcomes of certain experiments [that is, some “laws of nature”], we would then revert to a different conduct or approach to that “nature”. The experimental results are not “objective” or “real” separately from the interests and or activity that led us to conduct those specific experiments – which is why Italians correctly call an experiment “esperienza” - experience]. Plato’s “noble lie”, considered afresh from this perspective, reveals the aleatory, makeshift, and conventional basis of technical-scientific re-search and dis-coveries and in-ventions. All of these terms indicate the “active” deontological, as against ontological, origin of “scientific truth” – which is quite obviously a praxis, a verum-factum.)

At least four elements emerge from Bacon’s postulates: first, Truth, or objective reality or nature, exists. But Truth cannot be determined with finality by human beings; it is an ever-receding unreachable horizon that can be sought but not attained. The aim of learning is to adopt a method that prioritizes discovery as against transmission of knowledge – again, productive, powerful knowledge as against learning as wisdom and its transmission.
Second, human beings are now subject to and not the subject of natural laws or of nature – hence, the anthropocentrism of Renaissance humanism is thoroughly confuted and jettisoned. This marks the beginning of nihilism (Nietzsche,  Heidegger).
Third, human beings can transform natural elements, not laws, to suit their needs through the instruments of method (observation/induction) and tools: but in so doing humans themselves become tools in this acquisition of power, not over nature but over one another!
Fourth, henceforth, human beings do not limit themselves only to observing nature but can also set up artificial experiments to impute and impose “laws of nature” to and on this nature itself!

Science, such as Bacon conceives it, must leave the terrain of uncontrolled individual genius, randomness, arbitrary and abrupt synthesis, and work instead by basing itself on an experimentalism built not ex analogia hominis but ex analogia universi, founded on the knowledge of the instrumental nature of cognitive faculties. In a culture of this kind there is no place for a reason able to achieve, by itself, the rational truth. The truth is presented as an ideal to achieve and Bacon wants a logic that serves as a new scientific method that serves precisely as the instrument of conquest of new truths, not as the means of transmission of truths already achieved. The rejection of the "contentious" knowledge of Scholasticism wanted to express precisely this little interest of Bacon in the truths of transmission. (Rossi, ibid.)

Bacon fails to understand that the very admonishments and objections he moves against the old Scholastic learning, against hermeticism as well as the new science of the Renaissance - that they mistakenly assume that humans are not subject to natural laws due to their spiritual affinity with the Divinity - would be objectively impossible to make if indeed, as he contends, human beings were subject to such “objective laws of nature” - because then it would not be possible for humans to be conscious of such laws! The existence of objective laws of nature makes human awareness of them objectively untenable! It would require the existence of an Archimedean point – a vantage point outside the cosmos – that is impossible ex hypothesi! All “scientific laws” are theories – and the essence of theory is that the theoretician is within, not without, the cosmos that is being theorized. No theory can com-prehend its object. I cannot be aware or think of laws that govern my thinking because the existence of such objective laws would nullify my awareness, my consciousness of them! Thought cannot be subject to any “laws” because it is part of the life-world, whereas the existence of laws of thought or of nature would require the extrapolation or extrusion of thought from the life-world. The very notion of “law of nature” presupposes an ontological hiatus or chasm between the stated “legality” and the object to which the “law” presumably applies! Inductive experiences are not objective laws of nature: they are simply aspects of human experience, of human activity or praxis. Objectively given laws of nature would render the notions of error and knowledge meaningless because we would be unaware of the “laws” or “reality” against which we have supposedly infringed. Knowledge and objectivity are mutually exclusive notions! For human beings to be capable of knowledge, the object of their knowledge cannot be independent of their “knowing” – that is to say, we know what we do, because we decide to do it, not because our knowledge is objective and independent of the knowing activity. All knowing is a doing – there is no “knowledge” independent of the activity of knowing - verum ipsum factum (truth is our very activity [factum, fact, past participle of facere, Latin, to do]).

Knowledge is necessarily an interpretation because we only know our actions, not their ultimate or “objective” cause. All knowledge is conjecture (Cusanus, Hobbes, Popper). To justify our actions because they conform with or to our knowledge is to misconstrue and to instrumentalise this knowledge – not just the state and the use of our knowledge but also the research that led to that knowledge. It is like justifying a shooting on the ground that the firearm works infallibly! It is identifying knowledge with “science” understood as “objective knowledge” and not as “scientific enterprise”! All scientific knowledge – far from being objective – is a “doing”, a technique, an enterprise or project elicited by and reflecting or ex-pressing specific human aims and goals. It is not because of the laws of physics that we fly airplanes or can explode thermonuclear bombs: on the contrary, it is because we have chosen to fly airplanes and to develop nuclear weapons that we rationalize these activities – the scientific enterprise that led to them – by means of “laws of physics” that we then fetishistically attribute to “nature” or “reality”!

Knowing and doing cannot be separated by treating the one as objective and the other as subjective: both knowing and doing are aspects of one indivisible human living activity – knowing is as much a doing as any doing! Their separation – the distorted emphasis on the objectivity of the one and the subjectivity of the other - can only serve pernicious political purposes! – Which is certainly the case under capitalist social relations of production.

Clearly, from this point onward, it is no longer the case, with Protagoras, that “man is the measure of all things”; instead it is the human being that becomes a mere tool, a mere instrument used to measure “nature” or “reality”:

LII. Such are the idols of the tribe, which arise either from the constitution of man’s spirit, or its prejudices, or its limited faculties or restless agitation, or from the interference of the passions, or the incompetence of the senses, or the mode of their impressions.

In the hands of capitalist industry, the human body becomes a mere inert tool, and one that is prone to error and prejudice to boot! Bacon displays everywhere a breathtakingly naïve belief in the utility and progressive nature of all tools and techniques:

II. The unassisted hand and the understanding left to itself possess but little power. Effects are produced by the means of instruments and helps, which the understanding requires no less than the hand; and as instruments either promote or regulate the motions of the hand, so those that are applied to the mind prompt or protect the understanding.

IX. The sole cause and root of almost every defect in the sciences is this, that while we falsely admire and extol the powers of the human mind, we do not search for its real helps [tools].

To be sure, Bacon must have been aware of the difficulties intrinsic to this ingenuous trust in the promise of “science” – which as we have shown is really capitalist industry – and which is why he put so much emphasis on the development and organization of a scientific profession or community of scientists that would be as democratically accountable and “public” as possible:

Creo que para captar la real y profunda distancia que existe entre las posiciones de Bacon y las obras típicas de la magia y la ciencia del Renacimiento es oportuno abandonar el terreno en el que nos hemos movido hasta ahora y referirnos en su lugar a la valoración baconiana de las artes mecánicas y la interpretación de la carrera con la antorcha en honor a Prometeo de la que hemos hablado al inicio de este capítulo. Aquí Bacon introdujo una idea de gran importancia que se situará en el centro de su labor de reforma del saber: en la ciencia sólo se pueden alcanzar sólidos y positivos resultados me-4 8
84 Un intento de «medievalizar» la filosofía de Bacon ha sido realizado por C. Lemmi. Su estudio, a pesar de que sus conclusiones sean poco persuasivas, resulta uno de los más útiles sobre las fuentes del pensamiento de Bacon.
1. Las artes mecánicas, la magia y la ciencia 77
diante una cadena de investigadores y un trabajo de colaboración entre los científicos. Los métodos y operaciones de las artes mecánicas, su carácter de progreso e intersubjetividad, proporcionan el modelo para la nueva cultura 85. La ciencia, tal como Bacon la concibe, debe abandonar el terreno de la incontrolada genialidad individual, el azar, lo arbitrario y las síntesis precipitadas y trabajar en cambio basándose en un experi- mentalismo construido no ex analogía hominis sino ex analogía universi, fundado en el conocimiento de la naturaleza instrumental de las facultades cognoscitivas. En una cultura de este tipo no hay lugar para una razón capaz de alcanzar, por sí sola, la verdad racional. La verdad se presenta como un ideal a alcanzar y la lógica baconiana quiere ser precisamente el instrumento de conquista de nuevas verdades, no el medio de transmisióm de verdades ya conseguidas. El rechazo del saber «contencioso» de la escolástica quería expresar justamente este escaso interés de Bacon por las verdades de transmisión. Pero para Bacon la conquista de verdades no puede ser obra de uno solo, sino de una colectividad de científicos organizada para lograr ese fin. A propósito de esto se ha dicho, con razón, que muchas de las malas interpretaciones del pensamiento de Bacon se habrían evitado si se hubiese tenido en cuenta la importancia que él concede al factor social, tanto en el momento de la investigación como en lo referido al objeto del conocimiento 86 *. Desde este punto de vista nos proponemos aquí aludir al proyecto baconiano de una nueva organización del saber científico. Con una coherencia extrema y a lo largo de toda su vida, Bacon luchó en favor de una colectividad organizada de científicos financiada por el Estado u otros entes de utilidad pública e intentó crear una especie de internacional de la ciencia.

Yet for Bacon the conquest of truths cannot be the work of a single person, but rather that of a collective of scientists organized to achieve that end. For this reason it has been rightly stated that many of the bad interpretations of Bacon's thought would have been avoided if they had taken into account the importance that he attaches to the social factor, both at the time of the investigation and in the reference to the object of knowledge .86 From this point of view we propose here to allude to the Baconian project of a new organization of scientific knowledge. With extreme coherence and throughout his life, Bacon fought for an organized collectivity of scientists financed by the State or other entities of public utility and tried to create a kind of international science. (Rossi, ibid.)

I believe that to capture the real and profound distance that exists between the positions of Bacon and the typical works of the magic and the science of the Renaissance it is opportune to leave the ground on which we have moved so far and to refer in its place to the valuation Bacon makes of the mechanical arts and the interpretation of the race with the torch in honor of Prometheus we talked about at the beginning of this chapter. Here Bacon introduced an idea of great importance that will be placed at the center of his work of reform of learning: in the science can only be achieved solid and positive results through
1.       The mechanical arts, magic and Science 77
a chain of researchers and of collaborative work among scientists. The methods and operations of the mechanical arts, their character of progress and intersubjectivity, provide the model for the new culture 85. (Rossi, ibid.)

92 Francis Bacon: De la magia a la ciencia
En éste, y sólo en este terreno, nacen las reservas, las críticas y las oposiciones baconianas a la tradición mágico-alquímica. Se atacaba aquí la actitud misma que estaba indisolublemente unida a estas investigaciones y constituía su base, es decir, la pretensión de transformar la técnica —que para Bacon es capaz de hermanar a los hombres y estar al servicio de todo el género humano— en un arte que se presenta como fruto de cualidades especiales y poderes extraordinarios y que se convierte por tanto en el intento de un individuo de dominar a todos los demás. La «purificación» de la magia, tema del que habla Bacon, tiene precisamente este significado: los fines de las tres artes (magia, alquimia y astrología) no son innobles, sino que los medios que esas tres artes utilizan están llenos de errores y vanidad "4. Por un lado el hombre debe continuar el proyecto —propio de la magia— de hacerse dueño de la naturaleza y transformarla desde los fundamentos pero, por otro, debe combatir el ideal humano que la magia ha asociado a ese intento, debe rechazar toda postura que pretenda valorar la «iluminación» de un individuo sustituyéndola por el esfuerzo organizado de todo el género humano y que tienda a poner la ciencia al servicio de un solo hombre en lugar de ponerla al servicio de todo el género humano.

92 Francis Bacon: From the Magic to science
On this ground, and only on this ground, originate the Baconian reserves, criticisms and opposition to the magic-alchemical tradition. The same attitude that was inextricably linked to these investigations was attacked here and constituted its base, that is to say, the pretension to transform the technique [technologies] that for Bacon is capable of uniting men and of being at the service of the whole human race in an art that is peddled as the fruit of special qualities and extraordinary powers and becomes therefore an individual's attempt to dominate all others. The "purification" of magic, subject of which Bacon speaks, has precisely this meaning: the ends of the three arts (magic, alchemy and astrology) are not ignoble, but the means that those three arts use are full of mistakes and vanity "4. On the one hand man must continue the project proper of magic of becoming the owner of nature and of transforming it from its foundations but, on the other hand, must fight the human ideal that magic has associated with that attempt, must reject any posture that seeks to value the "enlightenment" of an individual by negating the organized effort of the whole human race and which tends to put science at the service of a single man rather than putting it at the service of the whole human race.

Yet, the overriding shift away from introspection and stability/transmission/sterility to experimentation and transformation/manufacture means that negative practical effects are possible in terms of (a) errors and (b) evil. The outreach of experimentation – change for its own sake or for a given purpose – means that the human body is subject to interference conjointly, indistinguishably from interference/analysis/intrusion on Nature! Once the absolute certainty of Truth (truth misconstrued as certainty), the infallibility of reason and the intellect are abandoned – due to “the will” for Descartes – a new danger emerges in that the “truth” of empiric-inductive discovery, erected initially against the logico-deductive Cartesian method, is turned against the human body itself because there is no guarantee that “the search for Truth” (extrinsic scientific methodology) will empower humans in beneficial ways!

Now it is “the idols of the market” – capitalist manufacturing industry - that begin to dominate Truth, or the Will to Truth, as a scientific straitjacket to which the human body itself has to adjust! The supremacy of the scientific method – a thinly-veiled disguise for the burgeoning interests of industrial capitalism - is enthroned. The reality/appearance, truth/error dichotomy and, more ominously, error/evil association prevalent in the mediaeval theocratic order re-surfaces in new guise (cf. Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals. Compare, in this regard, the title of Ernst Mach’s seminal work, Irrtum und Erkenntnis – where the contrast between knowledge and error becomes crucial to the definition of science. Science is no longer seen as an activity but as knowledge almost in a refreshed Scholastic and neo-Platonic sense.) Error is equated not just with mistakenness but ultimately with falsehood and evil in the sense of willful obfuscation of the Truth! To fall into error becomes equivalent to the biblical Fall from grace. (On all this, and read in this light, the insuperable guide must be Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil where science is un-masked as “will to truth” and then “will to power”. Heidegger’s later disquisitions on the evils of Technik – faithfully reprised by nobler neo-Marxist minds such as Herbert Marcuse and, generally, the Frankfurt School – seem almost trivial in comparison.)

What Bacon believed to be a methodical empowerment of humanity over nature was shortly to degenerate into the subjection of humanity to an irrational and destructive social mode of production that has pushed it together with the ecosphere to the edge of destruction. We shall see how this great transformation took place in our study of Thomas Hobbes’s theories of science and of society.

No comments:

Post a Comment