Front Page Titles (by Subject) IV: Social Science Methodology & Individual Freedom - Literature of Liberty, Spring 1982, vol. 5, No. 1
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IV: Social Science Methodology & Individual Freedom - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Spring 1982, vol. 5, No. 1 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Social Science Methodology & Individual Freedom
Methodological questions—such as debates over methodological holism vs. methodological individualism, the distorting influence of ideology, the role of error in scientific progress, the importance of quantification as a measure of truth, and the proper procedures to use in understanding human (as opposed to inorganic) phenomena—are of vital importance in social science and philosophy. These seemingly abstruse and remote questions of method and conceptualization powerfully affect our judgments on the merits of human freedom, individualism, and our moral norms. Our first three summaries show the human, social, and ethical relevance of methodological questions for political science. Next, we see an equally powerful relevance of these questions for the fields of psychology, social theorizing, and (in Foucault's study) interdisciplinary grand theorizing.
Montesquieu: Holism & Natural Law
“Montesquieu's Methodology: Holism, Individualism, and Morality.” The Historian 44 (November 1981): 36–50.
In his methodological holism, Montesquieu (1689–1755) avoided methodo-logical individualism: he did not believe that statements about social phenomena can be reduced to statements about individuals without remainder. On the contrary, he held that there are irreducible societal facts (such as the role of social institutions) which cannot be explained simply by reference to persons. In this he may be deemed a forerunner of positivist sociology fully meriting the praise of Comte and Durkheim. In espousing methodological holism, Montesquieu parted company with most representatives of the natural law school (which, during the 17th and 18th centuries generally espoused methodological and ontological individualism in its belief that all statements about social phenomena could be reduced ultimately to statements about individuals, who were also judged morally and metaphysically prior to the community).
Montesquieu's methodological holism does not mean that he was an organicist: he did not hold that statements about individuals could be totally reduced to statements about social structures. Rather, he held that there is an irreducible human nature manifested in every individual. In addition, he gave moral force to what he took to be the principles of human nature and used these values, these “natural laws” (in both the descriptive and the normative senses of that term), as fundamental criteria for evaluating institutions and political regimes. In this sense, he may be considered a follower of the natural law school of the 17th and 18th centuries.
In brief, without inconsistency, Montesquieu was a methodological holist, but he was also an exponent of natural law doctrines. He did not seek to reduce the institutional to the individual or the individual to the institutional.
By rejecting methodological individualism, Montesquieu also rejected the notion of a social contract which imagined that individuals consciously agreed upon social and political obligations. Similarly, he did not seek to explain the national character of a people in terms of the psychology of individual behavior. He looked rather to institutional factors: religion, laws, maxims of government, precedents, morals, and manners. Society for him was the interaction of institutional not individual components.
Although he functionally and positivistically evalutated social structures by how well they harmonized with a certain social order, Montesquieu never abandoned moral judgments. In a natural law vein, he weighed social institutions by their conformity to human nature. By combining methodological holism and natural law he was an exponent of the “science of freedom” in such works as The Spirit of the Laws (1748).
From Political Philosophy to Sociology
“From Political Philosophy to Social Theory.” Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences 17 (April 1981): 153–173.
Attempts to analyze continuities in the rise of modern social theory confront a significant irony of modern thought. The inability to understand the relevance of, say, Thomas Hobbes or Auguste Comte for contemporary theory reflects the positivist mainstream of sociology, which regards early theories as outdated ventures, devoid of scientific interest. Prof. Zaret attempts to uncover the historical and philosophical roots of modern theory. His paper discusses substantive continuities in the early development of modern theory, stressing the transition from political philosophy in early modern Europe to classical sociology in the nineteenth century.
These continuities may be found in what Zaret calls a conceptual “deep-structure” of “bourgeois” theory—a sharp distinction between public and private life and the assumption that universal structures of domination originating in the public sector are the precondition for individual freedom.
Hobbes' attempt to create a science of politics signals the beginning of modern theory. Contrary to traditional political doctrine, Hobbesian thought rigorously separates political and ethical issues. Hobbes conceived absolute sovereignty as a means, not of spreading virtue among its subjects, but of maintaining order among an anarchy of private selfish interests. Incipient political philosophy went even farther. It attributed to the state the institution of private property, the distinction of ranks, and prevailing manners. Thus, according to Diderot and Rousseau: “Les moeurs sont partout des conséquences de la législation et du gouvernement.” The exercise of individual freedom was thus based on the consensual submission of a populus liber (free people) to a universal authority. Sovereignty also preserved the essential equality of humanity (albeit with inequalities of wealth, power, and status), since all men were under the sway of the same authority.
The late eighteenth century witnessed bourgeois political philosophy dissolve under the impact of economic materialism. In physiocratic and utilitarian thought, civil society is still understood to emerge from a fortuitous exchange of right and obligation, but this exchange is given a material substratum. The division of labor and competition combine to integrate self-interest with the common good. Moreover, this reconciliation occurs spontaneously without any conscious deliberation. Wherever sovereign authority seeks to secure private property, the mutual welfare of the individual and society is assured.
Nineteenth-century classical sociology as it arose in France broke with political philosophy by explicitly rejecting political explanations of order and stability. Turning from political authority, classical sociology relied on European culture, conceived as a unitary mentalité, to discover immanent sources of order in society. Morality embedded in custom and religion constitutes society. Morality in society is indispensable because of the inner subjection to public authority it commands from adherents. Calls for moral reform in the writings of such classical sociologists as Saint Simon and Comte reflect the belief that a common morality shared by both the working classes and the leaders of society would provide the only basis for ending class conflict rooted in egoism and self-interest. Spencer and Durkheim, later exponents of this tradition, expressed a similarly depoliticized, morally based view of society.
Marxian theory, asserts Professor Zaret, cannot be conflated with classical sociology. Marx rejected the bourgeois public/private distinction as misleading, because it masked the domination of life in capitalist society by purely private, material interests following the dissolution of feudalism. Capitalist social relations appear as contractual relations. Their content seems to be free and voluntary agreement, while their form assumes equality of the contractors. However, beneath the surface appearance of equality lies a system based on the appropriation of alien labor without real exchange. This exploitative situation led to Marx's insistence that private interests are legitimate public issues and to his call for a revival of the atrophied political sense of capitalist society. Thus, in its theoretical justification of politics as a practical endeavor concerned with the ultimate purposes of social life, Marxism signals a return to the classical conception of politics' centrality—a conception abandoned during the formative period of modern social theory.
Chicago Social Science & Quantification
“Quantification and Chicago Social Science in the 1920s: A Neglected Tradition.” Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences 17 (July 1981): 287–297.
When you cannot measure, your knowledge is meager and unsatisfactory”—Lord Kelvin. A visitor to the University of Chicago may find this inscription carved below the bay window of the school's Social Science Research Building, which was erected in 1929. The words emphasize most concretely the centrality of quantitative methods in Chicago social science during the 1920s and early 1930s. Yet the psychology, sociology, and political science departments at Chicago during that period have long been identified with the “soft” case-study approach to research, which deemphasized quantification in favor of collecting personal documents and life histories.
Prof. Bulmer sets about rectifying this misapprehension. His article chronicles the important developments in quantitative methods which occurred in Chicago's social science departments during the twenties. In his account, he gives special emphasis to the contributions of Ernest Burgess, William F. Ogburn, L.L. Thurstone, and Samuel Stouffer. He also examines the contribution made by the institutionalization of social research in the Local Community Research Committee. Significant developments in the use of census tract data, attitude measurement, and partial correlation analysis are treated as well.
After detailing the extensive Chicago tradition of statistically oriented research, Bulmer asks how it is possible that the tradition has been relatively ignored in histories of the social sciences. He believes that several reasons may explain this neglect. First of all, statistical developments occurred in several departments at the same time—sociology, political science, psychology, and economics. With its crisscross evolution, progress in statistically oriented research poses real problems to the historian who wishes to describe its course over the years.
Secondly, as Robert Alun Jones and Sidney Kronus have demonstrated, interest in quantitative methods and interest in the history of sociology seem to be negatively correlated. They argue that the more committed a social scientist is to the “scientism” of his discipline, the more likely he is to adopt an ahistorical approach to the subject.
Furthermore, the traditions of quantitative research tend to regard progress as more cumulative, more “scientific,” than in the case of qualititative research or theory. There is less desire to examine the roots of the quantitative tradition and much less preoccupation in teaching statistical research with material that covers the origin of particular approaches and the history of particular techniques. Historical developments in quantitative research have thus tended to be forgotten.
A more insidious tendency is what Bulmer calls the Inverse Whig interpretation, which sees sharp discontinuity and error between the distant past and the more enlightened (and emancipated) present. With such a point of view, it proves difficult to acquire the perspective needed to see that continuities are considerably greater than oversimplified contrasts between “Chicago” and “Columbia” schools would suggest.
Human Freedom & Psychology
“Human Freedom and the Science of Psychology.” The Journal of Mind and Behavior No. 2 (1980):271–289.
Starting with Paul Tillich's observation that man is both free and determined, the author discusses the role of freedom and determinateness in the discipline of psychology. B. F. Skinner has claimed that determinism is a necessary viewpoint to adopt if one is do psychological science. Carl Rogers is seen as in agreement with this position, although he gives more value to the importance of the subjective experience of freedom as a basis for psychological well-being than does Skinner. For Rollo May, human freedom is real, not illusory, and constitutes the capacity for becoming aware of and working with, not against, one's determinateness.
The consequences of adopting a freedom-denying view of science are said to include (a) alienating persons believing in freedom from the scientific view, (b) alienating those with a scientific perspective from freedom, (c) arbitrarily terminating the search for more adequate alternatives to current thinking on the question, and (d) creating a one-sided science cut off from the study of freedom-affirming aspects of human living.
What would be the scientific basis for a completely deterministic perspective for psychology? This would include the successful use of a methodology in which changes in dependent (behavioral) variables can be shown to result from the manipulation of independent (biogenetic or socio-environmental) variables. There exists a very wide array of established regularities in human behavior and more are continually being discovered.
The scientific basis for human freedom appears in the very need for freedom in the process of doing the work of science. Freedom is seen as fundamental to questioning, experimenting, and being inventive or creative. Independent-dependent variable relationships “collected in sets of regression or other computing forms cannot ever be expected to completely mirror or totally represent the structures and processes of human being.”
There is no necessary contradiction between freedom and determinateness. Each can be viewed as an abstraction which we have imposed upon ourselves and which we can reintegrate into a more holistic perspective of human functioning. In this way, more questions can be studied with a psychological science and with a wider array of methodologies. “In science, as in many other human endeavors, determinate order and human freedom appear to be equally necessary, synergistic contributions to the enterprise.”
How Self-Efficacy Develops
“Self-Referent Thought: A Developmental Analysis of Self-Efficacy.” Gestalt Theory 2(1980): 147–174.
Self-efficacy involves judgments persons make as to how well they can organize and perform actions necessary for handling prospective situations that may contain many ambiguous, unpredictable and often stressful elements. These self-perceptions of efficacy influence personal choices of activities and environmental settings. People do what they think they can succeed in and avoid what they anticipate may lead to failure. They expend greater effort and persist longer when success is foreseen. Those with a strong sense of efficacy deploy their skills well to meet the demands of a situation and are spurred by any obstacles to greater effort.
Misjudgments of self-efficacy in either direction are likely to have adverse consequences. Too high an assessment of efficacy is likely to result in failure. Too low a self-assessment will prevent an individual from engaging in activities which they are fully capable of performing. “The accurate appraisal of one's own capabilities is highly advantageous and often essential for effective functioning.”
Self-knowledge about efficacy is gained through either personal or socially mediated experiences. There are four principal sources of information: (a) personal performance accomplishments, i.e., successes and failures, (b) vicarious experiences obtained through observing the successes and failures of others, (c) information provided about our abilities by others through verbal persuasion and similar types of social influence, and (d) states of personal physiological arousal from which people partly judge their capabilities and vulnerabilities. Each of these sources contributes in varying degrees to accurate and inaccurate judgments of self-efficacy.
The developmental beginnings of perceived personal efficacy occur in infants' experiences that certain actions produce certain repeatable and predictable environmental effects. Children quickly learn how to influence the actions of those around them. When the environmental events, including parental behaviors, are inconsistent and therefore unpredictable, there develops an impaired ability to perceive causal agency and a depressed responsiveness to later situations when personal action could produce more efficacious results. During each stage of a person's life-span, the experience of self-efficacy takes characteristic forms.
The theory of self-efficacy has important implications for parenting and for education. For example, with respect to the use of rewards, incentives contingent on improved performance can contribute to performance gains, growth of interest in the rewarded activity, and increased experiences of self-efficacy. In contrast, rewards given for undertaking an activity irrespective of the quality of performance result in a decrease in interest in the task and do not contribute to gains in self-efficacy.
The History of Motivation
“The History of the Concept of Motivation.” Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences 17 (January 1981): 48–53.
Thirty years ago, a prime article of faith for psychological science was that all behavior is motivated. Today, discussions concerning the exact meaning of that statement have led some psychologists to wonder whether behavior may be partly or even entirely unmotivated. To Prof. Cofer, this pendulum movement characterizes the general history of the concept of motivation. His article traces the development of this concept from Hobbes to current cognitive formulations.
In his system, Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) proposed that we choose what will give us pleasure and avoid what will give us pain. This mechanism for explaining approach and avoidance was rooted in incipient movements that he called “endeavors,” what we would call associations. Motivation, in the form of the hedonic or pleasure principle, thus, entered early into a deterministic account of conduct, and it together with association has remained, in some form, a critical feature of theories of motivation and learning.
The hedonic principle was used to deal with mental habits. Drive concepts, on the other hand, had their origins in biology, rather than in philosophy. They were rooted in the notion of the reflex and the related idea of instincts. Originating in Descartes' Traité de l'Homme (1662), the notion of the reflex response placed the organism under external stimulus control. The idea that all behavior is elicited by external stimulation is a concept central to the tropism, as described by Jacques Loeb. Reflex and tropistic notions underlie John B. Watson's significant statement of the goals of psychology: given a response to know its stimulus; given a stimulus to know its response.
Accounts of behavior in terms of reflexes and tropisms (Descartes, Jacques Loeb, John B. Watson) ran into difficulties of two kinds. First of all, neither animals nor people respond invariably to repetitions of the same stimulus in the same way. In addition to variability, the problem of spontaneity also arose. People and animals move about even when there seem to be no reflexive coordinations involved.
These difficulties gave rise to two separate theories to account for them: Robert Woodworth's concepts of consummatory vs. preparatory drive behavior and Sigmund Freud's theories concerning the accumulation and discharge of psychic energy. Since they form part of the associationistic and hedonic tradition, both schemas reflect an essentially passive view of the human being.
Nonetheless, in the last two decades, much of psychology seems to be turning toward a greater emphasis on cognitive processes and a more active view of human motivation. Cognitive theory has reintroduced consciousness into psychological discussion, as well as the notion of an active agent who directs his activities, devises strategies to carry them out, and who, in general, thinks. In introducing the idea of plans, Miller, Galanter, and Pribram have pointed to value and evaluation as essential to deciding which plan to execute or the choice to continue or to discontinue executing a plan.
Cognitive theory tends to imply rationality and its motivational terms have a rather “cool” connotation. Prof. Cofer wonders where, in cognitive theory, are the strong urges and the “hot” emotions that have been central to thinking about motivation for so long. Cofer does not know the answer to his question but believes it must be answered if the pendulum cycle between rationality and irrationality in motivation theory is to be stopped. Freud's great achievement lies in his uncovering of the irrational side of the human organism. Cofer suggests that the cognitive theorist may once again be faced with the question, “why does the rational human ever behave irrationally?”
Individualism & Interdependence
“Individualism and Interdependence.” American Psychologist 36(1981): 762–783.
The value system of individualism which underlies many contemporary psychological theories has been criticized on the grounds that it is antithetical to social interdependence and cooperation. Critics have developed a philosophical analysis that links individualism to unscrupulous competition, atomistic self-containment, and alienation. The author argues that, on the contrary, the principles espoused by the proponents of individualism in psychology are derived from a philosophical orientation defined by eudaimonism (self-realization), freedom of choice, personal responsibility, and ethical universality involving respect for the integrity of others.
In psychology, individualistic concepts are embodied in the work of many major personality theorists: (a) Erik Erikson—a sense of personal identity including the goals, values, and beliefs to which one has made an unequivocal commitment, (b) Abraham Maslow—self-actualization involving efforts directed toward the fulfillment of the person's greatest potentialities, (c) Julian Rotter—an internal “locus of control,” the perception that important outcomes in one's life are a function of personal action rather than the result of fate, chance, or the activities of powerful others, (d) Nathaniel Branden—self-esteem including feelings of personal efficacy stemming from one's abilities and personal worth associated with the holding of values worthy of respect, and (e) Lawrence Kohlberg—principled (postconventional) moral reasoning, the judgment of moral action in terms of universalizable principles of justice.
Where the critics of individualism make a dialectical dichotomy between individual and social interests, its proponents offer the potential for transcending this dichotomy through the recognition that the ethical pursuit of self-interest can simultaneously provide benefits to others. Waterman hypothesized that the holding of individualistic values, as shown by the presence of the five psychological qualities listed above, would facilitate, not inhibit, helping, cooperation, and other prosocial behaviors. A review of the research literature provides extensive evidence for the anticipated benefits of individualistic functioning. The author cites additional evidence that if constraints on freedom are imposed in an attempt to produce cooperation or helping, the resulting feelings of psychological “reactance” will actually reduce the probability of prosocial behavior.
In light of this research, the author proposes a synergistic social ideal which, in line with individualistic values, entails the compatible incorporation of individual and social interests. Efforts to promote social interdependence and cooperation within this context may appropriately include such techniques as education, persuasion, and negotiation. However, the use of political force to compel cooperation represents the abandonment of the synergistic ideal.
Institutionalism vs. Radical Individualism
“'Radical Individualism' vs. Institutionalism: Philosophical Dualisms as Apologetic Constructs Based on Obsolete Psychological Preconceptions.” American Journal of Economics and Sociology 40 (July 1981): 287–297.
In his book Thorstein Veblen and the Institutionalists, David Seckler adopts a whole range of classical philosophical dualisms which find their expression in such methodological prescriptions as Ludwig von Mises' “insurmountable methodological dualism.” According to Prof. Bush, this philosophical orientation is the least likely to help him come to grips with the question of what Veblen and the institutionalists “really mean.”
According to the school of “radical individualism,” which Seckler supports, we are required to adopt a methodology in the human sciences quite different from that employed in the natural sciences where phenomena under study can be comprehended only in terms of “deterministic” hypotheses. The specific method that must be used in the social sciences, therefore, is one upon which Veblen heaped so much scorn, the method of “sufficient reason.”
For Seckler, this position allows one to take a clear and unambiguous stand in favor of free will and against determinism. In his view, “humanists” opt for free will, whereas behaviorists commit the fallacy of “scientism,” that is, superimposing the methods of the natural sciences in the study of human nature and processes. Seckler is quite correct in stating that Veblen rejected both “historicism” and “behaviorism” in his search for an appropriate methodology to understand the social processes of “cumulative causation.” It is also true, Prof. Bush asserts, that Veblen rejected what Seckler calls humanism.
In one very revealing passage in his book, Prof. Seckler talks about institutional changes taking place without any change in the “fundamental values” of society. Such a remark reveals how far he has moved from both Veblen and contemporary institutionalists in his conception of institutions and the meaning of institutional change. According to both Veblen and Ayres, institutional change means a change in “habits of thought” and, at the core of these habits are the values by which behavior is correlated within the institutional context. Thus, institutional change is a change in the value structure of the community.
For the institutionalist, rational choice does exist. However, the kind of rational choice the institutionalist finds extant in human behavior is publicly knowable. It is not confined to the private, internal world of the rankings of tastes and preferences. Values have social significance only to the extent that they function as standards of judgment which help to correlate behavior. This conception of the human value is quite different from the idea propounded by radical individualism. The institutionalist is able to formulate hypotheses about social behavior which are not cast in terms of postulates on the mapping of individual preference rankings. This is precisely because institutionalists find human values in the public realm of observable human action, leaving the “internal” or private world of individual preference rankings to fields other than science.
Freedom & Destiny
Freedom and Destiny. New York: W.W. Norton, 1981
Freedom, for May, means the possibility of development—either enhancing one's life or withdrawing from life and stultifying one's growth. Personal freedom entails our ability to be aware of the different possibilities for action, even when it is as yet unclear how one must act. Through personal choice and individual initiative freedom affords us the opportunity for self-realization. Freedom is seen as essential to human dignity and as the foundation of values, including honesty, love, and courage.
May distinguishes between the freedom of doing and the freedom of being. Freedom of doing is the capacity to make choices: to pause in the face of alternatives and throw one's weight toward one of the rival possibilities. Everyone experiences such freedom many times a day. Freedom of being, on the other hand, occurs at a deeper level. It means the ability to reflect, to ponder, to choose one's attitude toward the context in which one acts. Freedom of being precedes freedom of doing.
May places freedom and destiny in paradoxical opposition. As with good and evil, freedom comes alive only when we view it in the context of destiny. Likewise, destiny is significant only when in opposition to freedom. May defines destiny as “the pattern of limits and talents that constitute the ‘given’ in life.” Destiny includes (a) cosmic level events, such as birth and death, (b) events on the genetic level, such as our innate capabilities and limitations, (c) events on the cultural level, such as values of the society into which we are born and raised, and (d) events on the circumstantial or historical level, such as wars or the swings of economic cycles.
When we confront our destiny we may respond in a wide variety of ways. We may try to ignore it. We may be aware of and acknowledge it. We may rebel against it. We may cooperate with it. How we respond to our destiny is a manifestation of our freedom.
May describes many of the mistaken paths to freedom. These include narcissism, hedonism, materialism, and casual sexuality devoid of intimacy. Each of these is an attempt to escape from the anxiety caused by freedom. However, anxiety is an essential aspect of freedom and, therefore, a necessary part of worthwhile living.
Error: The History of Life & Knowledge
“Georges Canguilhem: Philosopher of Error.” I & C (Ideology and Consciousness) No. 7 (Autumn 1980): 51–62.
Georges Canguilhem's impact on the French intellectual milieu has been profound, influencing a wide variety of scholars, notably Althusser, Castel, and Lacan. His importance is best appreciated when we realize that in France, it was Canguilhem's discipline of the history of science that transmitted (with Husserl's phenomenological contribution) the crucially relevant question of the Enlightenment: the problematic status, history, and role of knowledge and reason. At the close of our coercive and colonial era, the Enlightenment question of the validity of rationality may be reformulated: was not the history of “reason” the history of economic and political hegemony? “Reason as despotic enlightenment” must now “liberate itself from itself” if it hopes to transcend its historical dogmatism and despotism. Canguilhem's writings, from his Essai sur le Normal et le Pathologique (1943) through La Connaissance de la Vie (2nd ed., 1965) to Idéologie et Rationalité (1977), have reshaped the history of science, gone beyond Thomas Kuhn in clarifying the nature of progress in knowledge, and illuminated the significance of error in promoting biological life and epistemological truth.
How has Canguilhem reshaped the history of science? (1) First, he has shown how advances in knowledge have come about through discontinuities or successive recastings, reformulations, reconceptualizations. Error is not eliminated by the slow emergence of ‘truth’ but by a sudden new way of ‘saying the true’.
(2) Next, in his view, the history of discontinuities is not given once and for all, but is itself ‘impermanent’ and discontinuous. Science makes and remakes itself and its own history at each instant in a spontaneous manner. The “epistemological point of view” makes visible across diverse episodes of a scientific knowledge “a latent well-ordered advance” based on a shifting ‘norm.’ This norm “is not to be identified with a theoretical structure or contemporary ‘paradigm’, because the scientific truth of today is itself only an episode ... of this normative process. It is not on the basis of ‘normal science’, in T.S. Kuhn's sense, that we can return to the past and validly trace its history: it is by retracing a ‘normatised’ process in which contemporary knowledge is only a moment whose future cannot be predicted except by prophecy.
(3) Thirdly, Canguilhem has reinserted the sciences of life in this historico-epistemological perspective. A science of the living has to take as an essential part of itself the possibility of disease, death, anomaly, and “error” in general. This is because living entails procedures of self-regulation and self-correction. The problem of disease or ‘error’ is irreducible and essential for any science of life.
(4) Lastly, he has pointed out that the role of a properly biological concept is to single out within the phenomena of ‘life’ those which permit a non-reductive analysis of the processes proper to a living being. Chemical and physical mechanisms come into play only after such a non-reductive identification.
The sciences of life, thus, demand a certain way of doing their history. They also pose the philosophical question of knowledge and its relationship to error. What processes bring about living beings that can know, and know life itself? For man, knowing through concepts is a mobile, self-correcting way of gathering information in order to live. To form concepts is thus a natural way of living, provided we allow for and tolerate error. “Ultimately, life is that which is capable of error.” Through ‘mutation’ or hereditary ‘error’ human life was first created, which then sustains itself biologically and intellectually by a process of ‘erring.’ Within this perspective, truth is our ‘most recent error.’ If the history of science is a discontinuous series of ‘corrections,’ or “a new distribution of the true and the false which never finally and forever frees the truth,” it is because ‘error’ is an essential dimension of life for the human species and for human knowing.
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[44.]Memoir, Letters, and Remains, p. 102.