[VIEWPOINT]There’s no such thing as ‘Western science’

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[VIEWPOINT]There’s no such thing as ‘Western science’

We laugh at the Soviets for dismissing Einstein’s theory of relativity as a “bourgeois theory.” We ridicule the Nazis for dismissing it as “Jewish science.” For we know that “E=mc2” has nothing to do with class or culture, race or religion. It has everything to do with science.
Science is value neutral. Thus, we recognize the contradiction of “Jewish science” or “bourgeois theory.” “Jewish” and “bourgeois” are terms of cultural value. But “science” and “theory” are value neutral. Einstein was a Jew. He was bourgeois. But we commit the ad hominem logical fallacy when we consider these personal characteristics as relevant to the truth-value of his scientific theories. We become laughing-stocks, like Stalin and Hitler.
So what is this I keep hearing about Western science? Why don’t we recognize the contradiction therein? Especially since Western cultural values have so often contradicted the neutrality of the scientific method.
Look at glorious Athens, which sentenced Socrates to death because his scientific method of disciplined inquiry supposedly corrupted the youth. Look at the Roman Catholic Church, which forced Galileo to recant the heliocentric theory, which supposedly blasphemed the centrality of man as God’s image on earth. Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake for claiming the same. Look at the Christian fundamentalists of the American state of Tennessee, who imprisoned a man for teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution. Even now, in Kansas and in other so-called “red states,” the Christian fundamentalists contradict the theory of evolution with the religious theory of “Intelligent Design.”
These are not anomalies. They give historical context to the attitude that Western culture has had toward science over the centuries. This is not to pick on Western culture. Human beings tend toward emotion and sentiment. But science does not admit emotion. It is pure volition. Its laws and formulas are ruthlessly impersonal. It takes willpower and perfect hatred of sophistry and propaganda and all that is false to be a philosopher or a scientist. It takes a hard, sublimely cool heart to handle the truth. But science also requires humility, for, as Sir Francis Bacon said, “Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed.”
Most people prefer the comfort of their own subjective truths; they impose their wills on the world if they are strong and they are imposed upon if weak. But philosophers and scientists humbly defer to impersonal objective truth; they compose their wills with the ways of the world.
To be a philosopher or scientist, a man or woman must transcend the accident of his native culture. In Plato’s terms, he must leave the cave. The West is no less a cave than the East, or the South. Therefore it is not surprising that Western culture, notwithstanding the prestige of the white race, has emotionally reacted against science.
Intelligent Design is only the latest manifestation of Western culture’s deep antipathy toward science and its method. Sure, Western man has used the products of science for the purpose of imperialism. The scientific method has won him luxury and comfort, ease and convenience. Thanks to science, his pursuit of happiness has culminated in a high standard of living. Science won him global hegemony. Hence his begrudging admiration for it. Indeed, relativity won nuclear superpower status for the Soviets, the same Soviets who had, before Hiroshima and Nagasaki, dismissed it as a “bourgeois theory.” The point here is that as much as the West loves these end-results of science, it does not love science itself. Western man’s attitude toward science is like that of the john who loves the pleasure of sex, but not the prostitute.
Science is value neutral. It is not particular to any place or culture. So let’s throw Western science into the lexicographical trash can where it belongs. The proper term is modern science, or ― since its truths are timeless ― science.
“E=mc2” is value neutral. “2+2=4” is value neutral. The syllogism of Aristotle, the heart of deductive logic, is value neutral. The inductive logic of Sir Francis Bacon, which turned Aristotle’s deductive method on its head and thus made innovations to the experimental scientific method, is value neutral.
As if to underscore syllogism’s value neutrality, the treatises of logic written by Aristotle are compiled under the title “The Organon,” which means “The Tool.” Bacon’s masterpiece is likewise called “Novum Organum,” or “The New Tool.” The scientific method ― the four pillars of which are the Socratic method, deductive method, inductive method and mathematics ― is privy to every man and woman with the patience to master it. It is a tool for everyone.
Perhaps the Confucian, true to his world-renowned scholarly discipline, can master and command the scientific method and love science for itself, not its utilitarian end. Perhaps he can put science in perspective as a symbol of objective truth and thus make the East something more than a cave. Perhaps the Confucian, unlike his utilitarian counterpart of the West, can see scientific method for what it is: a tool.

*The writer is a professor of English at Sangmyung University.


by Taru Taylor

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