The Most Important Problem in Science and Philosophy
That pesky enlightenment gap...
We’ve spoken before about the Enlightenment Gap. We’re going to speak about it again from a new perspective - as I believe it’s the single most important problem in Western Civilization.
Until the advent of science there was no separation of “Ought” and “Is.” If something occurred then it must have been morally correct because authorities like the Church, the King, or God made it so.
“Modern science took off during the Enlightenment and changed the world. Science differed from philosophy in that it did not presuppose how nature must be, as the early philosophers tended to do, but instead scientists “got up out of their armchairs” and asked questions and gathered data about how the universe actually behaved. Observation, measurement, and experimentation became the sine qua non of the scientific enterprise, and this has continued into the present day.” - Gregg Henriques, Psychology Today
With this split we gained a tremendous amount. We are now able to observe the world as it is.
On certain levels this enables us to more effectively shift between our “ought” and “is” hats. For example, before we were able to discover germ theory (is) we were unable to properly treat certain diseases (ought). Learning about germ theory does not presuppose one will cure diseases with that knowledge, but doctors and medical scientists decided they ought to do so.
On other levels science and philosophy have led to a deep split in our epistemology. We call this the Enlightenment Gap. The reason for this gap is because Science is a fundamentally epistemological field. It almost exclusively has to do with understanding what we can know (using one particular method of sensemaking).
Philosophy is a much larger field than this. Philosophy encompasses Metaphysics (what is real, religion goes here), Epistemology (what is true, science goes here), Aesthetics (what is beautiful and valuable, art goes here) and Ethics (what is good, politics goes here).
When we allow science (epistemology) to inform our ethics we are making several errors:
1. Assuming the same laws that govern lower sciences like physics and chemistry will apply to inter-personal affairs
2. We are skipping metaphysics and aesthetics. Aesthetics in particular is a nasty step to skip - without determining what it is we value we can not act in ethical accordance with that highest value.
3. We are supposing the scientific method of sensemaking has a 1:1 correlation to ethics. In reality, this puts us back in the “law of the jungle” where it’s “might makes right.” If we do not go through the entire intellectual process to determine what is right then we will simply have a feedback loop of curiosities/desires and scientific experiments. We will be curious about something because we desire it - we will experiment until we find some facts about it, and then follow our curiosities from there. It’s an amoral mode of operating that allows people with the most force and resources behind their curiosities to dictate what truths we discover and how we utilize those truths.
To move forward I believe we will need to accomplish 2 tasks:
We must understand how emergent complexities of culture, economies of scale and interpersonal behavior relate to other fields of scientific inquiry like physics.
We must come to terms with the unique difficulty of using the scientific method to make truth claims about these emergent complexities due to what Gregg Henriques calls the “double hermeneutic”
Later this week, we shall tackle task #2 first, then work back to #1.
To put it simply, we will have much difficulty trying to study the social sciences because we can not be objective about ourselves and our cultures. We also have to acknowledge that the social sciences - particularly psychology - alter humanity itself.
On my podcast this week with Dr Gregg Henriques we dive in to discussing these functions. If you don’t want to wait for the email, feel free to check that out
To read, watch or listen to that podcast, click here: www.bradleywerrell.com/podcast-library/did-psychology-change-human-thinking-dr-gregg-henriques
Dr Bradley Werrell