Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe
Print version ISSN 0041-4751
ROUX, Braam. Is science possible in the absence of spirit?. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2012, vol.52, n.1, pp. 19-35. ISSN 0041-4751.
This article is a response to Fanie de Beer 's lament on the absence of spirit (soul) in scientific endeavours which raises questions about meaning and validity. To get clarity on these matters re-visiting the ideas of the Oxfod philosopher, Gilbert Ryle (1900-1976), was deemed necessary. In his main publication, Ryle addresses the problem of the mind (soul/spirit). Mind-talk is part of ordinary discourse and Ryle is interested in the structuring of our thoughts on matters where mind is supposed to play a role. Although Ryle is not a philosopher of science, his ideas impact on science as a way of thinking about the world. He was influenced by Kant 's epistemological views and phenomenology - the idea of a constituted (meaningful) reality. Ryle argues that argumentation, particularly arguments where the reductio ad absurdum may be applied, is the lifeblood of philosophising. Argumentation introduces language with the focus on the use of expressions. Concepts are abstracted from descriptions. Descriptions have logical powers; they have implications, allow certain combinations and not others, allow certain deductions, and so forth. To clarify the mind he looks at the functioning of mental descriptions. Ryle starts from Cartesianism which is unacceptable but well-argued and more or less the "official" view. Here the argument favours the existence of two kinds of reality, namely material and mental. The essential property of the material is extension (spatiality) whereas thinking is associated with the mental. A person is a combination of body and mind. In terms of human behaviour the interaction between the two, which is problematic because of the radical difference between them, has to be explained. The Cartesian solution is that they do interact but only in a tiny gland in the brain, the pineal gland - a flat contradiction. Ryle argues that this contradiction shows that dualism is wrong in principle; it is a category mistake. He explains the nature of a category mistake and why it applies to dualism. He finds that we ordinarily report on and describe the mental lives of others (pains, memories, emotions, etc.) without any problems; we do not need sophisticated tests, special abilities, or experts. We cash in on ordinary usage of expressions. This implies that private experiences, feelings and emotions cannot be part of the meaning of such concepts - mental descriptions describe people acting and reacting in certain situations. Mind-talk is person-talk, the sense we make of a person behaving in certain ways under certain circumstances - that is, the way in which we constitute a whole: person-behaviour-context. If De Beer expects traces of a Cartesian mind/soul/spirit in science, his search is in vain and contributes nothing to science practice. However, the concept "science" implies human endeavour and as such presupposes human involvement. However, scientists and others have preconceived ideas about the nature of science, reality and their interaction and most of these play down human involvement. Such self-understanding needs reorientation and four important areas are discussed briefly: Firstly, an honest critical look at this selfunderstanding by asking the question, What is science about? This will include how reality, knowledge and truth are constituted. The ideal is a selfunderstanding based on reflection instead of tradition. Secondly, a reorientation with reference to morality is necessary. Scientists plead moral immunity on the basis of their factual approach. But science is morally involved all the time. It starts from moral considerations such as the need for insight and knowledge, or to serve the community. Scientific progress and technological advancements change reality and thus the borders of morality; in many cases new moral problems are created. Scientists have to accept moral responsibility for decisions and findings, and be morally alert and participate in moral debates particularly about problems raised by the impact of science on society. Thirdly, the view of science as something on its own, apart from ordinary life and culture is not acceptable. Discussion used to be a part of scientific life, but the discursive context of science practice has almost disappeared. Reorientation seems necessary for science to be integrated with ordinary life and culture, and to benefit from interdisciplinarity and cross-pollination. Open and open-ended discussion will improve understanding, transfer information, open up new possibilities and change the self-understanding of people. Finally, a reorientation with reference to the humanities is necessary. They are needed and they are in crisis but to approach them as on a par with the natural sciences and to apply formulae derived from successes there will not in any way improve the situation. In order for this to happen, they have to be approached with an open mind and the pragmatic and instrumental business atmosphere in academia has to change so that the particular nature of the humanities and their kind of contribution can be appreciated, tolerated and taken care of.
Keywords : Mind; consciousness; meaning; concept; lifeworld; category mistake; metaphysics; never-ending discussion; responsibility; humanities.