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New International, January 1948


Walter Grey

Is Social Science Possible?


From The New International, Vol. IV No. 1, January 1948, p. 31.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Can Science Save Us?
by George A. Lundberg
Longmans, Green, 1947, $1.75.

This is one of many books which have appeared in recent months discussing science from the bourgeois point of view. It is generally more progressive than most of them, in pleading for the extension of the scientific method to wider fields. Lundberg separates himself from the “scientific” irrationalists, like Eddington, Compton and Millikan, who deny that man’s social ills are susceptible to scientific analysis. But while Lundberg points out that the early development of the sciences was opposed by those with vested interests in ignorance and superstition, he does not understand that the same stuation is faced by the social sciences today.

Despite his limitation, he makes a contribution in emphasizing that there is no fundamental difference, such as precludes the application of intelligence and scientific method to both, between the external physical world and the social world. He takes up the objection that “the investigator is inside instead of outside his material,” with its implication that unbiased observation and interpretation are impossible in social science. This difficulty, however, is more or less present in all science and can be controlled only by the use of the proper techniques peculiar to the given science.

Another alleged obstacle is the “motives” involved in social phenomena and supposedly beyond the ken of science. But already and despite its youth, the science of psychology has been forcing “motives” to lose many of their mysterious aspects and to give ground before the advance of scientific analysis. (Lundberg, incidentally, fails entirely to weigh the motives of the capitalist employers of the professional “social scientists.”)

He stumbles even more in ruling the question of “values” out of scientific activity. Actually, valuation is a basic constituent of the scientific approach; it is a consideration of what is significant and what is assumed. All his activity is directed toward acquiring, selecting and evaluating new facts which will increase his basic knowledge.

This is expressed by I. Lewy in Valuation in Fact-Finding (Journal of Philosophy, October 9, 1947). Lewy points out that physical science is founded on the selection and organization of the facts of reality which are of value to us. Science is the organized accumulation of the significant facts in man’s struggle to control the physical world. Mere facts about society are meaningless unless they imply an evaluation of the past and the calculation of the possibilities of the future.

To quote Lewy: “It is obvious that fact-finding boards or purely descriptive science may become a weapon in the hands of those who defend the status quo or vested interests or prejudices of all sorts.” But the class conflict in society does not permit a common evaluative foundation for social science, and only the interests of the working class point to the abolition of that class conflict. That is why it is possible to adopt a truly scientific attitude toward social phenomena only by projecting oneself into the point of view of the working-class struggle for a classless society.

Thus Marxism is as much of a broad science of society as we can expect today. It will become a more exact, a more “true,” science as we progress toward socialism and a society without class divisions.

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