The End of Positivism and the Restorative Analysis


In the work of Max Weber positivism had come to its end, and the lines on which the restoration of political science would have to move became visible. The correlation between a constituent "value" and a constituted "value-free" science had broken down; the "value-judgments" were back in science in the form of the "legitimating beliefs" that created units of social order.

The last stronghold was Weber's conviction that history moved toward a type of rationalism that relegated religion and metaphysics into the realm of the "irrational." And that was not much of a stronghold as soon as it was understood that nobody was obliged to enter it; that one simply could turn around and rediscover the rationality of metaphysics in general and of philosophical anthropology in particular, that is, the areas of science from which Max Weber had kept studiously aloof.

The formula for the remedy is simpler than its application. Science is not the singlehanded achievement of this or that individual scholar; it is a cooperative effort. Effective work is possible only within a tradition of intellectual culture. When science is as thoroughly ruined as it was around 1900, the mere recovery of theoretical craftsmanship is a considerable task, to say nothing of the amounts of materials that must be reworked in order to reconstruct the order of relevance in facts and problems. Moreover, the personal difficulties must not be overlooked; the exposition of apparently wild, new ideas will inevitably meet with resistance in the environment. An example will help to understand the nature of these various difficulties.

Weber, as has just been set forth, still conceived history as an increase of rationalism in the positivistic sense. From the position of a science of order, however, the exclusion of the scientia prima from the realm of reason is not an increase but a decrease of rationalism. What Weber, in the wake of Comte, understood as modern rationalism would have to be reinterpreted as modern irrationalism. This inversion of the socially accepted meaning of terms would arouse a certain hostility. But a reinterpretation could not stop at this point. The rejection of sciences that were already developed and the return to a lower level of rationality obviously must have experientially deep-seated motivations.

A closer inquiry would reveal certain religious experiences at the bottom of the unwillingness to recognize the ratio of ontology and philosophical anthropology; and, as a matter of fact, in the 1890s began the exploration of socialism as a religious movement, an exploration that later developed into the extensive study of totalitarian movements as a new "myth" or religion.

The inquiry would, furthermore, lead to the general problem of a connection between types of rationality and types of religious experience. Some religious experiences would have to be classified as higher, others as lower, by the objective criterion of the degree of rationality that they admit in the interpretation of reality. The religious experiences of the Greek mystic philosophers and of Christianity would rank high because they allow the unfolding of metaphysics; the religious experiences of Comte and Marx would rank low because they prohibit the asking of metaphysical questions.

Such considerations would radically upset the positivistic conception of an evolution from an early religious or theological phase of mankind to rationalism and science. Not only would the evolution go from a higher to a lower degree of rationalism, at least for the modern period, but, in addition, this decline of reason would have to be understood as the consequence of religious retrogression. An interpretation of Western history that had grown over centuries would have to be revolutionized; and a revolution of this magnitude would meet the opposition of "progressives" who all of a sudden would find themselves in the position of retrogressive irrationalists.

The possibilities of a reinterpretation of rationalism, as well as of the positivistic conception of history, were put in the subjunctive in order to indicate the hypothetical character of a restoration of political science at the turn of the century. Ideas of the suggested type were afloat; but from the certainty that something was badly wrong in the state of science to a precise understanding of the nature of the evil there was a long way; and equally long was the way from intelligent surmises about the direction in which one had to move to the attainment of the goal.

A good number of conditions had to be fulfilled before the propositions in this case could be translated into the indicative mood. The understanding of ontology as well as the craftsmanship of metaphysical speculation had to be regained, and especially philosophical anthropology as a science had to be re-established.

By the standards thus regained it was possible to define with precision the technical points of irrationality in the positivistic position. For this purpose the works of the leading positivistic thinkers had to be analyzed with care in order to find their critical rejections of rational argument; one had, for instance, to show the passages in the works of Comte and Marx where these thinkers recognized the validity of metaphysical questions but refused to consider them because such consideration would make their irrational opining impossible.

When the study proceeded further to the motivations of irrationalism, positivistic thinking had to be determined as a variant of theologizing, again on the basis of the sources; and the underlying religious experiences had to be diagnosed. This diagnosis could be conducted successfully only if a general theory of religious phenomena was sufficiently elaborated to allow the subsumption of the concrete case under a type.

The further generalization concerning the connection of degrees of rationality with religious experiences, and the comparison with Greek and Christian instances, required a renewed study of Greek philosophy that would bring out the connection between the unfolding of Greek metaphysics and the religious experiences of the philosophers who developed it; and a further study of medieval metaphysics had to establish the corresponding connection for the Christian case.

It had, moreover, to demonstrate the characteristic differences between Greek and Christian metaphysics that could be attributed to the religious differences. And when all these preparatory studies were made, when critical concepts for treatment of the problems were formed, and the propositions were supported by the sources, the final task had to be faced of searching for a theoretically intelligible order of history into which these variegated phenomena could be organized.

This task of restoration has, indeed, been undertaken; and today it has reached the point where one can say that at least the foundations for a new science of order have been laid. . . .[ FN ]

FN. The intellectual history of the first half of the twentieth century is extremely complex because it is the history of a slow recovery (with many trials that have ended in impasses) from the thorough destruction of intellectual culture in the late nineteenth century. A critical study of this process would be perhaps premature as long as the dust of the struggle is still flying; and, in fact, no such comprehensive study has hitherto been attempted. There exists, however, a recent introduction to contemporary philosophy which (in spite of certain technical shortcomings) demonstrates how much can be done even today; it is I. M. Bochenski's Europäische Philosophie der Gegenwart (Bern, 1947). In his interpretation the author is guided by the two mottoes on the title-page of his book—Marcus Aurelius' "The philosopher, this priest and helper of the Gods" and Bergson's "Philosophy, too, has its scribes and pharisees." The various philosophies are ranked according to their value as ontologies, from the lowest to the highest, under the chapter headings of "Matter," "Idea," "Life," "Essence," "Existence," "Being." The last chapter, on the philosophies of being, deals with the English and German metaphysicians (Samuel Alexander, Alfred N. Whitehead, Nicolai Hartmann) and the Neo-Thomists. The first chapter deals with the lowest-ranking philosophies, from the bottom up with Bertrand Russell, neo-positivism, and dialectical materialism.

CW VOL 5,
The New Science of Politics
Introduction,
§ 4 pp 105-107.
[U.Chicago ed., p 22-26]

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