Our Children’s Children Will Inherit An Exponential Rise In Pain And Death

Leaf redeye frog

Preface And Preliminary Remarks–Structuralism Paper
April 1994

Blight weighs heavy upon the land. Exactly when this blight started and what will follow in its wake is uncertain. We do know, however, that this blight has physical, psychological and spiritual dimensions. It is all encompassing. It cannot be seen in its totality, but we know its negative forms. We know that it manifests in environmental disasters, disproportionate wealth distribution (poverty, mental illness, homelessness), disease, war, etc. We know that it has impacted negatively and, in some cases, completely destroyed the human beings capacity to feel compassion, solidarity, and love. We know that rampant materialism is fueling today’s global marketplace, a marketplace that is itself immune to any authority other than the one that applauds the dollar as an end in itself. We also know that manmade catastrophes e.g., acid rain, burning rainforests, polluted water, depleted ozone, endangered species (and now—global warming) etc., are in the vanguard of the blight’s devastating effects. Unless something is done to mitigate or reverse this blight, our children’s children will inherit an exponential rise in pain, suffering, and death.

A contributing factor to this blight, though certainly not its cause, may be found in the unstable ground upon which knowledge is based. This unstable foundation becomes readily apparent when we ask the question, “Where is the foundation of knowledge, the knowledge of the world that we inhabit? This question cannot be answered without encountering incongruities, and these incongruities, as they relate to our physical universe, spill over into what we take to be our most reliable knowledge concerning psychological and sociological realities. What we are left with, as a result of these incongruities, is at least five different scientifically identifiable worldviews. For instance, the logical positivists, from the Vienna circle of Carnap, Frank, Reichenbach, and others, believed that science is not about discovering the true nature of reality; rather, for this school of thought, the significance of science is found in the establishment of the “connections between mathematical and physical signs (which they call symbols) that can be elaborated through the external senses and scientific instruments, concerning that experience which appears to us as the external world.” [ Seyyed Hossein Nasr, l968, p.20] Science, from this perspective, is more about the validation of the meanings we attach to our experience of the world, and less about validating the real (physical) world that we inhabit.

Along these same lines, the operationalist worldview of science (Bridgman) ties the significance of scientific knowledge to the operations that define scientific concepts. In so far as these operations produce reliable data, the operations, according to this viewpoint, become the ultimate matrix for scientific knowledge. However, the viewpoint of another group of scientists (Poincare, Duhem), contrary to the positivism and operational schools of thought, believe that scientific concepts are irreducible mental concepts that are subjective in nature. Science, for this group, becomes a way to scientifically communicate the content of repeatable and reliable experiences. Scientific knowledge, from this perspective, is conceived more as a language for communication then knowledge of objective reality. Also, contrary to the positivistic school of thought, the neo-Kantians (Cassirer, Morgenau), hold to the notion of irreducible concepts of science, but treat these concepts from within the context of “as if” they existed. In this way scientific constructs become regulative in nature and are subject to alteration as experience dictates. This point of view stresses an ever increasing knowledge of, at bottom, an unknowable universe.

The fifth point of view concerning science is the logical realist viewpoint, which embraces a realistic interpretation of mathematical and physical constructs (Northrop, Grunebaum). The emphasis here is placed on the correspondence between the concepts of mathematical physics and a real, knowable, aesthetic universe. Nasr informs us:

“Northrop especially seeks to show that both the Newtonian-Kantian world of mathematical physics and the qualitative vision of nature emphasized by Goethe, which he calls natural historical, and whose knowledge is immediate and aesthetic rather than abstract and mathematical, are ultimately real. The world is order or cosmos rather than chaos, one that is alive as an organism and at the same time governed by law. But once again in this school it is emphasized that the knowledge derived from the sciences is the way that leads us to an ultimate knowledge of things. There is no hierarchy of knowledge, only knowledge of the corporeal domain which determines knowledge as such.” [ Seyyed Hossein Nasr, The Encounter Of Man And Nature, l968, p.20]

The lack of consensus concerning the nature, scope, and significance of scientific knowledge suggests to me that we are at a turning point of major historical proportions. This turning point has not come too soon. I hope it has not come too late. I agree with Northrop’s logical realist interpretation of scientific knowledge. However, in my thesis, I include a hierarchy of knowledge, which, ultimately, must be understood as the philosophical and methodological ground from which all knowledge follows.

Science and technology are regarded with the highest esteem, so much so that the “good in society” and technological advancements are linked necessarily, but that is not the only measure of a “good society.” Take away the aesthetic values of nurturing, generosity, compassion, kindness, and love etc., and the “good society” wouldn’t even exist. The hierarchy of knowledge that I am about to suggest not only functions as a bridge connecting scientific knowledge to “caring aesthetic values,” it also speaks to the worst aspects of science and runaway technology,– the reduction of “goodness, love, and beauty” to stimulus/response mechanisms, the dehumanizing of the humanities, and the dehumanizing of humans.

From a structuralist perspective, my thesis holds that thoughts (scientific knowledge being a subset of thought) and the physical world are both structured along synchronic and diachronic axes. The concepts of synchronic and diachronic are understood, typically, from a structuralist point of view; that is, the synchronic perspective looks at a system, or structure, as a functioning given. Investigations carried out from the synchronic perspective do not focus on the change that is occurring within an object or institution; rather, the investigation concentrates its focus on the a-historical condition that gives rise to the present functioning of an object, institution or system. Investigations carried out along the diachronic axis, on the other hand, focus on the evolutionary currents that contribute to the ongoing change of everything that is not considered synchronically. Traditionally, structuralists have chosen to pursue their investigations along the synchronic axis while ignoring the diachronic axis. In this paper I will investigate the heretofore ignored possibility that the synchronic axis of investigation evolves diachronically. In other words, if structure evolves into complex transformations of itself then the diachronic experience of this evolving structure may indeed produce a hierarchy of knowledge, — a hierarchy of knowledge that will not only ground scientific knowledge, but also ground ethical and spiritual knowledge as well (spiritual knowledge being a subset ethics).

Preliminary Remarks

When I started this paper I searched for a theme broad enough to enable me to discuss structuralism within the context of my own philosophy. After considerable read
ing on structuralism I discovered the holism-elementarism debate as it is described in Don Martindale’s book, The Nature and Types of Sociological Theory. I recognized this theme as doable for me because it allows for the extrapolation of the structural aspects of the holism/elementarism debate as it arises in every historical epoch. However, it soon became clear to me that the dichotomy of holism/elementarism did not suit my needs as well as the synchronic/diachronic distinction, or the defining characteristic of structuralism, so, for the most part, I have used the synchronic/diachronic distinction throughout. However, midway into my paper the synchronic/diachronic distinction morphs into an even more general distinction. Ultimately, this morphed version can be identified in the “who participates in what” dichotomy, or, more specifically, in the “reciprocal movement of context dependent forms.” In either case, however, it all leads to that bridge which, on one level, connects reason to emotion, while, on another level, separates reason from emotion. A lot of territory is covered here, so I will begin by letting Martindale introduce the language of holism/elementarism.

Few Decisions Are More Basic Than The Comparative Importance Assigned To The Individual/Collective

Martindale Quote

Introduction To The Holism-Elementarism Debate

“Human society places unusual demands on socialization, for without the continuous manning of its positions as they become vacant through illness, retirement, and death, it would simply melt away. However, since most societies only require a fraction of what any given individual could offer, much human potential is unused. A major problem confronting every human society is to prevent unused human energy and imagination from being employed against it. All human societies also place demands on the means of social control. The more complex the society the more serious its control problem.

“The representatives of every society inevitably seek to strike some kind of balance between the latitude or freedom permitted to the individual and the requirements of society. The theoretical limits represented by anarchism and authoritarian absolutism are rarely approached in practice. Furthermore, the line between individual and collective requirements is constantly shifting. In the formative period of a new collectivity considerable scope is usually permitted the individual. Often when a collective is in danger of falling apart in the last attempt to retain control authorities may place a virtual straitjacket of restrictions on the membership. When this fails the result may be revolution or collapse into anarchism.

“There are few decisions more basic made by students of human social life than the comparative importance they assign to the individual and to the collective. Do they take the social system or the individual to be the primary reality? All students of human social life inevitably recognize both. However, it makes significant difference whether one treats individual as the primary reality, considering social life merely as what they do together (elementarism) or whether one sees the social system as a reality sui generis with laws of its own viewing the individuals who compose it as the raw materials from which a society is made. From the time of the origin of the conflict to the present, the tides of battle have surged back and forth between the holists and elementarists.” [Don Martindale, The Nature and Types of Sociological Theory, 1981, p. 605-606]


One Response to “Our Children’s Children Will Inherit An Exponential Rise In Pain And Death”

  1. bwinwnbwi Says:

    I wrote the above introduction while working toward my MA degree in sociology. Structuralism is a legitimate area of Sociology, but my thesis committee said no to Structuralism as a thesis topic. After rereading the above introduction (2013) I still disagree with that decision. If my university had had a MA degree in philosophy I am sure (in that department) my take on Structuralism would have been acceptable, but it was a small university. Having a family to support (two small children) I did not quibble; my thesis topic became prejudice. But, in this blog and in my bwinwnbwimusic WordPress blog, I have stated my case for the need for a fresh/new understanding of self, events (physical), freedom, and divinity, a understanding based in Structuralism.

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