Philosophy and General Reading

Review: “The Gods in Whom They Trusted” – On Science, Knowledge and Ethics (Part 2)

R.C. Smith

Ethics of Experience

In think, ultimately,  what we read in The Gods in Whom They Trusted is a set of philosophical formulations that take the human tendency to formulate faith-based constructs, fundamental principles of “life direction”, “core or ultimate convictions”, or “visions of life” – very much in the philosophical sense of absolute first principles – as universal. In other words, these tendencies are perceived as both necessary and existentially imperative.  Like many other basic critiques of “totalized worldviews” or notions of absolute truth, or even absolute first-principles, De Graaff rightly wants to recognize positive “core values” that are not abstract and irrational – hence a critique of religion – and that are also “open” – thus not hypostatized and closed to change. He offers many, many examples of such “core values”, including for example different enlightenment values as well as the general indigenous values of “ecological sustainability”, among others.

In short, barring the complexities of the argument, the strategy or aim of this particular point of critical intervention can be described almost as a retrieval of key progressive values. These values are discerned and pulled from a number of places, and the “critical retrieval” aspect of De Graaff’s project is an advanced one: he wants to preserve the notion of normative progressive values while also formulating an alternative epistemology, anthropology and cosmology which remains “open”, intersubjective and sensitive to the agency of phenomena on the subject-subject plane of phenomenological experience.

In a similar albeit different way, poststructuralism in addition to a number of other intellectual movements has also sought to navigate the same issue or concern. However, of all recent attempts to reformulate and reconcile the notion of progressive normative values, safeguarding them from ideology or even totalized political philosophy, it is fair to say that De Graaff succeeds in coming very close.

In recognizing the need to take basic core values – like democracy, reason, equality, egalitarianism or even more practically, such as in ecological sustainability and community – one of the goals of the book is to ground these values as part of a lived ethics, reconciling them as “phenomenological guideposts”, no more and no less. In relation with his theory of phenomenological ethics, the goal seems to be to establish a normative theory of values in which values or core convictions are grounded in a notion of open, non-absolutizing subjectivity. Ethics, in other words, becomes based in the sort of lived experience predicated on a more open, mediating form of critical subjectivity. Rather than being hypostatized or absolute, and thus non-negotiable, normative values are, well, critical and normative. Anyone familiar with the Enlightenment philosophes will recognize the general direction of such an argument. For De Graaff, values are also unfolding, changing, negotiable, and thus,  in my own words, they are always subject to critical thinking and reflection. The reason for the need for such a retrieval, is because values like theory are rooted in history. Phenomena keep unfolding, we continuously learn more about the social and natural world, and thus also our historical circumstances keep changing and call for new responses or perspectives.

Basic values like freedom, justice, solidarity, etc. are perceived not as abstract values given by god, authorized by the church, or as part of an abstract theoretical and political framework; but as a fundamental “life direction” which speak to us throughout human history. De Graaff seems to strive to five meaning to, or at least deepens the expression, “history speaks”. Rather than maintaining an abstract status as core values tend to in a lot of social theory, political theory or religious contexts, in their retrieval we learn that they are not actually abstract at all. Democracy, respect, equality, science, community, horizontal leadership – they are what De Graaff calls “guideposts”, and they reverberate across time and “speak” in our experience with one another. To use the author’s terminology: “phenomenological guideposts”, core values often speak to us and want to be followed and worked out, for better or for worse.

One of the credits of this book in this regard is how the author remains incredibly sensitive, firstly, to how basic “core values”, “core convictions”, or “visions of life” are usually not negotiable to people. Hence the existence of ideology or totalized political philosophies in our modern social universe, and why what is called “ideology critique” is a popular concern within contemporary social sciences.

What we learn in The Gods in Whom They Trusted is that absolute first-principles for people usually only open up to negotiation, new insight or change when people enter a period of crisis. One can note that one of the definitions of “crisis” takes on this very meaning as, “A crucial or decisive point or situation, especially a difficult or unstable situation involving an impending change”. On the view offered by De Graaff, it is how we actualize core normative values or how they are given form, which is a fundamental question in each moment of history. For this reason, he eventually argues that “in each new situation these ‘normative’ or phenomenological guidelines need to be worked out anew and actualized”. What is negotiable, always, is how, for instance, Enlightenment values are given form or actualized, again and again, depending on the particular sociohistorical-cultural circumstances.

And so, in short, it is a retrieval of values that is another underlying philosophical theme of this book, which again relates to the theme of a non-violent epistemology. One the issues with the book’s formulations, I feel, has to do with what I have already labelled as the author’s use of worldview theory. And here, the whole of my critique comes to together. 

Worldview Theory

For those not familiar with worldview theory, one can type it in to any common search engine and a whole list of links will appear explaining exactly what this means and the tradition of thinking behind it. For our current purposes, it is enough to say that worldview theory is a useful tool for analysing social phenomena, such as political ideologies, and their subjectivities. It can be a useful framework for understanding ideological subjectivities within our contemporary pathological social world, where very few socially-aimed investigations are actually value-free. Such a social world is very much one reduced to subjectivism, or prejudiced “worldviews”, and thus in its rampant bias there is an incredible lack of rationality, openness and “critical thinking”.

In the sense that worldview theory helps capture a critique of such prevalent forms of pathological or irrational social practice, it also one of a number of conceptual tools that helps us explain different social phenomena, such as climate change denialism. People who deny climate change are not only badly informed (or misinformed), denial and ignorance are also a product of ideological blindness and subjective hypostatization. In the contemporary social context, it is often that scientific evidence is reduced in the social world to the status of “opinion” which itself is reduced to pure subjectivism, opinion versus opinion, or political persuasion versus political persuasion. This is a very irrational course of social cognition; and, as such, it is a form of cognition that is no longer rational, open, critical enquiring, and grounded on evidenced-based thinking. Worldview theory exposes the subjective operations of such opinions, but as a wider approach and method of explanation, it is an incredibly limited philosophical position.

In general, there are a number of problems with worldview theory, especially when it attempts to establish a foundational philosophical viewpoint that can explain more than what it is equipped to handle. Like building a modern house with only a rock as a hammer, worldview theory can only take one so far. Often, as a social theoretical perspective, it seems to conflate a very limited and particular critique of modern social ideologies and their subjectivities, with a social philosophical analysis that seeks to broach theories of knowledge, anthropology and even philosophy of science. (Thus, even natural science gets reduced to a “worldview”).

For the most part, such an approach ultimately produces variations of philosophical subjectivism and sociological relativism. Indeed, one its many known flaws can be observed in its more contemporary iteration, where each individual is said to have an “ideology”. Therefore no one “ideology” can be said to have a corner on “what’s right”, “the good life”, or “the truth”. In the context of The Gods in Whom They Trusted, I interpret the book’s position in this way, which is perhaps different to saying that different approaches can recognize the same fundamental truth of nature, or, in the social world, that different approaches can recognize the same fundamental truth of core normative values. In this sense, it is a perspective that is also morally relativistic in addition to being sociologically relativistic.

This may seem like a simple realization, but as a viewpoint it actually has profound implications, not least when it comes to how one views science and its relation with society. I’ll save a deeper consideration of this point for a later essay, which may or may not follow. Meanwhile, the main thing to take away here is that, if my reading is correct, even if the author recognizes that it is how core normative values are realized that serves a constant notice for critical and ethical reflection, judgement toward the formation and, ultimately, deformation of those core normative values becomes restricted. If no one approach has a corner on the truth, then judgement is impossible. This is one of the many pitfalls of relativistic sociological thinking.

Allow me to put it more sensitively: the author is absolutely correct to identify that how core normative values form, or are shaped, is one of the most fundamental of questions when it comes to social philosophy. Consider “democracy”, for example. Many of the prevailing forms of capitalistic democracy are actually not all that democratic, if one weighs the actual content of the value of democracy against today’s popular standard. There are many insightful studies about this, and how the mainstream standard of democracy today is positioned quite far from the actual critical normative (enlightenment) value of democracy, conceived primarily as an egalitarian principle.

So the argument in The Gods in Whom They Trusted regarding the critical retrieval of “core values” can be seen as understandable. But if such a project is approached within the frame of worldviews, and, if, impliedly, in the process it relativizes value formation so that no one line of consideration has more authority than the others, then the system of thinking becomes logically inconsistent. To critically retrieve a value and to therefore apply a critique – e.g., that the contemporary notion of democracy is a hollowed-out version – this implies a critical judgement, and to apply a judgement means that one eventually has to substantiate that judgement, with evidenced-based thinking, which finally also implies some sense of authority toward what’s “good” and “bad”, “right” and “wrong”, “conceptually accurate” and “conceptually deformed”. But in a book that rejects the primacy of reason and science, all of this breaks down. 

If each “worldview” is seen as having no more of a corner to “the truth” than the other, one cannot at the same time concede that one or more worldviews are superior. You cannot have it both ways and maintain logical consistency. Or, let me put it this way: If no one “worldview” has a corner on the truth, then the system of rational thinking breaks down and the result is a regression to irrationality, to the world of mere “opinion” and myth. And this is a problem. “Truth”, itself, becomes a highly contestable concept. Not that “truth” hasn’t already become highly contestable in the contemporary social world, where as a concept it appears to be continually eroded to the point where almost every issue, even scientific case, is reduced to politics.

For me, it is blatantly clear that this philosophical position – i.e., the rejection of the primacy of reason – does not correlate with reality. With very careful and well thought out consideration – that is, with finely nuanced and critical rational enquiry – it is more than possible to make critical rational judgements and to arrive at some evidence-based notion of truth. Truth, of course, not being absolute, because, as we learn in physics, truth is always unfolding and deepening. In any case, it is the continuing existence of the reality of truth, however fleeting or fragile today, that makes it possible to discern which course of judgements are based on prejudice and bias and which are based on the core principles of critical rational enquiry. When judging social movements for example, it is entirely possible to be able to distinguish genuinely emancipatory, egalitarian political movements from their mere semblance. It is entirely possible to recognize reactionary, dominant and deeply pathological movements for what they are, when weighed against their non-universality which, in this case, is the critical normative value of egalitarianism. Likewise, one can easily place a critical judgement toward abstract spiritual belief in the stars when weighed against the fundamental truths of astronomy. Truth, as a concept, may step on a lot of people’s toes; but simply because it doesn’t comply with one’s “worldview”, does not in any way subtract from the authority of reason and rationality in arriving to a truth.

What all of this comes down to is the relation between science – and the enlightenment project as a whole – and society. The rational, scientific and enlightenment view is that individuals can take responsibility for their lives, “without”, writes Stephen E. Bronner, “reference to God or some other all-knowing authority”. It is the idea, the hope for humanity, that social rationality is possible. It is the idea, very similar to De Graaff’s thesis regarding an “alternative worldview” (albeit formulated differently), that given the right emancipatory conditions, the individual subject can flourish in a way that fosters open, critical and rational subjectivity. We could even call this the scientific “mindset”, in taking from Steven Pinker. It is a transformative, scientific, evidence-based and philosophically rich social vision, accorded to the universal assumptions underpinning the enlightenment project and the democratic and egalitarian ideals that must be constantly defended today, not only from their direct assault by also from their counterfeited versions, usually often promoted for the benefit of an elite few.

Social rationality is also developmental to some degree. This might sound obvious to some readers, but I’m not sure how obvious it actually is in mainstream sociology. The idea that social rationality is developmental is backed by a vast range of scientific and empirical research. One particularly illuminating example in recent time is the scientific study that found that poverty can impact the development of one’s brain, something I discussed in my own book on pathology. But one could cite numerous references and examples. Likewise, on the basis of such evidence, one could easily speculate that in an irrational social world that exists under a largely indifferent economy, in which the individual is facing the constant threat of economic scarcity (and often having to perform mindless labour) – these constraints will likely never produce a rational social universe. This also has implications for the relation between science and society, and to what degree science and evidence-based rationality is realized in our contemporary social-historical, cultural context.

What is required is not less science and less reason in this respect – philosophically the situation is the complete opposite. But this also requires, however paradoxically it may sound, a holistic view of individual development based on healthy subject development: emotionally, psychologically, relationally, in addition to cognitive development and the development of rational thinking and science-based thinking.

To put it more eloquently, perhaps this is a lesson one can glean from social systems theory and also recent developments in relation to the intellectual development known as critical realism. What I appreciate most about The Gods in Whom They Trusted,  is its own emphasis on the notion of integration, particularly in terms of a philosophy of the subject. But this notion also has some value when it comes to considerations regarding a theory of knowledge. Interestingly, this book touches on a theme I’ve personally struggled to frame for some time, and perhaps the way it approaches the principle of integration that represents a primary site of disagreement: how to honour the primacy of reason while also doing justice to an integral view of the human subject? How to do justice to reason and social rationality, while also engaging with realities pertaining to the relation of structure-agency and the role emotion might play in human decision making? In response to the particular approach in the book currently under review, it is not enough for me when the author posits a “holistic” and “integrative view” if that means the primacy of reason is rejected.

To address these questions in the past I have employed concepts of experiential and analytical coherence as a way to bridge the two sides, but without much success. But maybe there is something to be found within critical realism insofar that, in postulating an interface between the study of the natural and social worlds – to assist the translation of natural science methodologies and epistemologies within the domain of social research and participation – it provides a meta-theory at the intersections of philosophy of science, ontology, epistemology, and aetiology (to name a few). Furthermore, it would be interesting to hear an informed scholar’s view of how its combination of transcendental realism with critical naturalism could offer a more thorough sense of an alternative social philosophical paradigm. The speculation here is emphasized further in relation to the question of integration without losing sight of the primacy of reason. These questions were partly what inspired my final efforts in Society and Pathology (2017).

As a whole, it feels as though The Gods in Whom They Trusted struggles to reconcile itself, and truly appreciate the core normative (and universal) enlightenment principles it wants in its own way to treat philosophically. Aside from what I interpret as the book’s relativistic framing, matters seem to get much worse when the chapters unfold and the author engages with a critique of “western reason” and “science”, as discussed in part one. More pointedly, if reason and rationality are often what are valued today as an important source of such vital critical authority, as opposed to, for instance, the dogma of the Church; it seems that the author’s arguments in this book actually move toward the de-legitimatizing of the authority of reason and science. In the sense that science and reason are reduced to equivalents with respect to other forms of “coming to know”, as part of the leveling process that is the result of the author’s particular view of integration, the integrative theory on offer in this book goes a completely different direction than the one alluded above.

Philosophical intervention and a faith-based view

In The Gods in Whom They Trusted, it would seem that the use of worldview theory or a variant thereof is employed to serve the book’s particular theological interventions and theses. This is especially evident in the last third of the book. (It is worth noting that significant portions of The Gods in Whom They Trusted, over one-third, concerns a discussion on religion, faith-based values and faith-based concepts). The key, it would seem, is that for De Graaff all people are motivated by and act from out of “basic convictions”. We read, for example:

In this way it brings all religious or secular faiths, worldviews, visions of life, or ultimate convictions down to earth from the realm of the sacred to everyday life. Basic convictions give expression to what we value most in life as it becomes manifest in the life we live. Just as our sensitivity gives colour, vibrancy and intensity to all our actions and relationships, so too our ultimate beliefs alert us to the depth and meaning we give to our experiences. As ‘meaning-makers’, as self-aware and self-reflective persons, we need an existential frame of reference to live by. Such a vision of life makes us conscious of the direction in which we are going in life and the choices we are making. Our ultimate convictions make for passion and commitment to the things we really believe in. (pp. 490-491)

Religions, as alluded early, are organized views as different forms of basic convictions. Even outside of religion, all people are said to be ultimately driven by, motivated by, or act from out of “ultimate convictions”. What does this have to do with science, its relation with society, and ethics?

Simply put, it appears to me that it is on the basis of the faith-based, worldview theoretical frame which De Graaff develops and relies on, that ultimately nucleates into the idea that the human “coming to know” is, firstly, always an existential undertaking. The process of “coming to know” would seem for the author to be almost deeply emotionally invested all the time, which I take to be generally counter to the scientific ethos. In the natural sciences, it doesn’t matter how emotionally invested you are in a theory, how much of a household name you represent, or how much a theory means personally; if it doesn’t correspond with the experimental and empirical evidence, it must be discarded. Whether the process of “coming to know” is deeply existential or not, it can hardly be equated, at least in the scientific sense, with the deeper investment of “core convictions” and “worldviews”. And so I think this theory of knowledge is one that lends itself far too much to bias and prejudice. 

Secondly, we read that human investigation can never be without prejudice or bias. This assertion then leads toward a line of philosophical formulation that has dramatic implications when it comes to philosophy of science, and a fundamental understanding of the relationship between science and society. That virtually the whole of modern science becomes reduced to, minimized and perceived as entangled with and influenced by what the author describes the underlying paradigm of a certain dominant ideology, highlights precisely one of my main concerns. And it is not just in this book, but it is a view which seems to be emerging in many other places as well.

In other words, scientific studies and even the “doing of science” can be understood as deeply caught up in dominant ideology – a total, distorted “vision of life” or “worldview” described under the umbrella of capitalism. Everything, in essence, becomes the product of or entwined with a worldview. In another way, almost every aspect the human project is reduced to different worldviews. And for this reason, all underlying worldviews with their particular views of “cosmology, anthropology, epistemology and history”, come to represent a very specific philosophical framing of things like the nature of thinking, rational processes and scientific endeavours.

Like many others, including Naomi Klein at the end of This Changes Everything (2014), De Graaff argues toward the need for an “alternative vision of life”. In advancing this conclusion, he begins laying a foundation for what just such an alternative might look like. But we read time and again the development of a project that struggles to truly emerge, as it becomes increasingly embroiled in the limitations of the worldview thesis. Due to the naturalization of worldviews, which I personally consider to be a product of pathological society and more of an expression of a dogmatic and irrational social world than of an ontological characteristic of human beings, the legitimacy of worldviews is universalized. The hallmark of sociologically relativistic thinking, what happens as we work through The Gods in Whom They Trusted is that normative values, which ought afforded their critical and objective space, become conflated with faith-based concepts rooted in a theory of “ultimate convictions” and “basic convictions”. 

To present the argument in another way: the attempt in The Gods in Whom They Trusted to retrieve enlightenment values (as well as other “core values”) and renew their purpose is not controversial. But, because of the worldview thesis employed, these values (and the Enlightenment project as a whole) ultimately lose their critical emancipatory thrust. Emancipatory enlightenment values, the authenticity of their critical normative claims, cannot exist in world absent of the primacy of reason and objectivity. 

The integral unity between experience, knowledge and worldview?

In digesting these points of critique, my concern is deepened when, as one works through more developed parts of the book’s contents, especially the chapters on science and knowledge, one comes to fully realize the implications of the underlying theses. Namely: experience, knowledge (whether experiential or theoretical) and worldview are seen as inseparably inter-connected. There is, according to the author, a perceived integral unity between the three. And the reason for this particular assessment or formulation relates back to what one might describe as a residue of a faith-based, worldview theoretical construct.

Allow me to explain. On the one hand, it is reasonable to suggest that experience, like knowledge, may help shape one’s view of the world. They can often be inter-connected. But one’s current orientation with the phenomenal world should not necessarily shape one’s future experience, nor one’s subjectivity. In fact, this is generally opposite to what is characteristic of a rational person: their previous knowledge and understanding does not necessarily define the subjectivity of “coming to know” in the present. It may help inform, it may help orientate one with that phenomenon, but in no way does this necessarily pertain to the existence of a “worldview”. Pre-judgment is, generally speaking, the marker of irrationality.

One of the serious concerns on this level is that, by holding onto the notion of worldviews in such a way, instead of seeking to move beyond them, even if De Graaff’s alternative “worldview” thesis which seeks to remain “open” and “integrative”, ultimately runs the risk of collapsing in on itself due to its very nature. To put it simply: an open and alternative “worldview” as formulated in the book is still a worldview and it still implies, to whatever degree, some form of hypostatization.  The open, intersubjective, normative worldview can easily become a principle of itself as a secular frame from which to interpret the world. In this sense, however paradoxical, subjectivity must again endure the possibility or reality of severe restriction. A simple way to explain this is in how there’s a fundamental difference in employing one’s experience to help understand or assess a particular phenomenon, situation or theory than have one’s present and future experience framed within, informed by, or prejudged by a worldview, regardless of its ontological status. The problem is in the actual conceptual framework and approach, which just does not resonate with the reality of two distinct forms of human experience, rational and irrational.

The critical and absolutely vital notions of “openness”, “critical thinking”, “open subjectivity”, “intersubjectivity”, or even “phenomenological ethics” are predicated on the efforts of the individual subject to approach reality – objects/phenomena, investigations, or even new theories – in as unbiased, unprejudiced and rational way as possible. A radical and liberated form of subjectivity, just like an emancipated form of knowledge or science, is one that transcends the very drive to construct “worldviews” in the first place. In the sense of pathological society, a worldview is much more of a representation of what Theodor Adorno would describe as objectivity’s false copy, than as a rational approach to the experiential world of phenomena. The very conceptual basis from which the notion of the “worldview” was conceived, owes a great deal to the social world overwhelmed by prejudiced subjectivity and anti-science and anti-reason sentiment. This very critique, this very critical constraint, is what helped inform the Enlightenment philosophes in the first place. As they sought to emancipate human thought from the oppression of the church, from the absurdities of myth, they also sought to develop a radical humanistic social philosophy which spoke of an alternative epistemology, an alternative way of “coming to know”, based on science and reason and truth – or, if you will, as an anti-prejudiced of a view of the world as possible.

One can, today, ground this perspective in a much more concrete and interdisciplinary theory of subjectivity – that is, the open, free-flourishing, and “mediating subject” free of hypostatization and free of the need to guard absolute first-principles, or “core convictions”. This is a form of subjectivity also free from its own “false copy” driven to secure any sort of absolute, dogmatic or faith-based worldview. It is, in my opinion, a form of subjectivity that is synonymous with science and the scientific mindset as well as the values of exploration and discovery aas well as an epistemological openness to the possibilities of “otherwise” closely associated with the process of rational enquiry.

Further the point, there is perhaps a small remnant of truth to be retrieved in the book’s arguments about experiential knowledge.

Human Knowledge and a Progressive Epistemology

I think one way to read The Gods in Whom They Trusted is in how it seeks to protect the value of experiential knowledge and to remind us of its importance – what we might also describe as phenomenological epistemologies. But the point I have been discussing, and will continue to reflect on, is that there is a caveat here; it has to do with the restricted domain of such knowledge. In other words, I see it as only useful in certain situations and research contexts. Think, for instance, of research and practice in psychology or the important studies of the experience of neurological disorders.  One can cite many examples within the domain of social science, where experiential knowledge and explanations provided by individuals, communities or formal research participants offers particularly valuable insight. In the case of psychology, the experience of individuals can contribute to a more total and formal understanding of their own unique difficulties insofar that these perspectives also have to be weighed against scientific, clinical and/or psychological expertise. In this sense one could say that there is a way of honoring a person’s experience and the experiential basis of meaning with regards to their experience, while also informing that individual of its reality and guiding them toward a rational, objective and diagnostic understanding.

What about the value of experiential knowledge within the natural sciences? I think in certain examples of modern scientific practice, one might reflect on how their is a particular knowledge forming process based on experience and experiential, or, better yet, phenomenological observation. I can think of examples in chemistry and in physics and certainly also in biology and in the environmental sciences. In terms of fundamental science, such as physics, consider the history of modern physics and the evolution of our knowledge and understanding about the fundamental truths of nature. Think of the inspiring story of Michael Faraday,  who contributed significantly to the study of electromagnetism and electrochemistry using at times nothing more than some coils of wire, magnets and a compass – here is an example of the practice of a certain phenomenological epistemology as integrated within a broader scientific and rational epistemology, the value of which refers to its relation to a more comprehensive scientific, logical-mathematical and empirical knowledge. Such a notion of “integration” is something we’ll return to later. Meanwhile, we can say here that there was something experiential about certain aspects of Faraday’s experimental evidence, particularly in relation to his study of magnetic fields. In general, I think we can pull many examples where a phenomenological epistemology (broadly defined) has value, although perhaps not isolated by itself.

Furthermore, if one was fortunate enough to study at a forward-thinking school as a child, one will remember similar experiential-like experiments in addition to textual study.  Whether in the study of pond life or in taking apart an electrical device, as a child I recall a number of instances of experiential effervescence during my earliest scientific introductions. If nothing else, early science education without immediate experiential application loses sight of the fun of scientific discovery and exploration.

The issue in The Gods in Whom They Trusted, however, is that it is divisive and it doesn’t allow for recognition of the already existing presence of  integral model of knowledge in relation to many areas of modern scientific knowledge, perhaps because experiential knowledge or phenomenological epistemology isn’t necessarily given primacy (and rightfully so). Without a doubt there are examples today, where textbook science tends to dominate and experimental and, indeed, experiential science practice becomes absent (and not always for the better), especially in grade schools. Listen to any seasoned and well-established chemistry professor, and you’ll frequently hear a complaint about the increasing rarity of the knowledge and passion that comes from exploring home chemistry – about knowledge of chemistry by experimentation, discovery and experience (in addition to theory and textbook knowledge). Perhaps here De Graaff’s account makes some sense, as the actual social trends can be seen at times, especially in the appropriate contexts, to be moving toward a lack of integration with regards to the experiential. A common justification for such policy is that it is not efficient.

But, in trying to do the author’s arguments some justice, I think it must be pointed out that there is a difference between emphasizing the practical value of experiential knowledge and learning within certain contexts and arguing toward a full-blown experiential theory of epistemology as though it represents a foundational view of knowledge. In furthering my comments, much of what follows can be reduced to a series of educated hypotheses, based on fairly in-depth study and scholarship. My main complaint, in offering a number of particular points of reflection, has to do with how experiential epistemology is not foundational in and of itself. Its usefulness, if one wants to consider an integral model, would seem not to be without the primacy of reason and scientific (and empirical) knowledge. There are thus important questions to be raised in response to the book’s account which positions experiential knowledge against what is perceived as a totalized “distorted” picture of “modern scientific knowledge”. In many ways what we read is an account that seems to give experiential knowledge primacy as a foundational basis for a progressive epistemology.

To add to this, I think what gets lost in the author’s arguments is the differentiation between social science and natural science methodologies and epistemologies. Additionally, I think there needs to be differentiation between an emphasis on experiential experience in the field of lived ethics and interpersonal relations and a wider theory of knowledge. Impliededly, also, I think there needs to differentiation between the value of experiential knowledge and phenomenological epistemology within certain fields of study and the limitations of the former within many others.

In short: as a general rule experiential knowledge in and of itself only allows for limited access into reality. Experiential knowledge also has to be differentiated from phenomenological epistemology and methodology. Moreover, I am in no way devaluing the importance and usefulness of phenomenological epistemology and methodological approaches, nor am I necessarily dismissing experiential knowledge completely. Phenomenological epistemology is useful in many research contexts, including also in the field of ethics. Indeed, as I have discussed and will also touch on later, phenomenological methodologies are also even important in the natural sciences, including physics. But there is a difference between phenomenological methodologies, which, formally, can be very systematic and certainly also useful in the course of rational assessment or investigation, and experiential knowledge. The latter can be useful, particularly in certain contexts within the social sciences and the humanities. The knowledge generated from people’s experiences can be extremely insightful, and is often cited in relation to social justice issues. More than that one can think, for instance, of psychiatry and psychotherapy, as well as of studies in relation to mental health or disabilities as noted above). There are also many forms of natural science that are incredibly experiential or that at least require significant phenomenological sensitivity. One could even argue that reason and rationality are also necessarily phenomenologically attuned, to whatever degree, and that rational investigation can often find important insight in experiential reports.

What I am railing against here is the idea of a theory of experiential knowledge as being  seen as foundational – that an experiential epistemology is in and of itself the basis for a foundational view of knowledge. When left to its own devices, a purely experiential theory of knowledge is much more inclined toward the universe of folk epistemology as opposed to an evolved enlightenment rational epistemology and therefore also the development of a complex knowledge.

If one were to truly take an integral approach to the study of complex knowledge, with a mind toward a progressive view of epistemology, the experiential would be seen as nothing more than auxiliary in its capacity.  This again is not to say that the experiential is completely inadequate, as it can serve as an important basis within certain research contexts. Philosophically, much in the same sense as phenomenological approaches, an experiential view of knowledge can serve as an important reminder about the sensitivity of our relationship with the stuff of our experience and the valuable insights that can be gained on this level, including when it comes to issues that arise from a priori knowledge and ethics. And oftentimes, especially in the social sciences, this insight  can become forgotten. But an experiential theory cannot be without its own integration within a much broader, complex and evolved understanding of knowledge. From an epistemological level, this really is one of the greatest lessons of the enlightenment, and certainly one of the most revolutionary lessons of the modern scientific endeavor, which serves as the basis for the progressive advance of human knowledge and understanding.

On this point of consideration, I think De Graaff’s use of the notion “integration” anticipates something important; but as the reader may begin to acknowledge, my own use of this notion is very different. In measuring the slope of a line, the leading approach is a logical-mathematical one; but our logical-mathematical knowledge here is – or should be – also in constant interaction with our rational knowledge of the slope and its properties, and even an experiential or physical knowledge of the object or slope. I attempted to describe this study of epistemology by employing a concept of “experiential coherence”.  I think there is a lot to be developed in this idea of “experiential coherence” or holistic knowledge, as it is inspired by systems thinking in that it works toward the idea of the complex and the integral – and what I would call rational knowledge – that recognizes the multifariousness of objective reality and its intricate systems of relations. In truth, one could call it cognitive coherence, intermodal coherence, the coherence of epistemic integration and synthesis – it doesn’t really matter. The basic idea is that a complex, evolved enlightenment (rational) epistemology contributes to understanding the complexity of phenomena in their many-sidedness and multifariousness as well as the complexity and multifariousness of systems and their interrelations. It represents the idea of interdisciplinary knowledge on a micro and macro level (individual and collective).

Consider, for instance, the study of human experience. The reality of human relations and experience is much more than purely cognitive or linguistic, it also emotional, biochemical, and so on. It is multidimensional and its multidimensionality attests to the countless disciplines and fields of study concerned with human experience and social relations.  The same can be said of almost anything. From geological processes to the study of the diversity of frogs in the Amazon Rainforest.  It doesn’t matter if we’re talking physics or biology, I think one of the lessons of modern epistemology that ultimately strengthens a progressive and even deeper notion of enlightenment reason and the project of human rationality is that phenomena and objects of study possess a multidimensional, integral and  perhaps even intermodal complexity. The more we study them, the more we are able to gain access to their fundamental and objective reality, the more they reveal. Is there an end to this process knowledge forming? It’s likely that, in the present moment of history and considering the current status of theory, there is no immediate answer. And so, in the spirit of the enlightenment philosophes, progress, knowledge – the scientific endeavour – is open and unfolding.

This view both of the subject (as I’ll touch on later) and of epistemology can support a much more reconciled awareness when it comes to how we relate with each other, ourselves and the world of things. In the example of psychology, we know that human beings are not purely atomistic – though this is a dimension of human reality. Human action and behaviour is also driven by emotion, cognition, biophysical need, and so on. Or in the case of the study of particle physics, the logical-mathematical in addition to other forms of tangible abstraction is required. In both cases the limits of the experiential is surpassed. It’s just a matter of having good sense of reality and the world. It’s a matter of good epistemology. Sometimes it’s proper to exercise a logical-mathematical form of knowledge, and in the background of one’s awareness understand that object or phenomenon in its integrality.  In other cases, such as in the social sciences where quantification is not always, in itself, the single most appropriate methodological approach, this calls for an even more immediate integration of knowledge and understanding.

For me, this is what a much more nuanced approach to a theory of knowledge would signal.

Having said that: The deeper, fundamental issue that this book fails to address is the inadequacy of the experiential theory’s ability to account for meaningful concepts and theoretical language, discerned from baseless and wild speculation whose meaning cannot or is not given by direct experience. A theory of experiential knowledge as the principia of a foundational view of epistemology does not account for how scientific theoretical frameworks and models, different from philosophical or social, at first unregulated by experience, have proven vital for eventual future empirical explanation. In this book we read an underlying inclination to treat anything outside of the realm of experiential experience as “cognitive abstraction”. Additionally, in presenting its case, The Gods in Whom They Trusted seems to confuse systemic rationale – that is, the logic and rationale of  particular social systems, such as capitalism, with the values of logical and rational knowledge. In other parts of the social sciences, we learn of a system’s rationale as sometimes describes as a “abstract reason” or “instrumental reason” – what I have already described as reason tied to an ends. Without repeating what has already been said, I find it concerning in this book that there is no adequate differentiation. Not even basic forms of tangible abstraction are recognized, which raises so many problems ranging from cognitive science to linguistics and beyond. One could, again, think of infinite examples of how and why such a case and view of epistemology is limited. One could pull examples from archaeology, geology, biology, chemistry, physics, environmental science, and so on. Basic methodological approaches and forms of knowledge we now largely take for granted, like the study of the half life of Carbon-14, or the crowning glory of the Standard Model of particle physics, or the best current theories which explain how and why the universe operates at a fundamental level, extend well beyond an experiential epistemological frame. Our understanding of the sub-atomic world, of why protons and neutrons are built from quarks – that everyday matter is made from atoms, and that atoms have a nuclear core. The basic reality that mass and energy are interchangeable, and the possibility that if we could one day tap into and extract the energy of particles, humanity’s energy crisis would be forever solved. One could go on and on. The point to take away, I think, is that modern science and its methodologies – its epistemological basis – should not be taken for granted or subsumed by social-political philosophical critique, whose range has more to do with political economy than the intrinsic status of science.

It is the task of genuine scientific practice and method to dispel, exclude, or safegaurd against a regress to myth and irrationality characterized by occult forces and things for which no empirical evidence can be provided. In the special or fundamental sciences, theory in absence of empirical evidence is or should be treated in a very particular way, according to criteria that either allows for recognition of the lucidity of the logical structure of a theoretical proposal in relation to some basis of data and the greater totality of current theory and hypothesis, or disregards it as baseless speculation. One criteria is the respective theory’s predicative power. But ultimately, any theory should be discredited, no matter how popular or established, if the empirical evidence doesn’t eventually support it.  Some theories exist for decades until the data catches up and/or our technical capabilities allow for the necessary experiments. Experiential knowledge and its accompanying epistemology offers no basis for such a nuanced defense.

To approach the matter differently: De Graaff’s return to the idea that concepts and theories are given meaning by experiential experience is enticing and certainly has proven attractive for many others (since such a position already has a deep history). But there are particular statements made in his book which, in many ways, seem to suggest a position very close to the relativism synonymous with the deeply problematic theses laid out by Thomas Kuhn. Maybe I am wrong, but there would seem to be a underlining subjectivism to the philosophy of experience offered, in which any notion of objective knowledge appears discredited in The Gods in Whom They Trusted insofar that reason and rationality are de-authoratized. If many very basic truths of reality can neither be confirmed nor dis-confirmed by experience, then what does this say of knowledge and the need to defend against the irrational human tendency toward the occult? When you break down its logic, the experiential thesis toward a foundational epistemology has no answer, it cannot differentiate between the knowledge, for instance, that all internal angles of a triangle equal 180 degrees and the claims toward reality by pseudo-scientific, abstract spiritualism, such as that found in astrology. Epistemologically speaking, its holism is another form of relativism, since, as I discussed in essay one, no approach or investigative means has a corner on the truth. This is an unfortunate turn, in which fundamental notions of truth and notions of contingent truths, as well as rational and scientific values, come to surrender to the sociology of “worldviews”, in which irrationality, myth and post-factualism prevail.

Meanings are more than purely sensory experience, although experiential experience is certainly one dimension. But the experiential thesis cannot make sense of theoretical science. At least to this reader, as I have already alluded, there would seem no room for basic concrete epistemic values such as practice of tangible abstraction  in the context of the epistemology of good science and its unfolding objective knowledge within distinct structure and systems of rationality.Along what lines might one, for instance, discern the difference between rational intuition and the so-called intuition associated with the belief in some dreamed up god? What about the now virtually indispensable entities of cellular nuclei, molecules, and atoms, in which an experiential epistemology would not have the means or tools to postulate or predicate? The ultimate and eventual disregard of the experiential thesis for genuine theoretical language, which can be distinguished and discerned from the sort of careless, irresponsible and reckless “speculation for speculation sake” that appears to be a popular trend across all disciplines and fields, is problematic.

Unfolding Knowledge

One of the positive insights, and perhaps best qualities of the epistemology laid out by De Graaff, is the manner in which he describes knowledge and unintentionally also affirms the scientific understanding of the larger process of generating objective knowledge, as unfolding in the context of the relation of human study and investigation as phenomena unfold and thus reveal more of themselves. It fosters an understanding of rational and reconciled subjectivity as one that is open, constantly mediating, discovering and learning, as opposed to the dogmatic, ideological, irrational and violent epistemologies and subjectivities that comprise of so much of our modern social reality. Better phrased: phenomena reveal the more we know. I would suggest that on the basis of all the evidence at hand, and in light of the core debates in epistemology, this is a very progressive, justifiable and currently verifiable position. How De Graaff formulates this thesis and introduces a number of distinctly ethical-epistemological arguments is thought-provoking, and lends to what I would personally describe as an incredibly rational philosophy of history with respect to understanding scientific knowledge and the development of objective knowledge over time (I am of course inserting my own terms here). Unfortunately, what’s missing in this book is recognition of these points – that upon its critical retrieval, the position being carved out by De Graaff becomes much more akin to the scientific ethic than the author may care to realize, which is predicated on openness to new data and to the constantly revealing nature of phenomena. But I’ll save further reflection on the scientific ethic for another time.

Evolved Epistemology

In short: An entire substantial, widely referenced and researched paper should and must be written on these issues and their complexities. But it is at least interesting to speculate here that, from my observations, an evolved epistemology would be one grounded in successful science and not in philosophy. One could speculate that, in building from realism and others, a foundational epistemology, not to mention philosophy of science, would take the form of something much more advanced than what progressive positions in philosophy of science currently has to offer. Repairing the damage done by Kuhn and postmodernism, retaining the value of objective knowledge and the value of scientific pursuit, perhaps it would build from the critical interventions of naturalism? In any case, and perhaps similar to Quine, I think it would be safe to speculate that a reconciled and progressive epistemology would emerge from within the sciences and would be applied on the basis of the normative foundations of reason, which could take interdisciplinary insight from contemporary studies in cognitive science, developmental psychology, among others.

In any case, and back to the book at hand: One can, perhaps, glean from experience some insight into natural laws for example. In this case, think of early astronomy or pre-modern science. We see that, through experiential observation, one could intuit a direction, but ultimately the understanding was fuzzy, unrefined and without precise accuracy. One could pull countless examples from the entire history of human thought. Think, for instance, of Aristotle who viewed the earth as being at the centre of the universe. The Aristotlean view was one that saw space filled with imaginary grid, and thus things could be measured with earth understood to be positioned at the centre of this grid. Today, we understand this view as being wrong. But not necessarily because it is obvious purely by way of experience. If it was, then this view would have been proven wrong a lot sooner than it was. Or what about a more pertinent example from modern physics, which challenges the linear view of time. An experiential knowledge could not, in and of itself, gain access into this fundamental truth of reality. Another example has to do with linear and logarithmic scales. One of the fascinating philosophical truths pertaining to human perception when it comes to the logarithmic scale, is that human beings tend to perceive many things in a logarithmic way. One could say, perhaps, that there is an experiential element here in terms of an experiential knowledge of reality; but this knowledge is really only deepened when we begin to advance our logical-mathematic knowledge of nature. Or think, for example, of purely unrefined physical experience: that hardwood table in front of you, the cup that holds your tea, the window through which sunlight is brightening the room. On a purely physical and experiential level of experience, we see that wood desk as sold and hard, but on the subatomic scale of reality, on the level of particle physics, we know that space is actually quite empty and the truth of that solid wood desk is very different than as it may be commonly perceived “in experience”.

One could (and indeed many have) write a book about all the countless examples. But the main question here is, where does this thinking leave us? In many respects, it seems easy to take for granted the significant achievements of modern enlightenment reason and of the modern scientific endeavour. That includes the exponentiation of knowledge.

The simple truth is that the history of modern science has shown time and again that our everyday experience proves to be a poor guide when it comes to understanding nature and the profound phenomena that operate on a deeper level. There is no comparison between the advance of scientific knowledge and the more simple world of everyday experiential experience and experiential epistemology, the latter of which remain susceptible to myth and irrationality (irregardless of how well-intentioned such myth may be). Expanding the lessons and insights of fundamental physics toward the realm of philosophy, or, in the particular domain of social philosophy, what one must come to grips with is the radical revision of human knowledge, epistemology and the basic fact that many fundamental truths of nature are often counter-intuitive. As two physicists, Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw recently put it, “it is not wise to extrapolate experience beyond its realm”. This simplest of truths may not fit with one’s social, moral, ethical, political or economic “worldview”, but that is more of a problem for that worldview than for the scientific perspective. Perhaps, in the end, this is one of the practical lessons of the remarkable and still very young history of modern physics, not to mention modern science as a whole. As referenced in a past essay, it constantly challenges the prejudices and, deeper yet, epistemologies that constitute so much of the everyday social world.

Additionally, I think it is fair to suggest or to speculate that there are ethical implications when it comes to a theory of experiential knowledge in the sense that such a theory may be given primacy within the field of ethics. The idea of a phenomenological (lived) ethics is an intriguing and would certainly seem important when it comes to everyday relations – an idea I would personally account or associate with the scientific mindset, as it implies a sensitivity to phenomena and to the considerable study of daily experience. But nowhere in the book do I also read an account of how experiential epistemology, limited as it is, can also be counter to or function in denial of rational evidence-based thought and scientific fact. Restricted in terms of analytical capacity, I cannot see how an experiential theory of knowledge can realize the full weight of an ethical theory, which depends on a social-systemic analysis, let alone a deeper scientific understanding of phenomena (social, natural or otherwise). Think of the typical climate change denier: “Global warming isn’t happening, it’s too bloody cold outside!” This is an expression of a simplified knowledge based purely on lived experience. Needless to say, scientifically speaking we know global warming is happening contrary to the experiential evidence conveyed by some in their particular contextual environments or geographical locations. Further to the point, what I am challenging here is the legitimacy of a knowledge based on the premise of something being “self-evident”, as opposed to being evidenced-based. What most people mean when they describe something as “self-evident” is actually untested assumption. It is more an expression of “worldview” than of evidenced-based and scientific approach. It turns out that reality isn’t always self-evident. From neuormyths in education to various assertions I’ve recently read in relation to alternative agriculture, such as biodynamic farming methods.

While examples of groups and their “contextual” and “experiential” knowledge are celebrated and held-up as ideal-types in this book, the author also neglects the history of movements, political or religious or mythic, which also displayed such forms of knowledge and lived in an incredibly violent and delusion world in which one’s deeper understanding of reality was incredibly far from reality and the truth. Nature religions being one of multiple examples.

Perhaps the deeper point here is how, in our present historical context, looking back through the history of the human endeavour thus far, it is clear that a progressive epistemology is ultimately one that seeks to power knowledge beyond direct experience. Religion, myth, which run counter to a progressive (enlightenment) epistemology, is in no way sufficient. If, as I wrote in the past, there is a tendency for human beings to regress to myth, for reason or rationality to be abandoned and thus result in a regress to irrationality, the lesson of human history with regards to human knowledge becomes very simple: a progressive epistemology is one powered by science. The enlightenment philosophes knew this, and centuries later the struggle between the enlightenment project and counter-enlightenment continues. The epistemological lesson is that one cannot dismiss or believe something simply on the basis of “experience”, which can represent anything from a more accurate and systematic empirical engagement to a delusional religious episode. There are constraints.

Reladtedly, there is certainly a deeply ethical philosophy associated with the core humanistic values of the enlightenment tradition. And perhaps, in considering The Gods in Whom They Trusted, this is one of the valuable contributions this book makes, as it contributes to the sharpening of the ethical criterion within which the modern enlightenment project and the maturation of its epistemology might unfold, which includes a particular experiential sensitivity. In other words, there is no denying that an experiential sensitivity is not important. The book raises a lot of interesting points within this context, such as the concept of a phenomenological ethics, which, as I have already said in a previous essay, fits very much within a progressive philosophy of the subject and also what I would posit as the scientific approach to the world. However, the framing of the arguments within the work is what I consider to be problematic.

Philosophy of the Subject

To conclude, I offer one last point of reflection.

One of the obvious concerns raised in my engagement is how worldviews, even if they start by trying to remain “open”, usually often fall back into a closed-system or totalized view or theory, due to the very definition of a worldview as “a particular philosophy of life or conception of the world”. In other words, a worldview whether reconciled or not serves as the basis from which one interprets the world. On the basis of this, how the book resonates for me is defined by its struggle to do justice to both the notions of rational and critical thought – even as this has to do with the notions of subjectivity and development – and also, for all intents and purposes, the primacy of the unique and special domain of scientific practice and thinking.

There is little room for recognition, for instance, of the scientific method and conscious efforts to remove underlying presuppositions and prejudices from one’s investigations. Are there examples of “bad science” or “bad scientific practice” that can be said to be biased or prejudiced? Yes, and perhaps it will be useful to discuss some of the examples in the future. Does every scientist successfully and objectively practice the scientific method? No. But from the point of view of critical normative philosophy, the notion of objectivity like “truth” is incredibly important to preserve. 

In seeing the presence of “faith” as a necessary and almost unavoidable dimension of human experience, which seems to tie into the idea of the integral unity between experience, knowledge and worldview, this forces the author in my opinion to do too much justice to the existence of faith-based constructs in human history. Thus, all investigations are underlined by a viewpoint in virtually the same way that all faith-based systems approach the world through the lens of their abstract and dogmatic “worldview”.

Naomi Klein, in her latest and extremely popular book, This Changes Everything, reflects particularly in the last chapter that we need a new worldview, a new vision, a radical new way of living and a new set of values (see pp. 460 and ff.). She doesn’t goes so far to elaborate on what is involved in such a transformation of worldview, if we consider that capitalism is the worldview that requires fundamental transformation. De Graaff’s book certainly makes a valuable contribution in exploring the nature of worldviews and offering a phenomenological criteria for evaluating different worldviews.  In this way, the book is illuminating. But what if what is required is a critique of worldviews that actually seeks to overcome the problematic subjectivity and epistemology of worldviews?

By clinging to the notion of the need for a “worldview”, The Gods in Whom They Trusted lingers in the residues of faith-based subjectivities, and thus cannot quite progress to its fullest in terms of its aim in the pursuit of a reconciled and alternative approach to the world, which would be a lot closer to the enlightenment project than perhaps the author may realize.

When it comes to the practice of science, the authoritative status of scientific knowledge, and even providing appropriate space for scientific knowledge as being one of the only remaining rational domains in contemporary society – it all risks being undermined to the extent that objectivity, objective knowledge, “western reason”, and “science” are no longer permitted their unique place in contemporary life.

Indeed, and to return to the author’s assumption that critical value-free investigation is not possible; it is not outrages to speculate that the individual subject is always mediated by his or her sociohistorical-cultural circumstance. This is to say that the individual is always the stuff of their sociohistorical-cultural circumstance, to whatever degree depending on the extent of internalization. As we develop and age, we also bring with us our experience, our neurosis and orientations – that is, our personal histories. As individual agents we bring with us the stuff of subjectivity. On this point, it is a fairly practical step to draw on the assumption that the individual is therefore never value-free. But understanding this facet of human reality should not suggest an absence of an internal freedom and ability to take an objective perspective, especially in relation to the ability to perform critical rational enquiry, which is what help makes the scientific method possible.

One of the many incredible things about human beings, and even about consciousness in general, is our ability as efficacious agent to also overcome our neurosis and to transcend as much as possible our bias and prejudice, to therefore approach the world openly, affect or transform existing sociohistorical-cultural structures, and thus do so attentively. This is one of the many practical things that also gives science its power. The capability as human beings to transcend or overcome our own prejudices may not always be apparent within the vast majority of the irrational social world, but that does not mean it is not possible. It’s not always easy, sure. In fact, it can be quite difficult for a lot of people, and this experience of difficulty is why many scientists train for many years to learn how to achieve as value-free of an analysis that is humanly conceivable.

To the extent that how we distinguish – in terms of general cognition, what we choose to distinguish and not distinguish when organizing our scientific research – one could argue that there is space here for bias or prejudice to invade the scientific process. That is, there is space for social pathology, for dominant ideology, such as capitalistic motivation, to distort the scientific process. But it also goes without saying that, while possible, especially in industrial contexts, this does not necessarily universally apply to the scientific method or to scientific practice and knowledge. The individual scientist may not always be successful but, in reverse, the scientific method is also often very successful. And while science must constantly defend itself and normatively reflect on safeguards against the influence of cognitive bias, the point is that science also works. The success of the modern scientific endeavour speaks for itself. The assumption that there is no value-free investigation is approached from the wrong angle; it is framed in the wrong way. The reality is much more nuanced – that while philosophically and perhaps even within the field of cognitive science one could posit that investigation is technically never absolutely free of subjectivity, we can nevertheless work hard to ensure our investigations are as autonomous, critical, open, non-partisan and free of “conviction” or prejudice as possible.

Indeed, even if one concedes that, prior to the actual practice of science, social bias and prejudice could more deeply pervade the distinguishing process in terms of organizing what scientific research to pursue, this still does not mean that scientific practice is prevailingly entangled in a dominant ideology, as we read in parts of The Gods in Whom They Trusted. The most obvious example of when it is, or might be, is within the context of industrial science, which characterizes the majority of the examples that the author provides. But because the worldview thesis, along with its position on value-free investigation, approaches the issues in such a problematic way, what ends up happening is that the book evolves into a critique of “western science” as being “distorted” as a result of underlying paradigms linked with dominant ideology for over 250 years.

In this sense, the general view is almost to the extreme that every instance of a scientist choosing what to research or not to research is persuaded by prejudice and existing economic ideologies.

Individuals choose what to research for many reasons. Is there room for a critique here in certain specific contexts? Yes. But even in the case of industrial science, concerns about which have already been critiqued by many others, not every scientist working in industrial situations necessarily reproduces a destructive ideological worldview. Think of renewable industries, for example. I suppose the main point is that we’re dealing with specific contexts pertaining to the social and economic use of science. Industrial science is very different than scientific activity in other contexts, which is to say there needs to be differentiation. Further to this point, it must also be recognized that many corporations that rely on industrial science, are also shifting more and more to an ethical consideration of the sort of science they are funding. This shift is largely due to consumer pressure. But even young scientists training to go into industrial science or engineering with obvious heavy industrial application, part of university training now also deals with ethics and with fostering ethical awareness.

In closing, as opposed to the social world, in which political assessments for example are often openly prejudiced and biased, and in which De Graaff’s worldview thesis is more fitting, the pursuit of the natural sciences is more befitting of the alternative epistemology, anthropology and cosmology that he ultimately seeks to argue toward. Avoiding the pitfalls of worldviews and striving toward a clearer and more objective approach to knowledge, experience and how we relate with the phenomenal world: the natural sciences already offer a better early developmental model and, in many ways, anticipate what I like to think of as the general characteristics of a mature (enlightenment) epistemology. It is for this reason among many others, that modern science also possesses such an emancipatory and transformative appeal, beginning with the enlightenment and the primacy of reason.