Driftwork

19/04/11

Atkins, Science and ...

Filed under: culture, philosophy, difference, text, the political, spectacle — sdv @ 01:43:34 pm

The question that springs to mind with Peter Atkins book On Being is how should one read it ? It’s not a question raised to refuse or even address his atheism which is honestly felt and correct, or even to critique his non-philosophy with its expressed desire to place science in its stead. But rather to address the question of science and what means, which for Atkins is the royal road to truth and knowledge. And with truth and knowledge we always dealing directly with questions of social and political power. It is critical to realize that science in this sense remains the royal and state science instantiated with Galileo brought to fruition with Newton and the invention of the Royal Society.. In general philosophers and sociologists of science (and their ilk ) all avoid speaking royal and state science. But given that science has supplanted the spectacle of religion as the juridical and ideological support, the core of this society, it is time to discuss this again. Not to ask as a philosopher of science might about ’science’ but instead to think in terms of science and its relationship to capitalism, not in the general sense of any capitalism but rather in the sense of the specific flavour of capitalism that we exist within, this capitalism.

How then should science be understood in relation to Atkins discussion of it ? My initial references above are related to the replacement of religion by science as the ideological support of sovereignty as described and defined by Dumezil and his successors. And yet perhaps the notion of political sovereignty as described by Georges Dumezil in Mitra-Varuna and the Destiny of the King as having the two symbolic but still very real functions which are so obviously attractive as a means of describing our histories, which he names as ‘the magician-king’ and ‘the jurist-priest’, with the alternate names known as ‘the despotic king’ and ‘the legislator’, it is the latter which has the function of being the legitimator of the system. In all cases these two poles of sovereignty stand in opposition to one another, the first implying despotic violence and the latter implying regulation and justification, of course they are an unseperable dualism, that together make up the social and ideological function of political sovereignty. The critical relevance of this concept is that within our recent societies Science has supplanted religion so that what were jurist-priests are now jurist-scientists. But where Deleuze and Guattari present science in two different modes implying on the one side royal and on the other nomadic science, its clear but both these scientific modes function in the role as advisers to the state just as historically religion always have multiple modes.

It is one of those strange synergies that interests me with Debord’s related comments on Science and capitalism. Where he says: “It is sometimes said that science today is subservient to the imperatives of profit, but that is nothing new. What is new is that the economy has come to declare open war on humanity attacking not only our possibilities for living but our chances of survival. It is here that Science – renouncing the opposition to slavery that formed a significant part of its own history - has chosen to put itself at the service of spectacular domination. Until it got to this point Science possessed a relative autonomy. It knew how to understand its own portion of reality; and in this has made an immense contribution to increasing economic resources. When the all powerful economy lost its reason – and it is this which defines these spectacular times – it surpassed the last vestiges of scientific autonomy, both in methodology and in the practical working conditions of its ‘researchers’. No longer is science asked to understand the world, or to improve any part of it. It is asked instead to immediately justify everything that happens…”

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