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Scientific Method and Ideology

  • Brian William Head
Chapter
Part of the Archives Internationales D’Histoire Des Idees/International Archives of the History of Ideas book series (ARCH, volume 112)

Abstract

Tracy constantly professed his faith in the importance of facts, observations and rigorous scientific method, and yet his writings often have the appearance of rationalist deduction from basic principles. In exploring this paradox or tension in his work, it is necessary to consider the images of scientific method and scientific laws which were part of Tracy’s intellectual borrowings. Why did he believe that methods of observation, analysis, and the search for general causal explanations, were the key to attaining certain or reliable knowledge? What kinds of ideas were to be excluded from the realm of positive knowledge? What was the proper starting-point for reaching a scientific understanding of man and society? Could the models derived from mechanics, optics, astronomy, and the biological sciences be applied directly to the study of man? These and similar questions are the concern of this chapter.

Keywords

Scientific Method Sense Perception Reliable Knowledge Positive Science Intellectual Faculty 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 3.
    Ibid., p. 50. The Baconian programme was also extremely prominent in the conception of the Encyclopedie: see, for example, d’Alembert’s Preliminary Discourse to the Encyclopedia of Diderot (1751), trans. R.N. Schwab (New York, 1963). Bacon was also one of the masters of the modern mind identified by D.-J. Garat in his lectures on I’analyse de I’entendement at the ecole normale in Paris early in 1795: see Seances des ecoles normales ( Paris, 1801 ), Lemons, vol. I.Google Scholar
  2. 8.
    On Descartes’ views on the physical sciences, cf. A Vartanian, Diderot and Descartes (Princeton, 1953 ); R. McRae, The Problem of the Unity of the Sciences: Bacon to Kant (Toronto, 1961 ).Google Scholar
  3. 10.
    See chapter 2 of the Discourse on Method, trans. F.E. Sutcliffe (Harmondsworth, 1968), p. 41. Tracy cited these principles in Logique, p. 109n–110, concluding that “there is nothing as profound nor as just in the whole grande renovation” The continuity between Descartes’ four principles and Condillac’s methodological position is quite striking. Much of Condillac’s polemics are directed against Cartesians such as Malebranche, who developed the “spiritual” side of Cartesian dualism.Google Scholar
  4. 17.
    Cf. Tracy, Logique, p. 126. Of course, Condillac substituted sensationalism for Descartes’ spiritualised dualism, in explaining the operations of the intellect. The influence of Descartes upon the ideologues has seldom been raised: exceptions include the brief remarks by F. Bouillier, Histoire de la philosophie cartesienne (Paris, 3rd ed. 1868 ), vol. II, pp. 641– 46; F. Picavet, Les Ideologues, pp. 1–10.Google Scholar
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    Cf. Tracy, “Memoire sur la faculte de penser”, Memoires de VInstitut National, Classe des Sciences morales et politiques, vol. I (1798), p. 320.Google Scholar
  6. 20.
    J.-S. Bailly, Histoire de I’astronomie moderne, 3 vols. (Paris, 1779–82), especially vol. I, p. xvi, vol. II, pp. 469–471, vol. Ill, p. 331.Google Scholar
  7. 22.
    Cf. H. Guerlac, “Newton’s changing reputation in the eighteenth–century”, in Carl Beck¬er’s Heavenly City Revisited, ed. R.O. Rockwood (New York, 1958), especially pp. 21–24; for a detailed account of the early phase of Newton’s reception in France (before 1738), cf. P. Brunet, I’Introduction des theories de Newton en France au XVIII siecle (Paris, 1931). The modern account of Newton by A. Koyre stresses the abstract theoretico- mathematical character of his work upon an idealised nature, rather than his empiricism and positivism: cf. Newtonian Studies (London, 1965), and “The Origins of Modern Science”, Diogenes, vol. 16 (1956), especially pp. 20–22.Google Scholar
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    The question was posed in the second of a series of memoires, later collected under the name “Memoire sur la faculte de penser”, and published in Memoires de I’lnstitut Nation¬al, Classe des Sciences morales et politiques, vol. I (1798), pp. 283–450. Evidence for the date of the original usage of the term ideologie is given in B.W. Head, “The origin of ‘ideologue’ and ‘ideologie’”, Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century, vol. 183 (1980), p. 263–4.Google Scholar
  12. 42.
    Cf. Condillac, Oeuvres philosophiques, vol. II, p. 229; Bonnet, Essai analytique sur les facultes de I’ame (1760). Bonnet had sought to develop “une psychologie experimentale”: see H. Gouhier, Les Conversions de Maine de Biran (Paris, 1947 ), p. 89.Google Scholar
  13. 62.
    Cf. Condillac, Essai sur I’origine des connaissances humaines (1746), in Oeuvres philosophiques, vol. I, especially pp. 24–27; I’Art de penser, in ibid., vol. I, especially pp. 747, 769–774; and Dictionnaire des synonymes, article “Decomposer”, in ibid., vol. Ill, p. 179.Google Scholar
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    Cf. Tracy, “De la metaphysique de Kant”, Memoires de I’lnstitut…, Vol. IV, pp. 569, 580. See also the second section of the following chapter, on “metaphysics and religion”.Google Scholar
  15. 89.
    Cf. Cabanis, Rapports du physique et du moral de Vhomme, in Oeuvres philosophiques, vol. I, p. 126: physiology should be la base commune for the research of the Class of moral and political sciences, to avoid elaborating “a vain scaffolding which is inconsistent with the eternal laws of nature”.Google Scholar
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    C.C. Gillispie, The Edge of Objectivity (Princeton, 1959 ), p. 203.Google Scholar

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© Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Dordrecht 1985

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  • Brian William Head

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