6
Science, Language
and Ideology

The analyses of ideology considered in the preceding chapter depend on the opposition between ideology and some sort of science. For much of mainstream Anglo-Saxon social science is continuing the tradition of de Tracy's science of ideas, a tradition which broadly goes under the label of positivism. Although there are many different sorts of positivism, there is general agreement among positivists that the social sciences should model themselves on the natural sciences, whose mode of procedure is the only one thought capable of producing valid knowledge. This valid social science must be strongly empirical by appealing to an objective world of facts and its method is one of rejecting all conceptions that cannot, in principle, be verified (or at least falsified) by appealing to such facts.

However, this assimilation of the social to the natural world has come under attack from those who question whether natural science (let alone social science) is quite as objective and neutral as is widely believed. Such people would not wish to deny that the vast emphasis of recent decades on empirical social science has indeed provided us with a lot of potential information about society, but would claim that there remains a still vaster problem of interpretation. It is obvious that to equate social facts with natural facts is to invest social facts with the same air of immutability that attaches to nature and thus has distinctly conservative implications. But some critics of positivism wish to go further and suggest that not only is there no sharp distinction between science and ideology, but that much of natural science is itself ideological. This disquiet over the status of natural science is prompted by the failure of scientific

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