Academic journal article European Quarterly of Political Attitudes and Mentalities

Living off Dead Premises: The Persistence of Enlightenment Mentalities in the Making of Social Science

Academic journal article European Quarterly of Political Attitudes and Mentalities

Living off Dead Premises: The Persistence of Enlightenment Mentalities in the Making of Social Science

Article excerpt

Introduction

When social science developed in the nineteenth century, Enlightenment premises guided its historical development as intellectual endeavour. Social science was an Enlightenment science. Premises like progress, the superiority of the West, the worth of technological development, the merits of science for the benefit of humankind, and the worth of temporal life were basic, taken for granted, assumptions for the first social scientists. After two world wars, men like Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, Arnold Gehlen and C. Wright Mills had declared that, with the event of the Shoah, the era of Enlightenment was over and Enlightenment premises were declared dead. Science could no longer be taken as the paradigmatic human activity, as an activity that discovers truth. As Gehlen (1980: 102) put it, 'the Enlightenment era appears to us at an end; its premises are dead.' Yet, many social scientist continued to ground their works in such dead premises. After the Shoah, there was a collective denial that the Age of Enlightenment was actually over and the Modern Era had come to an end. In fact, the modern world that was in ashes was to be rebuild, and social science was to take a part in that reconstruction work.

The aim of this article is to show, in narrative form, how enlightenment premises underlie and permeate the historical development of social science, and how the different commitments of social scientists have shaped social science throughout the industrialization process. In the form of a narrative, past scientists, or past social scientific issues and discussions, are re-interpreted, re-formulated and connected with present social science, as an endless process of developing social science. It is narrated that enlightenment premises, in spite of being declared dead after the Shoah, continue to shape social science in the new era of what in this article is labelled as 'bio-industrial civilization' - a new post-industrial society organized around a neo-Darwinian paradigm and bio-technological issues of securing life, survival, health, body repair, growth, hygiene and fitness. This article paper is arranged as follows. The first section deals with the original use of Enlightenment premises in the early social scientific works of Alexis de Tocqueville and Auguste Comte, with the aim of showing how such premises reveal contrasting political attitudes and mentalities. In the second section, the persistence of Enlightenment premises in social science as an academic discipline, in the industrial era of 1850-1945, is explored. It is argued that, working in the Modern Era, Enlightenment premises powerfully legitimated social science's arrival and expansion in the university. In the third section, the persistence of Enlightenment premises in the Cold War era is discussed. In this period, various scholars came to criticize Enlightenment premises, which they held responsible for the catastrophes of the twentieth century, including the Shoah, yet, such critiques did not result in an emancipation of social science from dead Enlightenment premises. On the contrary, influential social scientists continued to build their works on dead Enlightenment premises while expressing their commitments to Enlightenment ideals in the thermonuclear civilization of the Cold War era. In the final section, the question regarding the relationship between social science and new bio-technological developments, largely sustained by neo-Darwinian premises of Enlightenment, is addressed. In the current stage of the development of social science, it is argued, the relationship between social science and dead Enlightenment premises has become most ambiguous in the era of 'bio-industrial civilization'.

The 'New Science' of the Enlightenment

When social science came to development in France, under the July Monarchy of the 1830s, the structural transformation from an aristocratic and rural order to a democratic and industrial order in the making was the main concern. …

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