Academic journal article International Journal of Communication Research

The Lonerganian Revolution in the Understanding of Scientific Research

Academic journal article International Journal of Communication Research

The Lonerganian Revolution in the Understanding of Scientific Research

Article excerpt

1.SCIENTIFIC HEURISTICS

Let us begin by a preliminary issue: scientific literacy. In the 19th century, Europeans were required to learn how to read, write and count in order to integrate the industrial society. Today, in order to participate in the "information society" or "society of knowledge", we need to be familiar with science, we must have some degree of scientific literacy. Science shapes our world, not only on the fast-evolving technological forum but also in the social forum of human affairs.1

Science is not easy. When questions of public interest arise - renewable energies, nuclear waste, transgenic plants, gene therapy, euthanasia, over-debt, migrations, money creation, industrial patents, etc. - there are many complex concepts we must master if we want our opinion to matter. Nowadays, we can only form a valid and respected critical opinion by enriching our scientific culture and, in so doing, we can then become active participants in a multitude of current issues and can free ourselves from the pressure of interest groups.

Culture now emerges from the natural human desire of knowledge. What Bernard Lonergan calls the "pure unrestricted desire" of comprehension, knowledge and goodness is an unlimited capacity to ask all sorts of questions and face every sort of problem posed by life. When it comes to science, this is not an easy task. The public knowledge of science comes from the mass media. However, scientists do not trust the media and journalists tend to blame science for its complex information. The end result is inadequate media coverage of scientific affairs.2

The requirements of a scientific culture cannot be solved by technical instruction. A technician is someone who solves an immediate problem without grasping the complexity of the underlying theoretical processes that precede his or her intervention. A scientist knows how to create appliances, a technician only knows how to run them and the consumer, or end user, just wants a hassle-free use of them. The gap between scientists, technicians and consumers is increasing. The only way we can awaken from the unconscious and massive use of science and technology is to go back to the natural human desire of goodness, as Bernard Lonergan put it: "The problem of self-knowledge that human beings face is no longer an individual problem, inspired by an ancient sage. It has the dimensions of a social crisis and it is legitimate to see there the existential challenge of the 20th century"?

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy dealing with the nature, possibility and foundations of scientific knowledge.4 As a meta-scientific language, it covers the whole process of scientific creation, scientific research, and technological appliances. A meta-scientific language is usually presented as having a descriptive and a normative aspect, correlated with the distinction between contexts of discovery and justification. This distinction goes back to Hans Reichenbach,5 who points to the difference between how science is done and how it is rationally reconstructed, how the scientist conducts his/her research and how we understand him/her.

However, such neo-positivistic separation between contexts of discovery and justification, between the products of science and its production method, hinders epistemology itself and scientific literacy. It does not help society to find its way through the complex world of science. Bernard Lonergan, in his work Insight. An essay on human knowledge (1957, 1992),6 noticed this major flaw and undertook a revolution in epistemology and ethics of scientific research; by a new concept of scientific heuristic, he overcame the positivist hegemony in philosophy of science and opened the way for a better scientific culture.

Insight broke away from the normative epistemology that dominated the philosophy of science until the late 1950s. Published in 1957, it precedes the contributions of authors such as Thomas Kuhn and Imre Lakatos, and its revolutionary approach incorporates a monumental array of data and evidence from both natural and social sciences. …

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