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Salient. Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Volume 32, No. 18. July 30, 1969

The Scientific Method

page 7

The Scientific Method

Warren Berryman reflects on

The term scientific refers to a method or a way. This implies not only a methodology but also a stated end. It can be said that a dispassionate look at the facts will result in a scientific end: a hypothesis. This is a casuistic pulling of the chicken before the egg. This is impossible as dispassionate men lack sufficient motivation to assemble necessary facts, On the other hand, a motivation disqualifies the man as a dispassionate scientist. I maintain, that before a method is applied, an end must be slated. The end docs not result from a method applied with the motivation of a goal fixe. To apply a scientific method to politics would result in social engineering towards a Utopian end. The end would not be that of society but that of the social engineer.

While scientific methods may at times be successfully employed in the study of politics there are dangerous in the implementation of politics, Systems for analysis seldom remain simply that. The system of analysis is merely a simplification of the political structure to enable men to understand its workings more easily. Too often this tool for study becomes entrenched in the minds of those in power, an it becomes, rather than a frame work with which they analyse, a framework that is forced to fit on to the elements of society.

Scientific study deals in common denominators. The natural world is broken down into is an attempt to simplify, to clarify, and categorise. Science has reduced physical world to the point where man is master of nature. The political scientist, like the natural scientist, possesses the same tiny pigeon-holing intellect.

Politics an art

He does not like confusing complexities that do not fit meekly into his mould. He therefore, despite the inherent contradictions, reduces man to the social digit he can handle. The study of politics can become scientific when men, have in actuality, been forced in to the precast mould of the political scientist. This date is set at an Orwellian 1984.

Until 1984, the study of politics is not a science but an an. Political feel is as important as the naked intellect. While the political scientist takes man, the digit, the political philosopher takes man—man in his entirety, many faceted man. The political philosopher is capable of viewing all these facets of man at once. Thus he views man's Essence. The political scientist places man under the microscope, studies one facet only, then calls this single facet man's base. From a base thus perceived, rational theories arise. Bentham's base was an ignorant bliss. Marx's base is an economic equation reducing man to a tube of flesh fit only for alimentation and elimination. When mankind can be summed up so simply politics will have become a science. Until then, it remains an art.

I distinguish between an art and a science as that difference between taste and mechanical technique, between feel and intuition and rationally conceived knowledge, between the irrationalism of the conservative and romantic and the rationalism of the social engineer and metaphysician.

Aristostle, Aquinas. Burke and Oakshot can be linked in that their interest lay in man and not just his intellect. They not only realised, but valued man's diversity. They were all sceptical of man's ultimate perfectability. They could all be termed irrationalistic and conservative (in the modern ideological sense) in that they were sceptical of any one man's ability to intellectually arrive at a pattern for an ideal society. They all deny the possibility and perhaps the desirability of a Utopia, They all value the individual more than a grand design for the State. They also value a collective wisdom of society over the intellection of one man, and the collective wisdom of the ages over an unproven reason for change. An opposing example would be Plato, his Republic with its guardians and people—breeding evinces his scepticism of all save his own mind. He, in this respect, is a political scientist, while the others qualify as political philosophers.

Why should the political philosopher of the twentieth century demean himself with the restricting appelation, political scientist. He seeks glory in a term applied to physicist and sanitation engineer alike. Only in the most vulgar of materialistic societies need man justify his moral judgments by the standards of a utilitarian technician. Yet, it would appear that contemporary thinkers place an independent value on things scientific.

The scientist belongs strictly to the kingdom of necessity. Why should we exalt necessity? Has modern day society no room for the Don Quixote? Why must we justify our personal windmills to the scientist? Is his truth the only truth, and universally applicable? Supposing science could arrive at ultimate reality, must we deem that reality desirable? I somehow feel reality would be a world of stark glass and concrete, tarmac and steel—a sterile asceptic treadmill, wherein we run like pissants under bright lights. And to what end? progress? Towards what? The ends must be those of the scientist for the ends as the egg and not the after-birth of the means. Cornices and gargoyles are useless antiquities on the structure of necessity. Byron and Robbie Burns hold naught for the one-eyed men of science. The brass band is only a hollow noise for hollow men.

I grant the scientist his place in the car factory but I resent his presence in the front seat telling me where to drive. The shortest distance between two points is always the motorway, never the scenic route. The political scientist sits behind the wheel of State and steers with the callous grubby hands of the mechanic.

By treating politics scientifically we reduce our scope. We can deal with social man only to the extent that he is rational. The scientist approaches humanity brandishing a dehumanising determinism. Indeterminate free will negates science. Determinism negates the individual—man. Attempt to marry socio-economic determinism with free will and the scientist finds himself following the ludicrous loop of that proverbial bird, flying in ever decreasing circles. He is attempting to reach and devour his own free intellect by means of his alimentary tract. He foolishingly considers his prejudices only that which he had, or had not, eaten for breakfast. Whether the determinist uses the ego, security, happiness, sex, or the potato to bail his trap he still expects to catch all men in the same trap. He is not prepared to cater to individual mice.

The danger lies not in the self-applied term political scientist' but in the value we attribute to science. Since the enlightenment science has been elevated to a position where it enjoys a God-like infallibility and universality. Newton tried to sum up all in an inclusive system of laws. Boyle had rather a mechanical interpretation of the world. His theories were the spring board to Deism; a rationalism of God. They taught that the intellect had no bounds. They put the intellect over emotion. This belief, when applied to politics, results in a negation of the human being. Rationally, all men are equal. Enforced equality denies the individuals right to self expression. Universal principles and a world-wide morality leads the New Zealand rationalist to the bigoted belief that a system evolved in New Zealand, by and for New Zealanders, should be applied to the South Africans, living over 8,000 miles away, in different surroundings, with different problems, and surprisingly enough, their own culture and their own moral force evolved by and for themselves. Political science is the arch enemy of the individual. It denies the unique man as it denies cultural and regional diversities. As a science it cannot cater to man but only to the social common denominator scientifically created.


Scientific knowledge is cumulative. It follows a Darwinian principle of natural selection. The best concepts tend to survive Prehistoric man began his life with the wheel as man was given a theory, evolved from the wisdom of the ages, and built himself a bomb. Politics and history, unlike the sciences, do not follow this principle for these studies deal not in proven facts, but in interpretations of facts. As time progresses the storehouse of knowledge becomes more vast, but man is no closer to Utopia than he was at the time of the Greek City Stales, despite the fact that modern man can produce his day's supply of meat and potatoes with a mere few hours of labour. There exists in the study of history and politics a certain Darwinism. However, a political theory is too fluid a thing to be disproven. It can only become demode, and then only for the time being. It can be resuscitated at any time for its validity is as ageless as the nature of man. Man has filled his libraries with books on the social sciences. Stack these up and one might have a paper edifice a mile high yet be no closer the truth than Plato was. The mind has proven to be the master of matter but The mind has yet to dissect itself. Man is an irrational animal. The study of politics is an emotional process. There might have been, in the past, wholly analytical, unprejudiced, unemotional political scientists. However, such men do not write books. In fact. I rather doubt that man can be without prejudice, unless he be totally stupid or yet unborn. Political theories and histories are written by men of prejudice. They are born of opinion not fact. Their reputation is equally valid or invalid be it by a fool or a professor. The edifice constructed of political or historical knowledge expands horizontally but rises no higher than the single contributing unit, for the structure has no keystone of fact, and no one block will bear the weight of another. The structure merely widens with the proliferations of opinion. It surrounds, but is not built upon, the age old theme which lies at its centre. Why are Pythagoris and Newton no longer read? Because scientific theories once accepted, are either superceded by more advanced theories or incorporated within larger and more inclusive theories. Having proven that hydrogen is lighter than air we build a balloon. The next generation of scientists begin at this point, accepting the preceeding as given data long established. Their interest is not in the origin of the theory but in the immediate problem of streamlining the balloon. The political philosopher and historian accept nothing as proven fact. He always starts at square one. The first political theory promulgated is no less significant than the most recent. Aristotle is relevant today as his starting point is no less advanced than our own. Politics is not a science. Progress is not made in a scientific science. Aristotle is still read because he has not been superceded. Until man has come the mechanistic, rational, faceless digit, the political mechanic desires, their theories will remain unsuperceded. Facts can be superceded or compounded, opinions cannot.