Under The Sun

Sunday, April 20, 2003



"The motives behind scientism are culturally significant. They have been mixed, as usual: genuine curiosity in the search for truth; the rage for certainty and for unity; and the snobbish desire to earn the label scientist when that became a high social and intellectual rank. But these efforts, even though vain, have not been without harm, to the inventors and to the world at large. The "findings" have inspired policies affecting daily life that were enforced with the same absolute assurance as earlier ones based on religion. At the same time, the works in the realm of intuition, the gifted finessers--artists, moralists, philosophers, historians, political theorists, and theologians--were diverted from their proper task, while others were looking on them with disdain as dabblers in the suburbs of Truth. The case of Karl Marx is typical. Infatuated with the kudos of science, he persuaded himself and his millions of followers in and out of the Soviet Union that he had at last formulated the mechanics of history and could predict the future scientifically. (One can find Marx and Lenin in the otherwise admirable Dictionary of Scientific Biography. They were included under pressure, not by the free choice of the editors.)

--Barzun

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