Can the humans conditioned by asymmetric time and external causality be free and just beings independent of contradiction and violence?

Logical Positivism, Scientism and the Humanities in Engineering Education

Joannis N. Markopoulos
Georges Braque
courtesy of Georges Braque

The aim of this brief article is to show that contemporary scientism – which is closely related to the movement of logical positivism and the rapid and uncontrolled development of techno-science during the 20th century – is mainly responsible for a technocratic, market oriented education, and for a value-free society faced with very serious social, ethical and environmental issues.

The Vienna Circle, which essentially represents the philosophy of logical positivism (expressed by the doctrine of “Wissenschaftliche Weltananschauung”), was not particularly interested in the issues of values and ethics. The movement rooted in the 17th, 18th and 19th century ( rapid scientific development, Anglosaxon empiricism, fragmentation of thought, relativism, positivism).

The main characteristics of logical positivism (also logical empiricism or scientific empiricism), as this movement is primarily developed by Schlick (1882-1936), Carnap (1891-1970), and Ayer (1910-1989), were the verification principle, and the logical linguistic analysis, which nevertheless referred to the language of natural science.

The Distinction between Science and Ethics

The especially anti-metaphysical, non-speculative positions of logical positivism left no room for a substantial discussion of the concept of value, since logical linguistic analysis yielded the result that all statements referred to values and ethics are pseudo-statements.

Resulting of the above, the positions of logical positivism make a full distinction between scientific thought and ethical thought. So, with regard to logical positivism, the following characteristics could be briefly mentioned:

- Considerable endeavor to consolidate a “Scientific Worldview”

(“Wissenschaftliche Weltanschauung”).

  • A scientifically oriented positivism, exclusively based on the language and sense of natural sciences.
  • No particular interest in the concept of essence – and, thus, in the essence and sense of science and its applications – and consequently in the theory of values and ethics.

It should be mentioned, that contemporary scientism is based on the above principles and strong believes of logical positivism. Thus: The contemporary disdain of ethics and morality in our technocratic and marked oriented society; the post-modern distinction between facts and values; the ever closer connection of the enormous scientific and technological development with the war industry and the vulgar ideology of the “hawks”, as well as the contemporary propulsion of neutrality of science doctrine are main characteristics marking the rude scientism and the technocratic culture of the 20thcentury and that of the beginning of the 21st century.

Therefore, it can characteristically be mentioned that scientism and the technocracy related to it constitute a malicious multiple mutation, dispersed in the body and the spirit of science and technology, which have been growing at the expense of the sound principles, the visions and the acceptable theoretical and practical pursuits of techno-science. While science is mainly enlightened by the pleasure of knowledge, veracity, and the freedom of thought, scientism is moved by the impulse of power, superficial utility and relativity of values.

The most significant differences between these two epistemological states are characteristically given in the following Table.

Science

Scientism / Technocracy

Knowledge as value per se

Utility of knowledge

Pleasure of knowledge

Impulse of power

Knowledge / Real needs

Knowledge / War industry

Veracity

Relativity of truth

Freedom of thought

Capitalistic control

Multiple knowledge sources

Natural science only source

Poly-dimensional worldview

One-dimensional worldview

Modest / Democratic

Arrogant / Dogmatic

Ethics of techno-science

Neutrality of techno-science

Respect for nature

Conquest for nature

It must be noted, that the above Table should not be considered in an absolute “either-or” way. More significant for our worldview is to see how often we find ourselves to think and act either in the first way (“science”) or in the second (“scientism/technocracy”). 

Holistic View

It is historically, philosophically and epistemologically grounded that the first scientific steps in the history of Western civilization were made by philosophers/physiologists who did not merely believe to the practical significance of knowledge but they rather considered knowledge to have, primarily, a theoretical value, a value per se, that could lead them, based on a holistic view, to a harmonic coexistence with nature, and thus to happiness (eudaimonia).

Since scientism and technocracy have significant consequences on ethics and moral practice, the environment and education – which are all mutually interrelated – the following remarks can be useful for achieving a holistic worldview:

Concerning ethics and moral practice

- Complete pervasion and corruption of human conscience and culture, as well as confusion and crisis of values, surely connected to the above mentioned phenomena, strengthen and predetermine a wrong worldview and way of life.

- Our model of developmenthas undermined – with its extreme individualism, its superficial utilitarian perception, the unlimited economic power and consumerism, and its pure scientism and technocracy – the contemporary thought; the model has undermined the social values of collaboration, solidarity, transparence, democracy, compassion, equality and justice, all of them being cultural and moral values as well.- All these constitute human hubris!!

Concerning the environment

-The issue of environmental crisis is an ethical one.

- It must be noticed, at this point, that ecological equilibrium remained active for millions of years, and that, in spite of its human-created nature, its plausibility and its disastrous power, no sincere and serious endeavor has been undertaken by the so called Homo sapiens to abandon this foolishness and re-establish the ecological equilibrium, unless he feels the smell of money.

- But the destruction of the environment, the devastation of whole regions, the enormous clearing of tropical woods, the deportation of thousands of people from their homes are not just “side-effects”, but are rather significant marks of maltreatment of the ecosystem, also based on bad education and a wrong worldview.

Concerning engineering education

- Obviously, scientism affected also the engineering education programs and practice.

- Bologna Recommendations and Bachelor Degrees in Engineering are in this direction.

But scientific knowledge and engineering applications should only be considered in connection with prudence (practical wisdom) and moral practice. So, what is needed is:

-A new engineering education program that will also include a substantial core of the humanities, seeking the substantial education and culture (“Bildung”) and not only the utility, and,

-An interdisciplinary approach, since knowledge in the fields of philosophy, pedagogy and the teaching of values, sociology, natural science and technology shall coexist for a substantial education program, and a holistic view of all these issues.

Joannis Markopoulos

Professor of Technology and Philosophy of Technoscience

at the faculty of Education, dept. of Natural Sciences,

Mathematics and New Technologies of the

Aristotelian University of Thessaloniki, Greece

imarkopo@eled.auth.gr

This brief article was presented as announcement at the International Workshop “Engineering Education Perspectives. A Balcan Case Study” Thessaloniki / Greece, May 31-June 1, 2010, Aristotelian University of Thessaloniki.

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