Thursday, October 8, 2015

A Note On Harvey Mansfield's Manliness

Here's one of the maddening things about Harvey Mansfield's Manliness, which isn't at all a tract: he often says idiosyncratic things. He's a big conservative philosophic brain in Harvard's school of government, steeped in the great books, a prolific writer, totally fluent in a number of languages and revered by his students. He's been called "the smartest guy at Harvard." Unless he's operating by some cryptic code decipherable only to the congregation, some of what he says seems to an ordinary guy like me arbitrary nonsense. A recent example--I'm 4/10ths through his book:

(at 40% on Kindle edition)  ...Nietzsche conflates Socratic reason with Francis Bacon's science; he contends that classical rationalism intended for the *understanding* of things extends seamlessly into modern rationalism aimed at the control of things for the increase of human power....

I get this so far, but have no idea whether Mansfield endorses this or merely gives an account of Nietzsche's thought. If it's the former, I'm struck by his use of "conflates," which suggests a confused lumping together of disparate things. From the "endorses" perspective, this line of thought must be wrong since we can see science as a discrete mode of inquiry into the objective nature of material reality that holds no necessary political agenda and ideally seeks to make no value judgments. 

Science is separable from other rational modes of inquiry, say philosophy, which also try to understand what we think about the world and how we come to think it, and say, applied philosophy, including the social sciences, which seeks to evaluate human issues across a spectrum of concerns, which seeks to improve our lot, and which is inherently normative.

A final note here: we can recognize the desire to understand things, to control, if possible, some of them for human betterment, without succumbing to the illusion Nietzsche diagnosed that everything is subject to discernible laws open to our understanding and control and, so, tameable, subject to our power. That may have been a romantic hope at the beginning of and part way through enlightenment science, but is now understood by most thinking people as a naive humanism. The point is to see both the promise and hope of rationality and deliberation in science and non science while seeing the vast darkness that lies beyond rationality.

Mansfield continues....Theoretical man who believes that nature is comprehensible implies that knowledge is your guide and will make you, nay, all men happy-- and thus paves the way for modern science and for modern socialism...

Again it's unclear to me whether adoption or mere reiteration. From reading his book, I'd put my money on the former, which includes the latter. Anyway, as we see the world today, who is this theoretical man? Who believes that knowledge will make all men happy? And why do any such seers and believers pave the way for modern science and socialism? (Certainly this last assertion is pure Mansfield.)

Again, the confusing use of "conflation" in the first quote makes trouble for me in the second quote. I can see the lineage from the enlightenment to seeing the universe as subject to accessible clock-like mechanical laws to philosophy, say Hegel-the idea of the idea inexorably moving through history, and to applied or materialist philosophy, say Marx and Marxism as "scientific socialism" or "scientific materialism" to a telling conception of "theoretical man," to a belief that knowledge and application of "scientific materialism" will make all men happy-"..each according to his need." 

But, and it's a huge but: how on any view of this:

do we see today the prominence of such theoretical men, save for outlier Marxists here and there? 

(Which isn't to take away from the power of Marx's analysis of material interests as a prime mover of social action, a deep insight separable from his predictive belief in the iron laws of necessary historical development.) 

and an even bigger but: how does the illusion that knowledge will make all men happy, whomever might still believe that, pave the way to modern science? 

There is clearly "better living through chemistry," which comes with destructive trade offs simply in the nature of how science proceeds; but how in the world does modern science get to be essentially characterized by any form of deluded Utopianism, as I read Mansfield to say?

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