Sie sind auf Seite 1von 4

The Science of Decency Author(s): Gregory Bateson Source: Philosophy of Science, Vol. 10, No. 2 (Apr., 1943), pp.

140-142 Published by: The University of Chicago Press on behalf of the Philosophy of Science Association Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/184297 . Accessed: 16/04/2013 13:58
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp

.
JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

The University of Chicago Press and Philosophy of Science Association are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Philosophy of Science.

http://www.jstor.org

This content downloaded from 200.89.69.89 on Tue, 16 Apr 2013 13:58:16 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

DISCUSSION
THE SCIENCE OF DECENCY

Dr. Langmuir's criticism of the social sciences, in his Presidential Lecture to the A.A.A.S., published in Science of January 1, 1943, contains lessons which we, social scientists, would do well to take to heart. His attack is based upon a classification of phenomena into two great groups,-"convergent," and "divergent,"-and upon the notion that the ability to predict with certainty is the cri:terionof valid scientific generalization. It is Dr. Langmuir's contention that, owing to the occurrence of "divergent" phenomena in nature, the social sciences can never predict natural events, because, e.g., some stray electrical discharge may set off a thunderstorm which may affect the fate of nations. And that is correct. The same criticism applies, however, to all scientific prediction. The classical physicist can predict with what acceleration a cup would fall to the floor, but he cannot predict that it will fall, unless he makes a psychological prediction about human behavior,-he must predict that somebody will drop the cup. The point is that all scientific predictions and generalizations contain a "Deo volente" clause, which excludes from the argument all matters not within the bailiwick of the particular scientist who is making the prediction. The prediction of the physicist is thus saved from any disturbances due to social revolutions, while that of the social scientist is similarly protected from thunderbolts. This does not in any way vitiate science-either social or physical. The great positive lesson, however, which comes out of Dr. Langmuir's lecture is that we, in the social sciences, ought to study chiefly what he calls "divergent" phenomena. Dr. Langmuir tells us that, in his science of physics, a great reorientation of thought has come from the study of divergent phenomenaespecially from the study of the individual atoms and electrons. It appears even as though two of the abstractions (position and velocity) which physics inherited from the cultures of the late stone or early iron age might soon be revised, since both cannot simultaneously be applied to single elementary particles. This is progress, and it is being achieved by the study of "divergent" phenomena. Our science is only now beginning to abstract the great corner-stones for future theory, which shall play for us the part which length, mass, time, etc., have played in the development of physics. But already some progress has been achieved, due especially to the qualitative study of event systems (psychological gestalten, primitive cultures, traumatic family constellations, systems of organization and management, etc.), which are often unrepeatable and unpredictable, but which show a very high degree of internal regularity. It is difficult, of course, to start thus from scratch, as no doubt it was prodigiously difficult to invent length, mass, and time; and it is work for which we badly need the help of men
140

This content downloaded from 200.89.69.89 on Tue, 16 Apr 2013 13:58:16 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

DISCUSSION

141

like Dr. Langmuir, whose minds have been trained not only in intuition and common sense, but also in fine and precise analytic procedures. There is also an urgency. Our enemies in this war are applying social science on a large scale, for the first time in history. They have a planned economy; and they are using various sorts of applied psychology in their propaganda, and they are doing this with quite sufficient success to make it essential that we use our own social scientists, both for defense and attack. Now, there is a curious feature in applied social science which occurs in no other field. In the science which we apply, the scientist must make certain verifiable assumptions about motives, emotions, apperceptive systems, etc. But man, the subject of these assumptions, is himself educable. Thus it happens that, if the applied social scientist is successful in his operations, he is thereby not merely using qualities already extant in the population,-he is also promoting those qualities. The politician who assumes that people's behavior can be satisfactorily summed up in terms of the "profit motive", and who sways the crowd by appeal to this motivation will ipso facto increase the extent to which his people focus attention upon dollars and pounds. The cold Machiavellian manipulator who despises his population and regards them as puppets will, if he is successful, turn that population into despicable automata. The problems of applied social science in a democracy are therefore very much more difficult than those which our enemies face. They are contemptuous of their own population (cf. "Mein Kampf," passim) and they are willing to let that population (and ours) sink to the level of puppets. They can therefore use a social science which predicates these characteristics, and such a social science is comparatively easy to devise and apply. They have devised it and are applying it at a rate which quite seriously threatens our own well-being and survival. We, I turst, are not willing to reduce our population to this level. We believe, with Dr. Langmuir that in the end, decency, morality, spontaneity, initiative, unselfishness, and a number of other rather imperfectly defined (but definable) qualities are important ingredients of "human nature," and we are not willing to educate these ingredients out of our people. Rather, we believe that these ingredients will help us to win the peace. Therefore, in our applied social science, we have to assume these complex qualities in our population; we have to work to promote them; and we have to do this at a time when the enemy is busy applying a simpler, more cynical, and, for short term operations, more effective brand of social science. Let me repeat-we need the help which we could get from a few students trained to think as physicists have been trained. The type of hypothesis which I suggested above, largely on a priori (common sense and intuitive) groundsthat the applied social scientist, if successful, promotes the qualities upon which he bases his operations-will at once call up in the minds of physicists certain types of mathematical relationship. We need men who can think in terms of such relationships, for which most of us lack the training. We were never taught to think of equilibria or processes of change in terms of simultaneous

This content downloaded from 200.89.69.89 on Tue, 16 Apr 2013 13:58:16 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

142

DISCUSSION

differential equations, and we need workers who have had this training. Even though we cannot at once give them measured quantities to substitute for the symbols in the equations, we need men skilled in these ways of thought. We need, not their counsels of despair, but their help.
GREGORY BATESON

Council on Intercultural Relations 15 W. 77th St., New York City

This content downloaded from 200.89.69.89 on Tue, 16 Apr 2013 13:58:16 PM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions