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Epistemology

Date: 
2002
DOI: 
10.17421/2037-2329-2002-GG-2

I. Different Conceptions of Epistemology: a Problematic Identity - II. Epistemology of Natural Sciences 1. The Problem of the Relationship between Theory and Observations. 2. The Epistemological Novelties brought about by the New Sciences. - III. Epistemology of Socio-Human Sciences, 1. Human Sciences require an Analogical Concept of Science. 2. The Characteristic of Economic Sciences. - IV. Structures and General Criteria of Scientificity. 1. Methodological Pluralism and Analogical Scientificity. 2. The Scientific Rigor. 3. The Scientific Objectivity. V. Present Problems and Future Perspectives - VI. The Epistemological Question in the Dialogue between Faith and Scientific Culture. - VII. A Look into the Future of the Faith-Science Dialogue.

I. Different Conceptions of Epistemology: a Problematic Identity

The term "epistemology" comes from the union of two Greek words: epistéme (science) and Lógos (discourse). The etymological meaning is, therefore, a discourse on science. Today, epistemology denotes a philosophical discipline that reflects on the whole of positive knowledge and scientific theories of a certain age. It deals with certain presuppositions, structures, methods, etc. of science in general, and of different scientific disciplines. This gives rise to the first difficulties. We can speak of these themes on two different levels. One is more specifically philosophical and substantial, since it refers to the great classical themes of philosophy, such as knowledge (gnoseology), critique, and ethics, among others. The second level is more technical and formal, since it deals with theories, methods, and models, put into action by the different sciences. Since the object of science always tends to expand, epistemology also tends to extend. The most recent critical approaches to epistemology, expressed in the Dictionnaire d'Histoire et de Philosophie des Sciences,  recognize the philosophical level to be the most significant and decisive (cf. Lecourt, 1999, pp. VIII-IX). Epistemology was not always seen in the same way.

There were several factors which made epistemology the most watchful, critique and self-critique conscience of science, which allowed philosophy to be included again in the scientific discourse, after that it was arbitrarily removed. From its birth, epistemology did not have an easy path. In its very development, beginning in the 19th century, the philosophical discipline rendered many problems in science ever more complex, and at times even irresolvable. This helps to explain why its insights were largely unwelcome from the start, and it endured some harsh judgments. Musgrave saw epistemology as afflicted by an "epidemic of problems" and Canguilhem, balancing it, found more posters and programs rather than results (cf. Baldini, 1990, p. 45). Toulmin (1953) judged it to be a "disordered disciplinary fancy desire." Skolimowski (1976) found it in worse condition than Ptolemaic astronomy at the time of Copernicus.

There were many proposals to substitute epistemology with other disciplines: history, psychology, sociology of science etc. Attempts at collaboration among epistemologists and historians brought to light its fragility: if epistemology confined itself to mere description, it would be considered conformist; if it engaged in prescription, it was considered paternalistic; if it attempted to do both, it made the whole situation even worse. According to one of the less negative judgments: "Epistemology has already learned many things from the history of sciences and vice versa. The epistemologists, in particular, have learned to formulate more permissive methodological rules and the historians of science have made use of new and interesting historiographical hypotheses of work. This collaboration, nevertheless, is exposed to dangerous risks. The epistemologists tend to be the 'plague-spreaders' of science, forcing scientific praxis through historical research purposely not too precise, to coincide with their methodological recipes»" (Baldini, 1990, p.54). The appeal to historical research "purposely not too precise" appears to be very polemical, but not completely unjustified.

Difficulties are also found in the names and definitions given by dictionaries. If too detailed, they become limited, as those which define epistemology as: "the study of the basis, nature, limitations and conditions of validity of scientific knowledge, which extends to exact sciences (logic and mathematics), and empirical ones (physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, sociology, history etc.)". Other definitions synthesize too much when they refer to a «critical investigation concerning the natural sciences and mathematics». For the English world, epistemology is "the philosophy of science"; for the French it is "the philosophy of the sciences"; for the Germans it is "the philosophy of nature" or "theory of science." They are all more or less ambiguous terms. Some would like to limit epistemology to the critical study of "form," leaving the "contents" to philosophy. In that case, the term "epistemology" becomes for some too vague, and that of "philosophy of science" too confused. Many authors argue about this confusion (cf. for ex. Agazzi, 1974; McMullin, 1979).

Some historians exult in this situation which "tears apart" the image of a type of epistemology which was considered "the lord of scientific rationality." It forces it to question itself more deeply in its meta-theoretical nature and tendency merely to provide scientific communities with sets of rules to follow. Baldini writes (1990): "The republic of the epistemologists is shaken by disquieting paradoxes and theoretical scandals. The historian has shown how, in the closet of the epistemologist, there are some skeletons and how the time has come to clean it out" (p. 66). He describes the epistemologist with an image taken from the Baron of Münchausen, a wolf (the historian), who jumps on the horse (the epistemologist) pulling the baron's chariot (the scientist), and begins to devour the horse from within until consuming it totally. At this point, however, he finds himself in place of the horse pulling the chariot, under the whip of the baron. The most recent critical tendencies noted the necessity "to unite in an indissoluble way the philosophical reflection and the historical investigation when searching for the scientific reality" (Lecourt, 1999, p. VIII).

Still, many of the ambiguities and difficulties of epistemology derive from the growth of science, which has become an ever greater, complex, and multiform phenomenon, and which is difficult to clarify. Epistemologists have attempted to make a series of distinctions which, while imperfect, are nonetheless indispensable. The first divides science into "product" and "production." The "product" is given by all the written information found in scientific studies (the so-called World-3 of Popper), while the "production" includes all the logical and experimental activities from which results (or products) are obtained. These activities obtain information from the scientific field (philosophy, techniques, etc.) or within it. Thus epistemology or the "philosophy of science", according to its contents, distinguishes itself as being "external" and "internal" to science, more or less like the history of science. "External" epistemology concerns itself with the "rational procedures" (philosophy, metaphysics, logic) necessary to evaluate the general aspects of science. It leaves out of consideration the "practical procedures" followed by scientists. "Internal" epistemology, on the other hand, studies the internal elements of science (methods, laws, hypotheses, proofs, previsions, etc.) and their functions, focusing on the "practice of the most distinguished scientific researchers. It studies only what they do, and not what they say or purport to do. Neither historians nor epistemologists find it easy to apply these necessary distinctions. Thus Popper concludes that the history of science, as the history of all human ideas, is the history of irresponsible dreams, stubbornness, and errors (cf. Objective Knowledge, Oxford 1972).

II. Epistemology of Natural Sciences

To understand today's epistemology it is important to mention, even briefly, the historical-cultural path of this complex discipline. Its birth is usually dated the 1920s-1930s, the work of Neo-Positivists in the circles of Vienna and Berlin (M. Schlick, H. Reichenbach, O. Neurath). In reality, excellent thinkers, such as H. Poincaré (1854-1912), P. Duhem (1861-1916), E.M. Boutroux (1845-1921) and others, had already developed important reflections. Modern methodological reflection on the sciences dates back even to the 1600, with Descartes' Discourse on Method (1637) , Newton's Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (1687), and others. The first great epistemological debate took place around the 1930s, concerning the "liberalization of empiricism" (cf. S. Cremaschi, 1966, p. 266).

Given the extensive and complex material, our examination will focus only on those epistemological changes, occurring around the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, that upset the scientific mentality (Positivist, Neo-Positivist and Rationalist). In that period of time, Emile Boutroux contested the determinism of scientific laws and demonstrated the contingency rooted in the heart of science (cf. De la contingence des lois de la nature, 1874). Ernst Mach (1838-1916) and Richard Avenarius (1843-1896) exposed the metaphysical underpinnings of positivist science and of determinist mechanics. Edouard Le Roy (1870-1954) demonstrated that scientific "facts" and "data" are purely arbitrary constructs. Poincaré, after the emergence of non-Euclidean geometry, negated the truth to the Euclidean one, recognizing only its usefulness and ease Pierre Duhem judged science to be merely a symbolic, mathematical convention. Anglo-American philosophers elevated the pragmatic concept of science to a philosophical system. John Dewey (1859-1952) believed that the scientific concepts were only useful instruments to measure events, and ought not aspire to any pretension of genuine truth.

Physics, queen of the sciences, discovered the relativity of spatial-temporal categories, indeterminism, the discontinuity of energy, the dualism particle-wave, and mathematics began to doubt the supportability of some of its most elementary notions. All of these philosophical and scientific developments broke the ties with the former "scientific reasoning," and moved scientists from a sense of confidence to one of great uncertainty, and they demanded more ductile models of thought. Thus a growing critical and self-critical reflection developed. Epistemology had to measure itself against the Positivist ideal of "maximal empirical data" that demanded a unified, quantitative, mathematical and axiomatic science.

1. The Problem of the Relationship between Theory and Observation. The upheaval caused by the theory of relativity and by quantum mechanics, moving scientific thought away from common experience, raised the problem of the relationship between the logical form of science and its experimental verification. With the goal of salvaging these declining principles, Duhem (cf. La théorie physique, son objet et sa structure, 1906) had demonstrated the possibility of opposing auxiliary hypotheses with experimental refutations. After this work, conclusive or clear-cut experiments (Lat. experimentum crucis)  appeared no longer possible to achieve. This "conventionalist" theory, already developed by Henri Poincaré in some of his works (cf. La science et l'hypothèse, 1900; La valeur de la science, 1911), was also confirmed by Imre Lakatos (1922-1974), who later would demonstrate how every negative experiment can be "re-absorbed" through right "conventions" (cf. Falsification and the Methodology of Scientific Research Programs, 1970). The Hilbertian schema of axioms, on the basis of which any theoretical system can be solved deductively by primitive terms and by axioms, was drastically cut down in 1932, when Gödel demonstrated that in every axiomatic system there are formulas whose truth or falsity is non-demonstrable. The efforts by G. Frege (cf. The Foundations of Arithmetic, 1884; The Basic Laws of Arithmetic, 1893-1903), and especially those by B. Russell and A.N. Whitehead (cf. Principia Mathematica , 1910-1913) to transform mathematics into formal logic, able to deduce assertions from other assertions, did meet nsurmountable difficulties.

In short, the great effort made to unite the scientific theories of observation and experiment revealed the insurmountable complexity of the relationship existing between observed protocols and theories, and between experiential data and conceptual systems that seek to frame such data in a logical and unifying way. The effort made in the first half of the 1900's to find a relationship between logic and experience that might be univocal and in accord with the developments of human and theoretical sciences, failed. It opened up, however, important discoveries for the philosophy of language, especially by E. Cassirer (cf. Das Erkenntnisproblem in der Philosophie und Wissenschaft der neueren Zeit, 1906-1920).

To overcome the difficulties of this relationship, Rudolf Carnap (1891-1970) proposed a free construction of language better suited to receive empirical contents, reformulating the elements of Empiricism and Positivism in the form of "conventionalism" (cf. The Logical Syntax of Language, 1934). Through the analysis of the linguistic expression he wanted to demonstrate the empirical thesis, so he declared empty or tautological each proposition that did not refer to a specific experimental content. This interest in semantics (the study of the relationships among signs and what they mean) and its relationship with syntax (the part of semeiology that studies the relationship among signs, regardless of their meaning), enriched epistemology, but it also introduced new and difficult problems, such as the integration of the formal analysis of language with the role of language to bear meaning. A theory of meaning and of interpretation (hermeneutics) thus became necessary.

In order to define the truth of propositions in reference to their object, Alfred Tarski (1902-1983), introduced the notion of "model" to distinguish the groups of true or false propositions with respect to a given model cf. The concept of Truth in Formalized Languages, 1934; Introduction to Logic and to the Methodology of Deductive Sciences, 1941). In a general sense, the notion of model in science indicates a group of hypotheses and of complex, ideal, intuitive, and creative constructs with which the object of research is represented. More specifically, the notion of a "mathematical model" is a group of quantitative relationships used to formulate and to verify theories, which describe in a simplified way a certain number of phenomena. It turned out, though, that the group of real propositions could not be contained within a specific model. Semantics was also interfering with the developments of axiomatics which, in the science of the 1900's, had wideranging philosophical implications. The theory of groups, in particular, confronted axiomatics with the problems of infinity.

The thought of Karl Popper (1902-1994) on scientific theories constitutes one of the prominent points of the 20th century's epistemology. He rejected the idea that theories were both systems of true propositions and simple instruments to foresee phenomena. He defined them, instead, as hypotheses or fallible conjectures to describe the world, whose truth can never be proven in a definite way (verifications). He used, therefore, the role of rationality for criticizing and identifying limits, errors and difficulties (falsification). Also fundamental are his criticisms of logical positivism, his demonstration of metaphysics as essential and "co-substantial" with scientific thought and, finally, his defense of critical realism. Since the middle of the past century, Popper's thought had international repercussions and all epistemological debate on physics and the natural sciences focused on his "falsificationism."

The possibility to demonstrate as definitively false a scientific affirmation, however, began to be doubted because, through certain conventional "strategies", it seemed possible to arrive at any theory from any criticism. Falsificationism was thus placed under criticism, and attention shifted from "objectivity" of facts to "subjectivity" and "historicity" of knowledge.

While the work of Popper was restricted to the field of logic, that of Thomas S. Kuhn (1922-1996), physics scholar, historian, and philosopher of science, extended itself also to the historical field. He refuted the main epistemological currents of the 20th century, logical empiricism and critical rationalism. His essay The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) constituted a turning point for epistemology. Kuhn underlined the importance of the historical element and shook the ingrained empirical and positivist canons by demonstrating that observations are never pure; that the progress of science is never cumulative; that the unification of science is illusory; that science would advance through overturning and revolutions, passing from one "paradigm" (a way of seeing the world) to another.

In 1965, Popper and Lakatos confronted each other, together with Kuhn, with their opposed convictions in a conference sponsored by the British Society for the Philosophy of Science and by the London School of Economics. Kuhn insisted on asking Popper if the falsification was a comparison between formulations and observations or, rather, a comparison between formulations. Popper did not answer, accusing Kuhn of relativism and denying the existence of what Kuhn called "dominant theories" in the activity of "normal science". Lakatos passed over these points, proposing his "methodology of scientific programs" and silencing Popper's theory of falsification. He proposed science as a "dialectic" between dynamic reason and static reason. Above all, he asked to eliminate every prejudicial preclusion against metaphysics and to support everything which fosters the spreading and the growth of knowledge. Finally, he called for greater union between philosophy and the history of science, judging philosophy of science to be empty without history and history of science to be blind without philosophy (cf. Lakatos and Musgrave, 1974).

Around the middle of the 1960's, Lennart Aqvist formulated his "logical theory of questioning" exposing the fact that science, by its very questions, determines from the outset both the answers and their significance, thus excluding many important questions under the pretext of denying that they may make sense. He noted also that all questions and problems only have a meaning in reference to a metaphysical context. Therefore, the best problems are those able to change our points of view and open new metaphysical vistas or reveal different ways to look at the universe.

At the beginning of the next decade, Paul Feyerabend (1924-1994), affirming that Popper's "falsificationism" had the same defects of "neo-positivistic verificationism," proposed to substitute both with a "bi-univocal symmetry between enunciation and observation" or "counter-induction" (cf. Against Method, 1970; Problems of Empiricism, 1971). His approach consisted in inventing theories "willingly" incompatible with the facts, to unmask the ideological contents of scientific knowledge and observations. But this recourse to extreme measures to "cause the explosion of contradictions in scientific thought," though typical of this period of dispute, was theoretically fragile and lacked sufficient critical sense.

2. The Epistemological Novelties brought about by the New Sciences. Among the new issues which arose in the second half of the 20th century, the mind-body problem, has constituted a crucial aspect of the epistemological framework. The mind was the subjective and objective "ghost in the machine." Rationalists and positivists feared that it would compromise the "positive" character of knowledge, re-introducing an animistic element in nature; they wanted to coordinate mind and nature, or eliminate the former. In the Tractatus logico-philosophicus (1922), Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951), tried to unify the two paths and his work generated exceptional interest. In 1930, relocating from Vienna to Cambridge, he changed his position. The language regarding the mind, seen until then only within its formal and syntactic dimensions, now came to be perceived with a more functional meaning, whose end was not only to represent, but also to communicate. The "mental" could not disappear because it was tied to "axiomatic origins" or, in the terms of Wittgenstein, to "linguistic games." The mind continued to disquiet epistemologists, manifesting everywhere its presence.

As Carl Hempel (1905-1997) later observed, scientific hypotheses and theories no longer appeared to be "derived" from observed facts, but rather "invented" to explain them, so it was necessary for the scientist to exercise his imagination. Scientific explanation was identified as a deductive model. An event became explainable, by deducing its description from assertions of general laws and preceding conditions. The system of assertions constituted the unity of meaning (cf. Hempel, 1966 and 1970). In this debate, the "genetic epistemology" of Jean Piaget (1896-1980) offered the link between subject and object (cf. Introduction à l'épistémologie génétique, 1950). Instead of disappearing, the mind was reflecting itself on reality, so much so that in the end Piaget admitted to have arrived at a position antithetical to that of Neo-Positivism. It changed "gestaltism" into "structuralism," one of the most significant theoretical expressions of science, and underlined the creative awareness of the scientist. Meanwhile, some neuro-physical and cybernetic schools were "making objective" the mental. That is, researchers referred the logical and linguistic problems arising from the research to the physical reality within it, or to meta-conventional methods of knowledge. They maintained that what was identified by their awareness apparatus corresponded to something real.

While philosophical epistemology struggled to overcome physicalism, to which very few now adhered, the "new sciences" were advancing, facing more and more complex problems. The new sciences of the second part of the 20th century -cybernetics, aetiology, ecology, etc. -- called for new qualitative and structural axioms. Wanting to recover the exemplary knowledge of science, it was pointed out that science had until now considered only partial aspects and artifacts of the scientific enterprise. The most recent epistemologies strove, therefore, to fill the void by evaluating the historiography of science.

The semantic turn of the "second" Wittgenstein had underlined that the relationship between logic and experiment was first mediated by action (operation) rather than by convention, so that a right balance was needed between verbal sign and event. In accord with this perspective, Popper had criticized specialized obscurantism and the anti-metaphysical attitude of the Vienna Circle, attempting to refute both through a re-unification of philosophical and scientific thought. Kuhn, for his part, had brought to light the role of the scientific community, suggesting that it was more significant than the individual scientist. Meanwhile, studies on the logic of scientific discovery explored the background of conjectures and hypotheses. The greatest difficulty now was the transformation of sensory data into theoretical elements. Given the importance and the prestige attributed to "machines" and the difficulty of connecting them to the mind, cybernetic research began to explore the relationship between mind and machine, mind and information.

After the middle of the 20th century, new instruments enriched the logical and sociological analysis of science. Epistemological analyses of scientists reinforced that of philosophers. Scientists earnestly desired that their research experience be seen as vital, cultural factors in schools, in social programs, and in the general exchange of ideas. P.C. Snow (1959, 1964) proposed to create a link between humanistic and scientific culture, but it was objected that two "half-cultures" do not constitute a whole culture, as two half-truths do not constitute a whole truth (cf. Koestler, 1967). The epistemological debate by now involved scientific researchers of every discipline (particularly biological and psychological) and increased the requests of a new science that would put under discussion the epistemology of philosophers. Some names to remember are H. Weil, M. Wertheimer, K. Lorenz, S. Eddington, M. Polanyi, A. Portmann, F. Jacob, A. Lwoff, L. Bertalanffy.

Due to the preponderant attention given to the physical sciences, epistemology was recently accused of ignoring the most important problems of biology and of underestimating the challenges in socio-human sciences. This became an invitation to change its approach in these areas.

III. Epistemology of Socio-Human Sciences

1. Human Sciences require an Analogical Concept of Science. The old epistemological paradigm had subdivided the sciences into different classes and groups: a) "Empirical-analytical" (natural) sciences use formal logic and mathematics; they are built on an empirical basis (experimental observations and induction) or by assuming laws and theorems through hypothetical-deductive, partial, provisory and falsifiable systems. b) "Historical-hermeneutic" sciences, aimed at discovering the meaning of past documents, identify continuity and breaks in the historical field; these sciences attempt to understand both the past (traditions) and the future (anticipated projects). Their hermeneutic method tries to explain the whole with the part and the part with the whole, to pick up the correlations between events among them and the totality of the process. c) "Socio-human" sciences (psychology, sociology, anthropology, etc.) try to discern the fundamental expressions of personal and social life, to regulate human and social action. Among those human sciences that have an experimental component, medicine and economics, above all, seem to represent two complex and instructive cases.

The sciences of the group that we have here called "socio-human" are still searching for their identity and their method, not having been able to make a decisive epistemological and methodological choice. They still continue to waiver between the formalizing analytical and empirical-objective demands of the natural sciences, and the hermeneutic demands of the historical-human sciences. Their attempts to harmonize the two different methodological frameworks, without an underlying consistency, have thus far been largely unsuccessful. Many are therefore convinced that they will not be able to resolve their problem until they cage themselves in the scientific paradigm of the natural sciences. Presently the goal of the socio-human sciences seems to be the attainment of a true identity which will allow them a legitimate methodological pluralism.

This suggests, in the first place, recognizing that the socio-human events analyzed by them never constitute "things," but rather are human "events" characterized by values and meanings. Such events can be "treated" only with phenomenological and hermeneutic methods, aimed not only at explaining the events, but above all at comprehending them (cf. Possenti, 1979, pp. 9-19). Once this irreducible diversity of objects is recognized, epistemology will have to admit two fundamental demands. The first is that no discipline, by itself, can exhaust the knowledge of a given reality, but can investigate only a limited and minute portion of it. The second is that every discipline must determine its own scientificity in harmony with its specific approach to reality. This is true not only for the human sciences, but for all the sciences and indeed for the disciplines in every field.

This conviction of limitation is much more important, since it helps to overcome a blind spot in all the sciences. Modern science, which began with classical mechanics, could not perceive the limits of its own deterministic model. Since then, the sciences and their specific objects have altered so much that it is necessary to speak of science no longer univocally (as classical mechanics), but "analogically," allowing innumerable "specific models of scientificity." This has required the establishment of certain very general, "analogical" epistemological criteria of scientificity, such as "rigor" and "objectivity" (see below , IV). In contrast, the old scientific paradigm, tied to the science of nature and to the presupposition of the absolute certainty of scientific (mechanistic and deterministic) knowledge, chose very restrictive "univocal" criteria, such as deductibility, universality and necessity, which reduced drastically and unduly the concept of scientificity to "univocity" and thus engendered serious difficulties for the socio-human sciences, in particular, and for all the disciplines in general.

Meanwhile, the socio-human disciplines needed to await the indisputable demonstration of the partial, provisory, conjectural, and fallible character of all scientific knowledge, in order to gain the necessary leeway for their legitimate needs. Today, the emerging problems of complexity draw the interest of epistemology even more towards those sciences. We cannot exclude, then, that an epistemology of complexity developed precisely for the socio-human sciences may in the future inspire the natural sciences as well.

2. The Characteristics of the Economic Sciences. Among the various disciplines, that of economics constitutes a very interesting, and perhaps unique, case in its epistemological nature. Born essentially as a complete imitation of the natural sciences, in the 20th century it experienced repeatedly the failures of its "scientific" conclusions and doctrines. Shaken by the postwar crisis, by the convulsions of the Sixties and by the stagnation, inflation, and recession of the following years, it lost much of its self-confidence; nevertheless, it remained among the last to begin its own epistemological reflection, claiming an inability to resolve its problems.

As a consequence, by the end of the Eighties there still was no text available to introduce, clearly and comprehensibly, the methodology of economics (cf. Pheby, 1987). Economists did not consider the epistemology of Popper, Kuhn, Feyerabend, Lakatos, Laudan, and others as "apt" for their purposes. They criticized approximate and untrustworthy induction, the insufficiency of theoretical depth, and the construction of great super-structures based on virtual elements. They, in reality, had agreed to address concerns regarding the use of mathematical formulas, which were accused of representing unreal and useless models that lacked empirical verification and significant information; macroeconomics was seen as a measure without theory, and natural-mechanistic prejudices were pointed out which rendered microeconomics and macroeconomics incompatible with each other. In spite of all this, few economists accepted Popper's criticisms and continued verifying instead of falsifying their theories (cf. Pheby, 1987). From Kuhn they accepted the criticism of Popperian falsificationism, but not the idea that science operates by "paradigms", a notion which they judged to be vague and not apt for the subtle and complex nature of economics (cf. Lakatos and Musgrave, 1974).

Lakatos attempted a synthesis of the previous epistemologies of economics, proposing a sophisticated falsificationism, aimed at saving groups of theories through programs of research, while preserving the insights of paradigms. He did not manage, however, to unite the criteria of demarcation and falsification. This was largely due to a lack of rigorous definitions of key concepts in the realm of economics. These definitions are elusive, changing the reality to which they refer; they cannot anticipate anomalies; it is difficult to distinguish "fundamental axioms" and "positive heuristics". Laudan proposed a "disciplinary matrix" or "ordered wholes of elements" shared by a given discipline. Such excessive methodological disputes neglected the more general and fundamental questions of meaning, and of the ethics of economics, precisely as discoveries of the hidden conditioning of the sciences, of the complexity of processes, and of their socio-cultural dependence had overthrown the absolutist pretensions of the scientific discourse, and confirmed ethics as an indispensable dimension of scientific activity (cf. Gismondi, 1997).

In the 20th century great economic crises and endemic disorders (pauperism, inequality, unemployment, etc.) confirmed the limitations and errors of conventional economic rationality, which now showed the need for a new perspective and some serious revisions. An analysis of the hermeneutical, rhetorical, and communicative character of the economic discourse is urgently needed, as well as a critique of its theories, which have only a short- or middle-range applicability. Economics needs an epistemology open to broader issues concerning the social and political aspects of human life, to which it is by nature anchored. In this respect, the new models of "rationality of solidarity," based on relationality, solidarity, and reciprocity, inspired with an integral vision of the human being, and more adequately reflecting the demands of civil society (cf. Gismondi, 2000) are worth considering.

IV. Structures and General Criteria of Scientificity

1. Methodological Pluralism and Analogical Scientificity. The preceding observations in the case of the economic science show that the simple recognition of "epistemological pluralism" is not enough, since we first need to re-define the general criteria of scientificity and of scientific method. Today it seems possible to begin with three fundamental needs for every discipline. The first is the "logical-programmatic coherence," that is, the ability to conform observations and verifications to reality. The second is the "ability to explain and anticipate," that is, to formulate reliable predictions. The third is the "ability of self-reorganization," that is, to adapt constantly to the growing necessities of its own research. These criteria provide a "general structure of scientificity," which allows every discipline to elaborate an intrinsic, rigorous scientificity, appropriate to its identity, and always adapting to new tasks. In fact, the "logical-programmatic coherence" addresses the needs of rigor and objectivity, and the "qualification" and "ability to self-reorganize" addresses the need to adapt scientificity to new contingencies. Adopting such universal criteria also no longer forces the social-human sciences to employ heteronomous theories, imposed from outside, "objectified" and "oriented to power," and developed on the model of the natural sciences, which will always remain inadequate to human or social sciences. These properly autonomous theories, rather, suitable for the comprehension of their objects and able to elevate the self-comprehension of humankind, would help to render human beings more aware of their actions, in full adherence to what specifically pertains to the human sphere.  

It is therefore necessary to develop an "epistemological pluralism" that legitimizes the plurality of models and types of scientificity suitable for the requirements of diverse fields. Such a pluralism, grounded on the analogical character of the concepts of science and scientificity, is appropriate for the growing diversity of contemporary science and its methods, and facilitates its whole development. Since it is based on a high ideal of science, it forces the various disciplines to elaborate different, but compatible, models of scientificity. This aspect is very important, because it avoids methodological fragmentation and an arbitrary concept of analogy of scientificity, in favor of a fundamental "analogy of being."

The fundamental analogy of being is a classic concept of philosophy which emphasizes the common traits among all beings and their elements. On these traits are founded relationships, similarities, and qualities that the human mind grasps and that it expresses in concepts. It has been amply used both by philosophy and by Christian theology, as a way to express the infinite perfection of the Creator, who manifests himself in the innumerable diversity of creatures. The analogy of being provides a foundation for an intelligibility of things that is not exhausted by a single model of knowledge (science), but rather is unveiled by multiple, autonomous forms of knowledge.

The analogy of being offers epistemology the possibility of a metaphysical and gnoseological foundation, which recognizes both the unitary and pluralistic dimensions of being, hierarchical and interconnected. On this basis, epistemology will be able to recognize the analogy, the pluralism, and the polyvalence of the concepts that pertain to each field, and to express them through the most appropriate models and forms. In addition, the recognition of analogical scientificity and epistemological pluralism can guarantee the autonomy, the freedom, and the specific competence of every discipline and field of knowledge: science, philosophy, ethics, religion, theology. It also helps to overcome the tension between knowing and judging, a tension that has led to the exclusion of ethical values and moral norms from scientific discourse.

Such a new epistemology excludes all reductive concordism, and engages the most significant results of the latest scientific research with the great patrimony of experience, intuition, and thought accumulated by humankind through art, philosophy, and religion. Since the "scandal of impeded episteme" denounced by Henri Bergson and Gaston Bachelard was removed, symbolic thought is no longer considered a residue of superstition, barbarism, lack of civilization, "religious obscurantism" or primitive "theological" prehistory. Contemporary philosophy recognizes it as the most specific and characteristic expression of Homo sapiens, at the very center of the activity of hominization, humanization, and conscious self-development, and it is responsible for the highest human achievements.

Regarding scientificity, it is important to remember that the idea of science as authentic knowledge has penetrated deeply into the contemporary mentality. Common discourse understands in scientificity not so much its contents, but its attitudes, thoughts, and emphasis on rigor and objectivity, in whatever field they are applied (cf. Agazzi, 1979, pp. 57-59). The scientific "attitude" is clearer and more realistic than the discussion, often unending and inconclusive, regarding the "distinctions" of the sciences and their contents (idiographic, nomotetic, concerning nature, spirit, society, and so forth). This correct and common intuition frees the "module of scientificity" from methodological reductionism that has radically flattened the methods into a single model. Pluralism acknowledges what is essential and avoids both the imprisonment of the method in the paradigm of one or a few privileged sciences, as well as its dilution into generic and heterogeneous intellectual attitudes. In the former, scientific discourse is reduced to rigid homogeneity, while in the latter all discourses and activities are rendered "scientific". With this clarification in mind, we now turn to the demands of "rigor" and "objectivity."

2. The Scientific Rigor. In terms of scientific rigor it is worth observing that, in the last few years, techniques of quantification and mathematization have diminished in importance, while the fundamental activities of science, such as data collection, hypotheses, explanations, verifications, and predictions have become more significant. This change facilitated the work of human sciences, which have been better able to focus on the areas which rendered them vague and unsatisfactory.

In contrast to the natural sciences, the human sciences suffer from a noticeably vague concept of "data". Physicists almost never disagree about the nature of data, while psychologists and sociologists almost never agree. For this reason these latter scientists find it extremely difficult to determine whether certain regularities (not simple, isolated facts) are data or not, and this uncertainty colors the rest of their work. They rarely succeed in avoiding contradictions between hypotheses (which are considered only plausible conjectures) and available data, a difficulty rooted in the thorny problem of passing from a vague plausibility to a logical and coherent explanation of data, based on a well-formed hypothesis. They lack a correct, logical "tree," which would allow such a demonstration. Above all, concurrent hypotheses in these fields should be measured against one another not on a generic compatibility with data, but on the cohesion of their entire logical framework, which moves from hypothesis to fact by means of cogent explanations. Another difficulty in the human sciences is that of "corroborating" hypotheses through independent predictions and verifications (or falsifications). It is not a difficulty over mathematical methods, but rather over the adoption of more general "methodological frameworks" that would allow the rigor proper to a true scientificity.

In short, all the sciences could together fall under the common methodological base of: a) gathering data in a rigorous and objective way in order to arrive at the essential parameters of the matter under study; b) formulating proper interpretative hypotheses; c) corroborating them with further observations in order to obtain data that can be interpreted and explained in the framework of an established theory; and d) developing clear and methodical objectives by developing a series of logical connections that may lead from the hypothesis to the desired outcome. This general schema of scientific rigor appears feasible, in substance, even for the human sciences (cf. Agazzi, 1979, pp. 67-69).

3. The Scientific Objectivity. Dealing with objectivity is a bit more complicated. Objectivity includes the notions of both "non-dependence on the subject" and "inherence in the object". The inherence in the object expresses the strong sense of objectivity, while the non-dependence on the subject expresses the weak meaning. In fact, an inherent characteristic of an object is recognized by all subjects - but not vice versa. Therefore, the inter-subjectivity, or independence from subjects, is much weaker than inherence, and cannot characterize objectivity. In addition, objectivity also means "reference only to certain objects" (cf. Agazzi, 1979, pp. 69 and 73).

The philosophical passage from strong objectivity of inherence, to the weak one of inter-subjectivity can be represented by Descartes and Kant, the latter calling into question our ability to know the object. In fact, after Kant denied our knowledge of objects in themselves, his successors limited themselves to the weak objectivity of merely overcoming subjectivity. The same shift happened in science, which, from the time of Galileo until the beginning of the 19th century, proposed itself as a decisive form of "inherence" and objectivity. Its collapse into inter-subjectivity is recent, and it is due to many factors. Among them is the epistemological discussion raised by the theories of special and general relativity, indeterminism, the discussion of the foundations of science, the separation of human and social sciences from the physical sciences, the problem of complexity, the debates on the scientificity of psychoanalysis, the critique of the School of Frankfurt, and so on. As a consequence of this new state of affairs, today we can speak of "scientific objects" not merely as "something that exists," but as "something known." Scientific discourse has become a way to know that cannot leave the subject aside. Inter-subjectivity means that what is said about "something which has been known" must be recognizable by all and not only by those who say it.

The role of inter-subjectivity can be clarified by a simple example. The notion of "black" is inter-subjective when, in a group, a subject who invites the others to take black objects contained in the room sees them taking the same objects he would have taken. Inter-subjectivity is actualized through "operative definitions" (or notions in use) which allow visible and controllable actions (to choose the black). Without operative definitions, the subjects might only tell one another the contents of their own individual and personal experiences, which for some sciences is something impossible or irrelevant. Actually, scientific objectivity is contingent and relative to a determined socio-cultural context; knowledge never starts from nothing, but from a given level of information and its communication is possible only in a certain cultural context. Each field of science elaborates its operative criteria for inter-subjective agreements, and does so according to its requirements and to a specific socio-cultural context (cultural aspect of the "science" phenomenon).

With this clarification in mind, let us return to the other meaning of objectivity, that which is "referring to precise objects." The problem of every science is to characterize its proper objects. In the beginning of scientific activity the objects typically coincided with "things": heavenly bodies for astronomy, plants for botany, animals for zoology, and so forth. Later the same "thing" became the object of multiple sciences, and were differentiated on the basis of the point of view (perspective) of each science. The expression "point of view", however, is imprecise. The science of mechanics, for example, wanted to define its object very precisely, as consisting in "things referring exclusively to three predicates" (mass, space, time) and a few other definable predicates based on those. This way of expressing the object of a science seemed to be correct and precise. We can say then that every science determines its own object by determining the specific predicates on which it bases its discourse on a determinate thing, adhering always to them. The fundamental task of every discipline consists in building true propositions, keeping exclusively to their proper fundamental predicates and to those that are drawn from them. The truth of such propositions will be ascertained by uniting the predicates and some operative definitions that help to verify their coherence.

In synthesis: a science defines its own scientificity by elaborating the basic operative predicates which, beginning with things, determines their proper object and formulates their "data", that is, the "propositions immediately true about the objects". With this framework in mind, we recover the "objects" of science that are not to be confused with the "things" of daily experience. The objects, in fact, are "methodologically built," in the way just described, which eliminates the gap between scientific discourse and its object, but not the gap between scientific discourse and things. Thus the two "forms" of objectivity coincide, because the predicates are introduced in a practical and operative way due to the same operations which allow the inter-subjective agreement. In other words: the conditions which determine the objects of a science, are the same conditions that allow the knowledge of such objects inter-subjectively.

What is most important in this matter is that it includes all the sciences, because it constitutes a general scheme applicable to every discipline. Therefore, every particular science will only have to make explicit the predicates of "its" point of view (psychological, sociological, historical, political, theological, etc.) and provide them with instruments of operative understanding that will expose the truth or falsity of propositions containing those predicates. The scientific field will need to formulate explanatory hypotheses which contain those predicates, aimed at establishing a semantic relation between theory and the pertinent objects. The sciences will then have to dedicate themselves first to the "formation of the concepts," and then to the "construction of theories," since the problems of theories can be solved only after having resolved those of concepts.

V. Present Problems and Future Perspectives

These considerations of past problems introduce us to those of the present and to the prospects for the future. In the post-modern era these problems include that of "weak thought", which also suggests a "weak pluralism." Weak thought and weak pluralism maintain that reality is irreducible to an abstract unity. Desiring not to be constrictive, or to compromise the diversity and complexity of reality, they reject every classification, justification, and foundation (cf. Deleuze, Difference et repetition, 1968; Derrida, De la grammatologie, 1967). Weak thought is considered an offspring of that hermeneutics which reduces differences but does not deny contingency, which it considers a positive phenomenon and the ultimate reference point of reality. Some appreciate this refutation of absolutes, strong thinking, and pretensions of privilege and totality, and add that weak thought does leave space for an ultimate, but always open, truth. Against strong thought, weak thought it would defend the reasonableness of judgments and the rationality of thinking. According to the framework of weak thought, then, scientific knowledge could no longer pretend to exhaust any perception of reality, or to replace, surpass, or render superfluous any other kind of knowledge.

When understood in this way, weak thought would make clear to the sciences that the lived and the spontaneous are irreducible to various structures of order, method or system; it would also be a reminder that all knowledge is subject to risks and limitations (cf. Brena, 1995, pp. 282-287). Attention to the concrete, the corporeal, the lived, and the inexhaustible encourage science to look at the objective, but also at the personal, ethical, and religious dimension of truth, in view of which no discourse, even scientific, can ever be neutral. The social-human sciences, in particular, are dependent on one's respect for the values and the experiences of every person. For philosophy and especially for theology, attaining neutrality would mean denying the very ability to speak of what is truly most significant and counts above all. This apparent conflict between neutrality and intolerance can only be overcome in the context of dialogue, common search for truth, and discernment of basic choices. The same methodological atheism, which demands that every reference to God be omitted in order to understand reality, would be, in this way, a strong factor for tolerance.

However, to refute the pretension of neutrality and of methodological atheism neither admits their limits nor advocates a degradation into ideology, but rather elicits the clear emergence, at an epistemological and gnoseological level, the fact that no reality can be understood correctly and fully by excluding its transcendental character, its relationship to human life and ultimately God Himself (cf. Brena, 1995, pp. 290-296) Habermas (1972) himself demonstrated that the domain of science cannot be purely cognitive, but extends also to ethics, which is unavoidable in science because, since it is entirely human, its ethical dimension is inescapable for any theoretical activity.

What is most evident from the debate in the last few years is that the problem of epistemological unification cannot ignore the fact that in all scientific fields -natural-physical (physics, chemistry, biology, etc.), formal (logic, mathematics), socio-human (anthropology, psychology, economics, sociology, etc.) and the reflexive sciences (philosophy, theology)- one finds in a greater or lesser degree the elements and the cognitive moments which constitute the scientific method as such, even if each group of disciplines develops only those aspects related essentially to its specific activity. The instruments and the fundamental elements which provide the basis for the unity of knowledge are not exclusive to any group of science, nor to any discipline. Ultimately, the unity of the various disciplines is founded more on these common elements than on the search for a unifying method, while their diversity derives from their specific cognitive aim which "constitutes" the objects proper to each. All sciences, then, are tied to their context. This includes, on one hand, a pre-scientific knowledge of reality (which is to be respected as meaningful), and on the other hand, the correlated plurality of interests and knowledge. Scientific truths are both absolute and incomplete, which is to say, partly incontestable and definitive, and partly calling to be completed and surpassed (cf. Brena, 1995, pp. 300-304).

Regarding the aspect or the hermeneutic dimension of scientific knowledge, contemporary epistemology is searching for an answer to the difficulty of demonstrating, circumscribing, and differentiating its own hermeneutics from a universal hermeneutics of knowledge. To that end an epistemology has been proposed which would concede to the technical application the peculiar and distinctive criteria of scientific propositions (cf. Buzzoni, 1995, pp. 8, 71; Hacking, 1983; Tiles, 1993). The solution to this difficulty would then be found in the intrinsic link between theoretical mediation (meaning) and technical reproducibility (instrumental-technological apparati). The hermeneutic circle would be reflected in the fact that applications which are outdated in theory or methodological rule nonetheless remain essential to understand the meaning of each new application, and also in the fact that every new application of a term, theory, or rule forces researchers to re-interpret, from this point of view, all past applications.

This proposal would be applicable also to the history of science, since the hermeneutic-historiographic nature of the empirical sciences must always remain strictly connected to the technical nature of scientific knowledge. The hermeneutic dimension of scientific progress would consist in the fact that science can deepen its knowledge of empirical reality only if it is able to build on, and summarize, the preceding scientific history. Technological reproducibility is essential so that this synthesis is not reduced to mere historiography. The hermeneutical dimension of science consists in refining and determining, with ever-growing precision, the meaning of fundamental terms and concepts in use. However, it also must take into account the technical possibilities of human action. A proper hermeneutics, then, must offer a better synthesis, not only of the past history of science, but also of past technical applications.

To these new epistemological proposals another is added, whose character and aspect have a certain importance, and which underlines the need for an epistemological discourse that links itself to the heart of the whole philosophical tradition and the value of its immense patrimony. This proposal suggests a qualitative discourse, free from post-modern prejudices that are mainly sociological, analytical, formalistic, quantitative, logico-linguistic, and so on. It should consequently unite the epistemological and gnoseological realms (philosophy of knowledge), giving privilege to the world of life in matters of pure logic and methodology, since these latter, by themselves, never provide definite and convincing answers (cf. Boniolo, 1999, pp. 6-13). The impasse in the debate among different theories may be overcome if, instead of analyzing the nature of the theories, attention is shifted to behavior, that is, how to manage them (cf. ibidem, pp. 36-41). To this end it is necessary to overcome another negative attitude, which judges propositions, issues, and problems of an ethical and metaphysical kind, as irrelevant to science.

The fact that this attitude may be superficial and uncritical is demonstrated by the language used by the scientific researchers, who have convinced epistemologists to ignore these kind of propositions by using two categories only: "science" and "all the rest", that is, "non-science." However, the area of "non-science" includes precisely those propositions that constitute the unconditioned conditions of all scientific work. They are part of a field of human knowledge that is much more that simply "non-science" and that, in fact, allows scientific theories to be hypothetical representations of the world, able to know it and live in it, theories that change in different ages and cultural situations. Before and above these theories are personal philosophies that give meaning to the world and to the scientific theories themselves, that sustain the foundations of epistemological and scientific research, and that furnish the logical presuppositions that determine rules of logical synthesis in both scientific and non-scientific propositions.

Scientific theories, in fact, presume a host of presuppositions that render them able to give meaning to the reality they represent, and to themselves. Our personal representations of reality also depend on the hypothetical models built of relations among the data, giving them a global and a uniform applicability and capacity to make predictions. These presuppositions also influence explorations into new fields or investigation into areas not yet clear within a certain theoretical field, and they help to clarify the meaning and theoretical weight of concepts or an ensemble of concepts (cf. Boniolo, 1999, pp. 62-85, 130, 164). This epistemological approach also implies its own theory of advancement or progress of scientific knowledge. As we have seen, these last proposals address numerous weak points, unresolved dilemmas, and limitations of epistemologies elaborated in the 20th century. They appear to be promising, though their development, consequences, limitations, and results will emerge only in the debate of the 21th century.

VI. The Epistemological Question in the Dialogue between Faith and Scientific Culture

From the point of view of epistemology, in the second half of the 20th century, scientific thought seemed to be more disposed to reduce or even abandon the old pretensions of totality, exclusivity, and absoluteness, and so to overcoming the inheritance of scientism. It also seemed more open to recognize the awareness of its own limitations. Scientific researchers seemed more cautious of criticizing other kinds of knowledge and of excluding forms of rational mediation, such as analogy, metaphor, symbol and myth. Many begin to consider these forms as non-substitutable and basic for every rational activity, including science. The number seems to grow among those who recognize that man will still be called sapiens , while valuing his prerogatives and qualities as homo symbolicus and religiosus (MAN, ORIGIN, AND NATURE, III-IV). In addition, the analysis of the components of science has demonstrated the historical and logical-conceptual reasons for the constant variation of the scientific models. All this explains why modern science, which at the beginning of the 20th century was still considered a monolithic entity, at the end of the same century appeared much more fluid, perennially struggling with its own difficulties and contradictions. In order to overcome these difficulties, there is the need of effort, adjustment, and research in new models of scientificity.

Thus new challenges have emerged, brought about by complexity and cultural context, for which a new epistemology is required as well, an epistemology open to different needs that must be taken much more seriously than they have in the past. Without such an openness, epistemology will never become the "philosophy of science", unachieved until now, for which many hope. A truly philosophical reflection of science, in fact, must confront critical tasks much more profoundly and comprehensively than is admitted by methodology alone, to which science has hitherto almost exclusively limited itself. While methodology is indispensable, philosophical reflection must fulfill other requirements too, even more essential and prominent. It is not only a matter of foundational problems, but also of gnoseological, ethical, anthropological, metaphysical, and theological ones, which are at the center of every culture. These latter refer to specific themes of scientific humanism and of scientific culture, themes tied to the maturation of the human conscience and to the solution of the great socio-cultural problems of humankind. A philosophy of science is required that is committed to the development of a scientific world sensitive to a deepening of transcendental and ethical-moral values, a commitment that has become necessary in order to tackle the problems which have emerged from the constant advancement of research and its applications.

Thanks to the development of "thought about sciences" (epistemology, history, philosophy) which surpasses the limits demonstrated by the "thought of sciences", today's conditions appear more favorable than ever to this deepened understanding. The thought about sciences must concentrate ever more on the immense patrimony of scientific experience and of reflection on the sciences which has been accumulated. Many scientists admit that this patrimony has thus far been undervalued. According to their important self-criticism (cf. Zichichi, 1999, pp. 98-99), science: a) has not produced culture; b) like logic, it did not enter into the cultural patrimony of humanity; c) has allowed scientism to deform its own image, and the dominant culture to upset its values; d) has contributed to notable cultural mystifications. Among these mystifications is that modern science is derived from a rationality opposed to faith. In reality, its founders, from Galileo to Newton, and many contemporary scientists, have been sincere believers, stimulated by their faith to discern the imprint of the extraordinary power and intelligence of the Creator in all the things of creation. At the beginning, this search dealt with simple objects, and later, more complex and sophisticated things, such as quarks, antimatter and superstrings. A second mystification was the claim that science was able to explain everything in the world. The best scientists, on the contrary, recognized during the ages that the whole of the universe, and the immense and complex logic expressed in it by the Creator, always transcend any complete scientific understanding.

This rediscovery of intellectual humility, as a way to investigate the divine design in the great book of nature and to search for the truth, remaining always anchored to reality, can result in interesting developments (cf. Zichichi, 1999, pp. 118-122). It is necessary to get beyond the tired disputes on the misunderstandings of science and their consequences, and the presumed conflict among science, Sacred Scripture, and faith, to a more concrete commitment to develop and value the cultural significance of the great scientific patrimony. There is a need to shift from the criticism of discourses, theories, and scientific images of the universe, their partial, provisional, mutable, historically dated, and conditioned character, and their instrumental dimension, to an examination of their essential meaning, and the cultural scenarios in which human beings fulfill their artistic and religious experiences, philosophical reflections, and scientific research. It is a matter of analyzing the relationship of science with the realities of faith, without however confusing each with the other. It is a matter of addressing the gnoseological, metaphysical, ethical and religious problems raised by the exponential growth of the sciences, in order to grasp the "values" and the authentic meaning of science. In all this, Christian faith and the long experience of Christian thought have much to offer.

In the humanistic and cultural perspective of science, after the passing fascination of epistemological "revolutions", it now appears more possible to deepen the ways in which scientific thought, rather than overthrowing past discoveries, tends to correct, integrate, and complete them. Equally fruitful can be a reflection on the fundamental laws of nature that, far from being arbitrary abstractions, are of a universal value. At a higher level is a needed reflection on the reasons why scientific thought: a) is limited to the Immanent, while it cannot ignore the Transcendent; and b) is committed to refuting the dogmatisms and ideologies of the Immanent, without denying the truth of the Transcendent.

Science as an ensemble of humanly important, though unresolved, problems, is obliged to sustain a profound intellectual humility that is very far from any ideological arrogance. Furthermore, historians of science have observed that even lies and deceits are not rare among researchers (cf. Di Trocchio, 1995, pp. 311-335 and 1998, pp. 245-270), despite the emphasis of science on reflection, methodical judgments, constant verification, objective and unemotional thinking, and openness to seeing compatibility in apparently contradictory realities, such as light as both wave and particle. Efforts to overcome these prejudices and other challenges make scientific activity truly "ascetical" with respect to some very basic human attitudes. It is necessary, then, to reflect on the reasons why, in four centuries of modern scientific experience, these values have not yet become established in culture, and understood in their deepest anthropological dimension.

Besides these values, science conveys numerous other truths. The first is that the human being is the only form of living matter who expresses the need to decipher the logic of Nature, and is the only one truly to succeed in it, though only in part. The second is that Nature (which the believer recognizes as Creation) is unimaginably complex and beautiful, so that no human being can fancy himself to understand it completely. The third truth conveyed by science is that, while immature science asked when it would arrive at a synthesis or unification of all fundamental forces, today's scientist asks if he ever will reach such a goal, though an exceptional synthesis among forces and structures has nonetheless been attained. The fourth is that, in order to arrive at such a unification, scientists are obliged to think about the existence of a "super-world" which, paradoxically, no one can scientifically prove to exist. The fifth is that Galilean science has forced scientists to think and verify with the greatest rigor, not only the phenomena that are accessible to our senses or to our instruments, but also those totally inaccessible or invisible (virtual phenomena). More than one scientist claims that "the answer is known only by the Creator" (cf. Zichichi, 1999, pp. 63, 74-78).

Science appears also as the only instrument capable of discovering whether Nature is configured according to a precise design and whether its laws are valid in every corner of the universe, and therefore that this design, among all the innumerable possibilities, constitutes the logical choice made by the "Creator of all things visible and invisible" (cf. DH 150). Besides conveying these and other messages of particular importance and depth, science has the more important role of widening, relentlessly and without limit, the horizons of knowledge and human comprehension. This role is what we have already pointed out as the "inexhaustible ability to raise problems." Every scientific step opens a new series of problems to solve, within the confines of science and beyond. The humanistic, cultural, and anthropological value of this phenomenon is immense, since it reminds humankind that, though knowing much and understanding ever more, it finds itself ever further from knowing and understanding everything. Each advancement of science unveils an immense number of new problems, always more vast and complex, which totally defy its comprehension. This awareness reveals how much science today differs from even that of twenty or thirty years ago. It shows that if our reason and knowledge are subject to such limitations in the face of limited, immanent reality, they are still more limited in the face of transcendent reality, irreducible and inexpressible in the simple terms of space, time, mass, energy, charge, and so forth.

Even the most rigorous formal science has significant humanistic, philosophical and cultural implications. Among these are the claims that an arithmetical truth cannot be deduced only by the axioms of arithmetic that a mathematical truth can exist even without being demonstrated, and that the most rigorous constructions of logic can draw uncertain conclusions and non-demonstrable theorems. Demonstrability, in short, is much weaker than, and inferior to, truth. It also becomes apparent that, if our knowledge of the immanent is so limited, it is unreasonable to be surprised or scandalized if transcendental realities far surpass our knowledge and comprehension. Other confirmations of this truth come from theories of rationality developed in the last few years, which have concluded that the agenda of the Enlightenment - that human reason is sufficient to solve all problems - is no longer tenable. Today we also know the phenomenon of "cognitive illusion" in which assertions are capable of convincing, though they are wrong. The study of such illusions shows that pure rationality is an "ideal attitude" that unites different complex and conflicting elements. Its exercise cannot overcome its real limitations by ignoring them. Today the "difference" between an ideal rationality and its real exercise has been exposed, and in fact shown to grow almost inexorably. All of this recommends the greatest caution, without easy optimism or pessimism (cf. Piattelli Palmarini, 1993, pp. 14, 165, 186-187), in claiming for science a degree of certainty, or universality, which it does not warrant.

VII. A Look into the Future of the Faith-Science Dialogue

Once the "scandals" of the pseudo-conflicts of the past have fallen, interest can shift to more urgent and decisive themes. Those mentioned above are only general ones. It is also necessary to consider those that arise from bioethics, bio-engineering, genetics, artificial intelligence, and to those relative to complexity. Here the inevitable emergence of moral-ethical problems and of themes related to transcendence renders the development of a techno-scientific "culture" a decidedly important task for the dialogue between faith and science. This task would be facilitated if science identifies itself less and less with a number of "formalisms" and more with a "cognitive strategy oriented in a realistic sense"; less with a "methodological obstacle" and more with a dynamic "inventive ability" open to the future; less with an "eidetic knowledge" of impregnable foundations and more with a "dialectic knowledge" in constant revision and in search of ever-greater cognitive fitness (cf. Gismondi, 1993, p. 86).

To achieve these goals, attention must shift from the "products" of science, that is, discoveries and applications, to the transformations and humanizing abilities induced by them. These latter refer to those "roots" which constitute the inspiring sources of culture and which form the human models of life -- those same roots pointed out by Paul VI's encyclical Evangelii nuntiandi (1975) (cf. nn. 19-20) that express the inexhaustible potentiality of the human person in thinking about reality and actualizing it in new, original, and different ways. Believers committed to such a dialogue aimed at building a scientific culture and a scientific humanism will need to know the dynamic of the scientific project, and understand its cultural and humanistic potentialities, in order to propose convincing ethical and theological complements to that project. Even in this regard there are reasons to hope. Some analyses of scientific researchers today have observed, in fact, a growth towards an ethical sensibility and significant openings to transcendent problems, quite far from the scientism of old (cf. Ardigò and Garelli, 1989-1990).

What was said in the past, then, regarding the dialogue between faith and science, will need to be applied to the dialogue between faith and scientific culture. This dialogue will mediate and synthesize the thought of science, the thought about science (epistemology, philosophy, and history of science) and the "roots of culture." Such an approach is the one that, in a more implicit and less formalized way, was historically held by most scientists, who united a deep religiosity with a genuine scientific humanism that fed innovative and creative research. Their example is even more relevant if we recall the fact that they often had to operate within closed cultural contexts, and were weighed down by immanentism, rationalism, empiricism and positivism. Despite these hindrances, they were able to harmonize their religiosity, aware of the limitations of science and of the inexhaustible humanistic and ethical potentiality of their research. Their openness to ethical, spiritual, and transcendent values, their religious commitment, and the faith they held, immunized them from an ideological degeneration into scientism. It is time for these attitudes to emerge from the shadows of great scientists and return to all people in the scientific field. To this end, it is important to offer scientists the time and space for confrontation and opportunities for dialogue that may elicit creative ideas, resolve ethical tensions, and reinforce the importance of transcendent values, orienting them to spiritually, culturally, and socially relevant outlets. We should not forget, too, that society and culture are awaiting that new spirit and scientific attitude of which Paul VI spoke: "It is only too evident that science does not suffice in itself, is unable to be its own end. Science does not exist except through and for man; it must leave the circle of research and pour itself out on man, and hence on society and history as a whole" ( Discourse to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, April 23, 1966, in "Papal Addresses to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences", LEV, Vatican City 2003, p. 188).

Reflections aimed at securing a clearer foundation and meaning for science have produced much fruit, such as a greater recognition of the active role of the subject in research; an evaluation of the symbolic, intuitive, emotional, imaginary and conjectural elements of scientific discourse; and a re-evaluation of the connections between scientific, metaphysical, religious and philosophical thought. It has also clarified the partial, temporary, and fallible nature of scientific knowledge, the mutability of scientific images of the universe and of nature (mechanism, determinism, evolutionism, organicism), the insufficiency of explanations that are exclusively causal (necessity) or casual (chance), the elusiveness of formal rigor in procedures, and the importance of complexity and teleology (see Finalism). As we have already observed, each of these developments has been the fruit of long research and critical reflection, and has profoundly renewed contemporary science, strengthening its capacity to confront and dialogue with other forms of knowledge.

It may be even more important, however, for science to expose not only the forms, the structures of meaning, and the laws and principles that govern reality, but also the inexhaustible richness of "nature-creation" and its contents, whose meaning infinitely surpasses our ability to explain, comprehend, and imagine. Science never ceases to raise new and interesting problems about the universe, human beings, and their history. Since science alone cannot solve them, it must shift rely on philosophy, ethics, religion, and theology. All of these aspects are fundamental for a new dialogue between faith and scientific culture.

The Christian faithful may find in post-modern scientific culture a completely different interlocutor than that of the past: more cautious, mature, open to new possibilities, and pluralistic. As a consequence, the dialogue between faith and science will be able to assume a great variety of forms. The only inevitable condition is the simultaneous presence of all interlocutors: scientific researchers, epistemologists, historians of science, philosophers, and theologians. Philosophical, theological, and moral-ethical reflection requires these joint endeavors, and thus the dialogue must be cross -disciplinary from its very beginning. Faith and scientific culture must preserve their awareness of their specifically different, non-substitutable and complementary roles. Both, according to their specific identity, will be able to draw from that Logos which is the creative Reason of all existence, the very reason for the nature and meaning of all reality.

According to its heuristic role, faith should keep in mind that rationality, which analyzes things and events from their origin to their final end, is not the only truth, but also ethics, justice, and love. Therefore, faith must call constantly for a rationality that is not rooted only in things, but transcends them by contemplating their intimate nature and deepest laws. In this way, the dialogue with scientific culture will be able to create a space for common reflection that will constitute a "road towards truth" (cf. John Paul II, Meeting with Scientists and Students in the Cologne Cathedral, 15.11.1980). "Scientific culture is not opposed to humanistic culture, or to mystical culture. Each authentic culture is open to the essential, and no truth exists which cannot become universal" (John Paul II, Discourse at the CERN, Geneve, 15.6.1982, ORWE 26.7.1982, p. 8).

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