I. The Self-Discovery of Man. 1. Scientific and Ordinary Knowledge: Advance through Continuity. 2. Scientific Quest: Man’s Effort Toward Self-Understanding. 3. The New Self-Awareness of Man. - II. The Self-Confrontation of Man. 1. Science and the Ordinary Worldview: Cultural Shock. 2. Scientistic Technicalism: The Fallibility of Man. 3. The Crisis of Identity and Growth. - III. Indications Toward Self-Humanization. 1. Authentic Understanding. 2. Authentic Creativity. 3. Holistic Culture. - IV. Science as an Effectively Humanizing Process. 1. Wisdom and Dialogue: The General Structure of Humanization. 2. Sapiential Openness: The Humanization of Scientific Knowing. 3. Sapiential Engagement: The Humanization of Scientific Doing
Has science a humanistic significance of its own? Indeed, if science is truly humanistic, to what does its humanistic message actually amount? To obtain a synthetical view about science, we shall begin by situating science itself within the general striving of man after knowledge. Second, we shall summarize the reasons why science has come to be seen as a threat rather than a contribution to man’s humanity. Third, we shall survey the main indications that science offers toward self-humanization. Finally, some practical considerations will be added that may enhance the concrete effort of the scientist to become a better man through his doing science.
I. The Self-Discovery of Man
Science is a form of knowledge—in particular, of knowledge about man. Accordingly, we are justified in beginning our conclusive discussion by asserting that science, ultimately, must amount to an original self-discovery of man. Nevertheless, it is clear that such an assertion may easily sound vague and even presumptuous. Therefore, to obtain a synthetical answer to our question about the meaning of science for man, obviously we must start by exploring how science, as a form of knowledge, is relevant to man as man. This will then be our concern in this first section: to situate the meaning of science within the general striving of man after knowledge. As for a thread for our discussion, we can find it by studying the continuity as well as originality of science when contrasted with nonscientific knowledge.
1. Scientific and Ordinary Knowledge: Advance through Continuity. The relationships between scientific and ordinary knowledge are basic for a humanistic evaluation of science. Indeed, why is science widely accused of being nonhumanistic if not because its views seem to be incompatible with those of the knowledge on which the prevailing humanistic categories are founded? This apparently abstract question, then, is directly relevant to our purpose here. The point at issue is: How does science stand in relation to ordinary knowledge, and its humanistic implications?
The first result that deserves to be stressed is a genuine continuity between the scientific and the ordinary ways of knowing. Actually, contemporary research has disproved the position that viewed the cultural manifestations of the prescientific mind as inherently inferior and unacceptable. In particular, concerning the attitude toward nature, anthropology increasingly brings to the fore a basic compatibility between the prescientific and scientific mentalities. As an example, let it suffice to quote here the conclusion reached by the famous anthropologist Malinowski (1884-1942), as a result of his fieldwork among the primitive inhabitants of the Trobriand Islands. In a polemical allusion to Levy-Bruhl’s philosophical hypothesis about the so-called prelogical mentality of savages, Malinowski declares that no such mentality exists. In particular, he makes the convincing point that science itself – albeit in a very rudimentary way – should be acknowledged as present among the primitives. In his own words: «If by science be understood a body of rules and conceptions, based on experience and derived from it by logical inference, embodied in material achievements and in a fixed form of tradition and carried on by some sort of social organization – then there is no doubt that even the lowest savage communities have the beginnings of science, however rudimentary.»(Malinowski, 1954, p. 34).
If primitive societies have a cultural attitude that is basically compatible with that of science, the same can be asserted with even greater right of the many advanced cultures that flourished before the advent of science proper. One could recall the prodigious technological accomplishment of prescientific man (from the Egyptian pyramids to the medieval cathedrals) as well as the mathematical and logical sophistication of the Greeks. We can say that the scientific attitude, in a genuine sense, is anchored in tradition, and should therefore not be conceived as a wanton rebellion against established cultural views. Not without reason, for instance, did Galileo – though full of scorn for the Aristotelians – have a great respect for Aristotle himself. Toward the end of his life he could still defiantly declare to one of those pedants: «I am quite certain that, if Aristotle should come back to the world, he would receive me among his followers.» (Letter to Fortunio Liceti; Sept. 15, 1640. Translated from G. Galilei, Opere, Milan: Ricciardi, 1953, p. 1075).
But, if there is genuine continuity between the scientific and the prescientific mentalities, this fact should not blind us to an equally true datum. In fact, science is not an obvious outgrowth of the prescientific attitude toward nature, but marks a truly novel and creative step in the culture of man. The novelty of science is obvious. Evidence of this situation is especially the sense of amazement with which public opinion has kept greeting the great scientific discoveries, from Galileo’s time up to the present. We should not belabor this point, but it is necessary to stress that science is such a novel way of conceiving nature that it has taken a long time and much effort on the part of man to bring it about. Historical investigations as well as psychological research – especially that conducted by Jean Piaget (1896-1980) – have pointed out why science arose so late in the history of mankind. The reason is the very complex attitude that science presupposes in man when dealing with nature. In fact, many previous cultural factors—ranging from technology to logic and religion—contributed in various ways to the historical making of science. In particular, science could start only when man had succeeded in developing a novel metaphysical conviction. This conviction consisted in the certainty that, despite all appearances to the contrary, nature is intrinsically intelligible.
Here is precisely where science inserts itself with its fundamental humanistic contribution. The cultural advance brought about by science consists basically in making man perceive nature with a new mind. In other words, the fundamental contribution of science to humanism is the liberation of the mind of man from the tyranny of the so-called common sense. The arduousness as well as the cultural impact of such a contribution can be easily seen if we recall just one example: the establishment of the Copernican hypothesis as the only acceptable interpretation of heavenly phenomena. It is not without justification that people speak proverbially of revolution in this context. In fact, science managed to overturn the all but universally shared conviction of the times, which seemed to be based on the evident testimony of the senses. This example appears to be paradigmatic because the characteristic of science is precisely that of making man continually revise what he tends much too easily to consider as self-evident, without realizing that it is just the fruit of his cultural prejudices. As Born (1882-1970) remarked pointedly, while insisting on the significance of the example considered: «Galileo’s opponents declared that it was a “necessity of thought" that the earth is at rest at the center of the universe […] “Necessities of thought" are often just habits of thought.» (Born, 1951, p. 163). To put it in rigorous terms, we can say that the cultural improvement produced by science consists basically in making man realize the superiority of critical knowing over instinctive thinking as far as the cognition of nature is involved. But this is also a great humanistic contribution, for two main reasons. In the first place, man is characterized by the ability to know. Hence an improvement in his knowing entails by itself an improvement in his human condition. In the second place, the relationship of man with nature is fundamental for the development of a satisfactory humanism. For man depends on nature in countless ways. Thus it is important to stress that science basically humanizes man by enabling him to overcome many forms of instinctive thinking that tend to make him a prisoner of his imagination and prejudice. For one recent example of the way science enables man to overcome imagination in order to achieve better understanding, we need but refer to the results of quantum physics. For difficulties in the interpretation of this branch of science largely disappear if man avoids falling prey to his imagination. As Born, one of the great interpreters of the field, put it forcefully: «Difficulties in the interpretation of quantum physics arise solely if one transcends actual observations and insists on using a special restricted range of intuitive images and corresponding terms. Most physicists prefer to adapt their imagination to observations.» (Born, 1964, p. 108). A number of important humanistic corollaries can be easily derived from the preceding discussion. In the first place, we can understand better the sense of intellectual dignity that characterizes the scientific mind as such. This attitude can be synthesized as follows with Wertheimer, in his investigation of the creative thinker: «An attitude is implied on his part, a willingness to face problems straight, a readiness to follow them up courageously and sincerely, a desire for improvement, in contrast with arbitrary, willful, or slavish attitudes. This, I think, is one of the great attributes that constitute the dignity of man.» (Wertheimer, 1966, p. 243). Another corollary regards the interpretation of the relationships between science and prescientific knowing of nature. To the extent that prescientific knowing was genuinely such – that is, objective information based on critical information – there is no justification for opposing it to science. For science is just a refinement of this kind of knowing. In fact, there is a consensus of reflective scientists on this basic point. Einstein (1879-1955), for instance, writes: «The whole of science is nothing more than a refinement of everyday thinking.» (Einstein, 1954, p. 290). A final corollary offers a criterion to remove the ambiguity inherent in the ordinary conception of common sense. Common sense has quite an important role to play, provided it is genuine: its statements must express what people effectively sense in common, on an objective basis – as opposed to the instinct of sensing things under the influence of the prejudices of the cultural environment. In that case common sense is quite compatible with science. As T. H. Huxley put it in a famous statement: «Science is, I believe, nothing but trained and organized common sense, differing from the latter only as a veteran may differ from a raw recruit.» (Bibby, 1967, p. 51. Cf. pp. 46-55).
2. Scientific Quest: Man’s Effort Toward Self-Understanding. Having realized the basic continuity between scientific and ordinary knowledge, we must now hasten to explore more directly the humanistic meaning of science as an original form of knowing. Its generic humanistic meaning has already been indicated. In fact, since science supplies information about nature, and man is closely connected with nature, it is clear that science as a source of information must have some relevance for man. But what kind of relevance?
To find an answer to our question let us consider two examples taken from sciences that, directly, have nothing to do with man as such: geodesy and astronomy. Historians of geodesy record a great controversy that raged during the 18th century about the shape of the earth. The Newtonians maintained that the earth was flat at the poles as a result of gravitation. Their French opponents, led by the astronomer Cassini (1625-1712), insisted that the earth was actually elongated. Since the dispute was scientific, it was finally decided to settle it by scientific means. Two French expeditions, led respectively by Maupertuis and La Condamine, were charged with undertaking precise geodesic measurements, one in the polar area (Lapland) and one in the equatorial area (Ecuador). The expenses and even dangers involved were great. What was the ultimate justification of it all? Just the satisfaction of curiosity or the desire of acquiring political prestige? Poincaré (1854-1912) rightly points out that much more was at stake there. What was at stake was nothing less than testing, in one crucial case, the doctrine of the intelligibility of the universe as put forward by Newton (1642-1727). In his own words: «So when Maupertuis and La Condamine [...] braved such diverse climates, it was not only for the sake of knowing the shape of our planet, it was a question of the system of the whole world. If the earth was flattened, Newton was victorious, and with him the doctrine of gravitation and the whole of the modern celestial mechanics.» (Poincaré, 1952, p. 271). This example shows the fundamental sense in which science is relevant to man. The profound reason for speaking of science as humanistic is the ability of science itself to reveal the intrinsic intelligibility of the observable world. As a consequence, since man is characterized by intelligence, every advance of science constitutes, at least virtually, a significant advance in his humanization process.
Some considerations about astronomy serve to clarify the point just made. Frequently the relevance of astronomy is reduced by pragmatic thinkers to its utility. Astronomy, we are told, is significant for man because it supplies practical information to be used, for instance, for the purpose of navigation. In actual fact, however, such an interpretation banalizes this science to the point of nonrecognition. To convince ourselves that this is the case, let us recall briefly the influence exerted by astronomy on the cultural development of mankind. Was it not the study of planets and stars that first brought man to the realization of an intrinsic intelligibility in the observable world? Was it not the experience of cosmic orderliness that elevated the mind of man and spurred him to explore and understand the world he lived in? Above all, was not astronomy the factor that gave to man a more adequate standard to judge himself, both regarding his puniness and his greatness? Astronomy has taught humility to man because it has kept disclosing ever-increasing dimensions of the universe. But astronomy has also revealed to man his spiritual dignity because, as Pannekoek has put it strikingly, «The history of astronomy is the growth of man’s concept of the world.» (Pannekoek, 1961, p. 13). In other terms, it is true to say that through astronomy man has acquired a better perception of his own mental capacity. His mind must be truly powerful if it is able to free itself from the apparently ineluctable limitations of the senses and range sovereignly over the whole observable universe. Laplace expressed this reaction beautifully: «Astronomy, through the dignity of its object and the perfection of its theories, is the highest monument of the human spirit, the most noble evidence of his intelligence.» (Translated from Laplace, 1821, p. 159).
In brief, it is certainly no exaggeration to say that astronomy has contributed, in a unique way, to the revelation of man to himself.
In the light of the preceding it is clear why science deserves to be called humanistic. The central reason is that science reveals man to himself. All the sciences contribute to this goal, either directly or indirectly. Even theories that may appear totally abstract have a great significance for the self-knowledge of man. Compton (1892-1962), for instance, notes that Einstein is great because of his relativity theory. But his greatness does not stem from any practical usefulness of the theory itself. The reason is rather that Einstein «has shown us our world in truer perspective, and has helped us to understand a little more clearly how we are related to the universe around us.» (Johnston, 1967, p. 208). In general, reflective scientists concur with enthusiasm on this central point. Rabi, for instance, asserts emphatically: «The aim of science is to make the universe, including man himself, understandable to mankind.» (Rabi, 1970, p. 130). Clifford (1845-1879), for his part, points out that science can actually not do anything but study man. The subject of science is the human universe; that is to say, everything that is, or has been, or may be related to man. (cf. J. R. Newman’s Introduction to W. K. Clifford, 1946, p. xxv).
To sum up, it is clear how humanism constitutes both the profound inspiration and the typical contribution of science. Man, to humanize himself, needs first of all cognition – cognition of other beings, but especially of himself. The basic precept of age-old wisdom has always been that man should strive to know himself. But science is precisely the systematic quest for self-knowledge, as attainable through exploration of observable reality. Hence science should be recognized as inherently humanistic. This conclusion has been best expressed by Schrödinger: «What, then, is the value of natural science? I answer: Its scope, aim and value is the same as that of any other branch of human knowledge. Nay, none of them alone, only the union of all of them, has any scope or value at all, and that is simply enough described: it is to obey the command of the Delphic deity, get to know yourself.» (Schrodinger, 1951, p. 4)
3. The New Self-Awareness of Man. We have seen that there are two fundamental reasons that justify speaking of science as humanistically significant. First of all, science greatly expands the information of man about the world in which he lives. Second, science supplies much new information to man about himself. In the light of the preceding, we can now formulate synthetically the essential contribution of science to humanism. This contribution consists in nothing less than giving to man a new awareness of himself. Claude Bernard (1813-1878) expressed strikingly the new human awareness brought about by science when, quoting an anonymous poet, he wrote: «Science – it is us. (La science–c'est nous.)» (C. Bernard, Introduction à I’Etude de la Médecine expérimentale, Paris: Delagrave, 1938, p. 127).
This pregnant formulation is illuminating because it states unambiguously what science is in the ultimate analysis. Science is man. In fact, science is an unprecedented discovery of man as an observable object. Furthermore, science is an unexampled revelation of man to himself as a personal subject. Hence one can easily realize the new human awareness brought about by science. It consists in the frame of mind that arises as a result of both doing science and reflecting systematically over it. Such a frame of mind is embodied in a few basic convictions, which can be briefly formulated as follows.
In the first place, the person who made himself familiar with the spirit of science cannot admit any doubt that science itself is intrinsically humanistic. That is to say, he is positive that the results and perspectives of science belong essentially to humanism as such. In other words, he does not even conceive the possibility that a genuinely satisfactory doctrine of man may be developed without integrating the data of science into it. To be sure, such a person does not necessarily claim that science suffices to produce a genuine humanism. Much less does he claim that all forms of humanism developed before the advent of science are unworthy of their name. Yet he maintains with all the conviction at his command that, in the scientific age, it is no longer possible – not even in principle – to formulate an acceptable doctrine of man without taking science systematically into account.
In the second place, the person familiar with the spirit of science is sure that science itself is inherently humanistic. That is, such a person is not only firmly persuaded that science is needed for the development of genuine humanism in the scientific age, but he is equally positive that science as a whole is needed to that purpose. In other terms, this second conviction differs from the first one in stressing the necessity for taking into account the totality of science – as opposed to selected data and perspectives. Concerning the motive that justifies this explicit insistence on the totality of science, it is but the necessity for avoiding misleading compromises that can easily be accepted by unwary humanists. In particular, it is currently fashionable among many humanists to welcome the data of the so-called human sciences while ignoring or even rejecting the insights provided by the other sciences. Such a position must be denounced because it fails to recognize properly the inherently humanistic spirit of science. Indeed, there is only one scientific spirit, which pervades all of the sciences. And it is this spirit that must be taken systematically into account in order to develop a genuine humanism in our age.
In the third place, the person who is reflectively familiar with science is certain that science is originally humanistic. That is, he considers it beyond all question that the appearance of science demands not just a humanism, but a humanism that bears new features when compared with those of its prescientific counterparts. To be sure, the person who has meditated sufficiently on the matter will never claim that scientific humanism must be absolutely different from the various forms of humanism that have been entertained by prescientific man. In point of fact he expects the new humanism to mark an advance rather than a rejection in man’s ongoing quest for a comprehensive doctrine of himself. Nevertheless, he is convinced that the humanistic implications of science are so novel and far-reaching that only a total recasting of previous humanistic views will suffice to the task.
To sum up, the attitude of the person permeated by the spirit of science can be defined by speaking in terms of the novelty of man himself. Scientific man is a new man. This is true in the immediate sense that science supplies to man an immense increase in information and power when contrasted with those available in prescientific times. This is even truer in the profound sense that science has led man to entertain a new consciousness of himself.
II. The Self-Confrontation of Man
The humanistic interpretation of science, as is clear from the foregoing synthesis, rests on solidly objective evidence. And yet it is well known that many of our contemporaries take a quite different view of science itself. Numerous people think that science and humanism have nothing in common. In particular, some hold science to be nonhumanistic; others view it as antihumanistic. Therefore, to develop our synthetical discussion of the meaning of science, we must now summarize the reasons behind the positions mentioned. Especially, we must synthesize the grounds upon which earnest-minded persons seriously think that they have to be inimical to science in order to serve man. To achieve this end, here are the successive steps of our discussion. First, we shall consider the psychological-historical grounds that explain the emotional rejection of science. Second, we shall survey the instinctive dynamism that can effectively transform science into a dehumanizing pseudo-ideal. Third, we shall try to define the overall cultural situation of man living in the scientific age.
1. Science and the Ordinary Worldview: Cultural Shock. To understand the fundamental reason why many people feel moved to hostility toward science, we must start from an elementary consideration. Man is essentially a cultural being, and his culture is originally based on ordinary or nonscientific knowledge. In speaking of man as essentially cultural we mean that to be genuinely human – that is, a mature personal being – he cannot be satisfied to live simply in a world of facts; he also needs an overall, unified worldview that includes principles, values, and ideals. That this is the case, of course, is confirmed by reflection on our own individual experience. But, then, we can immediately realize why the culture of man is inextricably connected with ordinary – that is, nonscientific – knowledge. The reason is obvious in that although man has always been a cultural being, science is a relatively recent arrival on the cultural scene. As a consequence, we can easily detect the basic cause of the widespread hostility toward science. This cause lies in the tension originated by the novelty of science relative to the cognition of nature and its repercussions regarding the overall worldview of man.
From the historical point of view, it is indisputable that prescientific man entertained a unified cultural outlook and that he was convinced such an outlook was based on a satisfactory knowledge of nature. Carolus Bovillus (1475-1566), writing shortly before the rise of science, aptly expressed such a prevalent conviction when he called the universe «nothing but an enormous home for man.» (Buber, 1961, p. 161). In fact, ordinary knowledge – apparently confirmed by everyday observation and canonized by philosophical speculation – gave to prescientific man the impression that he had attained a quite adequate, even self-evident, worldview. For everything and everyone seemed to have a proper place, to be taken as obvious and unchangeable. The very stability and orderliness of cosmic processes appeared to guarantee the system of certainties and values currently prevailing. Thus man felt instinctively at home in the world of ordinary experience.
The advent of science marked a sufficiently sharp break with the past to deserve to be called a cultural revolution. To be sure, objectively speaking, science constitutes a genuine advance in knowledge, which is quite compatible with prescientific certainties. Subjectively speaking, however, the rise of science brought about a cultural revolution because it destroyed many widely, if uncritically, accepted convictions and values. Science, replaced the closed, anthropocentric view of the universe with a boundless conception of cosmic space. It disproved the static interpretation of natural phenomena and substituted for it a conception of perennial dynamism. Above all, science showed that the meaning of the universe could not be visualized or perceived through instinct and imagination, but had to be explored through a continual investigation of an abstract theoretical kind.
It should not be surprising that man felt bewildered when science made its first appearance. For he had the impression that everything was falling apart – that no certainties were left, that he himself had become homeless in the universe.
It is important to formulate explicitly the basic reason why people have come to oppose each other in the name of science and humanism. The reason is of a psychological kind. It amounts to a case of cultural shock. The phenomenon in question is well known to social psychologists. A person who comes in touch with a foreign culture feels deeply distressed when he realizes that the system of convictions and values he had hitherto taken for granted are actually quite relative and questionable. The impression of this person is then that everything crumbles, nothing is left that is certain and valuable. The same phenomenon has occurred repeatedly to modern man, ever since science arose. This being the case, it should not be surprising that people became polarized because of science. The cause of their polarization is basically the psychological instinct at work in cultural shock. In fact, when people undergo such an experience, they have the impression that they are confronted with an unavoidable choice between two mutually exclusive systems of certainties and values. Hence it is quite understandable that some persons feel they have to opt for humanism in the traditional sense of the term and thus reject science, while others feel that science is so valuable that they have to reject humanism itself because of it.
However, if psychology clarifies the instinctive polarization of man in the scientific age, what profound lesson does this insight contain? That is, why is the cultural shock due to science so divisive that man feels justified to attack man in the name of the highest values? It seems clear that, properly speaking, the source of division cannot lie in science or humanism as such. In fact, science by itself is not necessarily anti-humanistic, nor is humanism necessarily antiscientific. As a consequence, we must admit that the ultimate source of the upsetting effects produced by science has to be sought in man himself. What is it? None other can be thought of than the inherent complexity of man – a complexity that is far greater than people had been able to realize by means of traditional humanism. Accordingly, we can understand basically why science has proved so shocking to man. The shock arises from the fact that science has confronted man with himself in a quite unexpected manner by disclosing to him that he does not really know himself as he had traditionally assumed. This being the case, we notice here a humanistic aspect of science that we had no occasion to consider so far. This aspect consists in the self-confrontation of man. In other words, science is not only a self-discovery of man, but it also confronts man with himself. Such a cultural role of science is obviously quite important from our humanistic point of view. Accordingly, we intend to explore it further by examining more deeply the reasons that induce people to oppose science as anti-humanistic.
2. Scientistic Technicalism: The Fallibility of Man. The cultural shock brought about by science does not account entirely for the deep-seated humanistic malaise experienced by contemporary man. In fact, this malaise is so profound that many persons – even though not affected by the shock in question – conclude by branding science as inherently inhuman and dehumanizing. What is the further cause of such a situation? A frequently given answer is that there is indeed an evil factor at large in our scientifically dominated civilization. But the factor in question is said to be technology or applied science, rather than science itself. Clearly, such an answer cannot be deemed satisfactory. In fact, technology is by itself quite neutral as far as humanistic significance is concerned. Even more, technology must be considered a necessary component of any conceivable culture. For man cannot survive and thrive without some means of changing the environment according to his needs. Thus technology cannot be inherently evil. Besides, many who know what they are talking about insist that science, not technology, is to blame. For instance, Heitler (1904-1981), one of the leading theoretical physicists of our days, writes unambiguously: «So we ought properly to speak not only of the demonic nature of technology, but of science as well.» (Heitler, 1963, p. 3). As a consequence, we can expect to find the ultimate cause of the current cultural malaise only by fixing our attention on science itself. To be sure, we must not start our inquiry by supposing that science is inherently evil. But we must explore the reasons intrinsic to science that may give people some justification for considering science inherently evil. In other words, since we are studying a subject with psychological connotations, we must survey the dynamism that, if unchecked, can make science degenerate into a dehumanizing agent.
One typical manifestation of science that arouses humanistic suspicion is its proneness toward fragmentation. This phenomenon deserves a careful analysis. To begin with, fragmentation is not the same as specialization, although the two are frequently present simultaneously in the same person. In fact, specialization is by itself something quite positive from the humanistic point of view. For it is an attitude that arises out of a sense of respect for the intelligibility of reality – and, as such, is capable of making an individual develop genuine “personality”. But fragmentation is fundamentally negative as far as humanism is concerned. For it consists in the tendency of science to become more and more subdivided. Or, to link it to specialization, fragmentation is specialization run wild. But then it is obvious that fragmentation must be suspect from the humanistic viewpoint. The reason is that the more fragmentation advances, the less it becomes feasible for man to acquire the holistic view of reality, which is the necessary prerequisite of humanism.
With regard to the extent to which science tends toward fragmentation, it can be easily documented by some statistical data concerning the accelerating proliferation of science itself. Such a proliferation is evidenced both by the growth of scientific literature and that of the number of scientific workers. The growth of literature has been so dramatic that there is no exaggeration in calling it exponential. In fact, for 100 journals published in 1800 there were 1000 of them in 1850, some 10,000 in 1900, and about 100,000 in 1960. (cf. De Solla Price, 1975, pp. 95-107).
How should the proliferation of science and its ensuing fragmentation be assessed humanistically? Some observers are quite pessimistic. They go so far as to consider the phenomenon a “disease.” (cf. ibidem, pp. 92-124). Even though we may not be willing to share their pessimism, it is nevertheless clear that the phenomenon in question gives rise to a psychological dynamism whose consequences can be extremely serious from the humanistic standpoint. In fact, the accelerating development of science gives the impression that everything, in the intellectual field, has turned fluid. By contrast, the impression is also aroused that intellectual pursuits of nonscientific kind are hopelessly out of date. For, as one leading sociologist of science put it, «science has been growing so rapidly that all else, by comparison, has been almost stationary.» (Ibidem, p. 108). It is precisely such a lack of harmonious balance in the intellectual development of man that causes concern from the humanistic point of view because of the psychological consequences that it entails on the social level.
To begin with, although the fragmentation of science can be no more than a humanistic embarrassment, in actual fact it often amounts to an exaggerated emphasis laid on scientific specialization. The reason for such an emphasis is obvious in the light of the preceding. In fact, if scientific knowledge is fragmented, and in continual expansion, it is instinctive to infer that scientific specialization alone may be able to provide trustworthy information. Yet once this inference is drawn, it is not difficult to see that it entails quite serious humanistic implications. The first is the very overemphasis of scientific specialization – specialism, for short. Specialism is humanistically ominous because it leads man to the conviction that, for all practical purposes, any effort to develop a comprehensive humanism is doomed to failure. In fact, specialism amounts to the conviction that man can know reality only by way of ever-progressing specialization. But specialization will never be able to provide the synthethical view of reality that is essential for genuine humanism. Consequently, specialism makes the attainment of genuine humanism appear practically impossible.
Once the close connection between science and specialism is realized, it is not difficult to perceive that an instinctively dehumanizing trend is likely to assert itself in a society where science reigns supreme. Another manifestation of this trend, which is but a consequence of specialism, is constituted by scientific pragmatism. In fact, the pragmatization of science arises out of specialism by an almost unavoidable psychological dynamism. The reason is obvious. Specialism, in principle, tends to make science socially unproductive by fostering the so-called ivory-tower mentality. But many scientists feel deeply uneasy about such a situation. Hence they convince themselves that scientific specialization is socially relevant, and that its relevancy is automatic because it gives rise to the technological know-how so essential to the development of society. Frequently these scientists actually preach research and dedicate themselves to it with the zeal of a crusader. From the humanistic point of view, however, it is clear that their position is quite dangerous – not merely in theory, but also in practice. For a scientist who embraces specialized research as the overriding goal of his life cannot avoid becoming dehumanized. In actual fact, such persons tend to behave less and less as persons but increasingly more like thinking machines, totally obsessed with the efficiency of their work. Unfortunately, the threat to humanity contained in this situation is currently quite widespread in our Western society as psychology of science proves. Eiduson (1918-2007), for one, has pilloried in indignant terms the person whom she calls “the Ph.D.-research-scientist-turned-technician” and whose behavior she describes as follows: «The scientist who has become merely a cog in the wheel, the wheel which is so tremendous and intricate that neither he nor any of his "spokemates" know where the vehicle is driving, nor why, nor exactly where his skills or contributions fit. More important, he has no say about how the journey should proceed in the light of what he does. The most valuable scientific man is not the thoughtful intellectual of "old science,” who was sensitive to the discontinuities as well as the continuities of the data, and adjusted his problem accordingly; but the superficial extremely competitive man who recognizes and accepts the fact that neither he, nor any man can perform the new technical job alone.» (Eiduson, 1962, p. 151-152).
Although it is not possible here to analyze in full detail the dehumanizing trend instinctively connected with science, it is still necessary to mention explicitly the final outcome of such a trend. This consists in an ideological position that can be termed scientistic technicalism. Thus, the final result of science is often not merely the dogmatic conviction that science is the unique and exclusive form of knowing. But, over and above that, science is made into a sort of psychological conditioning that compels its devotees to look upon science itself and its technological applications as the unique ways of achieving man’s ideal.
We need not insist on the fact that scientistic technicalism is inimical to genuine humanism. However, for the sake of our discussion, there is one point worth noting in this connection. The point is that, besides opposing humanism, scientistic technicalism is inimical to genuine science, too. By realizing this point, we can understand in much greater depth the reasons why contemporary man is so upset by science. By the same token, we can also perceive more clearly the sense in which science amounts to a confrontation of man with himself.
The irreconcilability of scientistic technicalism with genuine science is so pronounced that it is possible to find a widespread agreement on this point among both scientists and humanists in the traditional meaning of the term. To cite some evidence, we can begin with the warning sounded by Max Weber, sociologist and philosopher, early in this century. When public opinion in Germany was permeated by an exaggerated enthusiasm for science, Weber pointed out that science is a culture-dependent phenomenon, hence it should never be taken for granted.
Another piece of evidence that shows how one should be cautious in evaluating the meaning of science for man is contained in an important passage of Poincaré’s philosophical writings. This great scientist and enthusiastic promoter of science could not help pointing out that science is not automatically good for man. In fact, as he explains at some length, there is a science that man should fear – this science bearing all the characteristics of what we have called scientistic technicalism. To cite him directly: «We must fear only that science which is incomplete, the one which is in error, the one which lures us with vain appearance and thus incites us to destroy that which we would want to reconstruct later, when we are better informed and when it is too late. There are people who become infatuated with an idea, not because it is sound but because it is new, because it is fashionable. These people are terrible spoilers, but they are not ... I was about to say that they are not scientists, but I notice that many of them have rendered great services to science; they are, therefore, scientists, but they are scientists not because of, but in spite of that.» (Poincaré, 1963, p. 110). As a consequence of our discussion, we can now synthesize the most profound reason why contemporary man feels so upset about science. This reason is, in a true sense, immanent in science as such. It consists in the fact that science, if it comes to exert an exclusive influence on man, tends to progressively dehumanize man himself. This is an essential result that must be accepted as definitively established. No amount of enthusiasm or rhetoric should be allowed to obfuscate it. For it would clearly be a self-delusion on the part of man were he to willfully ignore the lessons of history as well as psychology. In point of fact, the dehumanizing power of an exaggerated trust in science is so great that it tends to involve science itself by making it impossible for man to cultivate the genuineness of the scientific spirit.
However, if science can be dehumanizing, what light does this fact cast on man as such? After all, science is not a self-standing entity, but rather a product of man. Accordingly, what does the dehumanizing potential of science reveal about man the maker of science? The answer is plain. Science reveals, in a new and unprecedented way, the inherent fallibility of man as an ethical being. That is to say, properly speaking, what science reveals is not an inherent evilness of science as such, but rather a deep-seated tendency of man to behave evilly; this tendency is so strong that he can easily transform science itself into an instrument of dehumanization. In other words, what science does in this connection is merely serve as a magnifier of man’s own ethical nature. A particular manifestation of science that exemplifies this point cogently is the experience of nuclear power. Robert Oppenheimer (1904-1967), after having watched at close range the first nuclear explosion in the desert of New Mexico, is reported to have exclaimed that that event had made man acquire a new awareness of sin. We can consider this remark as typical. For science has lent new urgency to man’s need for facing the issue of his ethical fallibility with total honesty. In fact, while living in the prescientific age, man could still delude himself about his genuine character as a moral agent. Especially, he could ascribe his moral fallibility or sinfulness to the lack of sufficient enlightenment and power. But science – precisely by conferring on man enormous enlightenment and power – has definitively exposed the inanity of such views.
To sum up, it should not be surprising that science is so much at the center of controversies in contemporary society. The reasons, as we have seen, are many. But the most illuminating is also the most likely to arouse bitter opposition. For such a reason consists in the fact that science confronts man with himself in the most unflattering light possible by disclosing his inherent fallibility. Obviously, no one likes instinctively to be reminded of such a situation. Hence, it is most natural for contemporary man to take sides for or against science instead of facing the issue where it really lies. Even so, it is no small humanistic merit of science itself to have touched man at the bottom of his heart. For it is only from there that genuine humanization can finally originate.
3. The Crisis of Identity and Growth. We have explored the two main grounds that make science a source of cultural upheaval. How should we now define comprehensively the situation of man living in the scientific age? We propose to employ some basic psychological categories whose applicability to contemporary cultural man becomes increasingly evident. In brief, we intend to define the situation of man living in the scientific age as one of crisis – a crisis of both identity and growth.
In fact, contemporary cultural man finds himself in a state of serious psychological sickness. Hence we cannot hypothesize that such a situation may continue for long without resulting in either of only two possible solutions—namely, fatality or recovery. In other terms, it is to be expected that science may eventually dehumanize man entirely. Yet this outcome is not necessary, because science can also lead to a greater humanization of man.
Erikson (1901-1980), for example, adopts an optimistic position and elaborates as follows on the nature of the present-day crisis: «But the processes of socio-genetic evolution also seem to promise a new humanism, the acceptance by man – as an evolved product as well as a producer, and a self-conscious tool of further evolution – of the obligation to be guided in his planned actions and his chosen self-restraints by his knowledge and insights.» (Erikson, 1964, p. 227). History appears to justify a guardedly optimistic attitude. Indeed, if science has brought about a profound crisis of man, this very fact should be considered a manifestation of the ability of man to grow, rather than a symptom of tendency toward failure. For, after all, science is clearly a quite positive conquest, one of the greatest achievements that man ever attained. Accordingly, the current cultural situation of man should indeed be assessed with all the earnestness that it deserves – namely, as a genuine crisis. Yet no one should feel justified in implying that such a crisis must be a catastrophic one. In fact, just the opposite outcome is likely to take place – that is, a marked increase in humanization – provided, of course, man is willing to act consistently with the inspiration provided by science. For science does inspire man to be more human, even though it is not able to motivate him adequately in this regard. As a consequence, the comprehensive evaluation of the human situation in the scientific age should not just be one of a crisis of identity. More specifically and more profoundly, it is necessary to speak of a crisis of growth. To be sure, man may or may not grow more human because of science. Yet this is the direction to which the development of civilization points.
To sum up, it can be said that if science is humanistic, its humanism is of a peculiar kind: it is only partial and, as a consequence, inescapably ambiguous. The partial humanistic character of science needs emphasis in order to remove a widespread misunderstanding. In fact, since science is humanistic, many people tend instinctively to identify science with humanism itself. But such an identification could only lead to disaster – for both humanism and science. Actually, a comprehensive doctrine of man that rested exclusively on science could hardly avoid to foster the antihuman, as well as antiscientific, ideology that we have called scientistic technicalism. Thus the intrinsic limitation of science from the humanistic standpoint must be accepted as a fundamental datum. But, by the same token, it is also necessary to admit that science is inherently ambiguous as far as humanism is concerned. For, indeed, since the humanism of science is only partial, it can easily lend itself to misunderstandings and misapplications.
And yet, if science is humanistically ambiguous, this feature should not be deemed a negative trait of science itself. For, after all, what science does in this connection is just to reveal man to himself in a realistic way. Indeed, the ambiguity of science simply unveil that man himself, the maker of science, is inherently ambiguous. For, truly, if man living in the scientific age does not determinately strive after self-humanization, he is bound to effectively dehumanize himself.
III. Indications Toward Self-Humanization
As has been seen, the essential contribution of science to humanism is one of enlightenment. Science is humanistic because it amounts to a discovery as well as a confrontation of self. However, we would not be justified were we to stop our humanistic assessment of science at this point. For science has an important message to offer also in the realm of values. As a consequence, in our effort to synthesize the meaning of science for man we must now survey the main indications that science itself contributes toward self-humanization.
1. Authentic Understanding. The basic humanistic indication originating from the spirit of science is obvious. Why, indeed, does man dedicate himself to science in the first place? We may say that the first obligation incumbent on the person who intends to be consistent with the spirit of science is that of seeking authentic understanding.
It is important to recall that scientific man may fail to attain such an understanding, and thus effectively fail in his self-humanizing task. The reason for this failure is, of course, the tendency of man to overrate the cognitive importance of science itself. In fact, many scientific enthusiasts absolutize science as though it were the uniquely and exclusively valid form of knowing. But, by so doing, they effectively overlook the contradiction in their own intellectual attitude. Indeed, as scientific researchers they insist on the necessity of keeping an open mind, they claim that people should do away with all purely “natural” or spontaneous ways of thinking about reality. And yet as philosophers they demand that science be taken so much for granted as to exclude any reflective way of exploring the significance of science itself. As a result, these people imprison the understanding of man in another kind of “naturalness”– the new natural outlook being now, by definition, the scientific one. We need not press the point that such a lack of authentic understanding is incompatible with the spirit of science. Yet we must recall that it has devastating humanistic consequences. For, indeed, if science explains everything, if nothing can be understood but by way of the objective-interpersonal approach of science, then one must well conclude that nothing can be understood in a genuinely human way.
The immediate implication of the preceding is that man, to be consistent with the spirit of science, must learn not to overvalue science itself. In other words, he must learn not to take anything as self-evident simply because science explains it. On the contrary, man should – consistently with the spirit of science – make himself more open to wonder and awe. For these attitudes are the roots and the rewards of science. But, above all, they are what characterizes man as man. The anthropologist Eiseley (1907-1977) has expressed forcefully the cognitive situation typical of man by writing: «No longer, as with the animal, can the world be accepted as given. It has to be perceived and consciously thought about, abstracted and considered. The moment one does so, one is outside of the natural; objects are each one surrounded with an aura radiating meaning to man alone.» (Eiseley, 1969, p. 32). But, if man has to understand more than scientifically in order to understand authentically, what other form of understanding must he pursue besides the scientific one? If we take into account the results of our research in the second part of this book, the answer is plain. Man can expect to attain authentic understanding only if he tries to assimilate the import of his science by means of philosophical reflection. In fact, the task of philosophy is to enable man to become reflectively aware of what he knows factually and of the humanistic consequences that arise from his knowledge. In other terms, philosophy enables man to discover an overall meaningful message in the manifold information that reaches him from the observable world. As stated by Meyerson: «Philosophy is an attempt to make us agree with ourselves. Or, if one likes it better […] philosophy is an attempt to make the "realities" which assault us on every side agree with themselves.» (Meyerson, 1921, p. 10). To go into some detail, the contribution of philosophy to the authenticity of understanding manifests itself in several forms. First, philosophy makes man reappraise the significance of his own knowing. Second, philosophy alone enables man to overcome the dangerous tendency to identify science with knowledge as such. This point needs to be emphasized because sometimes even would-be humanists continue to overstress science. Third, philosophy enables the mind of man to be more judicious as well as penetrating when handling factual information. In fact, if all other conditions are the same, a person is a far better knower if he is also a philosopher than if he is merely a scientist. A typical example in this regard is that of Niels Bohr (1885-1962), whose attitude is expressed in one of his most revealing mottoes: “The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth can again be a profound truth.” (Translated from W. Heisenberg, 1969, p. 141).
Sometimes, to be sure, the effort to harmonize science and philosophy may well not be too successful, and produce tension. Even then, however, the humanistic importance of philosophy cannot be denied. Finally, the most valuable form with which philosophy contributes to authentic understanding consists in its ability to make man effectively understand himself. Surely, philosophy does not suffice by itself to that task, but needs science. Even so, philosophy alone is able to make man understand himself because such an understanding has to be both personal and reflective. As Buber (1875-1965) put it rightly: «The investigator cannot content himself [...] with considering man as another part of nature and with ignoring the fact that he, the investigator, is himself a man and experiences his humanity in his inner experience in a way that he simply cannot experience any part of nature. Philosophical knowledge of man is essentially man’s self-reflection, and man can reflect about himself only when the cognizing person, that is, the philosopher pursuing anthropology, first of all reflects about himself as a person.» (Buber, 1961, p. 154).
We can summarize the main traits of the basic indication toward self-humanization provided by science. In the first place, man must strive to know more, not less. In fact, the very existence of science shows that man can achieve the fullness of his humanity only by way of knowledge. But the requirement is that man must pursue a truly comprehensive knowledge.
In the second place, the spirit of science moves man to strive after effective understanding. That is to say, he must not rest satisfied with superficial explanations, no matter how scientific. On the contrary, he must look for the entire truth, namely for the ultimate message of reality. For only then can he say that he authentically understands what reality means.
In the third place, the spirit of science moves man to seek an understanding that is really humanistic. That is to say, man must strive to become aware of himself in the concreteness and wholeness of his nature, within the framework of certainties and values that make up a comprehensively human culture. C. F. von Weizsäcker (1912-2007) has rightfully spoken of “insight” in this connection. «I would call [insight] the knowledge which considers the coherence of the whole. Insight must be especially concerned with man himself, his motives and his aims, and with the inner and outer conditions of his existence. Insight may not separate subject and object fundamentally, but must recognize their essential kinship, their mutual dependence and, consequently, their inseparable coherence. (Von Weizsäcker, 1949, p. 4).
2. Authentic Creativity. We can realize another important humanizing indication inspired by science if we consider the most characteristic feature of scientific knowing – namely, creativity. Self-humanization, obviously, implies creativity because man becomes genuinely human through creation. Accordingly, precious light on the process of humanization can be obtained by reflecting on creativity, especially as embodied in science.
The first feature of authentic creativity is a positive, though critical, evaluation of tradition. Psychological investigation proves that this is truly a characteristic mark of the genuinely creative person. One researcher specializing in this subject writes for instance: «The attitude that appears most readily to favour creative thinking combines receptivity towards what is valuable, in traditional and new ideas alike, with discriminating criticisms of both.» (McKellar, 1957, p. 113).
It is important to stress the positive though critical position of the genuine creator with regard to the past, because only too frequently the public mind assumes that originality amounts to iconoclasm or destruction of the past. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
As regards the contribution of science to the understanding of this first feature of creativity, a quick look at its history may suffice. In fact, great scientific creators were never iconoclasts or destroyers – on the contrary, they were careful evaluators of past achievements as well as tireless improvers over them. Galileo (1564-1642), the father of science, stands out especially in this regard. Undoubtedly, he was quite impatient of any worshiping of traditional learning. Nonetheless, he always showed genuine respect for such learning and was proud to be considered an inheritor of tradition. Thus he viewed himself as a disciple not only of mathematicians such as Archimedes, but also of philosophers such as Aristotle. As a result, we can realize the first contribution of the spirit of science to authentically human creativity. It consists in the exhortation to overcome the dichotomy between tradition or conservation, on the one hand, and advance or progress, on the other.
Another distinctive feature of authentically human creativity, as is well known, is the total personal engagement required of the person involved. In fact, creation is what expresses at its best the whole personality of man. But if this is the case, we can notice here another important aspect of the inspiration that science provides to man to humanize himself through creativity. The reason is precisely the fact that science offers an outstanding example of the necessity as well as productiveness of personal engagement in humanizing endeavors. Indeed, science succeeds in humanizing man in the area of knowledge simply because it manages to harness all the resources of his personality to the task. But, then, the spirit of science must necessarily exhort man to extend the same attitude of total personal involvement to the remaining endeavors that are demanded by full-fledged humanization.
Finally, the creativity which is authentically human is defined by still another feature which can be called an originally personal communion with reality. In fact, in order to create, man cannot simply start out of nothing; he must have a grounding in preexistent reality. Nevertheless, genuinely human creation is precisely that: an originally personal reinterpretation and remolding of reality itself. As a consequence, creativity humanizes man by establishing an enriching communion between himself and reality. However, if these considerations apply to creativity in general, it is clear that they apply more specifically to scientific creativity as such. For, precisely, more perhaps than other forms of creativity, science stresses the need for creative man to keep continuously in touch with objective reality. As a consequence, we have here another manifestation of the inspiration that science offers toward the self-humanization of man. Science exhorts man to be creative in an authentically human way by overcoming a widespread temptation that tends to mar the creative person by malting him either too subjectivistic or too objectivistic.
To sum up, it is certainly inspiring to think of science in terms of creativity. For science, no less than other typical endeavors of man, is truly creative in the proper acceptation of the term. «Science, like art, is not a copy of nature, but a re-creation of her. We remake nature by the act of discovery, in the poem or in the theorem.» (Bronowski, 1965, p. 20).
But, if creativity is so typical of science, the inspiration that it provides must clearly extend to the humanization of man in his entirety.
3. Holistic Culture. To close our theoretical survey of the humanistic significance of science we must still mention a third indication of science itself toward self-humanization. This indication refers to man in the totality of his cultural being. It stresses the need for striving after a holistic or unified culture as an essential requirement of humanization. Already T. H. Huxley (1825-1895) was making this point: «For culture certainly means something quite different from learning or technical skill. It implies the possession of an ideal and the habit of critically estimating the value of things by comparison with a theoretical standard.» (Bibby, 1967, p. 201).
Reflection on science and its spirit stresses the necessity for a unified culture, on both negative and positive grounds. Negatively speaking, in fact, it is clear why man living in the scientific age should strive to develop a unified culture. The reason is the very real threat to his humanity that is arising from the progressive cultural breakdown typical of current civilization. However, the more persuasive motivation that science offers toward holistic culture is a positive one. In fact, not only is science one of the most excellent products of human culture, but its contributions are of immense cultural value because they give to man a better awareness of himself. Thus it is but consistent with the spirit of science that man living in the scientific age should strive to develop a new holistic culture. This culture should precisely consist in a comprehensive doctrine that takes into systematic account the whole of man – both as revealed by science and as explored by other cultural approaches such as philosophy and art.
Can it be said that the holistic message of the spirit of science is effectively heeded in our times? Despite the very real and increasing polarization of contemporary people, some positive signs should be noted. For, even though they are scattered and merely inchoative, they point in the right direction and give new courage to the committed humanist. The thinkers involved are both scientists and philosophers. As regards scientists, it is currently no longer altogether exceptional to hear them declare that they are «concerned with the teaching of science itself as a humanistic subject.» (Rabinowitch, 1962 p. 170).
As for philosophers, they too tend to show a progressive awareness of the indispensable role played by science concerning authentic humanism.
To synthesize, we can now express in a few words the significance of science for man that we have detected in the course of our investigation. This significance does not lie in such outward and superficial reasons as the obvious technological usefulness of scientific discoveries or the emotional excitement that they entail. Actually, science is human – chiefly and essentially – because it is humanistic, that is, because it enables man to become more consciously aware of his human condition, both as a fact and as an ideal.
In other words, the central result of our investigation is that the significance of science lies especially in the inspiration it gives. The spirit of science does not allow man any self-complacency but invites him to transcend himself. In fact, if rightly understood, science exceeds science. For it points beyond and beneath itself, toward a fully humanizing ideal. This ideal consists, surely, also in knowing, more and more. But, above all, it consists in living. For science invites man to live as a co-responsible creator of the universe entrusted to his care.
Doubtlessly, the humanistic significance of science outlined can be easily ignored and even ridiculed. But, if this happens, the fault is not science’s, rather man’s. For man can only too naturally be inconsistent with the spirit of his science. However, if he heeds this spirit and puts it into practice, he will hardly fail to humanize himself. For, after all, the very existence of science shows that man is able to transcend the dehumanizing conditioning of his self-centeredness. In the light of the interpretation attained, therefore, we are justified in looking forward to a more genuinely human civilization in the age of science without indulging thereby in naive and self-deceptive expectations. In actual fact, science shines already for many as an attractive and rewarding goal of their humanizing endeavors.
IV. Science as an Effectively Humanizing Process
1. Wisdom and Dialogue: The General Structure of Humanization. In the light of the preceding it is now clear, at least in principle, why wisdom justifiably remains the ideal for man striving after self-humanization. The reason consists in the fact that the dialogical attitude enables each person to consider wisdom as an effectively attainable goal, both theoretically and practically.
Theoretically speaking, the dialogical attitude removes the main obstacle that seems to invalidate the sapiential ideal in the age of science. In fact, wisdom invites man to strive after comprehensive intrinsic understanding. But how is it possible to view this as an attainable goal, since science has disclosed the inexhaustible character of the intelligibility of reality? The answer is that this is possible through dialogue. Actually, dialogue makes each individual capable of overcoming the inherent limitations of his individuality. The individual continues to be quite limited as far as his particular abilities go. And yet he is freed of the suffocating sense of hopelessness that seems to be entailed by his individuality. Science itself is the most convincing evidence of the limitless resourcefulness resulting from the dialogical attitude. In fact, no individual scientist can explore the entire intelligibility of observable reality. Nevertheless, if he adopts a dialogical attitude toward all his colleagues, he can really know such a universal intelligibility. Consequently, if a person adopts in general the dialogical attitude toward all the possible ways with which mankind can ascertain meaning in reality, it is clear that the ideal goal of intrinsic comprehensive understanding remains valid in the age of science. In a way, perhaps, one could even say that it remains more valid than ever because, through science, man has learned in an unprecedented way to overcome the limitations of his individuality by seeking understanding on a corporate basis.
Practically speaking, dialogue gives new encouragement to man to strive after wisdom simply because it points out the humanness as well as facility of such a striving. Indeed, without the insights brought by reflection on dialogue, a person could be easily scared by the earnestness of the sapiential endeavor. He could think that wisdom would demand an exclusive dedication and asceticism that would make it an impractical pursuit for anyone who must live in the tensions and worries of ordinary existence. But the dialogical attitude removes such a disheartening obstacle by insisting on the responsive character of wisdom itself. The spirit of dialogue invites each individual to meet reality as it presents itself to him, and to welcome it with humble confidence, without fear. For, after all, each manifestation of reality is a carrier of meaning. The dialogical spirit removes all worries, as it shows that the acquisition of wisdom is essentially and exclusively a matter of response. To be sure, this response must be wholehearted and consistent to the end. Yet a person who sincerely intends to become wise can do nothing better than strive to be dialogically responsive.
To sum up, even in the age of science the effective approach to humanization continues to remain the one embodied in the traditional idea of wisdom. Only, people should now acknowledge more explicitly than in the past that they cannot actually attain wisdom unless they strive after it on a dialogical basis. Thus, the humanizing ideal of contemporary man should be defined more precisely. Instead of speaking merely of wisdom, it is now necessary to speak specifically of dialogical wisdom.
2. Sapiential Openness: The Humanization of Scientific Knowing. How can man effectively humanize himself by doing science? Specific indications can be easily obtained by reflecting on the two main practical attitudes demanded by the sapiential ideal, namely openness and engagement.
The basic attitude of the sage is that of sapiential openness. What is meant by this term? A positive effort to make oneself available to reality and its meaning as far as accessible to the thoroughly and consistently open-minded investigator of truth. In other words, the sage is the person who strives, by means of reflection, to acknowledge explicitly the entire message that reality is able to convey to a genuinely thoughtful person. In particular, the sage strives to perceive the deep meaning of reality as a matter of habit; that is, he does not seek for meaning only occasionally or in selected areas, but constantly and comprehensively and in increasing depth.
Is the attitude of sapiential openness effectively practicable while remaining within the scientific profession? The answer is positive on three counts, as can be readily seen by considering the threefold posture required by scientific creativity: openness to things, to persons, and to meaning. This threefold openness is, in turn, the attitude that can and should humanize scientific knowing from within.
To begin from the very beginning, the fundamental prerequisite of science is obviously that of openness to things. The scientist, in fact, can become such only if allows himself to be moved by the message brought to his notice by some of the observable things that surround him. Actually, Galileo and Kepler (1571-1630) and Newton gave rise to science simply because they took seriously the message conveyed to their minds by familiar objects and events, such as the sun and moon and planets, the swinging pendulum, etc. Likewise, in recent times, the starting point of the creative work of Bohr and Heisenberg (1901-1976) was the fascination with such commonplace phenomena as the permanency of the properties of water and the stability of chemical compounds. But, if this is the case, one should not look upon this very first manifestation of science as something that is humanistically trivial. For the achievement that it implies is great and the indication that it contains is even greater. The achievement implied is, of course, that of being authentically factual while overcoming the instinctive tendency to look at things according to the view that is considered orthodox in one’s own cultural environment. But this first manifestation of science contains a very great humanistic indication because it points to an openness to things that effectively belongs in the sapiential realm. In fact, if one is consistent with the spirit of science, should one not try to understand the entire message conveyed by the things themselves – even that part of the message that science as such cannot decipher? For, indeed, there is such a message – the one, namely, that man can grasp but only by means of philosophical reflection. Hence it would be quite unscientific as well as unsapiential to stop at the orthodox interpretation that sees science as the uniquely important and exclusively respectable form of knowing.
The spontaneous objection, however, is that the average scientist has neither the training nor the time to perform the philosophical reflection indicated. This objection is valid, although it should never be used as an excuse for avoiding reflection. For reflection is indispensable for humanization. However, if the objection is valid, science itself provides at least a principle of solution. This consists in openness to persons, which is typical of the scientific practice as such. In fact, the cognitive limitation of the individual is openly acknowledged by scientists even in scientific research. But they do not see in such a situation a reason for discouragement. On the contrary, they successfully overcome this obstacle by sharing mutually their expertise on a dialogical basis: «Science comes into existence in conversation.» (Heisenberg, 1969, p. 9).
But if openness to persons is so proper to science, who could deny that the spirit of science exhorts its practitioners to adopt the same dialogical attitude also with regard to the exploration of the all-important philosophical questions for which they have neither the training nor the leisure? The great scientists, in point of fact, normally heed this exhortation. An outstanding example of this conduct is the entire book by Heisenberg, from which we just quoted.
The third form of scientific openness with sapiential implications is the most comprehensive one: openness to universal meaning. To be sure, many scientists manage to ignore this kind of openness and even boast about their doing so. However, they act this way not because of science, but rather despite it. In fact, the genuinely creative scientist can hardly fail to be interested in universal meaning – both as a presupposition and a conclusion of his creative endeavors. When asked how he discovered his relativity theory, Einstein replied that «he was so strongly convinced of the harmony of the universe.» (Schilpp, 1959, p. 292).
To sum up, it is not only desirable but possible to humanize scientific knowing and thereby attain in practice the fundamental goal of wisdom, namely sapiential understanding. This is possible precisely because the spirit of science itself exhorts the researcher not to consider himself satisfied until he has succeeded in practicing consistently the attitude of openness that is so typical of the scientific endeavor. To be sure, science does not suffice alone to this end, not even to motivate the necessity of total openness. And yet, science points the way because it makes man aware that the universe has a truly comprehensive message and meaning – a message and meaning, in turn, that far transcend what can be seen and touched. At this point, then, science begins to be authentically humanizing.
3. Sapiential Engagement: The Humanization of Scientific Doing. The second, complementary attitude of the sage is that of sapiential engagement. We can define this term readily by recalling that the sage is not only a knower, but also simultaneously a doer. Accordingly, the attitude of sapiential engagement consists in putting oneself entirely at the disposal of the deep meaning of reality that one has perceived. In other words, the sage is the person who strives, by means of practice, to express in his life the message of truth that has come to his notice. In particular, the sage strives to translate cognition into edifying action as a matter of habit; that is, he does not respond to meaning only occasionally or in selected areas, but constantly and comprehensively and with increasing creativeness.
Is the attitude of sapiential engagement effectively implementable while remaining within the scientific profession? The answer is definitely positive if one takes into account the spirit of science in its entirety as well as the humanizing indications that arise therefrom. For, after all, science is essentially a matter of engaged response to meaning – a response in which the person dedicates himself wholly with increasing creativeness, from the first tentative observations to the mighty theoretical syntheses. In other words, science – just as wisdom – does not consist merely in knowing, but also very much in doing. Genuine scientific doing consists, precisely, in one’s own total dedication to the task. But, if this is so, it is only consistent with the spirit of science that a scientist extends this same attitude of engagement to all other areas affecting his personality as a concretely existing human being.
However, even if the attitude of sapiential engagement is possible to a person who does science, is it really desirable? After all, a person can be quite productive as a scientist without bothering about such an attitude. Even worse, if a person engages himself sapientially, is not this superfluous dedication disadvantageous to the scientific endeavor itself? For, of course, each human being has only a limited amount of time and energy. Thus, if one is a scientist, why should one not concentrate his engagement exclusively on science as such?
The objection is impressive. In fact, numerous scientists seem to dispense more or less completely with the sapiential engagement, and be all the better off for it. Nonetheless, we must deny the validity of the objection. For, of course, it may be true that a person who does not care for wisdom can be more scientifically productive than another who does. However, it would be hardly justified to make this into a causal explanation. In fact, after all, science demands the whole man. But man is a unitary being. Hence any form of behavior that introduces a split in the human personality rather hinders than favors science itself. Actually, psychological and sociological surveys of the scientific community show that science is generally considered by its practitioners as the embodiment of the ideal of the whole man, in the sapiential acceptation of the term. As a consequence, it must be admitted that the sapiential engagement arising from the spirit of science is far from detrimental to science itself.
At this point it is clear that the practice of science and the search for wisdom are far from incompatible. Thus we could close our discussion but for a major objection that threatens to invalidate our entire effort. In fact, if the scientist is supposed to practice sapiential openness and engagement in his entire life, toward whom or what has he to address his personal word? In former times, one would have normally replied that the ultimate term of reference of the sapiential endeavor was the absolute or God himself, as the primal source of meaning and ideal. And yet, nowadays, such an answer cannot be taken as automatically persuasive. Or, at the very least, if it is to be deemed persuasive, a person would demand to know all the reasons why. But such an investigation certainly exceeds both the time and the training of the average scientist. As a consequence, it might appear that, to the working scientist as such, the search for wisdom presents itself as not sufficiently motivated. Perhaps it can even give the impression of being a monumental self-delusion. Indeed, if there were no one to acknowledge the word of man – if this word would be shouted into the void – would not the ideal of wisdom be a cruel mockery? Would not man annihilate himself by chasing nothingness?
The dramatic earnestness of the situation confronting the person who aspires after humanization in the practice of science should be acknowledged. In particular, it should be admitted that the root of this situation lies in the religious question. For such a question is not an artificial or secondary problem, but affects the very center of the personality of man in his search for meaning. Nevertheless, there is no justification for nihilist pessimism here – just the opposite. Indeed, if the situation is so dramatic, the sensible person has no alternative but to face it with total consistency and dedication. This very determination will enable him to find a solution which is in keeping with both the spirit of science and that of wisdom.
To realize how much the spirit of science has in common with that of wisdom, it is sufficient to envision the general attitude of the scientist while pursuing scientific research. The scientist is not a disembodied mind fueled by clear and distinct ideas. He is not, in other words, a person who refuses to commit himself to a message of meaning until he has exhaustively checked its objectivity by means of geometric reasoning. On the contrary, the scientist is a person who operates on the strength of a meaning that is experientially perceived, but whose certainty is as yet logically unproved and even improvable. In fact, the whole of scientific research is truly a search – the search for something whose presence has been felt in nature, but whose critical justification is still missing. The justification itself will be apodictically obtained only when the discovery is made, often after many years of painstaking searching. But, if this is the case, should one say that the scientist who dedicates all his life to research acts foolishly simply because he cannot give apodictic evidence of the validity of his original insight? Certainly not. In fact, from the very beginning, the researcher knows in his heart of hearts that the goal of his search is not a figment of his imagination, but rather an objective reality that is truly present – though, as yet, in an inexplicit way. Hence the genuine scientist cannot accept at all the view that looks upon his research as an insufficiently motivated effort. On the contrary, he is certain that his effort is supremely motivated because it aims at incarnating in the life of man a message without which man himself would not be sufficiently human. The outcome of scientific research, in fact, is that of humanizing man a little more by disclosing to him some hitherto unsuspected aspects of the overall intelligibility of nature. Thus the genuine scientist would feel guilty, rather than justified, were he to refuse his total engagement in scientific research. For, without his engagement, the message of meaning he had originally perceived would be evacuated, and man, through his fault, would fail to reach the ideal to which he had been called.
We can now apply the foregoing considerations to man’s sapiential engagement. If scientific research justifies the dedication of man, the search for wisdom justifies his dedication even more, on two main counts: first, because the goal of science is only limitedly humanizing, whereas that of wisdom is totally so; second, because the experiential foundation of the search for wisdom is more solidly established than even that which underlies scientific research. In fact, the awareness of an intrinsic intelligibility in nature is granted to relatively few people and, as a cultural phenomenon, it has appeared only recently in the history of mankind. But the awareness of an ultimate source of meaning in reality as a whole is an experience that is shared by man as such, throughout space and time. Indeed, it is remarkable that all religious and moral systems of mankind – though differing in everything else – have always agreed on the one point that man must dedicate himself wholly to the ultimate source of objective meaning if he is to effectively humanize himself.
To reply directly to the objection under discussion, we can now say that the scientific practitioner should not fear to adopt the attitude of sapiential engagement. He should not hesitate to say “Yes” with his entire being. For, by so doing, he will experience – even more rewardingly than in science itself – that his “Yes” will not be dissipated into the void of meaninglessness. On the contrary, this personal word will come back to him in the form of a greater awareness of meaning. As a consequence, the scientist himself will be more fully human and the humanistic significance of science will be entirely vindicated.
In brief, it is clear in what sense science can and should humanize the working scientist effectively. There is no question here of great intellectual gifts or other resources – such a plentiful leisure. What is necessary and sufficient is nothing more, but also nothing less, than a consistent fidelity to the spirit of science itself. To put it in other words, the humanistic significance of science is a fact. But it operates like a moral summons rather than a statement of factual evidence. Hence the humanism of science is essentially a question of one’s own personal life rather than an issue to be faced mainly on the theoretical level or, even less, by means of a technological approach. For science is humanistic only to the extent that man develops the potentialities of the spirit that gave birth to science itself and keeps it thriving, today. In this sense, then, it is clear that scientific man should be authentically human – not despite his science, but because of it.
The present article, edited in 2018, is the bulk of the Chapter 8 of E. Cantore’s Scientific Man. The Humanistic Significance of Science (New York: ISH Publications, 1977) , pp. 390-442.
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