Topic 7: Ideology and Science

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Learning objectives

  • know the differences between open and closed belief systems
  • understand and be able to evaluate different view of science as a belief system
  • understand and be able to evaluate different views of the nature ideologies
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Science as a belief system

The impact of science

  • society have faith in science because it has helped us to protect ourself against natural dangers such as diseases and famine by creating medicine to help us fight them
  • science and technology have revolutionised economic productivity and raised out standards of living
  • society's faith in science has start to fail because it causes problems like pollution and global warming and weapons of mass destruction
  • cognitive power of science means science enables us to explain, predict and control the world in a way that non-scientific or pre-scientific belief systems cannot do
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Science as a belief system

Open belief systems

  • Propper says that science is a open belief system because every scientists theories are open for scrutiny, criticism and testing by others everyone can judge the theory or findings
  • the principle of falsificationism means scientists set out to try and falsify existing theories deliberately seeking evidence to disprove the theory
  • science is culmulative which means it builds on the achievements of previous scientists to develop a greater understanding of the world around us
  • Propper points out that scientific knowledge is prevented from being sacred or absolute truth because someone can always disprove the theory as it can be questioned, tested, criticised and perhaps shown to be false
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Science as a belief system

The CUDOS norms

  • Merton says that the Protestant reformation was the first who supported scientific thinking as he says science can only thrive as a major social institution if it recieves support from other institutions and values
  • CUDOS norms that makes scientists act in ways that serve the goal of increasing scientific knowledge:
    • communism - scientific knowledge is not private property, scientists must share it with the scientific community otherwise knowledge can't grow
    • universalism - the truth or falsity of scientific knowledge is judged by universal, objective criteria and not by the particular race, sex etc of the scientist who produced it
    • disinterestedness - being committed to discovering knowledge for its own sake. Having to publish findings makes it harder for scientists to practise fraud, since it enables others to check their claims
    • organised scepticism - no knowledge or claim is regarded as 'sacred' every idea is open for questioning anf investigation
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Science as a belief system

Closed belief systems

  • religion is a closed belief system because religion claims to have special, perfect knowledge of the absolute truth
  • its knowledege is literally sacred and religious organisations claim to hold it on God's divine authority, this means it cannot be challanged those who do try to challange the truth may be punished
  • what prevents a closed belief system from being disproved is because when their fundemental beliefs are threatened, closed belief systems have a number a devices or 'get out clauses' that reinforce and prevent it from being disproved
  • these devices varies from one belief system to another an example is witchcraft beliefs
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Science as a belief system

Witchcraft among the Azande

  • Azande explain misfortune in terms of witchcraft such as a jealous neighbour is practising witchcraft against them
  • they believe natural events have natural causes meaning they do not believe in coincidence or chance
  • Azande deal with an suspected witch by consulting the prince's magic poison oracle. Here, the prince's diviner will adminster a potion to a chicken, at the same time asking the benge whether the accused is the source of witchcraft and telling it to kill the chicken if the answer is yes. If the chicken dies, the sufferer can go and publically demand the witchcraft to stop
  • According to Evans-Pritchard there are three functions that the Azande belief system performs:
    • encourages neighbours to behave considerately towards others to reduce the risk of accusation
    • it clears the air and prevents grudges from festering
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Science as a belief system

...they believe witchcraft is hereditary therefore children can get it and accusations against the parent can ruin the child's reputation, thus this makes it a good social control mechanism ensuring conformity and cooperation is established

Witchcraft among the Azande

  • the belief system is highly resistent to challanges
  • non-believers might argue that the oracle did not work, the Azande would say that it will prove it was not a good benge (poison). The believers are trapped within their own 'idom of belief' because they accept the systems basic assumptions such the existence of witchcraft, they cannot challange it
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Science as a belief system

Self-sustaining beliefs

  • Polanyi argues that all beliefs systems have three devices to sustain themselves in the face of contradictory evidence:
    • circularity - each idea in the system is explained in terms of another idea within the system
    • subsidiary explanations - e.g. if the oracles fails, it may be explained away as due to the incorrect use of the benge
    • denial of legitimacy to rivals - belief systems reject alternative worldviews by refusing to grant any legitmacy to their basic assumption. E.G. creationism rejects outright the evolutionists knowledge-claim that the earth is a billion years old and thus species have gradually evolved rather than all having been created
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Science as a belief system

Science as a closed system

  • according to Polanyi, science is a closed belief system because he argues that all belief systems rejects challanges to their knowledge and claims and science is no different
  • Kuhn points out the paradigm which the paradigm tells scientists what reality is like, what problems to study and what methods and equipment to use and what cannot count as evidence - it lays down the outlines and the scientists job is to carefully fill in the details
  • Kuhn suggests normal science which means problem solving where scientists carefully fill in the details given by the paradigm and those scientists who do the job successfully will be rewards such as getting Nobel Prizes
  • those scientists who challange the paradigm is likely to be rejected and hounded out of the profession, other scientists won't see the individual as a scientist anymore
  • Kuhn says a scientific revolution takes place when faith in the truth of the paradigm has already been undermined by an accumulation of anomalies - results that the paradigm cannot account for or take credit off
  • Dr Velikovsky is imperical evidence which shows that science is closed belief system...
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Science as a belief system

...he put forward a new theory on the orgins of the earth, his theory challanged the assumptions of geology, astronomy and evolutionary biology. The scientific community put the new theory to the test to see if it explained the observed facts, scientists rushed to reject it out of hand - without even having read the book. Some of the scientists who worked with Dr Velikovsky lost their jobs because they were not seen as a scientists by the scientific community.

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Science as a belief system

The sociology of scientific knowledge

  • social contruction according to interpretivists mean rather than being objective truth it is created by social groups using the resources available to them
  • Knorr-Cetina, suggests that science is able to fabricate new facts by the inventions of new equipment such as telescopes and microscopes which permits to make new observations and fabricate new facts. She views the laboratory setting is highly constructed and far removed from thr natural worl that they are supposedly studying
  • 'little green men' illustrate the fact that scientists are engaged in the process of interpreting the world because when confronted by evidence from their oberservations and experiments, they have to decide what it means. They do so by devising and applying theories or explanations, but they then have to persuade others to accept their interpretation.
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Science as a belief system

The sociology of scientific knowledge

  • Marxism, feminism and postmodernism have their own view on science:
    • marxism / feminism - serving the interests of a dominant group such as the ruling class
    • advances in science has driven capitalism, for example - theoretical work on ballistics (the study of the path followed by objects under the influence of gravity) was driven by the need to develop new weaponry. Also, biological ideas have been used to justify both male dominations and colonial expansion, as a result science can be viewed as a form of ideology
    • feminism - serving the interests of men
    • postmodernists - reject the knowledge-claims of science to have the truth. They falsely claim to process the truth and claim to find the truth about the world works as a means of progress to a better society, in reality, science is just one more 'discourse' or way of thinking that is used to dominate people and they view science as a technoscience, which serves the interests of capitalist by producing commodities for profit
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Ideology

  • ideology is a set of ideas and values
  • there are many negative aspects of the meaning of the term ideology in sociology because its distorted, false or mistaken ideas about the world or a partial, one-sided or biased view of reality
  • ideas that conceal the interests of a particular group, or that legitimate their privileges
  • ideas that prevent change by misleading people about the reality of the situation they are in or about their own true interests or position
  • a self-sustaining belief system that is irrational and closed to criticism
  • thus when people use the term ideology to describe a belief system, it means they regard it as factually and/or morally wrong
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Ideology

Marxism and ideology

  • its workers interests to overthrow capitialism because they want to stop the ruling class from expoliting them and replace the capitalist society to a communist society in which the means of production are collective, not privately owned and used to benefit society as a whole
  • class consciousness is when you are becoming conscious of the true position as exploited 'wage slaves' as they are aware that ruling class expolit them for profit
  • ruling-class ideology are the ideas that legitmate or justifies the staus quo (the existing social setup) meaning their ideology is to have control over material prouction and production of idea, education, the media and religion
  • there are three examples of the beliefs and ideas of ruling-class ideology:
    • that equality will never work because it goes against human nature
    • victim blaming ideas about poverty such as what Bowles and Gintis call the poor 'dumb' which is a theory of meritocracy where everyone has an equal chance in life so the poor must be poor because they are stupid and lazy
    • racist ideas about the superiority of ethnic minorities which divide black and white workers and making them easier to rule
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Ideology

Marxism and ideology

  • Gramsci sees workers as having a dual consciousness which means a mixture of ruling class ideology and ideas they develop from their own experience of expolitation and their struggle against it
  • organic intellectuals refers to workers who through their own anti-capitalist struggles have developed a class consciousness
  • Abercrombie et al criticises Gramsci because he argues that economic factors such as fear of unemployment that keeps workers from rebelling therefore they don't have the desire to overthrow capitalism with their class consciousness
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Ideology

The ideology of nationalism

  • the features of nationalism - nations are real, distinctive communities each with its own unique characteristics and a long, shared history / every nation should be self-governing / national loyalty and identity should come before all others such as tribe, class or religion
  • Anderson says that a nation is an imagined community because we will never know most of its other members. This imagined community can bind millions of strangers together and create a sense of common purpose
  • Marx says nationalism is a form of false class consciousness because it helps to prevent the overthrow of capitalism by dividing the international working class because nationalism encourages workers to believe they have more in common with the capitalists of their own country than with workers of each countries
  • functionalists sees nationalism as a secular civil religion because it integrates individuals into social and politica units making them feel part of something greater than themselves
  • functionalists say education plays a role in nationalism because it creates social solidarity and this may include collective rituals involving nationalist symbols such as the flag and national anthem as well as learning the nations history
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Ideology

The ideology of nationalism

  • Gellner says nationalism is a feature of modern societies rather than preindustrial societies because pre-industrial societies were held together not by nationalism, but by face-to-face relationships in small-scale communities with a fixed hierarchy of ascribed statuses
  • modernity therefore need some means of enabling communication between strangers to take place, this is what makes nationalism possible by using mass state education system to impose a single, standard, national culture and language on every member of society
  • Gellner suggests how nationalism is used to enable a state to modernise as elites use nationalism as an ideology to motivate the population to endure the hardships and suffering that accompany the first phase of industrialisation, thereby enabling state to modernise
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Ideology

Karl Mannheim: ideology and utopia

  • Mannheim's two types of belief system:
    • ideological thought - justifies keeping things as they are. It reflects the position and interests of privileged groups such as the capitalist class. These groups benefit from maintaining the status quo so their belief system tends to be conservative and favours hierarchy
    • utopian thought - justifies social change and reflects the position and interests of the under privileged and offers a vision of how society could be organised. E.G. the working-class are disadvantaged of the status qup and may favour radical change to a classless society
  • Mannheim suggests that worldviews are created by a groups of intellectuals who attach themselves to particular classes
  • worldviews only give a partial view of reality because these intellectuals represent the interests of particular groups not society as a whole
  • Mannheim points out that the source of conflict in society is due to different intellectuals linked to different groups and classes which produces opposed and antagonistic ideas that justify the interests and claims of their group as against the others.
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Ideology

Karl Mannheim: ideology and utopia

  • these intellectuals represent the interests of groups and not society as a whole, they only have partial views of reality and this creates conflicts in society
  • the solution is therefore to detach the intellectuals from the social groups they represent and create a non-aligned or free-floating intelligentsia standing above the conflicts. What he means by free-floating intelligentsia is that people are freed from representing the interests of that group and they would synthesise elements of the different ideologies and utopias so as to arrive at a total worldview that represented the interests as a whole
  • however some political ideologies are opposed to one another and is hard to imagine how these can be synthesised
  • E.G. how could Marxist ideas about the need to create a classless society be synthesised with the conservative idea that heirarchy is essential and beneficial
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Ideology

Feminism and ideology

  • according to feminists, the fundamental division in society is gender inequality and a patriarchal ideology as playing a key role in legitimating it
  • Pauline Marks suggests that ideas from science has been used to justify women's exclusion from education - doctors, scientists and educationists have the view of educating females would lead to the creation of a 'race if puny and unfeminine' females and disqualify women from their true vocation which is being a nurturer of the next generation
  • religious beliefs may define women as inferior as religions have the idea that women are impure and unclean, because of childbirth and menstruation
  • a religious belief that does not subordinate women is before the emergance of the monotheistic patriarchal religions where there was female priests and the celebration of fertility cults as in Hinduism goddesses are seen as the creators of the universe
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