Saturday, August 3, 2013

Wisdom and Science (quote)

Isaiah Berlin, The Hedgehog and the Fox.
The quarrel between these rival types of knowledge - that which results from methodical enquiry, and the more impalpable kind that consists in the 'sense of reality', 'in wisdom', is very old. And the claims of both have generally been recognized to have some validity: the bitterest clashes have been concerned with the precise line which marks the frontier between their territories. These who made large claims for non-scientific knowledge have been accused by their adversaries of irrationalism and obscurantism, of the deliberate rejection, in favour of the emotions or blind prejudice, of reliable public standards of ascertainable truth; and have, in their turn, charged their opponents, the ambitious champions of science, with making absurd claims, promising the impossible, issuing false prospectuses, undertaking to explain history or the arts or the states of the individual soul (and to change them too) when quite plainly they do not begin to understand what they are; when the results of their labours even when they are not nugatory, tend to take unpredicted, often catastrophic, directions  - and all this because they will not, being vain and headstrong, admit that too many factors in too many situation are always unknown, and not discoverable by the methods of natural science. Better, surely, not to pretend to calculate the incalculable, not to pretend that there is an Archimedean point outside the world whence everything is measurable and alterable; better to use in each context the methods that seem to fit to best, that give the (pragmatically) best results; to resist the temptations of Procrustes; above all to distinguish what is isolatable, classifiable and capable of objective study and sometimes of precise measurement and manipulation, from the most permanent, ubiquitous, inescapable, intimately present features of our world, which, if anything, are over-familiar, so that their 'inexorable' pressure, being too much with us, is scarcely felt, hardly noticed , and cannot conceivably be observed in perceptive, be an object of study.

Just to explain 'Procrustes':-

In the Greek myth, Procrustes was a son of Poseidon with a stronghold on Mount Korydallos at Erineus, on the sacred way between Athens and Eleusis. There he had an iron bed, in which he invited every passer-by to spend the night, and where he set to work on them with his smith's hammer, to stretch them to fit. In later tellings, if the guest proved too tall, Procrustes would amputate the excess length; nobody ever fit the bed exactly, because secretly Procrustes had two beds. Procrustes continued his reign of terror until he was captured by Theseus, travelling to Athens along the sacred way, who "fitted" Procrustes to his own bed [Wikipedia]

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