For some people science is the supreme form of all knowledge. Is this view reasonable or does it involve a misunderstanding of science or of knowledge? For many persons science is considered the supreme form of all knowledge, as science is based on facts and theories and it reaches its results through an approved scientific method. Consequently, it seems to be objective and thus more truthful and reliable. However, other persons argue that this is a misunderstanding of science.
Hence, one should question what science and knowledge entail. Can there actually be some form of knowledge that overrules all other types of human knowledge? Is scientific knowledge actually always objective? Are there other types of knowledge of equal worth? This essay will discuss the views presented mainly using examples from biology and history and comparing them to the different ways of knowing, i. e. perception, reasoning, emotion and language to try and reach a conclusion on whether scientific knowledge really is a higher form of knowledge. Firstly, before attempting to discuss the topic at hand, it is important to define the terms "knowledge", "science" and "supreme." According to Webster's Encyclopaedic Dictionary "knowledge" is defined as "the acquaintance with facts, truths, or principles gained by sight, experience, or investigation"1.
"Science" is a branch of knowledge that has purpose to "describe, explain, understand, investigate, predict, and control"2. The term "supreme" is defined as "the highest in rank, authority, and / or quality"3. Now, to put these definitions in context, one must recognise that scientific knowledge, to have the status of the highest in authority and quality, it has to be reliable and consistent with reality. And since scientific knowledge is based upon investigations and observations of the environment around us (i. e. reality), it must be supreme.
However, what can be questioned is the degree of supremacy within different types of sciences, and in this essay the comparison will be limited to one natural science (biology) and one social science (history). Biology could be considered the supreme form of knowledge, as a large proportion of what we know is based upon observations and investigations of the world around us, thus inductive reasoning. Let's consider the example of organs in living organisms; it's a scientific fact that most living organisms have organs. When dissecting a frog, people have seen that it has a brain, stomach, liver, intestines, etc. Thus, perception, in this case could be considered an important factor that makes a piece of knowledge supreme. One could then deduce that frogs have these organs and that most multi-cellular animals also have these organs, after having looked and compared a large sample.
This is where reasoning, as a way of knowing, comes into use to make generalizations. And one can be quite sure that this fact is true since it has been seen, and at any moment in time, if someone dissects a frog, he / she will see these organs. In this example, there is very little room for human emotions/ bias to affect the perception, since one cannot argue that what's inside the frog's body is something other than its organs. On the other hand, there are other parts in the field of biology that are less supreme. Consider the example of a field study where a scientist is to investigate if leaves closer to the trunk of oak trees in Scania are larger than those being further away from the trunk.
The biologist will make a plan on how to conduct the experiment, and since he cannot measure all leaves in all trees existing in Scania, the biologist will have to carry out the field study on a sample, which raises the question: what could be an appropriate sample? Most scientists agree that the best way to conduct a field study is being as random as possible. But how does one go about being random? Scientist may have different ways of reasoning on what would make an appropriate sample, but no way of supporting that their method is the better one. Here, perception works to the scientist's disadvantage. The experiment above has many weaknesses, since the biologist cannot gather enough facts to support his hypothesis. Moreover, while conducting the experiment the scientist is bound to find leaves that are, in fact, smaller closer to the trunk, but larger further away from the trunk. So, even if the majority of oak leaves are larger closer to the trunk, the scientist cannot make a generalizations like the one that could be done with the example of the frog, since such a generalisation would not be reliable and in accordance with reality (hence not supreme).
There is, also more room for personal bias or emotion to affect the knowledge gathered, because if the experiment is carried out in early spring, the results will be different than results from the same experiment carried out during high summer or autumn. Scientists could make use of this to their advantage when trying to support their theories. History, too, is a science that can be just as supreme a form of knowledge as Biology, although some people tend to disagree. Let's consider the example of the October/ November Revolution of 1917 in Russia; all historians agree that the Bolshevik Party did seize power from the Provisional Government. Eighty-eight years have passed since the October Revolution, so there are very few people (if any) that have witnessed the events who are still alive, but there are many official documents, biographies, television interviews with witnesses, etc. These serve as evidence to support the fact that the October Revolution has happened.
And since there is no evidence supporting the contrary, no one can say that it did not happen. Consequently, a historian often has to rely more on the deductive way of research than inductive, where reasoning is a very important way of acquiring knowledge. History, however, has a disadvantage that Biology, most of time does not have, and it is that a historian cannot go back in time to do research, while a Biologist may be able to repeat an experiment. Due to this, historians have to work with the material that they have; let's continue with the example of the October Revolution, but instead of asking if it happened, we ask if the Bolshevik Party had support of the masses during the October Revolution. Historians of the orthodox view, like Richard Pipes, say that the Bolshevik Party was able to carry out the "coup" because they had an armed Red Guard and not so much the people 4. The revisionist historians, like Edward Acton, argue that the Bolshevik Party did indeed have the support of the people 5.
These are two opposing views, yet both historians have to a large extent based their research on the same materials (extracts from the Pravda, Lenin's speeches, statistics, opinion poles, official documents, biographies, etc). The difference is historical views may be due to the fact that much of the data researched are mostly documentary, therefore they are open to different interpretations. Hence, language, as a way of knowing, tends to work to the disadvantage of historians since it can be interpreted in several different ways. The historian's culture and political view may affect the outcome, of the research too, as they might twist facts (knowingly or not) to fit their ideology. Thus, emotions work to the disadvantage of History being supreme and / or scientific. Another fact that works for the disadvantage of historians is that documents can be falsified and/ or censured, as it was done during Stalinist Russia.
So, historians might be basing their research on falsified data, which automatically makes history less supreme as the data is not reliable or consistent with reality. To conclude, my opinion would be that science is the most supreme from of knowledge we have, according to the definition I used it lends itself to be more reliable. However, one should be aware that there are various areas of science, where the outcome of research and the knowledge presented vary in objectivity, and reliability. That does not mean the knowledge that one acquires from biology is more supreme that that which we acquire from history, or vice versa. Saying that either one is more supreme form of knowledge would involve a misunderstanding of scientific knowledge since, picking up on Reuben Abel's quote, "The objectives of science... are characteristically human goals"6.
In addition, all humans are subjective; as emotions tend to affect our perceptions, way of reasoning, and the language used, thus the scientific knowledge we have created is also subjective. Bibliography Books Abel, Reuben. Man Is the Measure. New York; The Free Press, 1976. Acton, Edward. Rethinking the Russian Revolution.
Arnold Publishers, 1990. Pipes, Richard. Den Ryska Revolutionen. Stockholm; Natur och Kultur, 1990.
DictionariesWebster's Encyclopaedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language. 1989, Gramerce Book, New York. 1 Webster's Encyclopaedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language. 1989, Gramerce Book, New York. p. 792.
2 Abel, Reuben. Man Is the Measure. New York; The Free Press, 1976. p. 823 Webster's Encyclopaedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language.
1989, Gramerce Book, New York. p. 1430. 4 Pipes, Richard. Den Ryska Revolutionen. Stockholm; Natur och Kultur, 1990.
p. 1615 Acton, Edward. Rethinking the Russian Revolution. Arnold Publishers, 1990. p. 2386 Abel, Reuben.
Man Is the Measure. New York; The Free Press, 1976. p. 82 (c) Copyright 2005 Cassandra Flavius (Fiction Press ID: 375156). All rights reserved.
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