Roszczenie naukowego obiektywizmu jako hamulec samokrytyki (Czy Zachód musi być centrum świata?)

Czy można uwolnić Zachód od etnocentryzmu? — część 2. Rozważania kontynuuje Corentin Heusghem. Zob. część 1 pt. Rewolucja kopernikańska poza fizyką [Can the West be freed from ethnocentrism? — part 2. Reflections are continued by Corentin Heusghem. See part 1 The Copernican revolution outside of physics].

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Roszczenie naukowego obiektywizmu jako hamulec samokrytyki (Czy Zachód musi być centrum świata?)
Objective science’s claims as a brake on self-criticism (Does Occident have to be the centre of the world?)

Along the lines of the critique of the development’s universality we saw previously, Pierre Clastres argues that the State is not the universal goal and pre-determined fate of humanity but that some societies actively choose a social organisation that prevents the surge of the State (or something like a State, having coercive power at its disposal), which makes the State only one type of social and political organisation among several ; it is one particular, historical and cultural choice. Referring to this operation of decentering (this time undertaken in the political field) Pierre Clastres also mentions Copernicus and declares „this is about a Copernican revolution. In the sense that, until now and under some relations, ethnology has let the primitive cultures revolve around the occidental civilisation” [Clastres, 2011, p. 23] while each culture is its own centre and has to be understood for itself, in its own axis or line. The occidental prism, far from being universal, becomes a bias that prevents from properly considering the other cultures. This is the prejudice of ethnocentrism, an obstacle to the comprehension of alterity, that is overcome when we start to genuinely try to understand the other cultures from their own perspective or point of view. To do so implies to stop seeing them anymore exclusively through the light of the Occident and to give up its centrality or universality: this is what a Copernican revolution is about.

Therefore, self-criticism (or putting into questions our certainties and centrality) is the impetus for a better understanding of others. However, according to Escobar „the Occident has seemingly renounced to undertake this effort because the Occident is dependent on a science that claims to encompass every single aspect of humanity” [Escobar, 2018, p. 63].

Therefore, self-criticism (or putting into questions our certainties and centrality) is the impetus for a better understanding of others. However, according to Escobar „the Occident has seemingly renounced to undertake this effort because the Occident is dependent on a science that claims to encompass every single aspect of humanity” [Escobar, 2018, p. 63].

Photo by Adam Fagen, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Confident that it reaches objectively and beyond any perspective the (one and only) world in itself, the occidental modernity grants to science an epistemic superiority : it is the perfect, consummate and ideal knowledge. All other forms of knowledge should aim at imitating or becoming science and they can be evaluated according to their proximity or similarity to science, as the goal and apex of knowledge. Some are so willing to grant a complete supremacy to science that they disqualify the other forms of knowledge as opinions or beliefs. In such perspective the only possible knowledge is a true one, and the only true knowledge is the objective, modern and occidental science. The superiority of science is also often argued for through its numerous successes and practical realisations.

Nevertheless, the two kinds of arguments must not be confused. Is science really good in itself as the only true knowledge, or is it good for something in particular (for its usefulness for example, in the sense that it allows to have a hold on nature, to act, do things, cure diseases or even go into space)? Science really allows to do many amazing things, but does it manage this because it is true, or is it considered as true because it is successful ? Is science’s objectivity a way to access a universally true reality or is it removing and concealing (ignoring) aspects and dimensions from our experience (and from the world) in order to manipulate objects more easily and be more useful and efficient ? The ever unfinished state of science, the fact that it can go wrong and then be rectified, the numerous historical changes of paradigms that occurred… all of this rather points towards the latter option. It is not about the same value : it is not because science is efficient or successful that it is true. In a similar way to Kant that showed that existence cannot be derived from an idea, truth also cannot be derived from usefulness or successfulness.

Thus, if science starts with perception and only retains its most general elements, then it can be good for action, according to the value of making or accomplishing things, however it would be less good than other forms of knowledge according to the value of taking into account the whole wealth of cultures, perception and of the phenomenal world: it omits many aspects (which it calls subjective) in order to be more predictive and efficient. This sorting and removal of information doesn’t make the occidental knowledge truer because the specificities and particularities of perception could also be considered as true, as a real part of our experience (that is reduced, ignored or made invisible by the objective knowledge). Moreover, it is more metaphysically economical to postulate only one world (the world of perception, as the only one there is) instead of two worlds (the real and objective world in itself, plus the subjective world of our representation), so some other knowledge (like indigenous ones or phenomenology) are superior to science according to this criterion. Therefore, the occidental scientific use of reason is but only one kind of knowledge, one way to relate to the world and to understand something from it, one type of relation among many others, one kind of comprehension or knowledge that is good at a specific purpose according to different values. This particularity cannot be the judge of all the other relations and knowledge, as if it was the unique and universal one or a superior one : this so-called superiority depends on the criterion that is used to evaluate the different kinds of knowledge. It is in this way that the Copernican revolution removes the epistemic centrality of the Occident and acknowledges that „there are multiple configurations of knowledge” [Escobar, 2018, p. 34].

Corentin Heusghem
https://orcid.org/0000-0002-0629-1959

Bibliography :
Arturo Escobar, Sentir-penser avec la Terre. Une écologie au-delà de l’Occident (Sensing-Thinking with the Earth. An Ecology Beyond the Occident), Seuil, coll. Anthropocène, 2018.
Pierre Clastres, « Copernic et les sauvages » (Copernicus and the Savages), in La Société contre l’Etat (Society Against the State), Les Editions de Minuit, coll. Reprise, 2011 (1974).


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