December 5, 2022

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On science: rationality and anarchy –

by Tiziano Antonelli

The pandemic crisis has sparked, among other things, a debate on the topic of science within antagonistic political topics and within the anarchist movement, which has often taken tones of jubilation in the playing field.
Those who follow scientific research from abroad and admire it are usually more confident in its results than those who participate in it. This phenomenon is amplified by the birth of pressure groups that aim to link scientific research with political decision-makers and economic institutions, in order to ensure the continued flow of funding and prevent the emergence of an open debate about the usefulness of some fields. Research. An example is the Transversal Pact of Science, which plays an important role in public debate in Italy, with pro-government, authoritarian and elitist positions.
I’m only a philosophy buff, but I intend to contribute to this discussion by sharing some of the ideas I’ve developed by reading Hans Reichenbach’s The Birth of Scientific Philosophy.
Hans Reichenbach (1891-1953) was one of the most prominent exponents of the philosophy of science and empirical philosophy in the first half of the last century. He did basic research on Einstein’s principles of relativity and the interpretation of geometry, problems of probability and induction, the foundations of causation and quantum mechanics, and he dealt extensively with mathematical logic and its applications in the analysis of scientific knowledge.
The book from which I was inspired represents his most recent work and is an introductory guide to the study of the philosophy of science up to the middle of the last century and an overview of Reichenbach’s positions.
Among other things, this book represents an active stance against rationalism.

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against rationality

Reichenbach defines rationalism as the philosophical current according to which reason itself is a source of knowledge relating to the physical world; The adjective rational must also be associated with this concept. However, the noun, adjective, and adjective “rational” should not be confused. After this distinction, we can assert that scientific knowledge is rational, because it is accessed by applying reason to sensitive data, but it is not rational. This term refers to the philosophical method according to which synthetic knowledge accessed through the mind is independent of any empirical verification.
Reichenbach, to represent the various forms posited by rationalism, analyzes the systems of some philosophers, Plato, Descartes, and Kant, noting that although the approach has developed in accord with scientific knowledge, these share a search for absolute truths, an “artificial a priori” to be defined by Kant, Based on the type of that mathematics is based on and in particular Euclidean geometry. Kant’s rationalist approach surpasses that of his predecessors because, in the search for certainty, he abandons the ambiguous basis for seeing ideas and using empty propositions. Kant bases his system on the science of his time, as a source of certainty: in his thinking, the knowledge of nature reached its highest form with Newtonian physics, which he perfected by translating it into a philosophical system; Thus, he believed, he had reached the full justification of knowledge. Therefore the philosophical system developed by Kant can be considered an ideological superstructure based on physical theories based on absolute space and time and natural determinism.
The collapse of Newton’s model and physics deprived the Kantian system of any scientific basis, and reduced it to a document of an era, attempting to satisfy the need for certainty.
With the advent of Einstein and Planck physics, Kant thought of all functions in the scientific field.
Kant’s example shows us the constant danger faced by the philosopher of science, and in general by those who follow and admire him. In Reichenbach’s view, the philosopher of science appears to be the Prophet’s most fanatical disciple. In this role, he risks giving scientific knowledge more confidence than justified by its results, which were temporarily achieved through observation and generalization.
This attitude is characteristic of the modern era, which was marked by the birth of a new science. The belief that science could solve all problems was spread and strengthened to the point that science ended up performing the same social function that religion and the church did: the function of distributing certainty. In this sense, religious faith remains as a private form to the extent that it corresponds to science.
The Enlightenment in particular, of which Kant is also a part, transformed religious experience into a cult of reason. The Christian God made a mathematician and an omniscient scientist.
At the same time, mathematicians, physicists, biologists, virologists, and all kinds of scientists were considered infallible priests, and their teachings were placed on the basis of growing authoritarianism, democratic or dictatorial.
As Reichenbach says: “All the dangers of theology, its dogmatic dogmas and pretensions connected with the promises of certainty, reappear in the philosophies that uphold the infallibility of science.”
The rationality applied to the social question has caused great damage, grief and tragedy, as evidenced by the history of the labor movement.

See also - ​​the international foreign press agency