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Published by: juju009 on Oct 04, 2011
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enough for a science to work with 'matter' for its practitioners to recognize themselves as
materialists. Which also proves, in fact, that a strange dialectic is in play between the two
elements of the SPS: since one of these elements can obscure the other to the extent of making
it disappear entirely, whilst claiming that it is merely 'giving an account' of the same practice.
However that may be, and to restrict discussion to the domination provoked by this slippage
of meaning: it has not always existed in the history of physics and chemistry or any of the
'experimental' sciences that think their practice in terms of 'experiment/model/technique'. A
hundred years ago, physicists and chemists employed a very different language to speak of their
practice, a language close to that used today by earth scientists and life scientists. If our
scientific friends took the time to study the history of their discipline and of their own
predecessors' representation of it, they would find interesting documents proving how, and
under what influences, this slippage in the terminology of their SPS occurred, resulting in the
domination of the extra-scientific Element 2 over the intra-scientific Element 1. It may be
concluded from this that to understand the content of an SPS, it is indispensable to return to the
history of the sciences and to the history of the spontaneous philosophies, which simultaneously
depend upon the history of the sciences and on the history of philosophy.
But let us attempt once again to make 'palpable' the fact of this domination by means of
another, 'inverse' example.
If we recognize the existence of these two contradictory elements in the SPS and the
dominance of Element 2 over Element 1, and if we know that Element 2 is organically linked to
the philosophies which exploit the sciences to apologetic ends, for the benefit of the 'values' of
practical ideologies that are neither known nor criticized, it is clear that it is in the interests of

scientists to transform their SPS in a critical manner, to dispel the illusions contained in
Element 2, and to change the existing balance of power so as to place the 'intra-scientific' and
materialist Element 1 in a position of dominance.
But if it is obviously in their interests to do so, it is also obvious from experience that it is

practically impossible (except perhaps in borderline cases, which would have to be studied
separately) for the internal play of the SPS alone to bring about a shift in the balance of power
within that SPS or a critical transformation of that SPS. To put it another way: in the (most
general) situation in which Element 2 dominates Element 1, it is impossible to reverse the
balance of power without external support. The domination of Element 1 by Element 2 cannot
be overturned simply through an internal critical confrontation. As a general rule, the SPS is
incapable of criticizing itself through the play of its internal content alone.

page 137

What might this external support be? This external force capable of changing the balance of
power within the SPS? First, it can only be a force of the same nature as the forces that are in
contention: a philosophical force. But not just any philosophical force: a force capable of
criticizing and dispelling the idealist illusions of Element 2 by basing itself on Element 1;
therefore a philosophical force related to the philosophical force of Element 1 - that is, a

materialist philosophical force which, instead of exploiting, respects and serves scientific

Scientists are perfectly well aware that this is a matter of philosophy, of the philosophical
balance of power, and therefore, in the last instance, of philosophical struggle. If they know
something of their past, they know perfectly well, for example, that the experimental sciences
of the eighteenth century received considerable help from materialist philosophers. And under
the umbrella of the Great and Glorious History of the Enlightenment they know the stakes of
the struggle in the representations which the men of this time (priests and their intellectuals on
one side, the materialist Encyclopaedists on the other) formed of the sciences and of scientific
practice: it was a matter of freeing 'minds' from a false representation of science and

Page 47 of 67

Philosophy and the Spontaneous Philosophy of Scientists



knowledge, and of bringing about the triumph over it of a 'correct' or more 'correct'
representation. It was a matter of struggling to transform the existing SPS: and in this struggle
to change the balance of power, the scientists needed philosophers and relied upon them.
Of course things do not always happen in broad daylight. But just as our 'crisis in science'
revealed to us the philosopher dormant in every scientist, so the open alliance of the scientists
and philosophes of the Enlightenment, under the slogan of 'materialism', shows us the condition
without which the balance of power between Element 2 and Element 1 within the SPS cannot
be shifted. This condition is the alliance of scientists with materialist philosophy, which brings
to scientists the extra forces needed so to reinforce the materialist element as to dispel the
religious-idealist illusions that dominated their SPS. The circumstances were no doubt
'exceptional', but there again they have the advantage of showing us in 'bold print' what, in the
'normal' course of things, is 'writ small' in tiny or illegible letters. And since we are speaking of
this Grand Alliance between materialist philosophy and the scientists of the eighteenth century,
why not recall that slogan under which this alliance was sealed - materialism - was brought to
the scientists by philosophers who wanted to serve them and who on the whole, despite the
shortcomings of this materialism (mechanism, etc.), served them well?
But at the same time - to dwell on this example for a moment - it is also necessary to take
stock of the objective limits of this alliance. For the 'materialism' that thus came to the aid of
the sciences and scientists

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