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Marxism and the History of Science

Author(s): Jerome Ravetz and Richard S. Westfall
Source: Isis, Vol. 72, No. 3 (Sep., 1981), pp. 393-405
Published by: The University of Chicago Press on behalf of The History of Science Society
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Bloomington. D. Rumania. Science in History (London: Watts. * Jerome Ravetz: Bernal's Marxist Vision of History J. was shaped by the Soviet contribution of 1931. Just fifty years ago.32.121. Department of Philosophy. Their contributions were published as Science at the Cross Roads. Westfall is an authority on seventeenth-century science. J. The second essay. and especially Boris Hessen's "Social and Economic Roots of Newton's 'Principia. Dr. A strong Soviet delegation was in attendance. 1971)."' perceived by some as an example of the promise to be found in Marxist approaches to the history of science. To mark that occasion Isis is pleased to publish two essays on Marxism and the history of science. 1 That set of essays. Yorkshire. 1981. Science and Industry in the Nineteenth Century (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. 2J. -A. 1954). Bernal. England. Science at the Cross Roads: Papers Presented to the International Congress of the History of Science and Technology Held in London from June 29 to July 3. Bukharin et al. the Second International Congress of the History of Science and Technology convened in London.205 on Wed. **Department of History and Philosophy of Science. In the first essay.R.S. 2nd ed.. England LS2 9JT. soon became the focus of an enduring discussion. University of Leeds.S. J.CRITIQUES & CONTENTIONS Marxism History THE and of the Science SIXTEENTH INTERNATIONAL CONGRESS of the History of Science is scheduled to assemble in Bucharest. Indiana University. IN. in August 1981. Westfall. 1953). London: Frank Cass. Among the English-speaking scientists moved to adopt a Marxist approach following the London congress. Bernal.T.2 The latter work is a thoughtful and careful exploratory essay. based partly on a new history of science. Dr. I. by Richard S. ISIS. Leeds. His most recent book is Never at Rest: A Biography of Isaac Newton.** explores some of the reasons for his dissatisfaction with Marxist interpretations in general and Bernal's work in particular. 26 Aug 2015 21:37:25 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . Indiana 47401. Jerome Ravetz* examines Bernal's work in the history of science with special reference to Science in History. * Division of History and Philosophy of Science. 72 (263) 393 This content downloaded from 109. The most significant products of his vision were the monumental Science in History and the more specialized Science and Industry in the Nineteenth Century. Ravetz is an expert on the social relations of science and the author of Scientific Knowledge and Its Social Problems. D. 1931. (London: Kniga. Bernal was one of that small group of brilliant British radical scientists whose vision of a Marxist science of society. Bernal was unique in combining scientific distinction with a gift for historical synthesis. 1931 by the Delegates of the U. D. D. almost as by a scholar for scholars.

that this is because while essentially it was motivated by postwar problems. The first five parts take the story from the Paleolithic to the Victorian age. vii. It could be argued that every great thinker fails. This negative assessment is not at all a personal judgment on Bernal or on the commitment that produced his historical work. wide diffusion. This historical material 3See Gary Werskey.: MIT Press. but is better understood. marketed in the 1970s in England and the United States to a readership to whom Bernal's commitments and concern must have been utterly remote. in part. 4Bernal.394 JEROME RAVETZ The broad sweep of Science in History and its continuing popularity. when we recall the analogous works by J. covering all the socialist countries and all major culture areas. its magnificent scope and coherent outlook yielded an excellent publication career. it attempted prewar solutions. Before then his historical concerns. the occasion of its composition was an invitation to give a series of lectures in 1948. Bernal's lack of success is a reminder that the theoretical maturing required for an effective Marxist analysis of science in modern societies is even now a hope rather than an achievement. as well as through two in the United States. It ran through four editions in England alone. 1965. S. Paperback (4th) ed.121. 26 Aug 2015 21:37:25 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . " 4 Although (as I shall argue later) the work was conceptually and politically obsolescent by the time it appeared. leaving only "popularization" as the link between reflective research scientists and the lay public. B.3 We can look on Bernal and his colleagues as late participants in a tradition of "philosophy of nature. I shall concentrate on it here. the last edition came out in four illustrated paperback volumes. but the incidental achievements are a permanent enrichment for humankind." before specialization and fragmentation had finally conquered science. This content downloaded from 109. and that Bernal's historical work suffered particularly from its origins in the Cold War period. 1978). and Joseph Needham. My conclusion is that the book has made a disappointingly small contribution to the history of science.32. p. The Visible College (London: Allen Lane. Bernal was fortunate not only in having an encyclopedic mind. Haldane. but also in living in a social milieu that did not automatically relegate those who exercised broad interests outside research to the status of eccentrics. and ideological significance make it the work by which Bernal's Marxist endeavor is to be assessed. There were translations into some fourteen foreign languages. Cambridge.: London: Watts/Penguin. Science in History may be analyzed for its contribution to the history of science and used as evidence for the evolution of Bernal's thinking on basic problems. 1969. When Science in History was finally complete. By a strange irony. Lancelot Hogben. Mass. The achievement of Science in History is not at all reduced. though long-standing. had been insufficiently urgent to go beyond private notes or the sort of brief synoptic account that appeared in his 1939 Social Function of Science.: London: Watts. 1971. Science in History (1954). * * * By Bernal's account in the preface to the book.5 Science in History is really two books in one binding. 52nd and 3rd eds. 1957. when even the ecumenical Joseph Needham was isolated and strident. between 1955 and 1969. he admitted (perhaps too modestly): "It is only now that I am beginning to understand what are the problems of the place of science in history. on her or his life's project.205 on Wed.

admired his daring and his vision in attempting to write a global and synthetic history. which at the beginning of its rule desires to improve human knowledge and power. Rather. which looked beyond the content of scientific ideas to the broader interests of relevant producers and consumers of those ideas. 1941). 7Condorcet. Wells. Professional historians of science." It draws mainly on Bernal's own experience. and it was extensively reworked. particularly in the relation of intellectual and cultural progress to its social and material context. With his scheme he could offer a certain measure of historical imagination by seeing the past as not merely a story of gradually decreasing error and negativity. becoming stagnant and reactionary only towards the end. P. and the priests became increasingly dependent on the offerings of the faithful.9 The bad influence of Koyre should not be underestimated. 90. The concluding seventh part was allowed to remain substantially intact from its first version. 8Bernal. van Loon and H. and even materials were available for him there. The model for Bernal was not that of the specialist historians. should be seen as the source and inspiration for Bernal's work. rather it has outlived its historical usefulness. 1920). comprising nearly half the bulk of the book. Science in History. The latter generally dealt with "scientific ideas. G. The massive sixth part. A Short History of Science (Oxford Univ. 1794). In this mode of explanation. he insisted on 6L.121.7 Themes. P. W. D. it later became a quite balanced essay in socialist apologetics. 9Charles Singer.MARXISM AND THE HISTORY OF SCIENCE 395 was little altered through successive editions. Isis. between editions. 1957. Bernal could assert that ancient priesthoods promoted magic rather than rational enquiry "when the early temple establishment decayed. though a series of notes at the back of the third edition (the only one with substantial revisions) record Bernal's reactions to new discoveries and to critical reviews. The Outline of History. Being a Plain History of Life and Mankind (London. 26 Aug 2015 21:37:25 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . p. with 27 reprints to 1961). for scientific and political reasons. arts. D. H.32. W. 48:471-473. Pearce Williams. or precious way (as did Alexandre Koyre). Wightman. And he could make a significant enrichment to the theoretical setting of these works through his own version of Marxism. Wightman). at their worst in a narrow. even those who disagreed deeply with Bernal. who at their best could then tell only the history of progress of scientific ideas. At first a cold-war tract in praise of socialism and its works. Thus even the bourgeoisie is not totally or simply bad. dogmatic." at their best in a broad and sympathetic way (as did Charles Singer and W.205 on Wed. H. In his "idealist" reinterpretation of Galileo. The Story of Mankind (London: Harrap. assumptions. deals with "science in our time. It was not only that he could provide a plausible real cause for progress more substantial than an instinct for achieving the Enlightenment values of reason and liberty. scientific and political. the tradition of histories of the progress of knowledge. Press. 1950). G. and culture. review of Science in History. 1922. starting with Condorcet and extending to H. Esquisse d'un tableau historique des progres de l'esprit humain (Paris. He assumed that progress depends on the needs of a ruling class.6 But they were wrong to compare his work to their own rather limited excursions in synthesis."8 * * * Bernal's explanatory framework. W. van Loon. helps explain the lack of contact between him and established historians of science. The Growth of Scientific Ideas (Edinburgh/London: Oliver & Boyd. Wells. This content downloaded from 109. he denied Galileo not merely a social context but even his experiments! When he achieved eminence in America.

F." in A. Scientific Change (London: Heinemann. or totally reduced to natural causes. Bernal is by no means mechanistic or unimaginative in his intepretations. in all that vast spectacle of growth and decline. This content downloaded from 109. The Ascent of Man (London: BBC. combined with a multitude of convincing and detailed facts and further enhanced by the scientific eminence of the author.10 Anything suggestive of social influences on science or scientists Koyre dismissed as "Marxist. ed. All this could provide a powerful argument in support of a commitment to Marxism as the truly scientific philosophy of our age. While convinced of the ultimately decisive role of the economic foundation and equally certain of the distinction between real science and false paths to knowing. 1948). 13Jacob Bronowski. 1943. with very different problems and style. But the weakness. The historical section of the book (as opposed to the political Part VI) had three quite discrete divisions. 12S." II Thus a generation of young historians of science. But it is a matter of taste whether or not "the Greek miracle" should be left partly as such. Jumping over to the other successful sections. Science in History as a production in a great tradition of amateur philosophical popularization. Its only failing is that it solves somewhat too much. "Some Historical Assumptions about the History of Science. for one of the main functions of the book. leaving nothing for puzzlement and wonder. indeed the tragedy of the work. Koyre. who might well have been receptive to Bernal's "externalist" approach if not to his conclusions. Machines and History (London: Cobbett Press. 1974). shows how much more real explanation can be accomplished within a Marxist perspective. He sees the Decline as a cyclical process. reflecting the inability of classical civilization to solve the contradictions basic to its characteristic social relations of production. Men. whether or not consciously intended by the author. Crombie. They saw the majestic sweep of the survey. It really works: here is human history explained in Marxist terms. C. we can admire Bernal's 'OA. 797-812. 1963). Were that the whole story one could view. related only indirectly to the narrow.32. "Henry Guerlac. Lilley. on p. F. The Ascent of Man by Jakob Bronowski.13 But for those who were already questioning the adequacy of prewar Marxism (as I was in the 1960s). frequently pedantic professional research in the field.12 The lack of contact between Bernal and these people poses an important problem and in itself provides a clue to the character of Science in History. S. lies in Bernal's neglect of postwar Marxist thought in the history of science. Mason. In this respect the achievement of Science in History is genuine." Journal of the History of Ideas. 4:400-428. moves rapidly and with a sure touch through the standard material.121. The earlier part of the history. the book was not particularly inspiring or reassuring. 26 Aug 2015 21:37:25 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . He even spares Christianity some of the blame assigned to it by Gibbon. pp. 1953). and Bernal's audience would certainly prefer historical science to mystery. "Galileo and Plato. which was then being developed by a lively group including S. and judge. A History of the Sciences: Main Currents of Scientific Thought (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.205 on Wed. Mason.. before the Renaissance. In all this section one sees Bernal's mind performing at its best: reworking a mass of material into a synthesis that is plausible and coherent. was to reinforce the faith of those who were already committed to a Marxist interpretation of the world. 810. was kept firmly in technical intellectual history. A look at one later work in a non-Marxist rationalist tradition.396 JEROME RAVETZ a totally superficial interpretation of the Scientific Revolution as a choice between particular styles of geometrical and mechanical thought.

Bernal's neglect of the first issue. where the state. These involved respectively progress in "uses of science. So in this section we have surveys of twentieth-century science that should become historical sources in their own right.14 Thus he decided to return to ducal Florence from republican Venice." As the developments described in the narrative move further from the sphere of production more exclusively into that of thought. But the latter relations were vital. terminating 1540.and so long as I am capable of lecturing and serving. 65. His account of physics is noteworthy in this respect. It is well to remember that his was not merely an encyclopedic intellect. 1650. Bernal (always sensitive to complexity and paradox) remarks at the beginning of his discussion of the middle period that it has no convenient name. however splendid and generous it may be. 26 Aug 2015 21:37:25 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . derives from his neglect of political aspects of power in favor of its economic aspects.205 on Wed. and the causes of the "disenchantment" of the world of Nature. Then there were the three distinct phases. without having duties attached. In brief. The weaknesses of Bernal's approach become most apparent in the middle part of the story: the creation of modern European science from the sixteenth century onwards. the plausibility of the reduction to the economic foundation weakens drastically." He does not mention that political historians have discussed a phenomenon of absolutism. First. and available in the latter case for adaptation to the needs of socialism. experimental approach. I can hope to enjoy these benefits only from an absolute ruler. it was nascent capitalism in the later Middle Ages that enabled the developing productive forces (including science) to escape the stagnation suffered previously in the Chinese and the Islamic cultures. Because of their preference for economic at the expense of political explanations. p. the use of science and scientists as agents of social oppression. his profound achievement in applying physical methods to the elucidation of living systems required scientific insight of a rare order. 1957). Evidence for the importance of the latter is provided by these words of Galileo: It is impossible to obtain wages from a republic. in spite of the benefits and security he enjoyed there. Several crucial problems are glossed over: the role of a specifically capitalist class in fostering science. In broad outline his story is quite plausible. and Restoration. Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo (New York: Doubleday.32. 14Galileo (letter of 1610) quoted in Stillman Drake. whose power was then concentrated in the crown. 1690. no one in the republic can exempt me from duty while I receive pay. Marxists have tended to search for the relations of "science" with "the bourgeoisie" rather than with the state. asserted itself against other institutions.MARXISM AND THE HISTORY OF SCIENCE 397 reviews of the technical aspects of contemporary science. and so he labels it with the surprisingly un-Marxist "Wars of Religion. Wars of Religion. "Capitalist" and "statist" postfeudal social contexts each had their contribution to make. a neglect shared by traditional Marxist historians.121. For to have anything from the public one must satisfy the public and not any one individual. first in France and then in Central and Eastern Europe. which he calls Renaissance." the "first great triumphs of the new observational. This content downloaded from 109." and their consolidation after "the overthrow of the feudal-classical theories in the previous hundred years. the support given science by a specifically capitalist class.

398 JEROME RAVETZ There is no explicit sign that Bernal sensed how inadequate the classical (economic rather than political) Marxist framework was on this period." This bold statement puts the Scientific Revolution in an unusual perspective. As a whole. Also. von Aussen hineingetragenes. churchmen . then a fortiori so would be biology. On the second problem. but rather to show how here his Marxist framework does not carry him through. . 287-288. 26 Aug 2015 21:37:25 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . pp. . did not interest Bernal greatly. appeared more as individual members of the new bourgeoisie. the relation of Paracelsian alchemy to radical politics was already becoming familiar to Marxist historians of the English Civil War period. or scientists as we would now call them. as historically significant once the ultimate goal has been fixed. Perhaps quite unselfconsciously he used a crucial term with damaging equivocation. the Marxist tradition at least allows for its recognition. '6Ibid. .205 on Wed. Hence we may say that for the greater part of science as it affected life. a few minor nobles . I do not mean to criticize Bernal personally for this gap at the center of his story. either to fruitful solutions or even to interesting problems. . 350. The result of this approach is that Bernal's history is externalist-whig.32. of primary-products exploitation and of various addictive poisons. This content downloaded from 109. even by Bernal's account it would seem to be something that was. . pp. . Science in History. Rather. Although he had no doubts that the ancient pseudosciences were nonsense. and even one or two brilliant recruits from the To be sure such people belonged to cities. . doctors . "In fact. the only part of the external world where their methods succeeded were those already cultivated by the Greeks. 273. then it is clear that "rationality" and "capitalism" rise simultaneously." 16 The rise of the "scientific" world view in the seventeenth century was therefore not a reflection on the successful practice of "disenchanted" science. differing only in detail from the internalist-whig style of the historians of science dominant in his time. while for the rationalists it is a pure embarrassment. involving the technologies of warfare. .121. largely lawyers . as Bernal remarks. . to enable his essential point to be stated: "The new experimental philosophers. owing to the intrinsic complexity of chemistry. and most of craft production. . The genocidal horrors practiced by European imperialism on its conquered lands (what we now call "Third World"). If one's unit of time is a quarter millenium. " remark that none were in roles related to the bourgeoisie as defined by Marx. But on a finer scale the correlations become very difficult to maintain. . For if chemistry was so complex. in connection with Paracelsus. as well as the incidental costs of the advance of a class in its "progressive" phase. medicine. He even recognized. Closer to home. . But Bernal did not recognize these contradictions within a class-linked natural science. science as a means of oppression. . it was largely unsuccessful. but we must . . . in Lenin's phrase. it was this intuitive and mythical approach rather than the rational mechanical one that was to be most successful in advancing chemistry until its revolution in the eighteenth century. . the "mechanical" approach was as counterintuitive as the supposed motions of the earth.. Bernal was not uncharitable toward them.. the really big problem of the seventeenth century is the exceptionally rapid rate then of the "disenchantment" of nature. this was a complex process extending through many centuries of European history. Perhaps it came from the rise '5Bernal. . that " . Finally. lower orders.

nor the last. F.' in spite of all the qualities of Science in History that enabled it to compete for a popular audience with the best of the professional historians' work. Had its rich insights been cultivated and developed. They tended to be isolated both from their technocratic comrades of the Old Left and (later) from the mainly Leavisite radicals of the New Left. the latter in rejecting it. though capable of fruitful study by amateurs. Thus neither ''scientists'' nor "bourgeois" provide the basis for an adequate "rational" explanation of the diffusion of the scientific world view as it actually happened in the seventeenth century. p. Science in History (1965). There as anywhere else. One sign of his failure to '7Christopher Caudwell. This has remained a puzzle and a source of contention among historians to this day." '8Bernal. the result will be flat. our critical understanding of the past and the present of science would have been greatly accelerated. But it was not to be. Mason and Lilley were academically isolated. I believe that the Leeds group of scholars in the 1960s could have made an even more powerful synthesis of the intellectual and social aspects of seventeenth-century English natural philosophy. 26 Aug 2015 21:37:25 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . and a monument to their achievement is S.205 on Wed. they were pioneers. both these were uncritical about science. Mason's Main Currents of Scientific Thought. "18 * * * In some respects this is a cautionary tale. For a rationalist history of science written in the heroic 1930s. The surge of left-wing and Marxist thinking in the wartime and early postwar period produced a few people seriously concerned with the social history of science. Although Hessen and his colleagues in 1931 were by our standards naive and simplistic. 2. In particular." But by the 1950s there had been some development. Ch.MARXISM AND THE HISTORY OF SCIENCE 399 of the bourgeoisie and its world view (on which Max Scheler and Christopher Caudwell speculated17).121. 350 (not in 1st ed. the new Marxist scholars were there. such criticisms as these would have been quite inappropriate. whose sources outside the prewar Marxists seemed to be the leading academic historians. is nonetheless a discipline requiring respect. "The World as Machine. of those who when they eventually discover the unraveled perplexities of their present situation turn to past history for the answer. 1939). but it passed unrecognized by Bernal in spite of his sharp perception of particular points. throwing speculative bridges across the gap between "science" and "society. Bernal was not the first. but it is doubtful whether the appropriate sort of bourgeoisie was then rising with sufficient strength to do the job.32. And if the problem is neither clearly defined initially nor encouraged to grow in dialogue with the evidence. Only by accepting the assessments of the latter group could he state the paradox (needless because it was incorrect) that the scientific innovators "from Copernicus to Newton. and neglected by Bernal. However. were the most conservative in their religious and philosophical outlook. Rarely do they reflect that history. enquiry is not so much discovering facts as solving problems.). Further there is the awkward fact that the progressive "corpuscular" philosophy was introduced to Protestant bourgeois England as an import from Catholic Absolutist France by such Royalist emigres as Walter Charlton and Thomas Hobbes. This content downloaded from 109. This seems to have been the case with Bernal. the former in accepting it. The Crisis in Physics (London: John Lane.

however orthodox their authors. following World War II.205 on Wed." Given his later awareness of the virtual absence of worthwhile social science in the Socialist countries and his generally low opinion of its state under capitalism." 19Ibid.121. Joseph Needham could move through his vast encyclopedic study towards a statement of his own combination of radicalism and mysticism. Technology and Culture. For in fact Bernal did not stop reflecting or trying new approaches to the problems of science. Perhaps even the ongoing English Marxist speculations about the political history of science. where men's reason would accomplish all imaginable good things.19 this would seem to be a rather weak reed to clutch. were now to be guided into its final consummation of "the Scientific-Technological Revolution" by a few practitioners of the most mechanically materialist. 21J. vii. Bernal. Liberation and the Aims of Science (London: Chatto & Windus. Science in History (1954).. subject only to the needs of the Developing Forces of Production.22 In the 1930s his faith in reason was enriched by a keen social conscience. almost entirely rewritten. for that is what he had believed in all along. 1973). The Flesh and the Devil (lst ed. His reflections on the new problems of science were conditioned by the sharp polarization of politics in the early 1950s. I remarked that Bernal had apparently less hope for solving mankind's problems and also less faith in the Socialist nations. and the inescapable connection between them and the advance of science" and the task "to release "20 the new forces of science for welfare rather than destruction.400 JEROME RAVETZ grow as a historian is his dropping historical studies once the first edition of the book was complete. The World. This content downloaded from 109. London: Cape. in the "science of science. and he turned to history only when the realization of his dreams seemed threatened. 26 Aug 2015 21:37:25 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . of Science in History (1971). It is as if Natural Science. R. to a technocratic style of approach. D. is striking. From the history of science he turned to "the science of science. So Bernal moved on. The later editions show only slight evidence of continued interest in the subject: very occasional textual changes.21 I may speculate that until the threat of nuclear annihilation became real (that is. 1970). 840-842. 22J. and the notes on scattered topics added at the end. see the discussion in Brian Easlea. were also fraught with dangers for Bernal as the leading Western spokesman for an embattled socialist camp. 1972. He then slowly learned that for all its intrinsic interest. The full story of the evolution of Bernal's practical and philosophical thought in the postwar period is not my concern here. Ravetz. pp. This is a far cry from the problem-situation that motivated the original work on the book: "the troubles of the times. previously the great motor of progress. In my review of the fourth (illustrated) edition. rev. statistical social science. some time after Hiroshima) Bernal could see no essential problem in the advance of science. 13:664-666. p. or back. history spoke only in riddles: the past presented paradoxes wherever it was closely scrutinized.. 20Bernal.. The contrast with the material on contemporary society. 833-834. 870-872. All these particular circumstances may have done no more than give precise shape to Bernal's endeavors.32. for his accounts of contemporary science he could not afford the luxury of objectivity or even of public fraternal criticism. and it also offered little reassurance or guidance for the novel problems of the present. ideologically blind. which he had always believed would lead by logical necessity both to material plenty and to social rationality. Bernal started as a prophet of a disenchanted magic. 1929.

demystifyingattitude to science. while still supporting Marxist materialism against the subjectivists and mystics. Science and Society.32. For I believe that Marxism could provide a considerable enrichmentto the present practice of social history. but rather partake of the new. 1969). "Hyperreflexivity: A New Danger for the Counter-movements. tough. Epsom Downs). One of the authors. but unfortunatelythat would be true only in a minor part. DesmondBernalat a meeting 4-4r. Edinburgh. However. It would be a kind tribute to Bernal's memory to describe it as a development from his work. This content downloaded from 109. has moved to a position that would have stunned Bernal: she feels that scientific research may now be too tainted to be an honest occupation. it is on the spuriousnessof "objectivity"and on "the strength of social interests. For the new studies of this kind are far from Marxistin their orientation.MARXISM AND THE HISTORY OF SCIENCE 401 J. at another. the focus is on institutional history and power politics. Reidel. 1979).205 on Wed. Hilary Rose.about 1935. came at the end to confrontthe contradiction of the evils created by the science of today.2 23Hilaryand Steven particular dialectical materialism. At one main center. Woodger(Tanhurst. 26 Aug 2015 21:37:25 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .at the homeof J. Counter-movementsin the Sciences (Dordrecht:D. professedly Marxist history of science is now practiced in the West on a very small scale. Science and Society (London: Penguin." My appreciationof Marxism. H. Since Bernal's time there has arisen in the West a new currentof social and institutional history of science. Courtesy of Joseph Needham. Pennsylvania.121. is enhanced by study of these newer works. The Roses' social history of modern science.707ik of the Theoretical Biology Club. now growing rapidly in strength and sophistication."in Helga Nowotny and Hilary Rose.

This represents an expansion of understanding. the formula means that scientific thought. Harvey. It is not my purpose to argue that science has a privileged status that renders it immune to Marxian 24J. that we owe to Marxian insight. I myself found Science and Technology in the Nineteenth Century highly informative and The Social Function of Science equally stimulating. a grateful and critical appreciation of that work will be an important foundation for further progress. 26 Aug 2015 21:37:25 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . it upholds a position in regard to the discipline that has absorbed my professional life.24 Another way of describing the seventeenth century would show how the great prophets and philosophers of the age. I shall not make a spectacle of myself by sniping at my better when he is no longer around to reply. Changing Perspectives in the History of Science (London: Heinemann. Having established himself as a scientist of major importance. and I find it impossible not to have an opinion about it. especially of the critical developments in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries that constituted the Scientific Revolution. that Marxism has yet to contribute any similar increment to our understanding of the growth of science. and Newton.121. But history. Galileo. Bernal was one of the great intellects of our age. has a meaningful place for tragedy. and music. D. Descartes. * Richard S. science partakes of an unavoidable relativism dependent on the economic system. but I readily concede that the problem lay with me and not with the book.32. is a rationalization of the class structure which is itself determined by the means of production. including the history of science. has a touch of greatness about it. With the rest of mankind's intellectual activity. with all the limits resulting from its circumstances. the case is other. An abstract theory instead of a concrete individual.402 RICHARD S. Ravetz. Although I do not and cannot share his outlook. like literature. Should Marxist scholarship become revitalized at some future time. art. WESTFALL This consideration of Bernal may seem an epitaph on his endeavor. It is certainly my impression that Marxism has transformed much of intellectual history. however. 1975). Marxism asserts that being determines consciousness. "Tragedy in the History of Science. I have every reason to think that he held it honestly. Applied to science. Bernal's historical work. Ravetz's appreciative essay makes it abundantly clear why Bernal will be remembered and read long after I have disappeared into oblivion. ended their careers with the failure of their life's project-and some in deep disillusion as well." in Mikulas Teich and Robert Young. in my opinion a permanent expansion. reducing it to error and futility. Bernal. It is equally my impression. With the Marxian philosophy. few indeed will now ignore the influence of economic factors and class structure on intellectual activity. This content downloaded from 109. and I honor him accordingly. In its most general statement. like intellectual and artistic endeavors of all kinds. R. Westfall: Reflections on Ravetz's Essay I have very little to say about the historical writings of J. unlike Bernal's sort of science. I was unable to read Science in History. as applied to the history of science. What men think is determined by what men do. he turned his energies to other endeavors.205 on Wed. like philosophy as a whole. including Bacon. While many and perhaps most scholars in the West may reject a claim that the Marxian position in its full rigor-the assertion that being determines consciousness-has been demonstrated.

" The rise of merchant capitalism in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries posed a number of problems in the realms of transportation. . not of disciplinary parochialism. we can understand what the concepts are supposed to mean.205 on Wed. Fifty years ago.' " Hessen's subject made his argument more important because he offered an account of the Scientific Revolution itself and not just of Newton. as he summed it up in that aphorism. Hessen's failure has its wider counterpart. any more than I meant earlier to question the value of much Soviet scholarship in the history of science (about most of which language barriers confine me to indirect reports). and mining and "made an imperative demand" for their solution.121. but only to insist on the empirical fact. Although Ravetz does not confess as much in explicit terms. I do not mean to deny the many accomplishments of Soviet science. He looks forward to what a revitalized Marxism will accomplish in the future. By placing the means of production at the center of the historical process and by virtually equating science and technology. "Science flourished step by step with the development and flourishing of the bourgeoisie. Hessen's effort failed." Hessen's argument. More than a century and a third have passed since its initial formulation. Moreover. such is the clear implication of his discussion. Boris Hessen's "Social and Economic Roots of Newton's 'Principia. Ravetz agrees with this judgment and calls the argument naive and simplistic. that at this late point in its own history it has not yet been able to account for the growth of modern science in a convincing way. with the publication of the Soviet volume." he proclaimed. Bourgeois and proletarian science appear to be identical. I do mean to This content downloaded from 109. and especially of the best known piece in the volume. Marxism describes itself as scientific socialism. Marxism makes science a human activity of preeminent importance. . took Marxism seriously as a philosophy that intends to account for all human experience. there was a heroic attempt at a Marxian history of science. "Theoretical maturing" in regard to a central concern ought not to tarry so long. Science at the Cross Roads. Moreover. Whether or not one accepts the adequacy of the notions of proletarian art or bourgeois literature. but of major significance in the terms of Marxism itself. This is not the case with science. science has always occupied a position of peculiar importance in the Marxian outlook. Marxist governments in our century have invariably promoted scientific research. industry. Marxism is not today a new philosophy. he agrees that a convincing Marxian history of science does not as yet exist. It is then a matter. a typical representative of the rising bourgeoisie. "Science develops out of production. as I take it to be. produced in his Principia a systematic statement of the principles on which the solution of such problems rests. No one has been able to explicate the concepts of bourgeois and proletarian science. that Marxism has not succeeded in generating a credible account of its growth.32. Isaac Newton. "In order to develop its industry the bourgeoisie needed science. in the event that we recognize with these essays.MARXISM AND THE HISTORY OF SCIENCE 403 criticism. which would investigate the qualities of material bodies and the forms of manifestation of the forces of nature. No one who is seriously engaged in the study of Newton finds his account useful as an illumination of the Principia. 26 Aug 2015 21:37:25 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . . Unfortunately. When embodiments of a distinctive proletarian science have thinks inevitably of Lysenko-they have turned out to be more appeared-one than disasters but frauds from the very beginning.

If that is correct. WESTFALL question the proletarian nature of the science and the Marxian nature of the scholarship. which had no connection with a theoretical framework. Ravetz appears to me to save Marxian history of science by sacrificing the rigor of the Marxian system. and since they in no way match each other the result would be monster rather than man. that is. as I take it to be. "With them it is as though an artist were to gather the hands. which has always clashed with the pretense of scientific objectivity. allow me to note that in the passage he cites from Galileo's letter I find a conclusion exactly the opposite of what he intends. Galileo asserted (both in the passage and in the letter as a whole) that the Venetian republic would inevitably attempt to determine his activities. head and other members for his images from diverse models. he indicates nothing about the relation between scientific ideas and the causal factors on which they are said to depend.404 RICHARD S. Allow me further to remark how sourly such comments ring in the ear in 1981. I fear he will reduce it to the point where it deserves the verdict Copernicus delivered on geocentric astronomers. Ravetz chooses to tinker with the system. Faced with the situation I have described. The assertion that being determines consciousness possesses a consistency you can chew on. that is. and one incapable of promoting a unitary outlook on all intellectual life." I cannot refrain from noticing one facet of Ravetz's revision which retains a familiar aspect of Marxian polemics." he refers to military technology. Bernal's Science in History failed because he employed an obsolescent version of Marxism." a position so banal as to stifle further discussion. Hessen at least essayed to explain Newtonian science in such terms. in the following paragraph Ravetz goes on to agree with Bernal that in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. but not related to a single body. I confine myself to saying that there is no way in which I am willing to describe such empirically derived knowledge and practices. science was "largely unsuccessful" in its efforts to influence practical life. he could have freedom to follow his own bent. as part of science. as a client of the grand duke. each part excellently drawn.32. Almost everything about this position leaves me dissatisfied. unless perhaps Ravetz wishes to modify Marxism so profoundly as to accord the state a status independent of and equal to the means of production. and for illumination of the rise of modern science Ravetz points us toward the role of absolutism as patron. he somehow knows the conclusion independently of the evidence by which he supports it. but on no foundation whatever. Until Ravetz explains intelligibly how Florentine absolutism entailed Galileo's conception of motion (I use his own example). The Marxian formula states that being determines consciousness. the exploitation of primary products. The heavy tone of moralizing. Indeed. his comments on science as oppression rest. Moreover. and the use of addictive poisons in connection with European imperialism. If he continues to tinker with the system. feet. continues unabated. Ravetz seems to be left with "being influences consciousness. In a word. 26 Aug 2015 21:37:25 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . whereas. If I read Ravetz correctly. the period under discussion. he will reject the final observation as mere pedantry. I can only say that I am profoundly unimpressed. I fail to see how this formula solves any problems.121. Because the state is considered as the political expression of the economic system in Marxism. In this respect. Under the heading of "science as a means of oppression. not on sand.205 on Wed. I advance no claim to This content downloaded from 109.

In place of Koyre's detailed analyses of concepts. he offers correlations for those whose units of time are quarter millennia. science treated as a philosophic enterprise and its growth related as the solutions of serious problems. I need to state that I find correlations at the level of quarter millennia so vapid as to be meaningless.205 on Wed. I cannot imagine the time when I shall not find Koyre's conceptual analyses more convincing by far. Manifestly. our ultimate difference lies in his unwillingness or inability to conceive of an autonomous realm of the spirit. what is surely obvious. As I read Ravetz's essay.32. We are more likely to find acceptable solutions to the overwhelming problems that confront the world. 26 Aug 2015 21:37:25 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . As it appears to me. that there is blame enough around for everyone. despite my interest in it) insight into the origins of modern science. if we abjure the accents of moral superiority. Ravetz remains true to the heart of the Marxian outlook. It is now transforming life itself on the entire globe.MARXISM AND THE HISTORY OF SCIENCE 405 moral purity for myself or for mine. For Marxists. I do not hesitate to enroll myself among the ranks of Koyre's admirers or to confess that my wildest dream is to produce a piece of historical writing that can stand comparison with his. the growth of science plays the central role. or (what I join with Ravetz in finding infinitely less. Quite the contrary. It proceeded to transform the economic system. together with the admission that on a finer scale the correlations are very difficult to maintain. and he decries the nefarious influence of Alexandre Koyre. This content downloaded from 109. much of the modern world appears to me as so many epiphenomena to the growth of science. In his works I find precisely the real explanations for which Ravetz calls-that is. In my vision of modern history. I could not be unaware that I faced an outlook. He refers repeatedly to the "plausible real cause" and the "real explanation" of the rise of modern science. I find no way to reduce the fundamental reality of the modern world to the status of an epiphenomenon. It began by transforming the intellectual structure of the Western world. as regards the history of science. I only note. such do not present themselves to Ravetz as real explanations. not to mention threatening it as well. intellectual life can never be more than an epiphenomenon. ultimately irreconcileable with my own. For all his revision. and "genocidal horrors" as well.121.