Bacon and Weber insist on a division between the sciences and fields such as theology, philosophy, and ethics — which we can call normative fields — both because of their limitations and because of the expediency of such a division. Regarding their limitations, Weber, Bacon, and modern neopositivists hold that scientific methods of observation and analysis are not equipped to answer normative questions. They can address how the natural world and society function, what makes tangible things tick. But science, in their argument, cannot determine what values people ought to hold. Those questions are left up to the normative fields. According followers of Bacon and Weber, this division allows for science to achieve its ends of greater human agency over the surrounding world. Once the values are posited (hence “positivism”), science can determine, as a matter of fact, how to make those ends real. In short, science and normative fields are divided because they are designed to answer different questions.

This second reason for the division also serves to explain the advantage of the division. Dividing intellectual labor into different disciplines allows those disciplines to specialize in the pursuit of their designated answer. Scientists can ostensibly be more productive in their search for means if they don’t also have to go through the work of determining the proper ends.

My own project definitely fits into that neopositivist framework because it doesn’t tread on any questions of values. My project does revolve around one small part of democratization, and there is scarcely a topic more value-laden, on both sides of the debate, than that of democracy. Readers of my piece could hold personally that it is optimal for people to be able to remove illiberal leaders, but my piece does not touch that question on its own; it only discusses under what conditions that outcome is more likely to happen. If I did not observe the Bacon/Weber distinction between normative fields and science, I imagine that a large part of my paper would be devoted to determining whether democratization by ad hoc revolt was actually a desirable outcome. And then had I determined that it actually was not as a result of that examination, the rest of the research — that is, the whole of it as it present stands — would be effectively obsolete.


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