March 2017 archive

RPP #5

I believe that the philosophical divide established by Weber and Bacon between the sciences and those of the normative sphere (ethics/religion/morality/values) can best be summed up with the quote by Weber “and for every party opinion there are facts that are extremely inconvenient.”[1] I argue that the need for the two divided spheres is because of the different approaches the two diverging realms often take towards these non-conforming facts. Religion especially, but also ethics, morality, values, or any other area to which humans base their self-perception on, and their emotional needs and actions off of, have a tendency to require a different form of evidence for the proof of their validity, in the form of blind faith. Bacon encapsulates this idea in his line “For after men have joined a sect and committed themselves (like obsequious courtiers) to one man’s opinion, they add no distinction to the sciences themselves, but act like servants in courting and adorning their authors.”[2] Thus Bacon is asserting that once a member of the normative sphere subscribes to the ideology of whatever source of knowledge they choose, they no longer attempt to discover THE truth but how to prove THEIR truth. Meanwhile, both philosophers expect the scientific sphere to continue to address challenges, and to adjust accordingly to represent the most up-to-date knowledge and objective proof. Weber represents the idea of objectivity and its irremovable connection to science when he asserts the need for those in science to utilize blinders, or to say that you must be able to focus on only your area of study without influence from the normative sphere on your findings.[3] In this statement he is asserting that findings in the scientific world should and in fact need to be objective and studies outside of the preview of normative judgments. Any such judgments, while acceptably applied to the findings, should not be something incorporated into the work conducted within the scientific sphere.

The need for separation is also represented by the differences in the longevity of the findings of the two spheres. Bacon asserts that within the normative sphere “very often indeed not only does an assertion remain a mere assertion but a question remains a mere question, not resolved by discussion, but fixed and augmented; and the whole tradition of the disciplines presents us with a series of masters and pupils, not a succession of discoverers and disciples who make notable improvements to the discoveries.”[4] This is to say that the knowledge of the normative sphere, while possibly being learned in different ways or taught through a different lens remains constant at its foundation, with the message of previous teachings never changing. This is in direct contrast to science which is expected to progress as time goes on, with findings being continually reevaluated and changed as the findings and experimentation point to different evidence.   Weber even asserts that those in the scientific sphere should understand that while their work may very well benefit society, it will eventually be disproved with its findings “ask[ing] to be ‘surpassed’ and outdated.”[5] The understanding of the knowledge resulting from the findings of the two spheres, their applicability, and their longevities, are contradictory and therefore represent yet another need for the separation of the scientific and normative spheres.

The separation of these two realms present clear benefits, mostly tied to the increased utility of scientific results. By separating value judgments from the scientific process, the findings of any works can therefore be used regardless of the religious or moral beliefs of the end user. Furthermore, the findings of the work are more likely to be easily applicable to solving current problems, as they do not have the ingrained challenge of unabashedly being applicable to all days further. By this I mean that instead of being broad enough to encompass all potential future challenges as normative questions attempt to, scientific work attempts to answer specific and specialized questions, with their answers more readily usable in application (with differences in positivism and interprtivism being tied to the applicability of that specific finding).[6]   If this type of specialization was not stressed in the scientific sphere, I would argue that my research may be far less successful, as the popular methods of “most similar case comparisons” may never have even been considered. This is because the normative sphere would likely argue that any cases would have to fall under the same category, as any findings would have to be broad enough to apply to all cases across history. However even if you are an ardent positivist, I contend that going into a project expecting to find blanket statements that are applicable in every case without any adjustments or caveats, is an easy way to produce findings so broad and general that they present little value to any progression of knowledge rather, they present a “bland” rephrasing of previous assertions described by Bacon.[7]



[1] Max Weber, Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, trans. H.H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills (New York: Oxford University Press, 1496), 8.

[2] I would argue that in this line the word “man” can be applied to the religious leader of a faith and therefore can represent the teachings of a religion rather than a sentient human in some cases.

Laura Field, ed. Excerpts from Francis Bacon, Seminar 4: Bacon, Comte, and Positivism (Washington DC: American University, 2017), 7.

[3] It should be noted that this assertion is in itself a normative claim on the essence of science and simply describing how science would be ideally does not mean perfect objectivity, as a pursuit in the scientific world, is something possible for human beings. Weber, 15.

[4] Field, 7.

[5] Weber, 3.

[6] Ibid., 2.

[7] Field.


Field, Laura, ed. Excerpts from Francis Bacon, Seminar 4: Bacon, Comte, and Positivism. Washington DC: American University, 2017.

Weber, Max. Max Weber: Essays in Sociology. Translated by H.H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills. New York: Oxford University Press, 1496.