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The Canadian Review of American Studies, Volume 12,No. 1,Spring 1981 Science as Ideology: The Case of the Amateur, Henry Adams PaulJ. Hamill "large. loose, baggy momte1~" -Henr} Jame!-. In recent years there as been considerable scholary debate over the degree to which accepted theories should be called the "faith" or "ideology·· of scientists. This controversy has grown, on the one hand, from the efforts of logicians to explain the structure of scientific explanation and on the other hand from demonstrations by historians that most great discoveries were profoundly influenced, if not actually made possible, by changes in the intellectual and social climate in which they occurred. The historian of science Thomas Kuhn has argued, in effect, that scientific ··revolutions" are best understood in terms of the changed consensus of scientists about their role and methods, rather than in terms of the content of particular experiments.' Disagreeing, the logician Karl Popper has argued that approaches like Kuhn's are dangerously loose, because they conceal the self-criticism and testing of assumptions that are central activities in scientific inquiry.2 Both Kuhn's approach and Popper's criticism of it cast a powerful illuminating light on the intellectual career of Henry Adams, as Adams portrays it in The Education of Heml Adams. According to his own account, Adams \Vasan amateur who tried at crucial moments to identify what we would call the ideological element in contemporaneous scientific thought. He did not understand well the testing and criticism by which new ideas are hedged, hut this very ignorance made it easier for him to use science as a basis for his 22 Paul J. Hamill personal system of historical interpretation. In 1868, Adams tells us, he became a Darwinian ·"for fun"-'-that is, in order to ride the crest of new scientific ideas to literary and political success. By 1901, according to The Education, he felt that Darwinism had "failed" as a guide to historical understanding . But he took this failure to be a key to modern history: in the last chapters of The Education he applied this key in a ''Dynamic Theory of History" which claimed to draw its authority from physics. It is not necessary to explain Henry Adams' theories again. 4 But there remains a useful two-fold task: first, to show how an understanding of Adams' search for "scientific" ideology illuminates The Education; second and more importantly, to show Adams as a representative figure of that hazy borderline where scientific thought and the imaginative values of an era interfuse. In the first part of this essay I shall describe Adams' experience using Kuhn's terminology of "paradigms" and ··paradigm failure"; the second, longer portion of the essay pursues the question, what ideological satisfaction did Adams try to get from science? Before beginning, however, it is necessary to explain how my argument rests on previous criticism of Adams· work. Scholars have long recognized that Adams turns scientific ideas into universal metaphors touched with the pathos of his personal life,5 that his ·'Dynamic. Theory of History'' systematized a long-standing habit of looking for "forces" behind events, 0 and that in Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres and The Education, Adams seems to value his theorizing mainly as a source of esthetic satisfaction. 7 Adams' metaphor-making, systematizing and esthetic ordering do seem to be aspects of a single process, however, which I call ideological because Adams aimed to find the same values inherent in his own life and in history and because he offered his systematized insights as an '"education" for his readers. An objection might be raised to my heavy reliance on The Education because in that work Adams simplified and distorted biographical facts in order to show himself as a representative modern man. I recognize the distortions ; but the value of The Education for my purpose is precisely that it dramatizes Adams' intermittent involvement with scientific controversies as phases in a continuous, intensely personal relation to science which expressed the deepest anxieties of his century. Although there is not space to develop the argument fully here, my approach finds in The Education an anatomy of the personal side of the process, all too familiar in our...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 21-35
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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