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NORWEGIAN EUGENICS: STERILIZATION AS SOCIAL REFORM NilS ROll-HANSEN INTRODUCTION: A CLASSICAL LIBERAL VERSUS AN INSTRUMENTAL VIEW OF SCIENCE Much of the recent historiography of eugenics is built on an instrumental interpretation of science. Science is seen as a tool by which society achieves its economic and social aims, while its role in the cultural and political activities which form these aims is neglected. Efficiency and not truth becomes the purpose of science. This conception of science as an expression of "instrumental reason" which aims to "rationalize" social activity was developed in particular by German philosophers and social scientists around the beginning of the twentieth century. Max Weber's ideal of a "value-free" and means-oriented science and a deep distinction between science and politics expressed a fundamental change taking place in the view of science. Though he was himself a transition figure who was ambivalent toward a full-blown instrumental view, his writings have been a constant source of inspiration for such interpretations. Since the 1960s and the "student revolution," these ideas, which were partly shared and anticipated by logical empiricism and pragmatism, have also made a great impact on the theory ofscience in the Anglo-American world. In this instrumental view, science, and natural science in particular, tends to be seen as a separate domain of human activity concerned with efficient ways of manipulating natural and social phenomena and neutral to the values of our "Lebenswelt"-the world we live in. The theoretical conceptions developed by science are interpreted as constructs of human imagination with no descriptive relation to the real world. They may be useful for manipulating our experiences but give no deeper insight and understanding of the world. The instrumental view of scientific knowledge was coupled to an emotive or voluntarist view of ethics which emphasized the impossibility of drawing normative conclusions from descriptive premises. It was impossible to derive "ought" from "is;' as David Hume had claimed. Neither of these views won full acceptance. The theory of biological evolution is one obvious example of 151 152 EUGENICS AND THE WELFARE STATE how science continued to influence the goals and norms of our social behavior . Together, the instrumental interpretation of scientific theory and the insistence on a fundamental break between our ideas about what is and what ought to be drive us toward a picture of science as an esoteric and magical activity which mysteriously produces powerful technology. This instrumental Weberian view of science was absorbed and popularized, for example, by the neo-Marxist Frankfurt School of Sociology in the 1930s and 1940s. The dangers of technocracy and uncontrolled technological development were stressed. A pessimistic picture of a world gradually succumbing to a disastrous dictatorship of experts was drawn. It was in many ways the dystopia mirroring the socialist utopia of this period. The faint hope of these pessimistic critics of modern civilization was that catastrophe could be blocked by asserting the primacy of politics and achieving control of technological development through democracy. An alternative to the instrumental view of science is to consider it as fundamentally a cultural activity aiming to gain knowledge of the world. According to this view, science is a main source of our understanding of the human condition and a main factor in forming the specific values and aims of our social activities, including politics. It is not merely a means to achieve aims that have other sources. In this classical liberal view, science is an extension of our ordinary knowledge. It describes the world we live in, and its legitimization is fundamentally dependent upon this link to our "Lebenswelt." By denying or neglecting the role of science in the formation of social and political values and goals, instrumentalism undermines this side of science and may easily have the effect of strengthening the threats of technology that it pretends to combat. By severing the links to common sense, science becomes less comprehensible, less usable as a guide, and more difficult to control. The imprint of the instrumental conception of science is found, for instance, in the sociology of knowledge approach taken by Peter Weingart, et aI., in their account of eugenics in Germany, Rasse, Blut und Gene (1988). In an earlier paper I pointed out how the instrumental conception of science leads to a confusion of science with politics in Weingart's account of German eugenics.l When links to the common sense picture of the world are severed, the political implications become arbitrary and the enlightening role of scientific...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781609170028
Related ISBN
9780870137587
MARC Record
OCLC
933516327
Pages
312
Launched on MUSE
2016-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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