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4 Ways to Explain the World

Long ago, when I studied research methods, a quarter of the page was dedicated to showing the four ways to explain the world around us:  Philosophy, Religion, Ideology and Science.

Philosophy includes logic – mostly the rules of inference that allow the practitioner to derive conclusions from true premises.  The only challenge there is making sure the premise is true, and that you think really well.  Philosophy precedes scientific method.  Still, philosophy is not the method we use to select the people who rule.

Religion basically proceeds from faith and revelation.  It probably precedes philosophy as well as scientific method.  Despite that early start, the first definitions I find are from anthropologists and sociologists in the 19th century.   Time was when people believed that kings ruled by the grace of God.  That seems to have gone out of style. 

From a sociologist’s perspective there are political ideologies and epistemological ideologies.  It’s kind of hard to look at ideologies without recognizing that Karl Marx basically wrote the definition – that ideology results from the means of production in a society – and  then came up with his own political ideology.  Of course Karl didn’t come up with the only political ideology.   A political ideology is based on a belief about how society should work and the best method for achieving that ideal arrangement. 

If we use Marx’ perspective, the war between the states was basically an ideology based war.  The abolitionist ideology wound up dominating the Union, while an ideology (based on the means of production) that supported slavery as the best method for maintaining things dominated the confederate states.  There is more to Karl Marx than the Communist Manifesto – though it takes more reading than the average socialist finds necessary.

So far as ideologies go, I prefer the libertarian perspective.  If I’m ever drafted to run the country, I’ll do my best to ruthlessly leave folks alone.  Karl Marx identified a capitalist ideology and developed a socialist/communist ideology – along with developing the social conflict paradigm that is useful as can be in explaining how society works.  The problem is, his benign communist ideology included leaders who preferred totalitarian rule – just as fascism and national socialism melded cronyism with capitalism to support totalitarian rule.  Different ideologies brought both to aboutthe same place.

Science is a method of analyzing a problem, developing a research question, testing that question, and coming up with an explanation.  I don’t need to have faith or revelations, I don’t have to have a belief of how society should work, and I don’t need the sort of rigor that philosophy requires.  Science requires skepticism – and yet, at the end of the research, causality is inferred, not proven.  Kind of like the steps in philosophy – but the experimental method gives checks as we move toward inferring causality.

 Ideology contaminates science if we research toward a predetermined end.  Lamarckism – the heritability of acquired characteristics – was agreeable to Soviet ideology, and handicapped their biological sciences.  There is always someone wanting to substitute the revelation and faith of religion for the skepticism and methodology of science.  One of the finest discussions and studies I have been involved in was a series of weekly meetings on the idea of intelligent design.  I’m not qualified to evaluate intelligent design as to its religious soundness – but after we spent about 8 weeks hashing it out, we arrived at the conclusion it isn’t good science.  It assumes the answer – and a scientific hypothesis must be falsifiable.

Somehow, it seems a little odd that the varying ideologies – developed as emotional or habitual choices of the best method to run a society – wind up as the method we use to select our political leaders. 

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