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New Left Review I/29, January-February 1965

David Cooper

Two types of rationality

On est toujours libre de ne rien comprendre ` rien—Gabriel Marcel

Experimental natural science is grounded in careful observation. Each investigation must proceed from observed facts. In physical and biological science these observed facts are usually inert facts, that is to say they are grasped from the exterior by an observer who is not disturbed by them and does not disturb them by his process of observation. Even in micro-physics where the uncertainty principle tells us that the observational procedures disturb the field of the observed there are mathematical techniques which maintain the observer in some sort of relation of exteriority to the observed and indeed to his observing techniques themselves. In a science of personal interaction, on the other hand, mutual disturbance of the observer and the observed are not only inevitable in every case but it is this mutual disturbance which gives rise to the primary facts on which theory is based and not the disturbed or disturbing personal entities. The facts which are the observational data of anthropological sciences are not different from the facts from which science proceeds in the same sense that facts for biology are different from facts for physics: they differ in ontological status from natural scientific facts. Put another way, the observer-observed relation in a science of persons is ontologically continuous (subject-object vis-`-vis subject-object), whereas in natural sciences it is discontinuous (subject vis-`-vis object) permitting a purely exterior description of the field of the observed.

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