In 1934 when Gaston Bachelard published his Nouvel Esprit Scientifiquefootnote1 and Karl Popper’s Logik der Forschungfootnote2 appeared few philosophers would have dissented from the view that science develops in a linear or monistic fashion, so as to leave meaning and truth-value unchanged, on the basis provided by common experience. Meyerson had even undertaken to show that the theory of relativity could be deduced from Newtonian principlesfootnote3 and it was widely held that, for their part, the concepts of classical physics were just a refinement of the concepts of daily life.footnote4 Since then Bachelard, in France, and Popper, in England, have been more than any others responsible for the seeping into the general philosophical consciousness (which includes the consciousness of scientists in their reflection upon their work) of the fact, profoundly revolutionary for philosophy, of the phenomenon of scientific discontinuity (with respect to common sense or experience) and change. In strikingly similar terms Bachelard and Popper attempted to register this phenomenon. Yet neither of them, nor the theoretical traditions they inaugurated, have succeeded in grasping its full significance for
Why do scientific discontinuity and change have such disturbing consequences for philosophy? Their recognition snaps the privileged relationship between subject and object which, in classical philosophy, uniquely ties thought to things. Thought cannot now be viewed as a mechanical function of given objects (as in empiricism); nor can the activity of creative subjects be regarded as endowing the world with things (as in idealism); nor is any combination of the two possible. In short, it becomes necessary to distinguish clearly between the unchanging real objects that exist outside the scientific process and the changing cognitive objects that are produced within science as a function of scientific practice. Let me call the former intransitive and the latter transitive objects; the theoretical space in which to talk about them will accordingly become the intransitive and transitive dimensions respectively of the philosophy of science.
I now want to put forward the following theses: Any adequate account of science depends upon the explicit recognition of the necessity for both, and the non-identity of the objects of, the intransitive and transitive dimensions. The history of philosophy is, on the other hand, characterized by persistent attempts to reduce one to the other. These attempts are necessarily unsuccessful so that they result merely in the generation of an implicit or disguised ontology (in the intransitive dimension) or sociology (in the transitive one). But the attempt to do so secures the dominance in philosophy of an empiricist ontology and an individualist sociology; and it is in this attempt and its results that the ideological value of classical philosophy lies. An adequate account of science depends, by contrast, upon the development of an explicit non-empiricist ontology and a non-individualist conception of scientific activity (or sociology, in the special sense of the word I am using here).footnote7
Now in the operation empiricist ontology = individualist sociology that structures classical philosophy typically, at least, it is knowledge and its subject, man, that plays the leading role. Thus it may be the need expressed for certain foundations for knowledge that results in the establishment of the implicit empiricist ontology—a process covered
The immediate ideological effects, in the transitive dimension, of this operation are clear. Scientific knowledge is certain, its development is monistic. At the same time it is safe, it does not threaten the spontaneous consciousness of ordinary life (for it is built up out of units available to it). Thus we have both an ideology for science and an ideology of science: the former constituting beliefs rationalizing the scientific status quo, in Kuhn’s terminology, the practice of ‘normal science’;footnote8 the latter constituting beliefs about science, rationalizing the wider social status quo, bourgeois society as such. But this operation has ideological effects, though less obvious ones, in the intransitive dimension too.