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"Philosophy, Science and Everyday Life" by Thomas Luckmann – Excerpts

Thomas Luckmann, arranged by Tormod Kinnes

"Incidentally, this essay should be re-read by all those social scientists who have been hypnotised by the recent upsurge of discussion in English and American philosophy on the meaning of 'following a rule'" – Luckmann note (No. 20 in his essay)

Thomas Luckmann
Thomas Luckmann (1927–2016)

Husserl saw that modern science, having separated itself from philosophy, no longer provided answers to certain elementary questions that men have asked at all times. He also saw that the empiricist tradition in modern philosophy and in modern science was beginning to formulate as a problem something that was a problematic consequence of the separation of science and philosophy, i.e. the naive self-sufficiency of science and its inability to examine its own presuppositions. (. . .)

There is an urgent need, then, for philosophical clarification of the human activities in which the sciences originate. . . . [One meets with an] assumption that the scientific cosmology has found the Archimedean point from which both an understanding of the universe and an understanding of this understanding can be reached in one single move. And, in contrast to the mythological and theological cosmologies, the modern, self-sufficient scientific cosmology has not succeeded in providing plausible answers to the human quest for a subjectively meaningful location of the human self in the universe.

Although we everywhere see evidence of the productivity of scientific methods, and although we cannot doubt that useful knowledge has accumulated in particular sciences, we remain uncertain of the basis of such knowledge. . . . The philosophy of science has wider obligations than those to which, in recent times, it thought it could limit itself as a result of the technical specialisation of the sciences and the academic compartmentalisation of philosophy.

This is not to denigrate the usefulness of the contributions that have issued from recent philosophy of science within its self-imposed 'professional' limits. . . . Having overcome in recent decades its early inclination to ignore the processes of concrete scientific enquiry, the philosophy of science may contribute to the formulation of rigorous methodologies for science. . . . But these contributions form only one part of its legitimate task.

The philosophy of science must not stop short of an investigation of those activities that are the basis for theory of any kind, including scientific theory. These activities cover the full range of human thought in the intersubjective and historical world of everyday life. Only a clarification of this universal basis of theory can hope to show the significance of scientific knowledge for human life, and establish its legitimate place among other forms of knowledge, theoretical or pre-theoretical. Karl Popper (The Logic of Scientific Discovery, New York, 1959, p. 15) described clearly and simply the common theoretical interest of science and philosophy:

There is at least one problem . . . the problem of understanding the world including ourselves, and our knowledge, as part of the world. . . .

The task of the philosophy of science [also] consists in giving a convincing account of the relation of science to theoretical activities in general, and of the relation of these activities to common sense and everyday life. (. . .)

A controlled, independent perspective on both science and common sense must be found. . . . This strategic decision is foreshadowed in a highly personal view of a great philosophical tradition:

Its most important representatives during the last two hundred years were Kant, Chewed, Mill, Peirce, Duhem, Poincare, Meyerson, Russell and – at least in some of his phases - Whitehead. Most of those who belong to this group would agree that scientific knowledge is the result of the growth of common-sense knowledge. But all of them discovered that scientific knowledge can be more easily studied than common-sense knowledge. For it is common-sense knowledge writ large (emphasis in original), as it were.

One may agree that scientific knowledge can be more easily studied than common-sense knowledge. But that, at best, justifies a beginning, not an end, and it does not resolve the question of method. By no means does it justify what is presented as a conclusion: that scientific knowledge is an improved replica of common-sense knowledge. (. . .)

Husserl . . . made what appears in retrospect as a strategic decision: not to accept the claim of modern science to be the ultimate form of human knowledge. In three of his major works, one early and two belonging to a later phase of his thought, Husserl investigated the foundations of formal logic (Logical Investigations, New York, 1970, German original 1901; Formal and Transcendental Logic, The Hague, 1970, German original 1929; Experience and Judgement, Evanston, Ill., 1973, German original 1938). By the method, first, of phenomenological psychology and later of transcendental phenomenology, he traced the origins of logical and mathematical thinking to the activities of consciousness in what he came to call the Lebenswelt, that is, the pretheoretical and theoretical levels of the world of everyday life. But it is his last work, the Crisis, which initiated a new phase of philosophical reflection on science. In it he effectively demolished the "ultimacy" pretensions of the modern scientific cosmology.

It is significant that Husserl immediately confronted the problem of method. In that he resembles – and equals – Descartes and Kant. . . . Husserl developed a method of philosophical analysis that is rationally controlled and reflexive. The method permits an approach to the question 'How far does science go?'

This question goes far beyond the boundaries of a single academic discipline. It is a fundamental philosophical question for modern man, . . . it is also an eminently political question. Far from being destructive of science, Husserl's demolition, its "ultimacy" claim, and his attempt to establish firm foundations for science, provide a sound basis for determining its human significance.

The Cosmological Paradigm in Social Science

[HERE IS] Galileo's famous statement that Whoever wants to read a book, must know the language in which that book is written. Nature is a book and the characters in which it is written are triangles, circles, and squares. (English quotation from Gurwitsch, "Comments on Herbert Marcuse" in R.S. Cohen and M.W. Wartofsky, eds., On Science and Phenomenology. In Honour of Philipp Frank. New York, 1965. Original: Galileo Galilei, Il Saggiatore, Florence, 1965, VI, 232). (. . .)

The cosmology was propagated expansionistically. (. . .)

[Other] "solutions" are still at the heart of the methodological controversies of the human sciences. (. . .)

Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton cut off social science from its ancestry.

The "Crisis" of Social Science

[WHAT MAY be called a] paradigm of physical science . . . form the unexamined background of methodological reflection in social science well into the second half of the twentieth century.

The same paradigm, however, gave rise to elementary methodological positions in social science which seem to their adherents to be irreconcilably opposed. . . . The early phases of the new cosmology were characterised by an elementary inconsistency that stimulated abductive reasoning along two main lines, depending on whether the inconsistency was to be eliminated or legitimated. The fundamental methodological controversy in social sciences is a continuation of these efforts.

On one side of the controversy the big leap forward is boldly taken. Man is subordinated to the new paradigm. He is part of nature. And because 'nature' is the mathematical manifold representing the primary qualities of true reality, humanity cannot be merely a bundle of secondary qualities. Therefore the hunt is on for the primary qualities of human existence. The Cartesian reservation on the human soul is given up and an intrinsically consistent man-machine solution replaces it. Through analogy with astronomy and mechanics, a plausible interpretation of anatomical and even physiological findings appears possible. But while the solution appears logical, the application of the logic to the study of human affairs leads to results whose absurdity is not diminished by the fact that they form part of the routine background of our thinking as social scientists. The hope that by discovery of primary qualities to which measurable value can be attached, social sciences will finally become 'exact', is immune to all disappointments. No matter how sophisticated the technical discussion of the logic of science, the guiding vision of social science on this side of the methodological controversy is that of a closed mechanical universe whose objective qualities are numerical.

Failure of the vision has resulted in two varieties of frustration. The search for the primary qualities of man as a social, political, and historical being transforms him into a walking inventory of instincts or drives, into a homo economicus, homo sociologicus, game strategist, personality subsystem of an action system, a spectator of autopoetic social systems and the like. Ever-new movements of cosmological reductionism lead to recurrent failures.

The other variety of frustration motivates a radically different position. Most of its proponents, seeing the absurdity of the consequences, deny the applicability of the premises of the new cosmology to man. Humanity therefore has to be removed as far as possible from nature, nature being nothing but a measurable space-time manifold. Furthermore, the pushes and pulls of matter cannot apply to the 'historicity' and the 'uniqueness' of the human mind. Therefore there can be no social science, there can be only artistic and intuitive reconstructions of the unfolding of the mind. Such idiographic narratives must have a logic, a structure, a style different from the misguided man-machine analysis of human affairs. The palpable inapplicability of the new cosmology to human affairs provokes not merely a legitimate rejection of a numerical-mechanistic conception of social science, but an enduring inability to re-examine the problem of formalisation and mathematisation.

Neither side possesses a common programme. (. . .)

In sum: both sides abandoned the search for a mathesis universalis of human affairs. One side stopped looking because it thought it had found it already, and was content to let the concrete problems and the recalcitrant 'facts' of the social sciences look out for themselves. The other side never started looking because it was convinced there was nothing to find. Both sides thus contributed to the social science variant of the crisis of modern science.

The fundamental function of theory is to suggest meaningful solutions to basic problems of everyday life, and to help men in their orientation in the universe. [Our italics.] In order to perform this function, however, theory must first give an account of the concerns of everyday life. Scientific theory is distinguished from its mythological and theological predecessors by its degree of explicit systematisation and formalisation of knowledge, and by its rational and empirical method. (. . .)

In social science it is not only the products of theoretical activities that are uncritically reified; under the prevailing cosmological paradigm the producers themselves are in constant danger of reification.

Having come this far in the identification of the problem, I should like to try to suggest the direction in which the solution is to be found. (. . .)

  A science that describes and explains the social constructions of reality in general and of social reality in particular should be able to develop a programme of formalisation (and a theory of measurement) that is appropriate to the constitutive elements of everyday life.

Universal and Historical Structures of Everyday Life

THE AIMS of the programme, as I just said, are to institute a search for possibilities of formalisation that are genuinely independent of the Galilean paradigm. (. . .)

The phenomenology of the Lebenswelt is not to be taken as a substitute empirical method. The descriptive phenomenology of the Lebenswelt is ultimately based on the phenomenological method of radical reduction and attention to the experience of intentional acts in originary evidence. It is thus philosophically legitimated by a critically reflexive account of the knowledge of experience. (. . .)

  To put it more precisely:

  • The data of social science are pre-interpreted. Interpretation of experience (and action) is a constitutive element of the data; we do not have 'raw' data to which are added common-sense interpretations which are to be discarded by means of some 'purifying instrument'.
  • Interpretations are made in, and bound to, ordinary historical languages. The data of social science are therefore from the outset irrevocably part of the historical worlds of everyday life: they are constituted in human action and experience as historically specific contexts of significance and motivation.

The universal structures of everyday life are the general matrix for such data; its concepts serve as a kind of metalanguage for the historical languages in which data on human action must necessarily be presented.

Such a matrix must meet [certain] requirements. [They are] historically variant concrete typifications of human action in human experience.

Postscript on the Circle

THE PHYSICAL and social sciences are engaged in a common cosmological enterprise. The enterprise follows certain general rules whose structure is analysed in the logic of science and whose origin can be reconstructed historically.

These theoretical activities presuppose still more general activities of the mind. In radical philosophical reflection following a precise rule of evidence (transcendental reduction, i.e., attending to phenomena as they present' themselves in experience, the structures of theoretical and pretheoretical activities are clarified and traced back to their foundation in active and passive syntheses of consciousness. This is a process of explication that starts with and returns to the most direct evidence available: inspection of immediate experience.

The descriptive phenomenology of everyday life . . . is founded on this method . . . To the most general discoveries of the 'geology' of the Lebenswelt [many] 'geographic' analyses of a mundane descriptive phenomenology add the basic surface contours.

Now one discovers 'correlates' of these descriptions in the data of the empirical sciences and, indeed, in aesthetically reconstructed common-sense observation, as in literature. That discovery is an invitation to embrace the pre-theoretical immediacy of the Lebenswelt or to join the traditional cosmological enterprise of empirical science. There is no reason to decline the invitation, as long as the differences in cognitive style, method, and purpose are not extinguished.

And here another round starts, explicating the presuppositions of the first round of reasoning: Theory in all sciences involved in the cosmological enterprise takes a number of things for granted which become problematic upon reflection:

  • The unity of experience among men in different societies throughout the course of history. Philosophically speaking, this refers to the problem of whether 'mankind', a 'transcendental ego', an 'empirical species', or whatever, is the transcendental subject of knowledge.
  • The givenness and the possibility of communication. Philosophically speaking, this refers to the problem of the mathesis universalis.

Social science rests upon a third presupposition: that the ordinary, culturally and historically highly variable common-sense definitions of reality are 'objective' data (sales, suicides, fathers, presidents, and so on). . . .

With this problem we are back with the Lebenswelt as the foundation of science, and as the foundation of the field of social science. . . .

By courtesy: Edited extracts by Tormod Kinnes, MPhil.

Thomas Luckmann, bakgrunnsinformation

Thomas Luckmann (1927–2016) var ein tysk-slovensk-fødd sosiolog og sosialfilosof og amerikansk statsborgar. Han var professor i sosiologi ved universitetet i Frankfurt 1965-1970. Frå 1970 til 1994 var han professor i sosiologi ved universitetet i Konstanz. Frå 1994 var han professor emeritus. Den 15. mai 1998 blei han æresdoktor ved NTNU.

Dei viktigste arbeida hans ligg innanfor religionssosiologi, kommuniseringssosiologi og samarbeid. Han er også godt kjent for boka Den samfunnsskapte virkelighet, som han skreiv i lag med Peter Berger.

Thomas Luckmann er en fremragende forsker som er blitt internasjonalt kjent gjennom både sine publikasjoner, sine prosjekter og sin rolle som respondent på konferanser og i seminarer. Hans vitenskapelige perspektiv sprenger de vanlige disiplingrenser og han anvendes like mye i humanistiske fag som i samfunnsvitenskap. Det som først og fremst har gjort ham internasjonalt kjent er bøkene "The Social Construction of Reality" og "The Invisible Religion", dessuten arbeider som viser sammenhengen mellom fenomenologi og sosiologi, og – i de senere årene – empiriske prosjekter han leder, som tar utgangspunkt i analyse av dialoger i typiske hverdagssituasjoner.

- Erik Karlsaune (f. 1942), ved Religionsvitskapelig institutt, NTNU, frå 1979 til 2012.

Karlsaune er forfattar av ein Luckmann-artikkel i papirutgåva av Veien til vitenskap.


Martin Frank, Augustin, Veien til vitenskap, litteratur  

Jafarnejad, Jafar, hovudred. Veien til vitenskap. Band 1-3. Trondheim: Privat forlag, 1999.

FRÅ LØYVE: "[Tormod Kinnes] har løyve frå meg til å legge inntil 18-20 artiklar frå det på Internett." - Jafar Jafarnejad, 5. april 2000.

    © 1999: Thomas Luckmann, Jafar Jafarnejad (main ed., was granted Luckmann's permission to make use of article data) and Tormod Kinnes (ed.)
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