science of Man

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The science of Man is about how we see ourselves - and how we wish to see ourselves - and the world we live in. Contemporary theories of humanness tend to regard a human being less as a subject capable of acting upon the world, than as an object through whom nature acts. ...once you view humans as objects, then the normal restraints of humanity become loosened. See humanism. (Malik, 2000, pp 25)

Jacob Bronkowski, The Ascent of Man, BBC television series, 1972, 'Man is unique not because he does science, and he is unique not because he does art, but because science and art equally are expressions of marvelous plasticity of mind.' Bronowski recognized that the scientific exploration of what it means to be human cannot be divorced fro the ways in which we perceive ourselves, philosophically, politically, and morally. (Malik, 2000, pp 25 - 26)

Two figures are particularly important: Descartes and Darwin. They erect the scaffolding around which all subsequent scientists and philosophers have built their theories, arguments, and explanations. (Malik, 2000, pp 27)

We seem to have come a long way from Descartes' idea of the self. We began, with Descartes, inside our heads, looking out on the world outside. We have ended up, after Locke, on the outside, looking in on the self inside. For Descartes the self was the subject, the only means of gaining understanding of the world. Now it has become the object, an integral part of the world which we are trying to understand. This journey is particularly puzzling to the modern imagination because, in contrast to the Ancients, we view subject and object as distinct entities. For both Plato and Aristotle thought was as much part of the external world as it was of the mind inside. The distinction between the internal and external realms is a Cartesian innovation. For the Ancients, there was no clearcut distinction between subject and object, between thought and the object of thought. Once, however, the inner realm of Man is cleaved from the outer realm of nature, then subject and object become distinct entities. The subject is that which thinks and acts, the object is that upon which thought and action bear.

The punctual self, however, cuts across this distinction, being both subject and object, even as it is the same entity. Animals and other natural entities can be treated solely as objects. In the study of 'external' nature we can create a division between a humanity that is the thinking subject and a nature that presents itself to thought, but is incapable of thought itself. But with the study of Man such a neat division becomes impossible.

Another way of expressing this paradox is to say that Man seems to be both inside nature and outside it. The mechanical philosophy 'disenchanted' nature by stripping it of its magical qualities and rendering it a clockwork universe. It also made Man part of the natural order, and so permitted the possibility of a science of Man. (Malik, 2000, pp 52).

Darwinism exacerbated the conflict between science and humanism. It expunged mysticism, idealism, and religion from the science of Man. (Malik, 2000, pp 60).