Imphal Review of Arts and Politics

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Only when science is be the foundation of knowledge can enlightenment happen

Science Alone Must be the Ultimate Authority of Knowledge Enterprise: Lessons for Manipur from the Enlightenment Revolution

For a society to remain integrated, members in society need to agree on shared values. If a member of society is committed to the same values, they will tend to share a common identity, which provides a basis for unity and cooperation. And individuals tend to identify and feel kinship with those who share the same values. Values defined the goals for us. And values help in choosing the means to achieve those goals. Shared value derives from a common goal. And that values give rise to a general idea of what is desirable and worthwhile. In other words, value consensus provides the foundation for cooperation and social unity, since the common values produce common goals. And we need to decide and agree on value in any aspect of social life that is legitimately held and respected by all.

For instance, in a multicultural society, secularism and civic nationalism marks a socially desirable goals for a stable society while the monocultural or ethnonationalist intent leads to dysfunctional consequences. With respect to knowledge enterprise, those who believe in scientific temperament will insist on “science” as a means of understanding reality and point the way for society. And those who believe in traditional wisdom will interpret reality according to their belief system. Hence leading to clashes of interest. Hence if this consensus of value is not expressed in various parts of the social fabric, there will be a fracture of value orientation and diversity of interest, leading to conflict of identity and interests.

We often see certain people in possession of the law. People from various organisations began to command a self-proclaimed authority. And sometimes people are call to seek for forgiveness or even resort to violence for what they call wrongdoing, whether or not the organisation has the legitimacy to do so. It appears that authority is at work at every level in Manipur society aside the state authority expressed by the common will of the masses. And  this often leads to clashes between groups of people. Same thing works in the knowledge domain in Manipur where certain people take their position on social issues regardless if the knowledge base is backed by facts (science) or not. Particularly with regard to the knowledge enterprise, we need a legitimate authority, especially “science” based knowledge system and push back everything that goes against science and facts. Otherwise, there will be no value consensus and narrow self-interest would be the guiding force rather than mutual obligation leading to conflict and disorder.

Talcott Parsons stated that, when values are institutionalised and behaviour is structured in terms of them, the result is a stable society. Hence, people who strayed from society’s common values must be brought back on track.

Modernization seems to be expressed only in the physical dimension in Manipur but cognitive changes have hit a lot of roadblocks along the way. American sociologist William Ogburn terms it as cultural lag. Modernization involves faith in the efficacy of reason and science rather than religion or magic. It aims at understanding the history to develop a hindsight for fore sighting and not doing exactly as was done before. But in Manipur, it appears that many are stuck in the past while the past seems to bring only conflict instead of lessons and development. The present situation in Manipur, reminds of the enlightenment revolution of the 17th and 18th century Europe and reaction it faced in this development.

As it is known that modernity did not emerge in a harmonious way. The economic and political revolution obtained in 19th century western Europe had created utter chaos and disorder in European society. The traditional wisdom and customary belief had no answer to handle this emergent problem. These problems were altogether new for which there was no answer in religion. Therefore religion loss its plausibility. And people were looking for new knowledge to restore peace and order.

However this was also the period particularly in the 17th century where the Newtonian revolution had led to growth of science and scientific methods. By the end of the 17th century, science and scientific method had attained great respectability for having successfully unravelled the mysteries of nature.

They discovered the laws which governed the natural phenomena and with the help of these laws, new technology developed to control the physical environment. This was the intellectual revolution which unfolded.

In the 18th century, thinkers and scholars who were reflecting on the changes happening in society speculated that if science can work wonders in controlling nature then it may also prove wonderful in controlling society.  Or in making a society of our choice which is harmonious and peaceful. Therefore, a new current of thought emerged which had been retrospectively called as Enlightenment.

Looking at the changes they thought that mankind is progressing and Europe is at the apex of this progress. They thought that this progress is an “orderly” process following a definite “pattern”. And because it follows a definite pattern, through scientific method these patterns can be discovered. In other words, generalisation and laws can be discovered about society and changes therein.

The contemporary problems in Europe  were viewed by them as temporary blemishes which could be rectified with the help of right knowledge and right legislation. Hence they found the answer in science. They believed that a science of society can be created by combining reason and research. The way physics controls nature through engineering, they can also use reason and research creating social physics which can lead to social engineering.

Therefore, inspired by the success of physical and natural science, they believe that a science of society is possible. And with the knowledge that we gain through this science of society, can we use it to reconstruct the world which can become a harmonious place again.

The enlightenment represented modernity and it glorified modernization. Interestingly, there was a conservative reaction against these changes or the anti-modernist. Scholars like Louis de Bonald, Joseph de Maistre in France and Edmund Burke in England represented the conservative reaction.

The conservative reaction condemned the chaos and anarchy that followed the French revolution in western Europe. In fact they wanted to hark back to the peace and harmony of the mediaeval time where close knit community life and religious belief provided a moral direction to people’s lives and gave a sense of meaning.

On the other hand, Enlightenment glorified human freedom and stated that mankind is progressing because individuals are being liberated from all kinds of bonds of society and becoming more and more autonomous.

But the conservative held these autonomous individuals responsible for chaos and wanted strengthening of society and community.

However, counter enlightenment also had its role in shaping the new science of society. Because the new goal of society was peace, harmony and strengthening the moral fibre of society and these ideas which defined the new goals of society came from counter enlightenment. However, the “means” to develop the new science of society came from enlightenment

And the sociologist was not as naïve as conservative that hoped to go back to mediaeval times. But they believe that using methods of science they can certainly create a new kind of harmony in the emerging society.

Therefore, there were two ideological currents, liberal rationalist ideology of enlightenment and conservative ideology of counter enlightenment. And it was the fusion of these two ideologies that produced sociology. Hence, Manipur has a lesson to learn from the history of Enlightenment revolution. And the lesson is that the ultimate authority of the knowledge base must be only science.

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