Anything Else to Think About? or: Re-finding Truth in Research

Vladimir Fedosejev and the Tschaikowskij-Symphonieorchester Moskau, performing Tschaikowskij and Shostakovich in the Large Hall of the Musikverein.

A more or less busy day coming to an end, beginning with talks about projecting a new book series (around global democracy), discussion about a film project, catching up with a good friend, answering and writing mails in the meantime and finalising the short contribution for the next Euromemo (had been easier to write the 80 pages for the recent workshop) …. and sometimes asking myself the difference between the real world and the facebook world. At least there is one commonality: it is not always easy to be clear about the difference friendships, acquaintance and colleagues. Perhaps better, it is not always clear to separate roles.

And really coming to an end then (leaving the Tchaikovsky’s concert for violin and orchestra [d-minor; the violin beautifully performed be the still young Arabella Steinbacher] and the encores aside) it is Shostakovich’s 5th symphony (also d-minor) – what a masterpiece, and indeed is there anything else that can come to mind than Schiller’s ‘Letters upon the Aesthetic Education of Man‘, Jehring’s ‘The Struggle for Law’ and the presentation I will give on Thursday in Graz, titled ‘Science/Scientists between Reflexive Responsibility and Penance’.
Schiller’s main concern is that what really is at stake is the balancing act between different poles, in particular the unbridled sensuous nature of human beings and the refined nature, finding its true and unique expression in arts, and being as such a matter of highest rationality: independent of unrestrained natural forces and allowing as such determination of a higher order.
In Schiller’s words
Two principal and different states of passive and active capacity of being determined (Bestimmbarkeit) can be distinguished in man; in like manner two states of passive and active determination (Bestimmung).
(Schiller, J.C. Friedrich von, 1793: Letters upon the Aesthetic Education of Man; Literary and Philosophical Essays, New York: Collier, 1910 [The Harvard Classics, 32]: 36 (I hope there is a better translation somewhere)
It is in his eyes not least a matter of striving for and – though only in tendency – achieving wholeness, in his idealist vision of course very much perceived and defined as holiness as the incontestable absoluteness. One does not have to follow this idealist aberration in order to agree in Schiller’s view on the two dimensions of determination: the passive and the part, the Bestimmtsein and the Bestimmung. Much later we find this of course reflected in Max Weber’s discussion on ‘vocation’.
Before I come back to the latter remark, a short note on a linked subject – a closer look at the link will be looked at later. One can easily see from here that this strive for wholeness is not an everlasting matter of development of humankind but also a matter of developing personality. And indeed, it is also a matter of the two forces permanently at work, one claiming dominance over the other. Even within certain institutions as Rudolph von Jhering  pointed righty at the beginning of his book I really have to than Lorena for making me aware of this piece) out that
[a]ll the law in the world has been obtained by strife. Every principle of law which obtains had first to be wrung by force from those – legal rights of a whole nation as well as those who denied it; and every legal right the of individuals – continual readiness to assert it and defend it. The law is not mere theory, but living force. And hence it is that Justice which, in one hand, holds the scales, in which she weighs the right, carries in the other the sword with which she executes it.
(Jhering, Rudolph (1872): The Struggle for Law; Chicago: Callaghan and Co, 1915: 1 f.)
What is now the connection between this and my presentation on ‘Science/Scientists between Reflexive Responsibility and Penance’?
It may get clear when we look at what Schiller said in the same piece:
Art, like science, is emancipated from all that is positive, and all that is humanly conventional; both are completely independent of the arbitrary will of men. The political legislator may place their empire under an interdict, but he cannot reign there.
(op.cit.: 19)
And indeed it is not so much a strictly idealist position as we see when we read on page 8
Therefore, totality of character must be found in the people which is capable and worthy to exchange the state of necessity for that of freedom.
Aren’t there obvious repercussions – reading Kant, Schiller and later Marx? And if we read further we see that this tension between dependence/independence, between necessity and freedom, between being-determined and determination, between passive and passive is very much an issue of …, indeed: The Struggle for Law, the struggle for – and here I come explicitly back to Weber – Science as Vocation.
Of course, in this perspective we may pose the question from the beginning in a different way: Re-finding Truth in Research can also be formulated as (Re-)Defining Truth in Research. In such a perspective we should not look for freedom from demand but for our own right, very much in the understanding of Schiller:
Culture, far from giving us freedom, only develops, as it advances, new necessities; the fetters of the physical close more tightly around us, so that the fear of loss quenches even the ardent impulse toward improvement, and the maxims of passive obedience are held to be the highest wisdom of life. Thus the spirit of the time is seen to waver between perversions and savagism, between what is unnatural and mere nature, between superstition and moral unbelief, and it is often nothing but the equilibrium of evils that sets bounds to it.
(op.cit.: 10)
A more or less busy day coming to an end … – and it is a more or less long fight ahead for science, for research that also acknowledges again that it is not least based on two major pillars: the one being about asking questions rather than waiting for questions to be asked. And the other being ready to accept also the role of an educator, not in an elitist understanding; but very much int he understanding of entering a dialogue and taking firm positions within it. Surely as well with both the readiness to make mistakes. And finally it means to be ready to makes these mistakes together, rather than simply claiming to be the greatest and to know only what is considered to be the ‘most important people’.
Otherwise such masterpieces as that of Shostakovich will never exist – not in arts, not in politics and not in science.


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