Richard Tatham: The Importance of Evidence

In criticism of scientific matters (as distinct from, say, that of art, music, or drama) one is sure entitled to some evidence for opinions expressed. Mr. Freed, however, seems preoccupied with mere assertions, such as “it is very hard to pin down the author’s central theme,” “Mr. Walsby is often confused both as to his subject and his field,” and that the influence of Hegel “is all too lamentably apparent.” Yet this is only one way in which the method of the review is insufficient. For example, Mr. Freed objects to the conclusion that what is the case in one field is therefore the case in another: yet this is precisely his own method in arguing that because something applies in the study of animal behaviour, it therefore applies in the study of ideology. In science, if a number of phenomena of the same class exhibit a certain characteristic, then it is concluded that other phenomena of the same class will most probably (under the same conditions) exhibit that characteristic also. If we find, say, that all the metals on which we experiment expand when heated, then we conclude that other metals on which we have not experimented will do the same. Consequently, if we find that phenomena of all kinds, wherever we search, are the products of a hierarchic evolution, then it is highly probable that phenomena of the ideological field are the same. Further, having made the deduction, we seek to verify it inductively by examining the phenomena in question (e.g. the ideas people express) and showing that in fact they have an evolutionary relation, and do in fact form a hierarchy.

Again, in speaking of such matters as “the elementary rules of the scientific approach,” and of “phenomena which lie within the boundaries of many possible fields of investigation,” Mr. Freed seems to regard certain things as being true of science as a consistent whole: does he then regard his own results as sterile, and himself as guilty of mental confusion and a misuse of terms? As further examples of his method (which tempts one to recommend to him the excellent little work on ‘Clear Thinking’ and similar publications of the RPA): (1) He sets forth two claims, and says he is not sure which of them Mr. Walsby makes. (Actually, Mr. Walsby makes neither). Then, having manufactured the claims, he declares they cannot be conceded! (2) Having presumed “ideology” stands for what “personality” and”character” normally denote (whatever that may be) he then, in his next sentence, solemnly denies the presumption he has himself formulated. By such a method, indeed, one cannot imagine any book withstanding Mr. Freed. Since, on his own admission, he has such difficulty in understanding the central arguments and conclusions of The Domain of Ideologies, then surely his attitude would be the more scientific if he maintained the restraint and tentativeness which his confessed ignorance would seem to require.

[See also Lan Freed: A Sociologist at Large.]

Science & Ideology 4, June 1948