Science, Process Philosophy and the Image of Man: The Metaphysical Foundations for a Critical Social Science

Dissertation, Murdoch University (1983)
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The central aim of this thesis is to confront the world-view of positivistic materialism with its nihilistic implications and to develop an alternative world-view based on process philosophy, showing how in terms of this, science and ethics can be reconciled. The thesis begins with an account of the rise of positivism and materialism, or ‘scientism’, to its dominant position in the culture of Western civilization and shows what effect this has had on the image of man and consequently on ethical views. After having shown the basic weaknesses of this world-view, the positivist account of science is criticised and an alternative epistemology is developed in which the aim of disciplined inquiry is seen to be understanding. It is argued on the basis of this epistemology that science and metaphysics are indissociable, and that the materialist conception of being is open to challenge from a different ontology. Having reviewed the various conceptions of being which have been developed in the past, a version of process philosophy is outlined and it is argued that this promises to be far more effective than materialism as a foundation for the natural sciences. In particular it is shown how in terms of process philosophy it is possible to conceive of living, sentient organisms as having emerged from inanimate being. This provides the basis for the development of a conception of humanity as an emergent form of life. The human order is then seen as a process of becoming within nature with its own unique dynamics, irreducible to any other processes, involving both intentional and unintentional processes. It is shown how on the basis of this conception of humanity it is possible to develop an ethical theory and a critical social science, and in this way, to transcend the disjunction between science and ethics.
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