Lecture 9 03-20-12
Mead: Science + Morality
Sociology as the Study of Forms of interaction
Quantitative aspect of groups
Remember where we left off, we were talking about how he had this idea of a certain kind of everyday
creativity that’s part of normal social interaction. We saw this idea with the I and the Me. Anytime
you're doing something with somebody, part of that interaction involves some stereotype or
expectation of how to behave and also conformity, that is the "me" part of yourself. But you'll always
respond in some way that is automatically determined by what is expected of you so there's always
room for innovation and alteration of what you are doing. This is the conception of starting a vague
impulse of thirst and the process of responding to it, you can reformulate it, rethink it and redefine it.
This is a very different way of thinking about creativity innovation compared with how Weber talked
about it. Remember charisma, the charismatic leader embodies possibility of social creativity because
great prophets like a Jesus like a Buddha, they don't have to follow regular conventions. They don't have
to follow regular conventions like normal people do. They don't follow traditions. They don't follow the
rules. They sort of act on their own and they break the Ten Commandments on the ground and say that
it is written in this way but I will do it differently. And in that way we create new rules which start to
constrain what we can do and then maybe a new prophet will come along. But notice that the picture is
every life has tradition and rules and every once in a while there is this figure that comes and starts it all
over again. The Me picture has much less of a harsh division between great innovator and everyday life.
It says that social life is rich, adapting, and changing all the time. That's a difference in perspective about
how social creativity and innovation works. What does that imply for this sort of big question? Science
has become a major social force. What does that do to the traditional moral thinking? Weber the rise of
science would lead to nihilism, doesn’t seem like science tells us what to believe but how to pursue it. If
science is the highest value there doesn't seem to be a single thing that is unifying and coherent to life.
That’s the idea of nihilism. In science there is always constant change. What seems true today may seem
false later. That seems unsettling in various ways because we want things to be bedrock truth that can
give meaning to our life.
For Durkheim, there's this feeling, this anxiety that the rise of scientific thinking will be a threat to
traditional cultures. Religion is what held society together giving it moral direction for so long. We see
that as science becomes more important religion is weakening as a moral centre for society. What can
fill the gap? That is a question that plays these people.
Mead starts with a distinction, implicit; Teleology vs. Mechanism
Teleology: telos means purpose or goal and this purpose, the teleological view of life is what you can
think of as the moral perspective of life. When things happen there must be some purpose or goal to it.
Life is about figuring out what the most importance purposes are and how we should relate ourselves to
that. Should we help them along, or resist them? And that is a teleological view. For instance with this
moral religious view of life, if there was a earthquake, it must be that he is punishing us, we did bad
things. Or we see this in a lot of cultures, if someone dies, it must be of some purpose, someone killed
him. If no one killed him, we believed that he did something wrong.
Mechanism: is more or less the scientific act, sort of what we’ve seen with Weber. We don’t know what
the goals of life are. Actually going further than Weber, there are no goals in nature, in life at all, stuff
just happens. The idea that we look for some purpose is an illusion. All we can do is figure out what
causes what, to ask where things are going and somehow adapt yourself to that. But to ask why the
world is going where it is going is making a big mistake. And this implies an outlook on life and on the
universe. Human beings are quite small, there’s no real purpose for us to be exist. We're just a bunch of
monkey like grubby animals on this rock that's close to a hot star. We’ll be here for a few million years
and that is that. If you want to get a feeling for this mechanistic outlook in life, e.g; Silver was standing
there looking at the giraffe @ the zoo. The child asked why is there mud? The teleological answer is that
mud was used to make houses. The mechanistic answer mud is just there. We think of these things in
opposition. So you have the religious point of view versus the scientific point of view. Each side in that
conflict it seems like it has the moral high ground so to speak. The scientific person says that they are
tough minded, we are floating around on the rock and we`ll die. The religious person says that we are
living for a higher purpose, the scientific person is just living aimlessly. The conflict is irresolvable. Mead
is looking for a way out of this. These two attitudes don`t seem locked in a moral conflict.
1) Intelligent reconstruction
The main thing is that you should think about what we`re doing in science in an experimental
way so that the process of investigation we can reformulate and change our purposes and goals.
In the process of reformulating and rethinking the goals, we can then investigate them in new
ways. Weber doesn’t know what the ends are and doesn’t know the purposes and Durkheim is
reversed in that. Mead says that there is this dynamic interplay within the two. (Page 36) “We
do not turn to scientific method to determine what is a common good, though we have learned
to avail ourselves of it in some of our common efforts and practices in pursuit of the good.
However, scientific method is not an agent foreign to the mind, that may be called in and
dismissed at will. It is an integral part of human intelligence, and when it has once been set at
work it can only be dismissed by dismissing the intelligence itself. Unfortunately men have
committed this sin against their intelligence again and again... The past history of and the
present struggle with venereal disease illustrate this, chapter for chapter. Scientific method
does not undertake to say what the good is, but when it has been employed, it is
uncompromising in its demand that that good is no less than a good because scientific pursuit of
it brings us within the taboos of institutions that are have regarded as inviolable.... Here, then, is
the issue, so far as an issue exists, between scientific method and social and moral conduct. If
the community is seeking an end by the intelligent method of science and in doing this runs
counter to its habits in attaining and maintaining other ends, these ends are just as subject to
restatement and reconstruction as are the means themselves.” We all think that health is
important, if we get sick we want to understand how to stop getting sick and live a healthier life.
Let's start investigating that in an intelligent way. In the process we may find that some of our
important teleological ideas of the purpose in life may actually be contributing in making us sick.
It may be the case that religious norms about sex like saying not to use contraception are
spreading HIV and AIDS. If that is the case then we got a problem. On the one hand you have
religious norms which you think are important and the other, you have people getting sick and
dying. How can we put these things together? We have to rethink and imply on our practice in
our religious norms in such a way to live our lives so we don’t end up getting sick. So if it leads
you to a healthy life, then it will make you question well what are my other goals, purposes? It
doesn't mean you need to abandon them, but you have to recreate and redefine them so that
you don't have this conflict anymore. So it is this back and forth conflict between means and the
purposes. That's one example. Let me give another one. This one I just gave you might think that
I am biased against religion right? In other ways religious ideas that have to do with
reformulating. But you can do it just the other way. This example; if you think about modern
hospitals, the point of the hospitals is to create institutions where sick people can be made
healthy using scientific means, not witchdoctors or voodoos or whatever. You can go in and get
x rays; there's this cold view of the vibe. The hospital treats your body like a machine and then
fix it. Ok so that is a certain goal achieved in a certain way, highly rationalistic and mechanistic
type of organization, the modern hospital. That happens for a long time. What people
discovered was that it was a very alienating experience to go to a modern hospital. You have
doctors who are treating your body like a machine rather than a person right? Treating you like
an interesting problem rather than a spirit or a soul.
2) Cult vs. Functional Institutions
Some institutions take on cult value. So what is a cult institution? A cult institution is one that
holds up a vision of the world that doesn't currently exist but we wish it could. It's what the
world could be but not what we are living in. And Mead's example of that: the Christian church
is the cult of democracy. The idea is that a Christian church emerged in the world with high
levels of inequality. But it gives a vision of a possible world of equality, of human brotherhood.
And that vision becomes all the more important when it doesn't actually exist when we live in a
world that has massive inequality, we become attached to the possibility of a better world that
is unlike that, that is defined by equality and brotherhood. This is actually quite important from
a practical pragmatic perspective because it keeps that value of _____ in our hearts even when
it doesn't actually exist, it keeps us from working towards it. But it could become a problem
because when something acquires a cult value, people become very hesitant in questioning it.
We are hesitant to think about the function consequences of believing in what the cult
institution tells you to believe. You become less likely to treat it like a potential research
question like "is being Christian a good thing overall?" Just take everything it says as
automatically true, inviolable. To give another example of cult institution that Mead gives is war
and patriotism, how that does that count as a cult institution? Well there is this patriotic ideal of