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On presuppositions - a quote

Mar 11, 2006 09:02 PM
by plcoles1

Quote below taken from the  `Mind and Nature : A necessary Unity'
By Gregory Bateson 
Published by Bantam 1979 

By education most have been misled;
So they believe, because they so were bred.
The priest continues what the nurse began,
And thus the child imposes on the man.

John Dryden, The Hind and the Panther

"Science like art, religion, commerce, warfare, and even sleep, is based on 
presuppositions. It differs, however, from most other branches of human activity in that 
not only are the pathways of scientific thought determined by the presuppositions of the 
scientists but their goals are the testing and revision of old presuppositions and the 
creation of new.

In this latter activity, it is clearly desirable (but not absolutely necessary) for the scientist 
to know consciously and be able to state his own presuppositions. It is convenient and 
necessary for scientific judgement to know the presuppositions of colleagues working in 
the same field.
Above all, it is necessary for the reader of scientific matter to know the presuppositions of 
the writer.

I have taught various branches of behavioural biology and cultural anthropology to 
American students, ranging from college freshman to psychiatric residents, in various 
schools and teaching hospitals, and I have encountered a very strange gap in their 
thinking that springs from a lack of certain tools of thought. This lack is rather equally 
distributed at all levels of education, among students of both sexes and among humanists 
as well as scientists. Specifically, it is a lack of knowledge of the presuppositions not only 
of the science but also of everyday life.

This gap is strangely, less conspicuous in two groups that might have been expected to 
contrast strongly with each other: the Catholics and the Marxists.
Both groups have thought about or have been told about the last 2,500 years of human 
thought, and both groups have some recognition of the importance of philosophic , 
scientific, and epistemological presuppositions. Both groups are difficult to teach because 
they attach such great importance to "right" premises and presuppositions that heresy 
becomes for them  a threat of excommunication. Naturally, anybody who feels heresy to 
be a danger will devote some care to being conscious of his or her own presuppositions 
and will develop a sort on connoisseurship in these matters. 

Those who lack all idea that it is possible to be wrong can learn nothing except know-

The subject matter of this book is notably close to the core of religion and to the core of 
scientific orthodoxy. The presuppositions - and most students need some instruction in 
what a presupposition looks like - are matters to be brought out into the open.

There is, however, another difficulty , almost peculiar to the American scene. Americans 
are, no doubt, as rigid in their presuppositions as any other people (and as rigid in these 
matters as the writer of this book), but they have a strange response to any articulate 
statement of presupposition. Such statement is commonly assumed to be hostile or 
mocking or - and this is the most serious - is heard to be authoritarian.

It thus happens that in this land founded for the freedom of religion, the teaching of 
religion is outlawed in the state educational system. Members of weekly religious families 
get together, of course , no religious training from any source outside the family.

Consequently, to make any statement of premise or presupposition in a formal and 
articulate way is to challenge the rather subtle resistance, not of contradiction, because 
the hearers do not know contradictory premises nor how to state them, but of the 
cultivated deafness that children use to keep out the pronouncements of parents , 
teachers and religious authorities.

Be all that as it may, I believe in the importance of scientific presuppositions, in the notion 
that there are better and worse ways of constructing scientific theories, and in insisting on 
the articulate statement of presuppositions so they may be improved.

Therefor, this chapter is devoted to a list of presuppositions, some familiar, some strange 
to readers whose thinking has been protected from the harsh notion that some 
presuppositions are simply wrong. Some tools of thought are so blunt that they are almost 
useless; others are so sharp that they are dangerous. But he wise man will have the use of 
both kinds.

It is worthwhile to attempt a tentative recognition of certain basic presuppositions which 
all minds must share or, conversely, to define mind by listing a number of such 
communicational characteristics."

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