Michael Kuhn – Arguing about theories and political opinions

Corona Virus blog 7: The social sciences, how scientific thinking works I

“Hi Michael,

I think it is an excellent idea to have a video conference about the corona virus policies. However, the problem might be the timing of the conference. It might be too early to fully figure out already now, how the world will be after the Covid 19. I am quite sure it will be much clearer towards the end of 2020. To have a serious meeting for reconsidering the current social system and the future alternatives to it, thinking about all this might make much more sense, I guess. 

Best wishes


Dear NN,

thanks a lot for your considerations. Your response raises a couple of questions for me, since what you write reminds me of a famous saying of Marx, which is “Philosophers have always only interpreted the world and never changed it.”

To think about a “serious meeting” better at the end of this year, because by then things “will be much clearer towards the end of 2020“, makes me asking this:

1. Do I understand you correctly that thinking about today’s reality is only possible looking backwards, which is, “serious” theorizing means ex-post interpreting the reality?

Then: Scientific thinking about the reality now as it is now, is this not serious thinking?

2. If this ex-post interpretation aims at, as you write, “reconsidering the current social system and the future alternatives to it”, and if this can only be done “seriously”  ex-post, that is by looking backwards, that is, after the world has changed, this raises a few more questions to me about this concept of theorizing:

a) Is, then, serious thinking about future alternatives ever possible? According to what you say:  Since at the end of this year, there is a new reality and in the logic of what you write, we must then, end of this year and the changed reality, shift thinking towards the year after, does this mean that thinking about any future alternatives related to things that are bothering us now, must after all be shifted towards eternity – and that means never?

b) Then, what is this thinking at all about, if it cannot be about today, but must be better ex-post always looking backwards and looking backwards is to think about the future? Is the serious thinking about alternatives of the way we live today, is this then the creation of spiritual visions about any tomorrow, visions backed up by a view on the yesterday? In other words, only if the reality end of this year, allows us to prove that our fantasy ideas created looking back towards the now  and are thus backed up by a meanwhile – possibly – changed reality, then serious thinking can create future views on the world, which can be then reasoned by the new reality. Does this mean that only if the reality has changed towards what we want to change, we can change the reality? Which means, all our thoughts about any other realties must already exist in reality to think about them, and that is, that nothing is more superfluous as thinking, no?

c) And, moreover, if we have to wait for the reality after what bothers us now to seriously think about alternatives to the now, then our thinking never helps to prevent anything that is bothering us now, today, no? In other words, is this thinking then only about telling us that we must always accept what is happening now and thinking about alternative ways of living must ever remain any scientifically supported dreamy visions about a future? Visions, we must know, must always be visions? What then, again, is the use of this thinking?

3. And all this implies some other assumptions, to mention only a few more:

a) The making of the world of today and of tomorrow, is, I conclude, not the business of scientists, not anything into which scientists intervene. Scientists only observe and interpret ex-post, more precisely, create fantasy views about the future through looking at the past. And if they must always wait for the future to look at the past, this future is meanwhile always made by others, thus the now and the tomorrow is a made something, scientists do not play any role in? In other words, scientists work on the basis of a social division of labour, which is that there are other people ( I think I know who they are, people who are the decision makers in this society) who make the now and the future, who make our future, and the most knowledgeable scientists in our societies tell the  people that they must accept this by waiting with thinking about the now until the time after and these scientists provide for accepting the reality now, about which everybody is told that we all have no influence on, these knowledgeable scientists provide thanks to their serious ex-post reflections through the past dreams about the future, which for sure have no influence on the reality, neither today nor tomorrow, except that these dreams make people accept to cope with the today.

4. Admittedly, the social sciences are not the Philosophies Marx was talking about. But reading what you write about how social sciences create their serious scientific knowledge, I ask myself, is the whole difference between the social sciences, which criticised the philosophies for never looking at the realities, and the classical philosophies may be only this, that the classical Philosophies interpreted the world through their visions they gained from their ideas about the world, while the social sciences interpret the world through visions they insist they must find in they must find in their ex post interpretations of the world, which are of course visions which are never perfectly performed in todays reality, but at least this reality is always on its way towards them; after all, social sciences thinking is critical thinking and not simplistically affirmative. So, one could, say using Marx’s words, that the social sciences always interpret the world, after the politicians have changed it.

These are just a few questions and conclusions, there are many more, from what you say about how to seriously reflect on the world, forever postponed to the tomorrows, while others make the world we have to cope with, thanks to our seriously knowledgeable scientists. 

(By the way, a very interesting concept what social science theorizing is all about, and a concept, that coincides with what I wrote in my recent book about “How the social sciences think…..”)

All the best to you and take care about your health – please do at least not postpone this to the end of this year.


What the views are about the socials sciences get from interpreting the past towards the future, this is the topic of the next Corona blog 8. ” The social sciences and their post-reality visions” II






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