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The object of social sciences, man, is self-interpretive, whereas physical science is, in effect a subject. The social science involve what Anthony Giddens has called a “double hermeneutic” what looks like as a relevant fact of feature is dependent on the interpretation of both researchers and the people being studied. In the natural sciences only a “single hermeneutic” is at work, that of the researchers since physical objects do not “answer back”. The self-interpretations of people being studied in the social science are inherently unpredictable because they are always, already context dependent and cannot be reduced to a set of rules. Predictive theory must be context independent and rule based, other wise the independence, of specific time and space required for predictions cannot be established. “Social theory” cannot be context independent because what counts as a relevant feature to the theory is context dependent. There goes the epistemic ideal and the possibility that some day the social sciences can be constructed, based on cumulative refinements of theory, like the natural sciences (Flyvbjerg, 1993: 16).

To many this conclusion will be unacceptable since from a conventional point of view the very identity and reason for practicing science is to be found in the epistemic ideal. A sounder basis for the social sciences can in my judgement be found in a contemporary interpretation of the concept of phronesis. In a discussion of the difference between different kind of sciences in relation to episteme and phronesis, Aristotle explicitly states that “the political sciences are species of prudence (phronesis)”, and that sound sciences in this area cannot be based on episteme. Being an accomplished scientist and in the epistemic sense of the word is not enough when it comes to political sciences since “although people develop ability in geometry and mathematics and become wise in such matters, they are not thought to develop prudence (phronesis)”. The role of political scientists, according to Aristotle, is to clarify values, and on this basis, deliberate about what is good for man and society. Just as phronesis is considered the most important amongst intellectual virtues, so for Aristotle, is social science indispensable to a well functioning society, because “it is impossible to secure ones own interests, independently of ’political’ (social) science”.

Social science and natural science have their strength and weaknesses along fundamentally different dimensions and should not be compared on the single dimension of episteme. The social science have much to contribute to social, economic, technological, ecological, political, and cultural development when practiced as phronesis, but little when practiced as episteme. This, of course, renders the endless but futile attempts at making these sciences epistemic all the more unfortunate because they take up resources that could be used meaningful elsewhere. The natural sciences, vice versa, have a proven track record of comparatively cumulative and stable epistemic results but, have very little to offer as phronesis, in relation to the most pressing issues of the day. These issues often being a result of natural science made instrumental in technologies with negative side effects on nature and society (Flyvbjerg, 1993: 16).

The human being as a meaning seeking individual with virtually incalculable combinations and permutations of possible genetic variation manifesting in a physical mental and emotional unique and complex being, which is also goal directed and inspiring; influenced by social, cultural and religious values and motivation; regulated by reason and free to choose, is therefore not suitable for epistemic, scientific study in his execution of his life task. He can be studied, at best as a phenomena, whose actions is partly dependent on genetic programming and will thus be rule regulated, based on science in so far as we can unlock the complex interdependence of the genetic coding with the understanding of their interdependence on environmental influences; the variation in mental capabilities to make meaningful choices on required knowledge (also quality and quantity relative), and also with a degree of character integrity that is reached which will determine, the corresponding degree of correctibility of behaviour that reasonably can be expected.

If we then take episteme as universal knowledge, we see that in genetics, biology, physiology, biochemistry, chemistry and physics in so far as they relate to the human bodily functions, then episteme has a place in human understanding. Techne described as “a productive state that is truly reasoned” one can add the productive human to this category, which actions should be explainable through episteme and reasonable choices, although this was not Aristotle’s idea. Phronesis concerns “actions with regard to things that are good or bad for man” this is based mainly on values and man’s choices, at least for Aristotle, and represent the value rational “function” that is unique to mankind.

Aristotle reminds us that if something arises in us by nature, we must have the capacity for it, and only later we might display the activity. Our genetic disposition therefore will determine the capacity. “Virtue or thought arises and grows mostly from teaching, and hence it needs experience and time.” The virtue of thought has three dimensions. Firstly it is based on individual capacity, secondly it develops with teaching and experience, and thirdly it is a function of time, which suggests growth to maturity over one’s lifespan.

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