3. Philosophy of Science with the Marxist Bent

Taketani's Theory of the Three Stages

When we talk about the philosophy of science in Japan, we cannot neglect the Marxist philosophy of science; because it already exited before the war, and many scientists are influenced by it, especially after the war. By far the biggest name in this trend is Mitsuo Taketani (1911-). He learned physics in Kyoto University, and published a theory of the Three Stages of Scientific Development (1936). The word "Three Stages" reminds us of a Hegelian-Marxist scheme; but Taketani gave an ingenious twist to this scheme and tried to look the history of science in the light of his theory. This theory says that the progress of science takes the following three stages: (1) phenomenological stage, (2) substance-theory stage, and (3) essence-theory stage. And these three stages should be not understood as static but dynamic: if a theory reaches the third stage (essence-theory), a new cycle (or spiral, because it goes up) may begin by regarding the "essence" of the third stage as a new "phenomena" on a higher level.

Although it is rather hard to make sense of this theory in this abstract form, it is quite similar to the Hegelian dialectic which goes through Thesis, Antithesis, and Synthesis, repeating anew, at a higher level, the same cycle. And let me remind you that Hegelians and Marxists praise "dialectic logic", and denounce "formal logic" as merely static and doing injustice to the dynamic nature of history and reality*. However, personally, I have never seen any intelligible explanation or reconstruction of "dialectic logic" which convinces me that we need something over and above the ordinary logic ("formal logic", but it is far more refined than that which was known by Hegel or Marx). I have already mentioned Hidekichi Nakamura, who tried to unify the Maxism with the logical empiricism. When he was young, he sometimes talked about dialectic logic; but after a certain age, I have never heard him talking about dialectic logic. He was sticking to analysis in terms of "formal logic" which is quite intelligible to me!

*Note on dialectic. Since I am sympathetic neither to Hegelian philosophy nor to Marxist philosophy, I cannot give my own explanation of "dialectic"; I will borrow a brief account from The Dictionary of Hegel (in Japanese), ed. by. H.Kato and others, Kobunndo, 1992. The author of this article is Takashi Shimazaki, and I will extract and reconstruct the relevant part as sympathetically as possible, often inserting my own supplement.

The word "dialectic" has a long history. According to Greek tradition, dialectic means a method of inquiry by means of dialogue, presumably between persons of different opinions. The Hegelian dialectic has several origins, and by far the most important is the line of German Idealism, originating from Kant, to Fichte and Schelling. For instance, in Kant's discussion of Antinomies (in The Critique of Pure Reason), two propositions, called Thesis and Antithesis, are put forward with equally convincing force, but the two are contradictory, i.e. if one is true, the other cannot be true. For example,

Thesis: The world has a beginning in time, and is also limited as regards space.

Antithesis: The world has no beginning, and no limits in space; it is infinite as regards both time and space.

And Kant resolves this "contradiction" by his own philosophy; once we realize that each proposition has certain limitations beyond which its validity cannot be extended, the "contradiction" turns out to be apparent, and everything is OK! Kant uses the word "dialectic" for discussions showing all this.

Now, according to Hegel, dialectic is a method of Wissenshcaft (broader connotation than "science"), but it is not a "formal" method applied "externally" to objects; instead, it is the "spirit" of those objects themselves (what does that mean? Don't ask me!).

Dialectic has the following sort of structure: beginning, development, and end; the first, the denial of the first, and the denial of the second; the immediate, the mediated, and the recovery of the immediate. The point is, the second term is a "denial" of the first and, at the same time, a bridge to the third; and the third is a recovery of the first on a "higher" level.

For example, a baby is in the beginning and has the human faculties as a potentiality; a young man, developping his own faculties, suffers from the discrepancies ("contradictions"?) between ideals and actualities; but a grown-up sees the actualities by means of reason and conciliate the ideals with them. The grown-up comes back to the unity (or simplicity?) of the baby, but he has the insight that the world has the dynamic and lively unity despite the existence of many contraditions.

(Well, can you make sense of this? Personally, I think this is a mere metaphor; not an explanation of logic. For a more dtailed exposition of Hegel's logic, see "Hegel", Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.)

Examples of the Three Stages

According to Taketani, two of the most interesting problems of physics are the solar system and the structure of atoms; the former led to the Newtonian mechanics, the latter to quantum mechanics. And if we study these two closely, we can see how the idealistic conceptions of science such as Mach's is wrong; science is far more than an economic system of thought for organizing our sense experiences. Taketani asserts that science may start from descriptions of our experience----this is the phenomenological stage----, but it does not end there. Next, science asks what sort of substance may make up the objects of experience, and what sort of structure it may have----this is the stage of substance-theory. And this second stage necessarily mediates the question of the essence of that substance and the phenomena----this is the stage of essence-theory.

Astronomy started from observations of stars, and their movements and observable regularities seen from the earth----phenomena----were described, sometimes by means of mathematics. This is the phenomenological stage. But people had to introduce various things, such as the constituents of the universe or their structures, in order to obtain Kepler's laws; these laws are phenomenological laws but the inquiry reached the stage of substance-theory which necessitates the consideration of the essence of such regularities and movements. And finally came Newton; he discovered the inverse square law which determines the attractive force between any two bodies in the universe. Such forces are the essence of the solar system, and the Newtonian mechanics belongs to the stage of essence-theory.

Then, what about the quantum mechanics? Mere empirical descriptions, such as energy distributions of heat radiation or laws of spectra, cannot lead directly to quantum mechanics, however well they may be organized. We have got to introduce such substantive elements as photon or electrton or atom, and their structures; this is the stage of substance-theory. Only with the mediation of this second stage, quantum mechanics could reach the final stage; that is the determination of the wave equation underlying all quantum phenomena, and the systematization of the whole field.

Later I will briefly touch upon some of the analytic philosopher's criticisms of dialectic, and of Taketani's Three Stage theory. But before that, I wish to add a couple of notes about Taketani. Taketani was working as a nuclear physicist, but he was jailed twice during the war because of his anti-fascism activities; and after the war, he criticized the governmental policies for atomic enrgy. He also discussed the problem of the social responsibilities of scientists from his point of view, well before the Japanese followers of "new philosophy of science" turned their attention to such problems. He is quite consistent before and after the war. His theory of the Three Stages was influencial among the scientists who were sympathetic to Marxism; and it seems that there are still some supporters, because Taketani's terminology can be seen every now and then among scientists' writings.

[to be continued.....]

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šPhilosophy of Science in Japan 5

(c) Soshichi Uchii. Revised, April 21, 1998; last modified April 19, 2006.