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Criteria of Truth in Science and Theology1

  • Mary Hesse (a1)


Faced with what he saw as the danger to society in the ascendancy of natural science and decline in religion and morals, the great French sociologist Emile Durkheim sought the origins of both religion and science in their function in primitive societies as guarantors of social solidarity. In contrast to Frazer, Tylor, and other early anthropologists, he looked for the internal intelligibility of myth and ritual in social terms, rather than regarding them just as failed attempts to state objective truths about the natural world of the same kind as those later arrived at by natural science. One does not have to accept Durkheim's ultimately atheistic identification of God with Society, nor the politically authoritarian consequences which have some-times been held to follow from this identification, to see that Durkheim has raised a set of issues of crucial importance for a discussion of science and the myths and doctrines of religion. For what he has done is to reintroduce a third factor into the perennial and by now rather frustrating dichotomy between science and religion, namely society and the sciences of man. It is some consequences of this approach that I want to explore in this paper.



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page 385 note 2 Especially in The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, English ed. London, 1915.

page 386 note 1 Works, ed. Spedding, J. and Ellis, R. L., London, Vol. IV, p. 32.

page 387 note 1 Works, ed. Spedding, J. and Ellis, R. L., London, Vol. IV, p. 365.

page 388 note 1 For useful discussions see Rationality, ed. Wilson, B. R., Oxford, 1970, and Modes of Thought, ed. Horton, R. and , R. Finnegan, London, 1973. Philosophical presuppositions of the concept of ‘truth within a system’ have been developed in the work of W. v. O. Quine: see especially Ontological Relativity and other Essays, New York, 1969.

page 388 note 2 The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 2nd ed.Chicago, 1970.

page 389 note 1 For a similar interpretation of natural science, see , J. Habermas, Knowledge and Human Interests, English ed., London, 1972, especially chaps. 5, 6 and Appendix. I have attempted to develop in more detail the concept of scientific truth implied in this paper in my Structure of Scientific Inference, London, 1974.

page 394 note 1 For useful discussions of objectivity and value in the social sciences, see Readings in the Philosophy of the Social Sciences, ed. Brodbeck, M., New York and London, 1968, part two; , R. Dahrendorf, Homo Sociologicus, London, 1973; MacIntyre, A., Against the Self-images of the Age, London, 1971; Mannheim, K., Ideology and Utopia, London, 1936; Myrdal, G., Objectivity in Social Research, London, 1970; Rex, J., Key Problems of Sociological Theory, London, 1970.

page 394 note 2 English ed., London, 1972.

page 396 note 1 As presented in Althuser, L. and Balibar, E., Reading Capital, English ed., London, 1970.

page 387 note 3 The Order of Things, English ed., London, 1970, p. 385.

1 This paper was presented at the Conference on ‘The Doctrine of Creation’ held by the Society for the Study of Theology, in Edinburgh, 8–11 April, 1975. I am grateful for the comments of the participants in discussion on that occasion, and also at the D Society in Cambridge on 9 May 1975.

Criteria of Truth in Science and Theology1

  • Mary Hesse (a1)


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