2010 ACS Conference – The Mistake About the Social Sciences

The first talk of the conference was a discussion of the first chapter of What’s Wrong With the World? by Tom Martin, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Nebraska, Kearney. He started off with an examination of this little cartoon or illustration drawn by Chesterton himself.

What we have here is a man on his knees atop the world, examining it. The man is wearing glasses: he wants clear vision. He is using one of the fundamental tools of natural science: a magnifying glass. Clear vision is necessary, but he needs augmented vision to unlock the secrets of the natural world. Why is he on his knees? Maybe to get a closer look. Maybe because he submits himself to the truths he discovers. Maybe because he must bear the man straddling his head, who is not on his knees. This man is the Social Scientist. At least he fancies himself a scientist and pretends to use the tools of science. He examines the scientist, not the world. Chesterton thinks “Social Science” is a contradiction in terms.

Martin says this seems to be all but accepted by today’s Social Scientists. He points out the argument in favor of university Fill-in-Your-Favorite-Social-Group Studies programs. Where does this come from and where does it lead? On its own terms to adsurdity! Consider:

  1. Science is the attmpt to discover underlying principles in the object studied.
  2. Every nationality or culture has a distinct set of underlying principles or point of view
  3. No point of view is better than any other point of view
  4. Every point of view should be studied carefully
  5. Every society is composed of its members
  6. But we observe that every individual person has a distinct point of view
  7. But 3 and 4 are true
  8. Therefore there is no underlying principle of a society
  9. But the point of science is to discover underlyine principles
  10. Therefore there can be no no Social Science

And I note that many universities have closed their Sociology Departments. Hmmmmmm.

I think I understood Martin to say that Chesterton had said that it is impossible to use the tools of natural science to study man, his motives, his feelings because these are unnatural things, they are peculiar to the soul of man and natural science can’t study anything immaterial. If you really want to study man, you must study his art, his literature, his poetry and music, film and paintings, sculpture and games. In these things we will find out what the man feels and what motivates him. It can’t be seen looking at his head even with the latest computerized magnifying glasses.


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