Imperialism and Peace, Science and Freedom
“There is an intimate connection between science and freedom, the individual freedom of the scientist being only a small corollary; freedom is the recognition of necessity; science is the cognition of necessity.” – states D. D. Kosambi, in his essay Imperialism and Peace, Science and Freedom.
The essay is part of the collection titled Exasperating Essays which was brought out by People's Publishing House, New Delhi, in 1957. It was first published in the New York-based magazine Monthly Review in November 1952.
In this 4,275-word essay, Kosambi, a mathematician and Marxist historian (born on July 31, 1907 in Goa, then under Portuguese rule), argues that ‘scientific freedom’ has always been determined by the interests of the ruling class of that era, and that the same applies for science of the modern era. The freedom that science needs most, he asserts, is the “…freedom from servitude to a particular class.”
Kosambi notes that in
1949, he observed that American scientists and intellectuals were concerned about
the diminishing freedom of the scientist to “…do what he liked while being
paid by big business, war departments, or universities whose funds tended to
come more and more from one or the other source.”
Scientific observation has displaced certain functions that art and ritual performed at one time. Primitive ritual, Kosambi states, was a substitute for what we now call scientific theory. That workers worship their tools once a year is a custom that can be traced to the oldest known times, “…but lathes, turbines, electric motors and railway trains have made it clear that there is none of the workman's personal mana that resides in the tool.”
In science, practice and theory cannot be divorced. Science is materialistic – it is the direct investigation of matter. The results of scientific inquiries are independent of the individuals carrying them out, and the same action gives identical results. Kosambi states: “This does not mean that scientists have never held a wrong theory, but only that they keep on making better and better approximations to the truth, knowing that there is no final truth simply because the properties of matter are infinite and inexhaustible.”
Religion develops from ritual when primitive society acquires a class structure. Similarly, science is also a social development. The scientific method is not eternal, and science came into being only when the new class structure of society made it necessary.
Modern science came to be in the machine age, which could not develop without science, and which, in turn, contributed to scientific discovery. The fundamental connection between machine production and science is that both are cumulative. Science is cumulative in that every important scientific discovery is absorbed into the body of scientific knowledge. On the other hand, “…the machine accumulates human labour time towards the fulfilment of a specific human purpose.”
Kosambi states that modern science is the creation of the bourgeoisie. Modern science made it possible to create a new class which can produce goods efficiently without much training, and whose surplus labour can be appropriated by an employer.
Science, therefore, is not just the creation of gifted individuals. There are gifted individuals in every age and society, but the manner in which they exercise these gifts depends upon their environment and the language that they think in. Kosambi notes: “The weight, the significance of a scientific discovery depends solely upon its importance to society.” A discovery that has been assimilated into scientific theory is reduced to the level of useful technique.
Kosambi calls science the theology of the bourgeoisie – “The scientist must remain comparatively poor like the monk, but is admired, admitted to the board of the capitalist baron just as the cleric was to that of the feudal lord. His discoveries must be patentable, but he rarely makes the millions.”
There is no reason for science to remain bound any longer to the class that brought it into existence. The scientist needs freedom from servitude to a particular class. “Only in science planned for the benefit of all mankind, not for bacteriological, atomic, psychological or other mass warfare can the scientist be really free” – says Kosambi.
Focus and Factoids by Aley J. Pallickaparambil.
D. D. Kosambi
People's Publishing House, New Delhi