Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Notes on the Ethos of Research

I'm putting together some thoughts on research ethics. This morning, I'd simply like to present to two longish quotations—one from Heidegger's "The Age of the World Picture", and the other from Foucault's Archaeology of Knowledge. I think Foucault acknowledged a profound debt to Heidegger late in life, and I hope you'll be able to recognize the affinity between these two passages almost immediately.

First, then, Heidegger:

What is taking place in this extending and consolidating of the institutional character of the sciences? Nothing less than the making secure of the precedence of methodology over whatever is (nature or history), which at any given time becomes objective in research. On the foundation of their character as ongoing activity, the sciences are creating for themselves the solidarity and unity appropriate to them. Therefore historiographical or archeological research that is carried forward in an institutional way is essentially closer to research in physics that is similarly organized than it is to a discipline belonging to its own faculty in the humanistic sciences that still remains mired in mere erudition. Hence the decisive development of the modern character of science as ongoing activity also forms men of a different stamp. The scholar disappears. He is succeeded by the research man who is engaged in research projects. These, rather than the cultivating of erudition, lend to his work its atmosphere of incisiveness. The research man no longer needs a library at home. Moreover, he is constantly on the move. He negotiates at meetings and collects information at congresses. He contracts for commissions with publishers. The latter now determine along with him which books must be written. (QT, p. 125)

Next, Foucault:

The history of ideas usually credits the discourse that it analyses with coherence. If it happens to notice an irregularity in the use of words, several incompatible propositions, a set of meanings that do not adjust to one another, concepts that cannot be systematized together, then it regards as its duty to find, at a deeper level, a principle of cohesion that organizes the discourse and restores to it its hidden unity. This law of coherence is a heuristic rule, a procedural obligation, almost a moral constraint of research: not to multiply contradictions uselessly; not to be taken in by small differences; not to give too much weight to changes, disavowals, returns to the past, and polemics; not to suppose that men's discourse is perpetually undermined from within by the contradiction of their desires, the influences they have been subjected to, or the conditions in which they live; but to admit that if they speak, and if they speak among themselves, it is rather to overcome these conditions, and to find the point from which they will be mastered. (AK, p. 149)

Jonathan has been writing about his "formative" experiences on his blog lately. In thinking about research ethics, I want to begin with the way the institution and organization of modern research forms us, subjects us to certain influences. It is the way we deal with these conditions, I want to argue, that tells us what our ethics are, what our "procedural obligations" and "moral constraints" are. It is what gives modern research both its unity and its incisiveness.

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