Flat White

Science and morality: woke universities have lost their way

9 January 2022

4:00 AM

9 January 2022

4:00 AM

Imagine if you can, a place where children are reared to adulthood, educated from kindergarten to year 12, before heading off to university. There, they study a course on offer and then embark on a career to participate in civic life as a responsible and virtuous citizen.

Would it surprise you to know that such a place does not currently exist in Australia or the United Kingdom (and only marginally in the USA)?

Universities offer a number of different streams of learning, each of which holds the promise of employable qualifications or useful scientific knowledge. On the one hand, students can study natural science, learning the mathematical laws that control matter and the energy that binds it. With that knowledge, they can invent machines that cure, machines that kill millions, and technology that can almost ‘think’ – it just depends on the scientist’s preference.

Today’s students will have to learn the answers to science’s moral questions from their fathers before they come under the influence of professors who know little to nothing about what is good for mankind.

The essence of ‘science’ is practicality and utility; which means when the theory has been worked out, it has to be turned into a product.

Once Einstein had completed the maths, physicists knew that the energy binding atoms together would, if released, result in an enormous bang – deciding how to release it was the last step before Nagasaki. Natural science is mathematical and amoral, even though the mere survival of human beings requires that they live moral lives together.

On the one the hand, students can study man and society in the social sciences; theories about changes to early man (anthropology), changes to society over time (history), changes to societies (sociology), the causes of individual actions (psychology), or society’s control of people’s actions through law.

The unifying principle of both these knowledge streams is science – mathematical science. Isaac Newton in the 17th century laid down the rules for the new science of nature that he called ‘physics’, but it wasn’t until mid-19th century that a French philosopher, Auguste Comte, theorised about a science of man modelled on Newton’s physics. He called that science ‘sociology’ and his scientific theory, ‘positivism’.

Newton’s physics was mathematical, so it was ill-suited to the discovery of any laws of ethics or morality. These ideas were of little concern when his physics described the effect of forces like gravity. The concern became greater as physics began to understand hidden molecular forces.

Comte’s positivism assumed that only mathematical science was objective; people’s reasons for choosing to act morally were assumed to be subjective – the result of our feelings about good and bad. Comte may have thought that his sociology would also provide scientific rules about moral principles, but that impossibility means that every social sciences student learns that all values are subjective; no ifs, no buts, no questions, no maybes.

Comte believed that no positive science could be understood without understanding its history, which means that the study of physics should include the history of man. The ultimate resolution of positivism has been a theory of history which concluded that all human thought is relative to the time; that there are no such thing as a ‘universal standards of morals’, or even human nature as it is always evolving and changing. This idea started with Kant and Hegel, but it was Marx and Nietzsche who gave history its most pronounced emphasis with diabolical results.

Wherever you look, universities are no longer concerned with an investigation of such questions; so it is little wonder that children come out of university worse than when they went in. If students have any criticism to make of society, it is a Marxist-based critique of free enterprise and an obscure emphasis on the absolute equality of everyone, despite the fact that some actually fail their courses while others excel.

If students leave university with moral principles, they are the lessons learned from parental instruction. For the rest, they merely repeat the values of the university professors that were infused into their receptive brains while they slept.

If you want the full story of this change, you can download a free copy of the bestseller The Closing of the American Mind by Professor Allan Bloom, an American political scientist. It was so accurate that it enjoyed the rare privilege of being criticised by American academics from both the left and right. Yet it enjoyed popularity among ordinary parents who wanted to know why their children had changed; Bloom showed where the path back to reason lay.

The path back can still be obtained, but it is being undermined by the use of texts from Oxbridge, which, like all English Universities, has such an unquestioning commitment to positivist science that their literature carries it like a Covid virus from which students seldom recover.

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