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Being a Description of the World

By Eli Siegel


Science, as situation, is knowledge known to be had; as procedure, it is willed knowledge.

     There is no essential difference as such between knowledge of any kind and scientific knowledge. Science has been one of the concepts used dimly and needlessly and snobbishly by many people, unsure of themselves and working hard to appear sure.

     Suppose an old woman sees something about her cow and is correct; that is, gets to truth. Suppose a scientist, zealous for discovery, sees something about a cell and is incorrect in telling about it. Which has been more on the side of science, or of knowledge: the old woman of the cow, or the over-zealous scientist?

     Of course, it can be said the scientist still had a "method." It should, however, be made clear that what might be called "scientific method" can reach untruth and that what isn't "scientific method" can reach truth. Certainly the destination is important.

     The only difference between a scientific approach to truth and another approach is that when you're scientific, you know more that you want to know. As soon as you want to know something and you know you want to know it, you are scientific. This, of course, presumes that your purpose is really to know the truth. But the lack of such a deep purpose can occur as well in a laboratory, or in a scientific body, as among plain people.

     A person, then, is scientific: 1, when he goes after truth; 2, when he knows he's going after it; 3, when the opportunity to go after something else is not taken advantage of.

     Science, as I have implied, is knowledge aware of itself, or a going after knowledge aware of itself. Ed Tompkins was not scientific when he went into a cigar store and found that a new brand of cigarettes was on sale. His purpose in going into the store was to get a cigar which he could enjoy, not to ascertain the incoming of new brands of cigarettes. But if Ed Tompkins said: "It is a good thing to know how often a new brand of cigarettes comes on to the market," and each time he went into a cigar store, he knowingly looked for a new brand, or even asked about it, Mr. Tompkins would be impelled by the spirit of scientific endeavor. If his scientific endeavor took precedence over other aspects of human endeavor, Mr. Tompkins would be fortifying his special kind of scientific method.

     Whenever we know that we want to know, we are that much scientific. Whenever we say: "I know that I know," or think about it, we are scientific. Science as such has nothing to do with laboratories, graphs, footnotes, impressive terminology, and so on. All these appurtenances of contemporary scientific activity could go, and science would still be.

     Science has to do with intensity and ethics. If a man has all the laboratories in the world, and he doesn't truly feel that there is more pleasure and importance for him in knowing, he is not scientific. To say that there is more pleasure or use in knowing than in something else, is an ethical decision. For ethics is concerned with what is good for one. Science says that knowing as such is desirable. Science, therefore, is in its very nature, ethical. A scientist wants to know more than he wants other things; and he sees this wanting of other things as subsidiary to knowing. He has therefore said, Knowing is the principal good. He has made an ethical judgment.


© 1945 by Eli Siegel


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