Correction of the French baccalauréat de philo 2019, extract from Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion (1927).
Science has many declared enemies, and even more hidden ones, among those who cannot forgive it for having robbed the religious faith of its strength and for threatening this faith with total ruin. They reproach him for having taught us very little and for having left incomparably more in the dark. But they forget, in speaking thus, the extreme youth of science, the difficulty of its beginnings, and the infinite brevity of the time that has elapsed since the human intellect was strong enough to face the tasks it proposes. Do we not, all of us, commit the fault of taking as the basis of our judgments too short periods of time? We should follow the example of geologists. We complain about the uncertainty of science, we accuse it of promulgating today a law that the next generation recognizes as an error and replaces it with a new law that will not be in effect any longer. But these accusations are unjust and partly false. The transformation of scientific opinions is evolution, progress, not demolition. A law, which was at first held to be universally valid, is revealed to be only a particular case of a still more general law (or legality), or its domain is seen to be bounded by another law, which is discovered only later; one rough approximation to the truth is replaced by another, more carefully adapted to reality, an approximation which will have to wait to be perfected in its turn. In various fields, we have not yet passed the phase of investigation, a phase in which we try various hypotheses which we are soon forced, as inadequate, to reject. But in others we already have a core of assured and almost immutable knowledge.
Sigmund Freud,The Future of an Illusion(1927)
Science has many declared enemies, and even more hidden enemies, among those who cannot forgive it for having robbed the religious faith of its strength and for threatening this faith with total ruin.
Science, of which Sigmund Freud claims to be the author, has inflicted several humiliations on religion. Whether it be Copernicus, Galileo, or Darwin, all these authors have contributed to limiting the sphere of influence of religion in relation to science.
You could then quote this sentence of Galileo on the science/religion duo:“The intention of the Holy Spirit is to teach us how to go to heaven and not how heaven goes.“Galileo, Letter to Christine of Lorraine, 1615.
He is reproached for having taught us very little and for having left incomparably more in the dark.
Sigmund Freud shares the criticisms addressed to science. Among the criticisms, the one of making us see incomparably more mysteries, rather than solving the mysteries that were presented to us. But is this not what the progress of science consists in? To make us see, each day more and more, how ignorant we are, taking up Socrates’ thought: I know that I know nothing, and which becomes then the first science of the man: to know his ignorance.
Do we not commit, all of us, the fault of taking as a basis of our judgments too short periods of time?
The question is that of the short term and the long term, as well as the distance necessary to analyze an object. We are in an era that is too confused with that of scientific discoveries, and we lack the necessary distance.
We are accused of promulgating today a law that the next generation recognizes as an error and replaces it with a new law that will not be in force for much longer.
It is on the occasion of this passage extremely relevant to quote Kuhn, who proposes us the concept of scientific revolution, and that of change of paradigm.
a rough approximation of the truth is replaced by another one, more carefully adapted to the reality
For Sigmund Freud, it is not that scientific theories or teachings become false, as they are overtaken by progress, but rather that they become more refined.
In various fields, we have not yet passed the phase of the investigation. But in others we already have a core of assured and almost immutable knowledge.
In the conclusion of this extract, Sigmund Freud calls us to humility and modesty. We are only at the beginning of scientific discoveries. However, the treasure we have accumulated is in some areas already very strong. The immutable truth of René Descartes, “I am, I exist”, the starting point of any philosophy or any knowledge or any science could be mentioned. And the discovery or rediscovery of the unconscious, by Sigmund Freud himself, could then have brought relief to this affirmation.
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