We have seen that Wallerstein calls for the reorganization of history and the social sciences into a single enterprise that he suggests calling historical social science. I concur that we need to reunify history and the social sciences. The divisions of the disciplines; including the separation of the past from the present, of political and economic institutions from each other and from culture, and of different nations and regions of the world; are dysfunctional for understanding the modern world-system, that is, the world in which we live.
In addition, the development of historical social science must include reflections on philosophical questions. First, it must include efforts to understand the good. As Wallerstein has noted, one of the unfortunate consequences of the development of knowledge in the modern West has been its separation of the search for the true from the search for the good (2004:71; 2006:63). Secondly, it must include epistemological reflection, a search for an understanding of understanding itself, a formulation of methodological guidelines for arriving at understanding. Wallerstein also has expressed this need for methodological guidelines (2004:42). As a result, I like to call the enterprise that we need to create “philosophical historical social science.”
Moreover, the philosophical historical social science that we need to create must be universal, that is, it must be affirmed as valid by the peoples and movements of the world. I used to call this “objectivity,” but objectivity can imply an understanding that is eternal and characterized by certainty, and the universality that I have in mind has neither. A universal understanding is not eternal, because new developments in theory and in reality can lead to a modification or a reformulation, and because we are describing and analyzing a reality that itself is evolving. And we cannot know with certainty that a universal understanding is correct, because there may be relevant questions that we have not thought to ask. But a universal understanding, in being affirmed as correct by the peoples and movements of the world, has a high probability of being correct. Thus, universal knowledge is an evolving knowledge, and it is the most advanced expression of which humans, seeking common understanding in solidarity, are capable in a particular stage in human economic and cultural development. Universal knowledge in this evolving sense, which is neither eternal nor certain, but which provides a reasoned foundation for human action, is both possible and necessary in the present historic moment, in which we confront the terminal structural crisis of the world-system. Therefore, inasmuch as the enterprise that we need to create seeks universal understanding of the true, the right, and the good, I like to call it “universal philosophical historical social science.”
The formation of a universal philosophical historical social science is not an idealistic hope. It is in fact being formed today by intellectuals, academics, and charismatic leaders of the Third World movements for a more just and democratic world-system. I will explore this further in subsequent posts. For the moment I focus on method.
The development of a universal philosophical historical social science requires different methods for intellectuals and academics of the North and the South. For intellectuals of the South, it requires ties and commitments to the popular movements, leaving aside the assumptions, beliefs, and practices of higher education in the North, in spite of the prestige and career opportunities associated with higher education in the North. For intellectuals of the North, it requires cross-horizon encounter with the movements of the Third World, in spite of the pressures from the bureaucratized universities and the prevailing cultural premises of the North to not take seriously the understandings of the true and the good being formulated by the Third World movements, their intellectuals, and their charismatic leaders (see “What is personal encounter?” 7/25/2013; “What is cross-horizon encounter?” 7/26/2013; “Overcoming the colonial denial” 7/29/2013; “Wallerstein and world-systems analysis” 3/25/2014).
In formulating the concept of cross-horizon encounter, I have drawn upon the Catholic philosopher Bernard Lonergan. Lonergan’s cognitional theory addressed the question of certainty, one of the epistemological issues emerging from the evolution from Newtonian physics to quantum mechanics and relativity. Lonergan’s basic question was: How do we know what we know? In Insight (1958), Lonergan reviews the various branches of human knowledge, including mathematics, science and common sense, in order to address this question. He maintains that what is common to all branches of knowledge is that they address relevant questions. In addressing relevant questions, the subject (the person with a desire to understand) can experience that the answers to the questions are reinforcing one another. Thus the subject is aware that the formulation, which by now may have gone through various modifications or even reformulations, has a high probability of being correct. Lonergan thus arrives at a definition of objective knowledge: knowledge is objective when the subject knows that there is a high probability that the formulation is correct. Lonergan recognizes that there may be further relevant questions that future discoveries, events, and development could provoke. Thus, knowledge is never certain. But an insight can have a high probability of being correct.
There is the problem of ethnocentrism, in which people of a particular ethnic group or culture may experience a convergence of answers to questions, but they have not addressed relevant questions that have occurred to people in other cultures. Although Lonergan does not use the term “ethnocentrism,” he implicitly addresses the issue in Method in Theology (1973), where he formulates the concepts of “personal encounter” and “horizon.” He maintains that the lack of awareness of relevant questions by the subject can be overcome through personal encounter with persons of other horizons, where personal encounter involves meeting persons and taking seriously their understandings; and where horizon refers to the cultural boundaries that shape the limits of consciousness.
I take Lonergan’s cognitional theory to be of pivotal importance for universal philosophical historical social science. It addresses the issue of ethnocentrism, by establishing a fundamental method for overcoming it: cross-horizon encounter. It addresses the issue of certainty, through a epistemological understanding that provides us with a reasonable middle ground between, on the one hand, the absolute certainty that in pre-modern world-systems was established by revelation and in modernity was established by Newton’s laws; and on the other hand, a radical relativism that asserts that there is no possible basis for knowing the truth, that all is a matter of interpretation, and interpretations are relative to the person and to the social position of the person.
I view these notions taken from Lonergan as being of significance not only for addressing the issue of cultural differences in human understanding, but also addressing the issue of the power differentials among the various cultures of the world-system. They imply a methodological guideline for the powerful and the privileged (the upper class) as well as the relatively privileged (the middle class of the core): seek personal encounter with persons from the dominated, exploited and oppressed classes and nations. More than a methodological guideline for philosophers, historians, and social scientists, it is a moral imperative for all who desire to understand, and particularly if they desire to understand issues related to inequalities in the world-system.
Taking into account that the point of view of the dominated is most clearly formulated in the social movements that they have formed, we arrive at the formulation that we intellectuals of the North must seek personal encounter with the social movements formed by the dominated, if we desire to understand. This applies to any dominated class, group, or sector. But of course of particular importance for today is encounter with the revolutionary Third World national liberation movements of the twentieth century and today, because these social movements have been constructing in theory and in practice an alternative world system.
I view cross-horizon encounter with the social movements of the dominated as a methodological guideline for universal philosophical historical social science. Does it seem like too much? It only appears to be so, because we in the North are so isolated from events in the Third World, where they are constructing an alternative world-system, including its values and its epistemological consensus. But this isolation increasingly will be undermined by the world around us, particularly by the deepening structural crisis of the world-system and by the emergence from below of alternative political-economic institutions, values, and epistemological premises.
Lonergan, Bernard. 1958. Insight. New York: Philosophical Library.
__________. 1973. Method in Theology, 2nd edition. New York: Herder and Herder.
McKelvey, Charles. 1991. “The Cognitional Theory of Bernard Lonergan” in McKelvey, Beyond Ethnocentrism: A Reconstruction of Marx’s Concept of Science, Pp. 127-52. New York: Greenwood Press.
Wallerstein, Immanuel. 2004. The Uncertainties of Knowledge. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
__________. 2006. European Universalism: The Rhetoric of Power. New York: The New Press.
Key words: Third World, revolution, colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, democracy, national liberation, sovereignty, self-determination, socialism, Marxism, Leninism, Cuba, Latin America, world-system, world-economy, development, underdevelopment, colonial, neocolonial, blog Third World perspective, Wallerstein, world-systems analysis, historical social science, Lonergan, cross-horizon encounter