The Wit and Wisdom of Cornellians

The right of Big Red Bears to babble shall not be infringed

The Wit and Wisdom of Cornellians

The right of Big Red Bears to babble shall not be infringed

Inverting Auguste Comte’s Hierarchy of the Sciences

Traditionally, SCIENCE has been considered to be a method to acquire knowledge through observation of simple facts followed by quantitative analysis based on logic and reasoning that is readily generalizable to more complex phenomena. This definition led Auguste Comte to create a hierarchy of the sciences as part of his mid nineteenth century positivist philosophy. Comte concluded:

Now that we have completed our review of the six great sciences, it is evident that the hierarchical succession from Mathematics to Sociology is the means by which our understanding is gradually borne up to the definitive point of view of the positive philosophy, the true general spirit of which could not otherwise be disclosed.

However the definition of SCIENCE used by Comte to create this hierarchy of the sciences in which mathematics is fundamental is racist and a throwback to whiteness and white culture.

Reading ahead in Comte, however, we find a diverse, equitable, and inclusive solution.

The constitution of the scientific hierarchy shows that the intellectual preeminence must belong either to the first or the last degree of the scale; either to mathematics or sociology; for they alone can evidently be universal,—the one from its origin, and the other from its destination…


From these considerations I have been able to show, at least in the way of exclusion, that, on both logical and scientific grounds, the sociological spirit must be recognized as supreme…The only really universal point of view is the human, or, speaking more exactly, the social.

That is, it is possible to build a scientific hierarchy from the desired endpoint rather than from the foundation.  The first approach enlightens us, the second leaves us in the darkness of the cave.

Luckily, Bob Gebelein pointed out in Dirty Science that SCIENCE can also be defined as a social group of conformers who may or may not use the scientific method when they make scientific pronouncements regarding the consensus of the in-group. This definition of SCIENCE, which is inclusive of the social aspects of SCIENCE, is consistent with Social Justice being the most fundamental and intellectually preeminent aspect of SCIENCE.

Based on the socially inclusive definition of science, educators and researchers make the case that academics must acknowledge the structural inequities perpetuated (and in some cases established) by the Eurocentric university system while striving to dismantle the system to create an inclusive educational community.  In so doing, Comte’s original Hierarchy of the Sciences is being dismantled and an inclusive hierarchy in which Social Justice is the fundamental science is being recognized.

Progressive, virtuous and socially just scientists are doing the work.

It is now being shown that white supremacy culture infiltrates math classrooms in everyday teacher actions. Coupled with the beliefs that underlie these actions, they perpetuate educational harm on Black, Latinx, and multilingual students. The white patriarchal past of mathematics is being countered by a Social Justice approach to reverse the harmful effects of mathematics on historically marginalized communities of Indigenous Peoples, Blacks, and  Transgender people.

Astronomy too is being decolonialized since “space exploration is…an extension of our imperial and colonial histories.” Decolonization is necessary to ensure that our first encounters with Aliens do not imitate the first encounters of white men with Indigenous Peoples. Thankfully, cosmologist Lawrence Krauss confirms that astrobiology seems to be “particularly woke.”

Critical Whiteness Studies have already made great inroads in dismantling whiteness in physics. Even light has been made socially just through decolonization studies.

In a paper entitled, Words Matter, chemists, including a Nobel Laureate, have called out the profound social inequities that exist in chemistry and rather than advocating for free speech that is devoid of consequences, they are advocating for speech that empowers the next generation of chemists to create a more just and equitable─and hence more excellent─scientific community.

Biologists are also using Social Justice as a fundamental principle in decolonizing botany (within and beyond the plant science community), ecology conservation, entomology, neuroscience, physiology and biophysics. Moreover, biologists are also embedding Social Justice into the biology curriculum to  promote diversity and inclusivity in the classroom.

Psychologists too are making great strides in decolonizing mental health and moving from colonial to participatory research practices in an applied science of human behavior.

Social Justice is finally taking its rightful intellectually preeminent place in STEM teaching and research. STEM is becoming STEMPA—Science, Technology Engineering, and Math as authorized by Political Activism. STEMPA fulfills Auguste Comte’s motto L’amour pour principe et l’ordre pour base; le progrès pour but (“Love as a principle and order as the basis; Progress as the goal”). 


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