INTERVIEWER: Professor, behind your political program there of course stands a definite view of the nature of science. Let us discuss it briefly. First of all, are ethical‑social norms in general justifiable purely scientifically, or are they based on subjective value judgments, which, while they may be carefully thought out, are ultimately not fully justifiable on rational grounds.

MARCUSE: They are definitely not based on subjective value judgments. Everything depends here on what you mean by "science" and "scientific method." If you believe that the model of the natural sciences is the sole model of the method of science, then, certainly, the social sciences and the norms or values that are predominant in them are unscientific. But I consider the identification of scientific method with the model of the natural sciences to be either one‑sided arrogance or simply false. There is a scientific method that rests on a critical analysis of the facts and embraces those realms that are not at all accessible to the methods of natural science and its quantification. I would even say that scientific method as it prevails in the social sciences, or, at least, should prevail, is in a certain sense even more exact and correct than the model of the natural sciences.

INTERVIEWER: So there are scientific procedures beyond empirical examinations and deductive logic?

MARCUSE: Beyond empirical examination and deductive logic—these embrace everything that could ever be imagined. Once again, I would say that the scientific method of the social sciences rests on a critical analysis of tendencies, historical possibilities that are in some way demonstrable. And that is the framework within which the social scientific method proceeds.

INTERVIEWER: May I infer from your answer that in contrast to traditional Marxists you do not assert the validity of something like the "dialectic" which is supposed to be a second kind of logic superior to deductive logic?

MARCUSE: Right! I see no sense in classifying the dialectic as a "subject" of the academic division of labor.

INTERVIEWER: What is the connection between theory and practice? Does it mean only that the scientist—the theorist—should also adopt a position on political questions, or more?

MARCUSE: You have just formulated the issue as a personal, private relation of theory to praxis. I believe there is an objective, essential relation between theory and praxis. For example, I believe the concepts of freedom, justice, humanity, and mankind, if actually analyzed and developed, include the struggle against existing slavery and exploitation against existing inhumanity. The connection between theory and practice is, therefore, an essential and internal one. Or expressed differently, theoretical concepts are false if they are not related to the sphere of praxis.

INTERVIEWER: Another point. The "bourgeois" understanding of democracy, the option for representative democracy, works from the assumption that there is no objective truth in politics—or only rarely—and that the system must therefore be kept open for new ideas. Marxism, which not only considers facts but also norms—political and moral valuation—to be demonstrable, might perhaps prevent the penetration of new ideas. Is there not latent here a dogmatic, not to say totalitarian, formula?

MARCUSE: It may be that representative democracy starts from the assumption that the system has to be kept open for new ideas. But what is it like in reality? If this assumption is meant seriously, it is not enough to give freedom of thought, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press. Objective and subjective conditions for the understanding and dissemination of ideas must also be granted or created. In the USA you can say and print practically anything you want. But, first, punishment won't be long in coming—loss of job, no promotion, surveillance, if necessary the police and the law court. Secondly, the pressure of the monopolized mass‑media and general integration are so effective that freedom of speech and propaganda can still be tolerated—which speaks for the closure of the system, not for its openness. And yet we must, of course, welcome and defend this freedom of speech and of the press. It remains a necessary condition for our struggle and aims.

Now, as far as a truly socialist society is concerned, it will be open to new ideas—otherwise it is not socialist.

INTERVIEWER: Professor, do you share the view that Marxism is a closed system of thought in which all knowledge and postulates are rigorously derivable from the basic insights of dialectical and historical materialism? Or can Marxism also be understood as a sum of politico‑moral postulates which might well be scientifically provable but which can nevertheless be detached from their traditional philosophic basis?

MARCUSE: Marxism is not a "closed system of thought." Its objectivity or general validity is that of history in which it is itself an active force and in which it develops—without surrendering its conceptual basis. This basis is the dialectical analysis of the social process from which results the human—not the natural!—necessity to change the society.

SOURCE: Marcuse, Herbert; Popper, Karl. Revolution or Reform? A Confrontation. Ed. A. T. Ferguson; trans. Michael Aylward & A. T. Ferguson; intro. Frederic L. Bender; afterword to German ed., Franz Stark. Chicago: Precedent Publishing Co., 1976. Originally published in German as Revolution oder Reform? Herbert Marcuse u. Karl Popper. Eine Konfrontation, ed. Franz Stark, 1972. This section, pp. 89-93.

Revolution or Reform? A Confrontation (Herbert Marcuse & Karl Popper): Contents

Vienna Circle, Karl Popper, Frankfurt School, Marxism, McCarthyism & American Philosophy: Selected Bibliography

Positivism vs Life Philosophy (Lebensphilosophie) Study Guide

Theodor W. Adorno Study Guide

Herbert Marcuse Official Homepage

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