Walker Percy Wednesday 181



The general source of the antinomy is not to be found, as is sometimes alleged, in the nature of the subject, man, the culture member who practices science but needs myths. Such an anthropology is in the last analysis incoherent because it requires two sorts of men, scientists who observe and tell the truth, culture members who respond and have mythic needs.

The source is rather to be found in the structure and limitations of the scientific method itself. For the antinomy comes about at that very moment when that sort of activity of which the scientific method is a mode, assertory activity, enters the scientific situation, not as the customary activity of the scientist, but as a phenomenon under investigation .

The basic structure of the scientific situation is an intersubjective confrontation of a world event and its construing by a symbolic assertion. The general structure of any symbolic cognition is tetradic, as diagrammed in Figure 7, as contrasted with the triadic structure of significatory meaning (sign-organism-thing).

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What should be noticed is that there is a difference between the sort of thing we, Scientist1 and Scientist2, understand the world to be (a nexus of secondary causes, event C –> event E), and the assertion by which we express this understanding (E = (C)). One is a dynamic succession of energy states, the other is an assertion, an immaterial act by which two entia rationis are brought into a relation of intentional identity. Both these elements, world event and symbolic assertion, are provided for in the scientific method but it is a topical provision such that a symbolic assertion, S is P, E =f (C), is admitted as the sort of activity which takes place between scientists but is not admitted as a phenomenon under observation. A scientific assertion is received only as a true-or-false claim, which is then proved or disproved by examining the world event to which it refers. The symbolic assertion cannot itself be examined as a world event unless it be construed as such, as a material event of energy exchanges, in which case its assertory character must be denied.

At the subcultural, subassertory level of phenomena (physics, chemistry, biology), no antinomy occurs because the distinction between world event and intersubjective assertion is not violated. Physics lends itself without exception to the nonradical discipline in which you and I construe the world as a series of events expressible by assertions which are generically different from the events they assert.

At the cultural level, however, a further task is required of the method. It is required that an assertion be accepted not only as a true-or-false claim between scientists, to be proved or disproved, but as a phenomenon under investigation, to be ordered to other phenomena in the corpus of scientific knowledge. It is required that the· assertions S is P and E =f (C), be fitted into the scheme of world events, event C –> event E .

This is an impossible requirement however. An assertion is a real event but it is not a space-time event. The attempt must have one of two consequences: ( l ) The cultural assertion S is P (myth, language, science) is actually construed as a world event and its assertory character denied. (2) The cultural assertion S is P is accepted as an assertion, but not as a world event, as rather a true-or-false claim about world events.

The final result is an antinomy with scientists interpreting the same event in a contradictory fashion, as a world event and denying its assertory character, as an assertory event, a true-or-false claim, but refusing to examine it as such.

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