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Original scientific paper

Cultural Perspectives and Scientific Methodology

Mislav Ježić ; University of Zagreb, Faculty of Humanites and Social Sciences, Zagreb, Croatia

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Pluriperspectivist integrative bioethics links not only different sciences, but also their different fields and domains, and even all scientific domains in interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary ways. Philosophical bioethics, a humanist discipline, can thus be involved 1. together with biomedicine in medical clinical cases that raise ethical problems, 2. together with biotechnology in evaluation of food production procedures that can have consequences for human or animal health (such as mad cow disease / bovine spongiform encephalopathy), 3. together with the technical sciences in solutions applied in biotechnology (e.g. in intensive animal husbandry or agriculture), 4. together with mathematics, i.e. general or formal science, or 5. with the natural sciences in determining ethical preconditions of such biomedical or biotechnical solutions as mentioned, as well as it can be combined 6. with the social sciences and 7. the humanities in research on the social, economical, ecological and moral consequences resulting from the violation of certain ethical or bioethical principles. Integrative ethics implies a pluriperspectivist approach and takes both scientific methodology and cultural perspectives into consideration. These perspectives give scientific or scholarly research a broader, but often differing, existential sense and purpose. It can be mentioned that
– in Ancient Greece the goal of cognition, for Plato, was to become “fair and good” (kalokagathós) through ethical perfection in righteousness towards others in society; and even to harmonize the movements of one’s own intellect with the movements of the heavenly bodies (in the divine intellect); and to investigate and know oneself; for Aristotle the sense and purpose of cognition, which had its origin in our wonderment or admiration (thaumázein), was to satisfy the yearning for knowledge, innate in every human being, whether one strives to understand natural phenomena (physics, zoology etc.), or society (politics, law etc.), or the first principles (first philosophy), or to attain practical virtue (ethics) or poetical skills (poetics, rhetorics);
– in India, for a part of the Hindus the goal of cognition was to learn how to preserve the language and the sense of the holy Revelation, the Vedas, for another part of them the goal was to understand logical, mathematical, astronomical or physiological laws; for the Buddhists, the purpose of cognition was to improve understanding, morality and inner experience; for both, the goal was to attain expanded states of consciousness, universal good, liberation from suffering for humans and animals, and final spiritual peace and salvation;
– in China, in Confucianism, the goal of the investigation of all things, as well as its root, was seen in the cultivation of one’s own person, recommended for everybody from the Son of Heaven to the common folk; that cultivation had to bring about, as its consequence, good governance of states and universal peace;
– and in modern Europe, since the 17th century, the task imposed on research has been to produce benefit and profit for humanity, both in the empiricist formulation of Francis Bacon, and in the rationalist variant of René Descartes; all of this contributed to the development of the empirical sciences, technics and technology, with which the West surpassed China some time in the 18th century, and continued accelerating technical development since then up to the present; and now it is spreading once more to other parts of the globe;
– this development of science, especially in the natural sciences, technics and technology first received a theological and teleological interpretation, only to later reject such interpretations (replacing the idea of divine providence with the idea of human progress); today the sciences can be seen in their social context, as studied by the social sciences, and especially in their economic context, which is more and more dominated by managers and financial capital. In this context, capital plays the role of a kind of social “energy” which increasingly controls science and human utilization of all kinds od natural energy and resources;
– although an all-encompassing reform of universities and scientific institutions in the spirit of classical German philosophy was undertaken relatively recently, in the 19th century, by which cognition and practical benefits were synthesized for the sake of development of the human personality and its responsible relationship towards the entire world; and although the best American universtities still follow it; in the majority of other universities, including most of the European universities, as well as at scientific institutes, a new reform was imposed at the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st century, subordinating scientific research to the afore mentioned profitable management and to the interests of financial capital.
It is understandable, on the one hand, that every scientific methodology will not fit equally well into all of these cultural perspectives, including the modern one, no matter how exact or valuable that methodology may be for cognition itself. On the other, without the respective cultural context and its evaluation it is not possible to define the sense and purpose of scientific research in any culture, or any epoch, including the modern epoch, or in the bioethical context that appears to be emerging as the sole way of life assuring future survival. Moreover, without a cultural context neither would it be possible to answer what is the sense and purpose of science in general for our lives, nor would it be possible to evaluate specific scientific methods and approaches in the sense of bioethics with respect to universal good, or to the interest of preservation and well-being of life on our planet.


scientific methodology, cultural perspectives, Ancient Greece, India, China, modern Europe, cognition, human personality, profit, financial capital, ethics, bioethics

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