Book Reviews : Politics, Language, and Time: Essays on Political Thought and History. By J. G. A. POCOCK (New York: Atheneum, 1971. Pp. 291. $10.00.)

Published date01 December 1971
Date01 December 1971
Subject MatterArticles
come sensitized to the moral responsibility flowing from the human consequences
of its acts. The author’s optimism regarding the possibility of social betterment
results from his faith that experimental method will progressively rationalize and
enlarge the effectiveness of not only social explanation, but also moral judgment.
But this sort of optimism ignores the extent to which political action, springing
from the depths of human ambition, is served by force and fraud. To see politics
in terms of the bureaucratic &dquo;reordering of priorities&dquo; is to impute rationality and
essential goodness to mankind which is belied by the ambition-serving, moral
blindness which governments have demonstrated throughout history. Furthermore,
this position ignores or dangerously discounts the human cost of bad experiments,
paramount among which is the progressive loss of the capacity for liberty in human
beings subject to pervasive manipulation. Governments are far more capable of
utilizing a technology of repression than Dr. Meehan admits, and in this context
the pragmatic notion of truth -
as the efficacy of a tool in relation to stated pur-
poses and without reference to a higher standard - is an invitation for govern-
ments to convert social myths into social truths through total means.
Moreover, the progressive rationalization of values through application of
experimental method, is a chimerical and undesirable goal. Values are only partly
amenable to reason and &dquo;cost-benefit analysis.&dquo; Values are not hypotheses or
bureaucratic &dquo;priorities&dquo; to be &dquo;reordered&dquo; on demonstration of their inconvenience
or dysfunctionality, but rather comprise a realm of absolute commitment and
sacrifice which even the most morally sensitive elite is incapable of comprehending
when it contravenes their interests.
Yet Meehan’s work will do valuable service if it makes social scientists con-
sider the moral responsibility engendered by their knowledge, however...

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