« Opinions which are partial have the effect of vitiating the rectitude of judgment », Heuristics and criticism of sources in science

Mons, 21 October 2021 [1]

Abstract

In his History of the Origin of Representative Government in Europe, a series of lectures given two centuries ago, from the end of 1820 to 1822, but published thirty years later, François Guizot (1787-1874) criticised partial opinions conceived before examining the facts. Guizot, a professor at the Sorbonne and future Minister of Education under Louis-Philippe, believed that this attitude distorted the rectitude of judgments and introduced a deplorable frivolity into research. He thought that erudition would suffer as a result of inadequate investigation and cursory judgments. Although, in 2021, European democratic concepts have evolved fundamentally since Guizot’s time, particularly in favour of educational progress and especially higher education, heuristics as a tool for discovering facts remains a serious concern for researchers in all disciplines, and also for citizens in a digital world. European universities, through their process, and above all through their ambition, are arguably one of the best responses to these genuine concerns.

 

A Professor of history at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1812 and then a senior civil servant under the Restoration, François Guizot alarmed the authorities with his liberal ideas and was suspended from teaching from 1822 to 1824. It was during this period that he wrote his major historical works, entitled History of the English Revolution, General History of Civilisation in Europe, and Histoire de la civilisation en France, works which brought him recognition as one of the finest historians of his time [2]. With his scientific mindset, he was one of the first historians – notably after the Liège scholar of the 16th century, Jean Chapeaville (1551-1617) [3] – to use the footnote, in other words, a reference to sources, and to develop an apparatus criticus, using primary sources [4]. After being elected deputy at the beginning of 1830, Guizot became Minister of the Interior in the government that arose out of the July Revolution, which resulted in Louis-Philippe becoming king of the French. As Minister of Public Education from 1832 to 1837, then of Foreign Affairs, he played a key political role, even serving as President of the Council. Conservative by nature and opposed to universal suffrage, he fell from power, along with the king, during the Revolution of 1848 and devoted himself to writing until the end of his life [5].

1. Questions concerning the relationship between a subject and an object

In 1820, while his political friends were excluded from the business of government and he was teaching in Paris, his audiences compiled their notes with a view to publishing his lectures on The History of the Origins of the Representative Government in Europe. Guizot did not perform the necessary revision work until much later, as his lectures were not published until 1851, and then shortly thereafter in London, in English, the following year. During the opening discourse of his lecture of 7 December 1820, which is reproduced in the work, Guizot starts by addressing the relativity of historical facts, which, if they have not gained or lost any of their content over the time they have spanned, will reveal their meaning only gradually, and analysing their significance will reveal new dimensions: and man thus learns, he writes, that in the infinitude of space opened to his knowledge, everything remains constantly fresh and inexhaustible, in regard to his ever-active and ever-limited intelligence [6]. The problem which Professor Guizot imparts to his students lies at the very heart of the objective he has set for his lecture: to describe the history of the public institutions in Europe based on reading about the particular moment of the new political order that had emerged in 1815. For Guizot, this means we have to reconnect what we now are with what we formerly were, and even – and he expresses it so beautifully –, gather together the links in that chain of time.

The problem, observes Guizot, is that studying the old institutions using modern ideas and institutions to explain or judge them has been largely neglected. And when it has happened, he says, it has been approached with such a strong preoccupation of mind, or with such a determined purpose, that the fruits of our labour have been damaged at the outset.

 Opinions which are partial and adopted before facts have been fairly examined, not only have the effect of vitiating the rectitude of judgment, but they moreover introduce a deplorable frivolity into researches which we may call material. As soon as the prejudiced mind has collected a few documents and proofs in support of its cherished notion, it is contented, and concludes its inquiry. On the one hand, it beholds in facts that which is not really contained in them; on the other hand, when it believes that the amount of information it already possesses will suffice, it does not seek further knowledge. Now, such has been the force of circumstances and passions among us, that they have disturbed even erudition itself. It has become a party weapon, an instrument of attack or defence; and facts themselves, inflexible and immutable facts, have been by turns invited or repulsed, perverted or mutilated, according to the interest or sentiment in favour of which they were summoned to appear [7].

Guizot’s analysis is still valid: the problem of discussing political issues that are relatively close in time but perceived as distant due to the scale of the changes that have occurred in the institutional conditions, changes which can be drastic in the case of a revolution or a profound regime change.

He highlights the danger facing teachers, researchers and « intellectuals » – I am aware that it is anachronistic for me to use this word in 1820 or even in 1850 –, the difficulty they have in speaking or writing neutrally, objectively and dispassionately, with the distance that is expected of the role or profession of the person expressing their opinion and getting close to the truth or even telling the truth. The issues surrounding analysis of sources, the ethics of the scientist, and logic as conditions of the truth, along with questions concerning the relationship between a subject and the object they are addressing [8] and historical criticism are at the heart of this self-reflection.

 

2. A Cognitive Apocalypse

In his lecture to his students, Guizot highlights the risk of being contented too quickly with a sparse collection of sources which appear to support a previously stated assumption without truly substantiating it. When faced with the ambitions and requirements of proof, scant data produces incorrect interpretation of documents. Passion and commitment based on a flimsy argument threaten quality of knowledge, while erudition becomes a partisan instrument. How often do we encounter this situation in a world in which, however, education – and particularly higher education – is becoming increasingly democratised?

Guizot, who, as a minister, had previously resurrected the Académie des Sciences morales et politiques (Academy of Moral and Political Sciences), would today find support for his views from another scientist, a member of the Académie des Technologies (National Academy of Technologies of France) and the Académie nationale française de Médecine (French Academy of Medicine). Just over two centuries after the declarations we have highlighted, Gérald Bronner, professor of sociology at the University of Paris, observes in his remarkable work Apocalypse cognitive (Cognitive Apocalypse) that the first twenty years of the 21st century have introduced massive deregulation in the marketplace for ideas. We note, as does Bronner, that this cognitive market is characterised both by the vast amount of information available, which is unprecedented in the history of humanity, and also by the fact that everyone is able to contribute their own representation of the world. Furthermore, Bronner believes that this evolution has weakened the role of the traditional gatekeepers, namely the academics, experts, journalists, and so on, all those who were previously regarded as rightfully able to participate in public debate and perform a beneficial regulatory role [9].

Bronner’s analyses display a degree of pessimism concerning our ability to cope with this situation. At least three reasons are cited: firstly, the famous Brandolini’s Law or Bullshit Asymmetry Principle. The Italian programmer Alberto Brandolini observed, in 2013, that the amount of energy needed to refute nonsense is far greater than that required to produce it [10]. Will we all be able to find the time, strength and courage to deal with waffle, simplistic analyses and even fake news? Many academics on social media have stopped doing so.

In his fine work on Le courage de la nuance (The courage of nuance), the essayist Jean Birnbaum wisely recalls the presentation made by Raymond Aron (1905-1983) at the Société française de Philosophie in June 1939. Faced with the increasing dangers, the great French intellectual called on his colleagues to assess their commitment: I think, said the author of Introduction à la philosophie de l’histoire [11], that teachers like us are likely to play a minor role in this effort to save our deeply held values. Instead of shouting with the parties, we could strive to define, in the utmost good faith, the problems facing us and the way to solve them [12].

Next, Bronner calls on a great mind of the mid-19th century: Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859). More resolutely democratic than his contemporary Guizot, Tocqueville writes, in his book Democracy in America (1835), that in general, only simple conceptions take hold of the minds of the people. A false idea, but one clear and precise, will always have more power in the world than a true, but complex, idea [13]. Some of you may still recall the excellent cartoon by Wiley Miller, published in The Intellectualist, in 2015, which shows a crowd of people approaching a ravine on a path marked Answers, simple but wrong » while one or two are making their way along a winding path, book in hand, having chosen the direction « Complex but right ».

Wiley Miller, The Intellectualist, 2015

Beyond the common meaning of the words, complex systems analysis, so dear to William Ross Ashby (1903-1972), Norbert Wiener (1894-1964), Herbert Simon (1916-2001), Ludwig von Bertalanffy (1901-1972), Jean Ladrière (1921-2007), Edgar Morin, Jean-Louis Le Moigne, Ilya Prigogine (1917-2003) and Isabelle Stengers, to name but a few, often remains outside the field of knowledge of our university chairs and, therefore, of our students.

Lastly, Bronner notes that our voracious brains do not automatically lead us to scientific models. Even where we have an appetite for knowledge, he adds, this can easily be distracted by the way in which the cognitive market is editorialised. This is the case, for example, with the confusion between correlation and causality, which is clearly illustrated by the Nazi slogan, “500,000 unemployed: 400,000 Jews” [14]. This device seems to crop up repeatedly. But there are other examples, and in all fields. For example, in 1978, the French fascist party, the Front national, stated: « A million unemployed people are a million immigrants too many. France and the French first. »[15] Another example is the poster that Nigel Farage unveiled in Westminster in mid-June 2016, one week before the BREXIT referendum on 23 June. The British broadcaster and Leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) used a picture with the slogan Breaking point: the EU has failed us all, with the subheading: We must break free of the EU and take back control of our borders. The photograph used was of migrants crossing the Croatia-Slovenia border in 2015, with the only prominent white person in the photograph obscured by a box of text. Many people reacted by saying that to claim that migration to the UK is only about people who are not white is to peddle racism. That controversy prompted Boris Johnson to distance himself from Nigel Farage’s campaign [16].

The fact that we have found some particularly divisive, if not detestable, examples could weaken the idea that each of us, entirely logically, may simply demonstrate only what is prejudice. We often start the process of judgment with an inclination to reach a particular conclusion. In their book Noise: A Flaw of Human Judgment, Daniel Kahneman, Olivier Sibony and Cass R. Sinstein give a great example of a slant of thought they call conclusion bias, or prejudgment: when one of George Lucas’ collaborators in the development of the screenplay for Return of the Jedi, the third Star Wars film, suggested that he should kill off Luke and have Princess Leila take over, Lucas rejected the idea and disagreed with the different arguments, replying that « You don’t go around killing people » and, finally, that he didn’t like and didn’t believe that. As the authors observed, by « Not liking » before « Not believing », Lucas let his fast, intuitive System 1 thinking suggest a conclusion [17]. When we follow that process, we jump to the conclusion and simply bypass the process of gathering and integrating information, or we mobilise System 2 thinking – engaging a deliberative thought – to come up with arguments that support our prejudgment. In that case, adds Kahneman, a Nobel Prize winner for economics, and his colleagues, the evidence will be selective and distorted: because of confirmation bias and desirability bias, we will tend to collect and interpret evidence selectively to favour a judgment that, respectively, we already believe or wish to be true [18]. Prejudgments are evident wherever we look, conclude the three professors. When people determine what they think by consulting their feelings, the process involved is called the affect heuristic [19], a term coined by the psychologist Paul Slovic, Professor at the University of Oregon.

3. Heuristics as a form of resistance for enlightened minds

As is often the case, we can counter our reasons to despair with reasons to rejoice and hope. In my view, these lie in the power of heuristics, techniques and scientific method(s).

Heuristics is generally understood to mean all the intellectual products, processes and approaches that foster discovery and invention in science. There are two distinct aspects. Firstly, a methodological classification which denotes the discovery techniques that substantiate and legitimise knowledge and, secondly, what we can refer to as general heuristics. This forms part of epistemology, the critical study of science [20], and is responsible for describing and reflecting the general conditions for progress in scientific activity [21].

We are clearly all familiar with the questions of method, the path we follow or undertake, which is designed to lead us and to enable us to achieve a given goal and capitalise on a result. This is the path that provides us with our experience as scientists and intellectuals, which we call experimentation when we initiate it systematically. Scientific research is based on a desire to travel along this path, interactively combining assisted observation of experimentation and system analysis, thus enabling explanation. Adapting thoughts to facts is observation; adapting thoughts to each other is theory [22].

In that respect, contemporary research has two messages for us. Firstly, that of rigour and critique, and, secondly, that of relativity, and therefore humility. In my view, these are each as necessary and important as the other.

3.1. The first message: that of rigour and critique.

Rigour consists, firstly, in knowing what one is talking about, what the problem is, and what one is looking for. This is the first reasonable goal of heuristics: to express in general terms the reasons for choosing subjects which, when analysed, may help us achieve the solution [23]. We can, of course, follow in the footsteps of mathematicians, physicians, logicians, and philosophers, such as Pappus of Alexandria (4th century AD), René Descartes (1596-1650), Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz (1646-1716), Bernhard Bolzano (1781-1848), Ernst Mach ((1838-1916), Jacques Hadamard (1865-1963), George Polya (1887-1985), Jean Hamburger (1909-1992), Morris Kline (1908-1992), and, more recently, Daniel Kahneman and Shane Frederick. In each of our disciplines, we have visited one or more of them, if not all. A mathematician such as Polya, author of How to Solve it? [24], who taught in Zurich and then at Stanford, argues that the sources of inventions are more important than the inventions themselves. This should, he claims, be the motto of any student planning a career in science. Unsubstantiated demonstrations, lemmas that appear out of nowhere, and supplementary approaches that occur unexpectedly are puzzling and depressing for all students, both good and mediocre [25]. Having struggled through an oral exam on Bernouilli’s theory, I can personally testify.

There are, in the world, certain traditions for constructing a critical and intellectually robust discourse, one which is also not Eurocentric and does not, contrary to what we too often teach, date back to the Renaissance or the Enlightenment. As a Visiting Professor at the National Engineering School of Tunis, I am constantly discovering how much we owe – and the term “we” includes researchers such as Arnold J. Toynbee and Joseph Schumpeter – to the Arab scholar Ibn Khaldoun (1332-1406). In the introduction to his great work Muqaddima, this 14th century economist, sociologist and historian recommended making a comparison between the stories as handed down and the rules and models thus established. If they concur and are consistent, these stories can be declared authentic, if not, they will be considered suspect and discounted [26].

This tangible heuristic effort was pioneered by the Italian humanist Lorenzo Valla (1407-1457), whose role was, according to François Dosse, decisive in the notion of truth, to the extent that Dosse, a historian and epistemologist at the University of Paris, spoke of a real turning point [27]. Valla questioned the authenticity of the Donation of Constantine, written in 1440. This text, which acknowledged the fact that the Roman emperor Constantine the Great had bestowed vast territory and spiritual and temporal power on Pope Sylvester I (who reigned from 314 to 335), had great influence on political and religious affairs in medieval Europe. Lorenzo Valla clearly demonstrated that this document was a forgery by analysing the language of the donation. He showed that the Latin used in the text was not that of the 4th century and so argued that the document could not possibly have dated from the time of Constantine [28].

The critical method has found its guardians of the temple in Charles-V Langlois and Charles Seignobos, who established a bulwark against what they considered the natural inclination of the human spirit: not taking precautions and acting confusedly in situations where the utmost caution is essential. They wrote that while everyone, in principle, accepts the value of Criticism – with a capital C! – it hardly ever happens in practice.

The fact is that Criticism is contrary to the normal aspect of intelligence. The spontaneous human tendency is to add belief to assertions and to reproduce them, without even distinguishing them clearly from one’s own observations. In daily life, do we not accept indiscriminately, without any checks, hearsay, anonymous, unsafe information, and all types of documents of mediocre or dubious merit? (…) Any sincere person will recognise that significant effort is needed to shake off the ignavia critica, that common expression for intellectual cowardice; that this effort must be repeated, and that it is often accompanied by genuine suffering [29].

Suffering, the word is out … As with beauty, one needs to suffer to be a researcher. Research is a form of torture inspired, in part, by the works of the German historian Leopold von Ranke (1795-1886). To reach scientific paradise, the research process subjects the document, and the student and the teacher, to a series of analytical operations made up of internal criticism or scholarly criticism (restoration, provenance, classification of sources, criticism of scholars), then to internal criticism (interpretation, negative internal criticism, criticism of sincerity and accuracy, establishing the specific facts) and, lastly, optimises them in synthetic operations.

In 1961, in his extraordinary work entitled L’histoire et ses méthodes (History and its methods), published under the direction of Charles Samaran (1879-1982) from the Institut de France, Robert Marichal (1904-1999) picked up the notion put forward by Langlois and Seignobos, observing that documentary criticism had scarcely been challenged by the proponents of “New History”, which, according to this esteemed archivist, thought that the traditional processes were still effective. Marichal added that the principles that apply to criticism were no different, in general, to those that apply to all human knowledge, as can be found in any logic or psychology textbook [30].

Fifty years later, Gérard Noiriel, a specialist in epistemology in history, states in the online edition of the work by Langlois and Seignobos that they had not invented the rules of historical method, as the basic principles had been known since the 17th century and had been codified by German historians at the beginning of the 19th century. The major contribution of these two professors at the Sorbonne is arguably, states Noiriel, that they wrote that it was necessary to read the historians with the same critical precautions as when one analyses documents [31].

Human science has been greatly influenced by the scientific path taken by history at the end of the 19th century. But, like history, it has distanced itself from this strict criticism of documents. In an introduction, in 2008, entitled L’approximative rigueur de l’anthropologie (The approximate rigour of anthropology), Jean-Pierre Olivier de Sardan, a professor at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences sociales (School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences) in Paris, showed that the word was nothing more than an apparent paradox, highlighting the inevitability of approximation faced with the vulnerability of cognitive bias and ideological excesses, and then abandoning this quest completely in a book entitled La Rigueur du qualitatif The Rigour of the Qualitative) [32]. De Sardan also enlisted his American colleague Howard Becker, who, in Sociological Work: Method and Substance (Chicago, Adline, 1970) and Writing for Social Scientists (University of Chicago Press, 1986 & 2007), had highlighted this tension between consistency of what is being described and conformity with the elements discovered [33].

The scientific paradigm has given way to other paradigms, which have also characterised all human sciences. This is the case with the famous École des Annales (School of Annals), whose books, by a brilliant professor from Liège, Léon-E. Halkin (1906-1998), and supported by the Centre de Recherches historiques at the École pratique des Hautes Études in Paris, have helped to clarify these issues surrounding historical criticism.

Although it remained a methodological requirement, the strict critical method – in the sense of the idolatrous cult of the document [34]  – seemed to become more relaxed at the beginning of the 1980s. At the same time, as Charles Samaran had already done in 1961, it was now a question of highlighting the general principles of the method [35], or even the ethics, of the historian. In that regard and taking their cue from the editorial director of l’Histoire et ses méthodes, Guy Thuillier (1932-2019) and Jean Tulard call on the mighty Cicero for help: the first law he must obey is to have the courage not to say what he knows to be false, the second is to have the courage to say what he believes to be true. Thus, they continue, sincerity of mind implies critical sense [36]. The other precepts of Thuillier and Tulard are those I offer to my students, pointing out that this advice applies to all their tasks in all disciplines, as in daily life:

  • Do not assert anything unless there is a “document” that you have verified personally.
  • Always indicate the document’s degree of “probability” – or uncertainty. Do not rely on appearances or have blind faith in texts (…)
  • Always explicitly highlight the assumptions that guide the research, and point out the limits of the investigation (…)
  • Maintain a certain distance from the subject in question and do not confuse, for instance, biography and hagiography (…)
  • Be wary of hasty generalisations (…)
  • Be aware that nothing is definitive (…)
  • Know how to use your time well; do not rush your work (…),
  • Do not shut yourself away in your office (…). Life experience is essential (…) [37]

3.2. The second message is that of relativity, and therefore of humility.

 The remarkable work done by Françoise Waquet, research director at the CNRS, ends with some powerful words: science, she writes, is human – inevitably, mundanely, profoundly so [38]. Her research, in laboratories, libraries and offices, among teachers and students, books and computers, shows how business rules and academic passion(s) are structured around objectivity. Waquet considers the analyses performed Lorraine Daston, co-director of the Max Planck Institute Berlin for the History of Science. These works showed a propensity to strive for a knowledge that bears no trace of the person who has the knowledge, a knowledge which is not characterised by bias or acquired concepts, by imagination or judgment, by desire or effort. In this system of objectivity, passion appears to be the internal enemy of the researcher [39].

Henri Pirenne expressed it perfectly, in 1923, when he claimed that, in order to achieve objectivity or impartiality without which there is no science, [researchers] must constrict themselves and overcome their cherished prejudices, their most deeply seated convictions, and their most natural and respectable sentiments [40]. Moreover, Émile Durkheim expressed the same view for sociology, as did Marcel Mauss for anthropology, Vidal de la Blache for geography and even Émile Borel for mathematics. We could, as Françoise Waquet did, list numerous examples that, even in the so called “hard” sciences, lead to a form of asceticism and ardent objectivity [41].

In the second half of the twentieth century, the dramatic advances in science after the end of the Second World War and the questions arising from criticism of modernity have not left science unscathed. The Jesuit François Russo (1909-1998), a former student at the École polytechnique, noted, in 1959, that science tends to pose problems that lie beyond the domain of the strict scientific method. He cited the theories of Albert Einstein (1879-1955) and Georges Lemaître (1894-1966), other analyses regarding the universe in its entirety, and considerations concerning the depletion of energy in the universe, biological evolution, the origins of life and of humans, human nature, etc., underlining that scientific advances cause these questions to reappear rather than disappear. In this way, and at the same, he posed questions of meaning [42].

Should it be said that the debates on these issues have evolved, from Raymond Aron (1905-1983) to Paul Ricœur (1913-2005), from Karl Polanyi (1886-1964) to Thomas Kuhn (1922-1996), from Karl Popper (1902-1994) to Richard Rorty (1931-2007) and Anthony Giddens, etc.?

On the question of objectivity, he was one of the professors whose classes had the greatest impact on me, who, when faced with passion, demonstrated the path of lucidity. In L’histoire continue (History is going on), the medievalist Georges Duby (1919-1996) considers that it is strict positivist ethics that gives the profession of researcher its dignity. If, he continues, history is abandoning the illusory quest for total objectivity, it is not on account of the stream of irrationality that is invading our culture, but it is above all because the notion of truth in history has changed. Its goal has moved: it is now interested less in facts and more in relationships… [43]

 

Conclusion: sentiment, reason and experience

Let us return to François Guizot, where we began, but this time in closing.

In that Guizot’s moment, as Pierre Rosanvallon called it, a veritable golden age of political science [44], the lesson was clear: how, at close quarters and under pressure from the major upheavals seen in that period – the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution, and the structural and systemic transformations they caused in the fields of technology, politics, society, culture, etc. –, how can we comprehend these events under the sovereignty of reason?

Even if most people have perceived, each in their own time, the advent of a new world [45], with its growth, acceleration, emerging trends and instabilities, our society appears to be characterised more so than yesterday by the flow of information of all kinds that reaches us, challenges us, and assails us. Carried along at great speed on what was already being called the information superhighway a few decades ago, we are learning to control our minds at hitherto unknown speeds, bolstered as we are by our digital tools. To put it mildly, it is now microprocessors that punctuate our work. During lockdown, having switched from Teams to Zoom, from Jitsi to Webex or Google Meet – and having often continued the habit, we all know that it is now the digital world that sets the pace. In the flow of messages, links and texts sent to us, we are learning how to identify the hackers and other digital pests. Beyond our defensive tools, it is experience that often guides us.

We have few firewalls to defend ourselves against the demons of the cognitive apocalypse described, or promised, by Gérald Bronner. We do not want any censorship of “good thinking” or a sterilised world in which we filter our connections and sanitise our brains. In my view, the best form of regulation remains our own intelligence.

This certainly involves heuristics and research methods. In a formal address he gave in September 1964 to mark start of the new term at the Faculté polytechnique de Mons, professor and future rector Jacques Franeau (+2007) noted that it was necessary to avoid confusing objective with subjective, and that, since the primary aim of any society was to create the best environment for human life and happiness, it was necessary, to achieve that goal, for it to start from certain and objective data, to have knowledge before choosing its direction, and then to build on the solid foundations afforded by that knowledge [46].

Thus, to address the concerns, we have highlighted two responses: firstly, rigour and criticism and, secondly, relativity and humility.

Without resorting to Voltaire’s idea that all certainty which is not mathematical demonstration is merely extreme probability [47], the teaching of those who frequent higher education must base stringency on both the robustness and the reasonable traceability of any information produced. Citing a source does not, whatever the discipline, mean referring to the overall work of a scholar, nor even to one of their creations – digital or paper – without specifying the location of the information. Some colleagues or students send you a 600-page book with no further clarification, editing or pagination. Verification is impossible. Similarly, to return to an observation made previously by both the German-American mathematician and economist Oskar Morgenstern (1902-1977) [48] and the Frenchman Gilles-Gaston Granger (1920-2016) [49], the issue of data validity and reliability does not seem to be of interest to many researchers. For these two distinguished experts in comparative epistemology, it was economists who were being targeted. But we can be sure than many other researchers are affected. I am certain that these testimonies resonate with you as they do with me. Training our students in rigour, precision and criticism will certainly help to make them not only good researchers, but also mindful and courageous intellectuals, in other words individuals capable of grasping the most difficult or far-fetched content, breaking free from it, and communicating only what is accurate and certain.

Relativity and humility stem from our awareness of our weaknesses when faced with the world and the difficulty we have in grasping the system as a whole. They are also nurtured by the legitimate notion that explanations of phenomena and their truth change with scientific advances. It cannot be denied, states Granger, that a Newtonian truth concerning the trajectory of a star differs from Einstein’s truth regarding the same object [50]. Rather than being sceptical about scientific knowledge, it is instead a question of looking at ourselves, as human beings, and acknowledging the richness of our capacity to articulate sentiment, reason and experience. At a time when cybernetic dreams are becoming a reality in artificial general intelligence, we have an ever-increasing number of human and scientific references to show us the way.

Thus, to conclude this talk, I will refer to the author of La Science expérimentale, Claude Bernard (1813-1878). In his acceptance speech at the Académie française, on 27 May 1869, the great doctor and philologist observed that, in the progressive development of humanity, poetry, philosophy and science express the three phases of our intelligence, moving successively through sentiment, reason and experience [51].

Nevertheless, states Bernard, it would be wrong to believe that if one follows the precepts of the experimental method, the researcher – and I would say the intellectual – must reject all a priori notions and silence their sentiment, so that their views are based solely on the results of the experiment. In reality, he adds, the laws that govern manifestations of human intelligence do not allow the researcher to proceed other than by always, and successively, moving through sentiment, reason and experience. But, convinced of the worthlessness of the spirit when reduced to itself, he gives experience (experimentation) a dominant influence and he tries to guard against the impatience of knowing, which leads us constantly to make mistakes. We must therefore go in search of the truth calmly and without haste, relying on reason, or reasoning, which always serves to guide us, but, at every step, we must temper it and tame it through experience, in the knowledge that, unbeknown to us, sentiment causes us return to the origin of things [52].

If, in 2021, European democratic conceptions have fundamentally evolved since Guizot, thanks to progress in education and in particular within higher education, heuristics as a tool for discovering facts remains a sensitive concern for researchers of all disciplines, but also citizens, in a digital world. European universities, such as those gathered in EUNICE, considering their background, but also above all by their ambition, undoubtedly constitute one of the best responses to real concerns.

 

Philippe Destatte

@PhD2050

 

[1] This text is the background paper of the conference that I presented on October 21, 2021 at the Academic Hall of the University of Mons, as part of EUNICE WEEKS mobilising, with the support of the European Commission, the network which brings together the universities of Brandenburg, Cantabria, Catania, Lille – Hauts de France, Poznań, Vaasa and Mons.

[2] Laurent THEIS, Guizot, La traversée d’un siècle, Paris, CNRS Editions, 2014. – Edition Kindle, Location 1104. – François Guizot, in Encyclopaedia Britannica, Oct. 8, 2021, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Francois-Guizot

[3] René HOVEN, Jacques STIENNON, Pierre-Marie GASON, Jean Chapeaville (1551-1617) et ses amis. Contribution à l’historiographie liégeoise, Bruxelles, Académie royale de Belgique, 2004 – Paul DELFORGE, Jean Chapeaville (1551-1617), Connaître la Wallonie, Namur,  December 2014. http://connaitrelawallonie.wallonie.be/fr/wallons-marquants/dictionnaire/chapeaville-jean#.YWrVvhpBzmE which, at the time, had fascinated Professor Jacques Stiennon (ULIEGE).

[4] Ibidem, Location 1149-1150.

[5] Guillaume de BERTHIER DE SAUVIGNY, François Guizot (1787-1874), in Encyclopædia Universalis accessed on 13 October  2021.https://www.universalis.fr/encyclopedie/francois-guizot/ – Pierre ROSANVALLON, Le moment Guizot, coll. Bibliothèque des Sciences humaines, Paris, NRF-Gallimard, 1985. – André JARDIN and André-Jean TUDESQ, La France des Notables, L’évolution générale, 1815-1848, Nouvelle Histoire de la France contemporaine, Paris, Seuil, 1988.

[6] François GUIZOT, Histoire des origines du gouvernement représentatif en Europe, p. 2, Paris, Didier, 1851. – (…) and man thus learns that in the infinitude of space opened to his knowledge, everything remains constantly fresh and inexhaustible, in regard to his ever-active and ever-limited intelligence. GUIZOT, History of the Origins of Representative Government in Europe, p. 2,

[7] François GUIZOT, History of the Origin of Representative Government in Europe, translated by Andrew E. Scobe, p. 4, London, Henry G. Bohn, 1852.

https://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/61250/pg61250-images.html#Page_1

[8] Concerning these issues, see the always very valuable Jean PIAGET dir., Logique et connaissance scientifique, coll. Encyclopédie de la Pléiade, Paris, Gallimard, 1967. In particular, J. PIAGET, L’épistémologie et ses variétés, p. 3sv. – Hervé BARREAU, L’épistémologie, Paris, PuF, 2013.

[9] Gérald BRONNER, Apocalypse cognitive, Paris, PUF-Humensi, 2021.

[10] G. BRONNER, Apocalypse…, p. 220-221.

[11] Raymond ARON, La philosophie critique de l’histoire, Essai sur une théorie allemande de l’histoire (1938), Paris, Vrin, 3e ed., 1964.

[12] Raymond ARON, Communication devant la Société française de philosophie, 17 juin 1939, dans R. ARON, Croire en la démocratie, 1933-1944, Textes édités et présentés par Vincent Duclert, p. 102, Paris, Arthème-Fayard – Pluriel, 2017. – Jean BIRNBAUM, Le courage de la nuance, p. 73, Paris, Seuil, 2021.

[13] Alexis de TOCQUEVILLE, Democracy in America (1835), Translated by Harvey C. Mansfield & Delba Winthrop, p. 155, Chicago & London, The University of Chicago Press, 2002. – La Démocratie en Amérique, in Œuvres, collection La Pléade, t. 2, p. 185, Paris, Gallimard, 1992. – G. BRONNER, op. cit., p. 221.

[14] G. BRONNER, op. cit., p. 238 et 298

[15] Valérie IGOUNET, Derrière le Front, Histoires, analyses et décodage du Front national, 26 octobre 2015. https://blog.francetvinfo.fr/derriere-le-front/2015/10/26/les-francais-dabord.html

[16] Heather STEWART & Rowen MASON, Nigel Farage’s anti-migrant poster reported to police, in The Guardian, June 16, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jun/16/nigel-farage-defends-ukip-breaking-point-poster-queue-of-migrants

[17] D. KAHNEMAN, Thinking, Fast and Slow, New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011. – Trad. Système 1/ Système 2, Les deux vitesses de la pensée, Paris, Flammarion, 2012. – See also: D. KAHNEMAN et al., dir., Judgment under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases, Cambridge University Press, 1982.

[18] Daniel KAHNEMAN, Olivier SIBONY and Cass R. SUNSTEIN, Noise, A flaw in Human Judgment, p. 166-167, New York – Boston – London, Little Brown Spark, 2021.

[19] Ibidem, p. 168. – Paul SLOVIC, Psychological Study of Human Judgment: Implications for Investment Decision Making, in Journal of Finance, 27, 1972, p. 779.

[20] In the broadest sense of the concept, both Latin and Anglo-Saxon. See Gilles Gaston GRANGER, Epistémologie, dans Encyclopædia Universalis, viewed on 10 October 2021. https://www.universalis.fr/encyclopedie/epistemologie/

[21] Jean-Pierre CHRÉTIEN-GONI, Heuristique, dans Encyclopædia Universalis, viewed on 10 October 2021. https://www.universalis.fr/encyclopedie/heuristique/ – Avrum STROLL, Epistemology, in Encyclopaedia Britannica, viewed on 16 October 2021, https://www.britannica.com/topic/epistemology

[22] Jean LARGEAULT, Méthode, Encyclopædia Universalis, viewed on 10 October 2021. https://www.universalis.fr/encyclopedie/methode/ – Scientific Method, in Encyclopaedia Britannica, October 15, 2021, viewed on 17 October. https://www.britannica.com/science/scientific-method

[23] George POLYA, L’Heuristique est-elle un sujet d’étude raisonnable?, in Travail et Méthodes, Numéro Hors Série La Méthode dans les Sciences modernes, Paris, Sciences et Industrie, 1958.

[24] G. POLYA, How to Solve it?, Princeton University Press, 1945.

[25] G. POLYA, L’Heuristique est-elle un sujet d’étude raisonnable…, p. 284.

[26] Ibn KHALDUN, Le Livre des exemples, Autobiographie, Muqaddima, text translated and annotated by Abdesselam Cheddadi, collection Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, t. 1, p. 39, Paris, NRF-Gallimard, 2202. (Our translation in English) – Abdesselam CHEDDADI, Ibn Khaldûn, L’homme et le théoricien de la civilisation, p. 194, Paris, NRF-Gallimard, 2006.

[27] François DOSSE, L’histoire, p. 18-20, Paris, A. Colin, 2° éd., 2010. – Blandine BARRET-KRIEGEL, L’histoire à l’âge classique, vol. 2, p. 34, Paris, PUF, 1988.

[28] Ulick Peter BURKE, Lorenzo Valla, in Encyclopaedia Britannica, viewed on October 19, 2021 https://www.britannica.com/biography/Lorenzo-Valla- Donation of Constantin, in Encyclopaedia Britannica, viewed on October 19, 2021. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Donation-of-Constantine

[29] Charles-Victor LANGLOIS and Charles SEIGNOBOS, Introduction aux études historiques, p. 48-49, Paris, Hachette & Cie, 1898. 4 ed., s.d. (1909).

[30] Robert MARICHAL, La critique des textes, in Charles SAMARAN dir., L’histoire et ses méthodes, coll. Encyclopédie de la Pléiade, p. 1248, Paris, NRF-Gallimard, 1961.

[31] Gérard NOIREL, Preface by Charles-Victor LANGLOIS and Charles SEIGNOBOS, Introduction aux études historiques, Paris, ENS, 2014. https://books.openedition.org/enseditions/2042#ftn8

[32] Jean-Pierre OLIVIER de SARDAN, La rigueur du qualitatif, Les contraintes empiriques de l’interprétation socio-anthropologique, p. 7-10, Louvain-la-Neuve, Bruylant-Academia, 2008.

[33] Howard BECKER, Les ficelles du métier, Comment conduire sa recherche en Sciences sociales, p. 48, Paris, La Découverte, 2002. – J-P OLIVIER de SARDAN, op. cit., p. 8.

[34] F. DOSSE, L’histoire…, p. 29. Here, we are referring to Numa Denis Fustel de Coulanges (1830-1889). See François HARTOG, Le XIXe siècle et l’histoire, Le cas Fustel de Coulanges, p. 351-352, Paris, PUF, 1988.

[35] Ch. SAMARAN, L’histoire et ses méthodes…, p. XII-XIII.

[36] Ibidem, p. XIII. – J. TULARD & G. THUILLIER, op. cit., p. 91.

[37] J. TULARD (1933) and .G. THUILLIER, La méthode en histoire…, p. 92-94.

[38] Françoise WAQUET, Une histoire émotionnelle du savoir, XVIIe-XXIe siècle, p. 325 , Paris, CNRS Editions, 2019.

[39] Lorraine DASTON, The moral Economy of Science, in Osiris, 10, 1995, p. 18-23. – F. WAQUET, op. cit., p. 393,

[40] Henri PIRENNE, De la méthode comparative en histoire, Discours prononcé à la séance d’ouverture du Ve Congrès international des Sciences historiques, 9 April 1923, Brussels, Weissenbruch, 1923. – F. WAQUET, op. cit., p. 306.

[41] F. PAQUET, op. cit., p. 303. – Paul WHITE, Darwin’s emotions, The Scientific self and the sentiment of objectivity, in Isis, 100, 2009, p. 825.

[42] François RUSSO, Valeur et situation de la méthode scientifique, in La méthode dans les sciences modernes…, p. 341. – See also: F. RUSSO, Nature et méthode de l’histoire des sciences, Paris, Blanchard, 1984.

[43] Georges DUBY, L’histoire continue, p. 72-78, Paris, Odile Jacob, 1991.

[44] Pierre ROSANVALLON, Le moment Guizot, coll. Bibliothèque des sciences humaines, p. 75 et 87, Paris, NRF-Gallimard, 1985.

[45] Michel LUSSAULT, L’avènement du monde, Essai sur l’habitation humaine de la Terre, Paris, Seuil, 2013.

[46] Jacques FRANEAU, D’où vient et où va la science ? Formal address to mark the start of term at the Faculté polytechnique de Mons, 26 September 1964, p. 58.

[47] René POMMEAU, Préface, in VOLTAIRE, Œuvres historiques,  p. 14, Paris, NRF-Gallimard, 1957.

[48] Oskar MORGENSTERN, On the accuracy of Economic Observation, Princeton, 1950.

[49] Gilles-Gaston GRANGER, La vérification, p. 191, Paris, Odile Jacob, 1992.

[50] Ibidem, p. 10.

[51] Claude BERNARD, Discours de réception à l’Académie française, 27 May 1869, in Claude BERNARD, La Science expérimentale,  p. 405-406, Paris, Baillière & Fils, 3rd ed., 1890.

[52] Ibidem, p. 439.

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