Saturday, March 1, 2008

Society is not Newtonian physics

~From Critical Mass: How One Thing Leads to Anotherby Philip Ball, page 30:

There are few political thinkers who have defined a social model with the logical precision of Hobbes, and none who have carried those precepts through to their conclusions in a truly scientific, rather than suppositional way. This is not by any means to denigrate such models; rather, it is simply to say that their approach is different. Political theorists tend to concern themselves with what they think ought to be; scientists concentrate on the way things are. The same is true of the new physics of society: it seeks to find descriptions of observed social phenomena and to understand how they might arise from simple assumptions.

Whoa, don't give Hobbes's lame attempt too much credit... trying to be scientific is not the same as being scientific. If Hobbes started off with such silly and scientifically baseless axioms as "people remain in motion," then he's really being no more "scientific" than anyone else. Isn't he still concerning himself with what ought to be the axioms?