Scientific work is harnessed to the course of progress. In the realm of art, however, there is no such thing as progress in that sense. It is untrue that a work of art that is created in an age which has developed new techniques, such as the laws of perspective, is somehow superior in purely artistic terms to a work of art that is innocent of all such techniques and laws. At least, such a work of art is not inferior as long as it does justice to its own form and materials—in other words, if it selects and shapes its object in a way that is appropriate even without those laws and techniques. A work of art that truly achieves “fulfillment” will never be surpassed; it will never grow old. The individual can assess its significance for himself personally in different ways. But no one will ever be able to say that a work that achieves genuine “fulfillment” in an artistic sense has been “superseded” by another work that likewise achieves “fulfillment.”
Contrast that with the realm of science, where we all know that what we have achieved will be obsolete in ten, twenty, or fifty years. That is the fate, indeed, that is the very meaning of scientific work. It is subject to and dedicated to this meaning in quite a specific sense, in contrast to every other element of culture of which the same might be said in general. Every scientific “fulfillment” gives birth to new “questions” and cries out to be surpassed and rendered obsolete. Everyone who wishes to serve science has to resign himself to this. The products of science can undoubtedly remain important for a long time as “objects of pleasure” because of their artistic qualities, or as a means of training others in scientific work. But we must repeat: to be superseded scientifically is not simply our fate but our goal. We cannot work without living in hope that others will advance beyond us. In principle, this progress is infinite.
This brings us to the problem of the meaning of science. For it is far from self-evident that a thing that is subject to such a law can itself be meaningful and rational. What is the point of engaging in something that neither comes, nor can come, to an end in reality? Well, for one thing, we may engage in it for purely practical purposes, or technical purposes in a broader sense: namely, to enable us to orient our practical actions by the expectations provided by our scientific experience. All well and good. However, that has meaning only for the practical man. But what is the inner attitude of the scientist himself to his profession? If indeed he bothers to search for one. He maintains that science must be pursued “for its own sake,” and not simply so that others can use it to achieve commercial or technical successes, so that they can feed or clothe themselves, make light for themselves, or govern themselves. What meaningful achievement can he hope for from activities that are always doomed to obsolescence? What can justify his readiness to harness himself to this specialized, never-ending enterprise? That question calls for some general reflections.
Scientific progress is a fraction, and indeed the most important fraction, of the process of intellectualization to which we have been subjected for thousands of years and which normally provokes extremely negative reactions nowadays.
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