Here’s the latest from my chapter on Dewey’s and Oakeshott’s treatments of science:
When scientific inquiry forays into practical grounds, it takes on the characteristics of the practical mode of experience. In his discussion of practical life, Oakeshott argues that it projects its own standard for organizing the world of experience. It is “the totality” of all “attempts we make to alter existence or maintain it unaltered in the face of threatened change…Practice comprises everything which belongs to the conduct of life as such.” When science enters into the service of practical ends, it largely relinquishes its own claims and standards for knowledge. In other words, it enters into the “incurably abstract” business of living and acting, and leaves behind the pursuit of full coherence. This move hardly redeems it from its failure to meet philosophy’s standard for knowing, but it does show that science may have an appropriate place in human life beyond the laboratory cloisters of white-coated experts.
In showing that science and practical life are simply modes of experience, Oakeshott does not mean to banish them entirely from human existence. He repeatedly stresses that humans live in a practical world by default, incoherent and incomplete though it may be. After all, “life…can be conducted only at the expense of an arrest in experience.” Science, applied to practical concerns, represents one such arrest. It is not equivalent to philosophy or equal to philosophy’s task, but it can undoubtedly serve the conduct of life. Oakeshott is clear on this point; he will not “encumber” philosophy with political, practical, or scientific limits, for
It is not the clear-sighted, not those who are fashioned for thought and the ardours of thought, who can lead the world. Great achievements are accomplished in the mental fog of practical experience. What is farthest from our needs is that kings should be philosophers. The victims of thought, those who are intent upon what is unlimitedly satisfactory in experience, are self-confessed betrayers of life, and must pursue their way without the encouragement of the practical consciousness, which is secure in the knowledge that philosophical thought can make no relevant contribution to the coherence of its world of experience. The world of concrete reality must, indeed, supersede the world of practical experience, but can never take its place.
But is politics simply the daily push-and-pull of practical concerns? Is it nothing more than “the conduct of life” elevated to the community level? Is philosophy wholly useless in political life? These questions will be answered below. For now it is sufficient to note that Oakeshott does not set up a bright, shining theoretical line between politics and science.