From email@example.com@21:1/5 to All on Thu Apr 26 19:12:16 2018
[Repost of blog post from my old blog, "Fortunes of the Dialectic", June 11 2008.]
One of the loneliest categories on here is “Science”, but here’s a minor effort in the philosophy of science: a discursive criterion for “demarcation”. Although I am not up on the contemporary literature, it seems to me that 20th century
philosophy of science proposed two different criteria for what constituted science: systematic method (the logical positivists, Popper) and realistic veridicality. Having been on the receiving end of some efforts in scientific research, I would like to
propose a different criterion: perhaps science is what is not really up for discussion, it is what you believe when someone tells you different. Most discourse (including a lot of perceptual talk) is heavily normative, and depends on mutual recognition
of viewpoints, but perhaps candidates for inclusion in the “scientific image” cannot really be disputed by all and sundry (taking a scientific attitude requires a fidelity to one’s theory that excludes pseudoscientific caviling from Flat-Earthers
and the like).
Now, the “decisionist” view of science forces a slightly different view of its modern development than the idea that hypothetico-deductive method is eventually foolproof, or that certain blessed minds are just In Touch With Being. By this criterion,
Ptolemaic astronomy and Scholasticism were perfectly scientific: woe betide anyone who doubted them! If we accept an “existential” theory of science, the rise of modern science has less to do with cognitive improvements per se and more to do with a
change in the social circumstances in which theories were declared to be true: a liberalized public sphere — although this need not be construed in any very idealistic way, as changes in the material conditions of social life were an essential part of
its rise — changed the way deliberation about reality occurred (a switchover from the pastoral hierarchy of the Middle Ages to a society of urban entrepots bred modern scientific method).
If we accept a positive valuation of modern science (as I have always been inclined to do), this has an interesting corollary: good science is popular science — the scientific institutions that are closest to the social reality of the age produce the
best results, and seemingly “elite” institutions which do not properly interface with contemporary dissemination of information produce “genteel” research that can be as pernicious as it is enlightening. It may be that those of us who find
ourselves lacking scientific wherewithal cannot really dispute results we find distasteful on political or other grounds, but grosso modo science must be part of a truly general increase in rational control of our relationship to nature, on pain of being