Advertisement

Foundations of Science

, Volume 1, Issue 3, pp 323–335 | Cite as

Science is neither sacred nor a confidence trick

  • Susan Haack
Truth in Science

Abstract

The Old Deferentialism, taking science to enjoy a privileged epistemic standing because of its uniquely rational and objective method, is over-optimistic. But there is no need to conclude, like the New Cynics, that appeals to evidence, rationality, objectivity are mere rhetorical bullying. A new theory of scientific method and knowledge is developed, which combines logical and social elements, and reveals science to be not epistemologically privileged, but epistemologically distinguished.

Key words

epistomology evidence scientific method objectivity social constructivism 

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

References

  1. 1.
    Collected Papers, eds Hartshorne, C., Weiss, P. and Burks, A., Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1931–58, 7.49.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Addition aux Pensées Philosophiques (c.1762), in Rameau's Nephew and Other Works, trans. Jacques Barzun and Ralph H. Bowen, Doubleday, New York, NY, 1956.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    In this paper I shall be characterizing as the Old Deferentialism versus the New Cynicism what I formerly characterized as the Old Romanticism versus the New Cynicism (“Science ‘From a Feminist Perspective’,” and “Epistemological Reflections of an Old Feminist,” Reason Papers, 18, 1993, reprinted in Partisan Review, 1993) The earlier vocabulary, I now realize, was inappropriate because, as Leo Marx puts it, “much of today's criticism of science ... may be traced to the ... romantic reaction of European intellectuals which began in the late eighteenth century” (“Reflections on the Neo-Romantic Critique of Science,” in Limits of Scientific Inquiry, eds Gerald Holton and Robert S. Morison, W.W. Norton, New York, NY, 1978, p.63, my emphasis).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Though this is frequently referred to as “the Duhem-Quine thesis,” the attribution to Duhem is not accurate; his thesis, that scientific claims are often not testable in isolation but only in conjunction with a bunch of other claims involved in reliance on instruments, is significantly more modest. Even Quine's commitment to the thesis is not unwavering; in “Empirical Content” (Theories and Things, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, and London, 1981, 24–30) he suggests that what he formerly described as empirically equivalent but incompatible theories would really be verbal variants of one theory (pp.29–30). This reveals that the underdetermination thesis depends implicitly on criteria for the individuation of theories. See Murray G. Murphey, Philosophical Foundations of Historical Knowledge, SUNY Press, Albany, NY, 1994, chapter 6, for critical discussion and references.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Norwood Russell Hanson, Patterns of Discovery, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1958. The thesis that observation statements are theory-dependent is already found in Karl Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1935), Hutchinson, London, 1959.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Nelson Goodman, “The New Riddle of Induction,” in Fact, Fiction and Forecast, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1955.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    See “Postscript — 1969” in the second edition of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Chicago University Press, Chicago, 1970; “Reflections on my Critics,” in Lakatos, I., and Musgrave, A., eds, Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1970; “Second Thoughts on Paradigms,” in Suppe, F., ed., The Structure of Scientific Theories, University of Illinois Press, Urbana, 1970; The Essential Tension, Chicago University Press, Chicago, 1977; “Commensurability, Comparability, Communicability,” in Peter D. Asquith and Thomas Nickles, eds, PSA 1982, Philosophy of Science Association, East Lansing, MI, 1983, volume 2, 669–88.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Feyerabend, P.K., Against Method, New Left Books, London, 1975.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Kenneth Gergen, “Feminist Critique of Science and the Challenge of Social Epistemology,” in Feminist Thought and the Structure of Knowledge, ed. Mary M. Gergen, New York University Press, New York, NY, 1988, p.37; Harry Collins, “Stages in the Empirical Programme of Relativism,” Social Studies of Science, 11, 1981, p.3. Neither is atypical; compare: How can we account for the fact [sic] that in any one year, approximately one and a half million dollars is spent to enable twenty-five people to produce forty papers? ... A fact is nothing but a statement with no modality ... and no trace of authorship. [Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar, Laboratory Life: The Social Construction of Scientific Facts, Sage Library of Social Research, Beverly Hills, CA, and London, 1979, pp.70, 82.] ... the construction of facts is a collective process. ... I will call [this] our first principle. ... What is the difference between rhetoric, so much despised, and science, so much admired? ... [N]ot that the first makes use of external allies which the second refrains from using; the difference is that the first uses only a few of them, and the second very many. ... [W]e must ... come to call scientific the rhetoric able to mobilise on the one spot more resources ... [Bruno Latour, Science in Action, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, and London, 1987, pp.29 and 16.] ... what the [natural] sciences actually observe is not bare nature but always only nature-as-an-object of knowledge — which is always already fully encultured. ... Consequently, the natural sciences are usefully conceptualized as a subfield of social research. [Sandra Harding, “After the Neutrality Ideal: Science, Politics and ‘Strong Objectivity’,” Social Research, 59.3, p.575 and note 12.]Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    The first quotation is from Lynn Hankinson Nelson, Who Knows? From Quine to a Feminist Empiricism, Temple University Press, Philadelphia, PA, 1990, p.102; the second from a E-mail message, charmingly signed “yours in discourse, Steve Fuller,” 5.4.94, VM2.CIS.PITT.EDU. Fuller continues: Standards of “accuracy” might seem pretty stable over time if the people you're primarily trying to please are those who inherited the jobs of the previous generation's dynasts. ... However, if you are trying to court other constituencies, be they academic feminists or popular movements, then different standards will apply. ... I am quite happy to talk to anyone about standards of scholarship, once you tell me who you are trying to impress. And elsewhere he writes: ... the cognitive value of a [socially] reproduced perspective cannot be clearly distinguished from its social or “survival” value. [Steve Fuller, “Provocation on Reproducing Perspectives,” Social Epistemology, 2, 1988, 99–101, p.100.] A few more examples from my collection: ... knowledge is shaped by the assumptions, values and interests of a culture ... We can continue to do establishment science, comfortably wrapped in the myths of scientific rhetoric, or we can alter our intellectual allegiances. [Helen Longino, Science as Social Knowledge, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 1990, p.191.] [T]he conditions for the production of epistemologies are political in the sense that these conditions reflect social hierarchies of power and privilege to determine who can participate in epistemological discussions. ... [S]pecific theories of knowledge ... reflect the social locatedness of the particular theorists. ... [E]pistemologies have political effects insofar as they are discursive interventions in specific discursive and political spaces ... [Linda Alcoff, “How is Epistemology Political?”, in Roger S. Gottlieb, ed., Radical Philosophy: Tradition, Counter-Tradition, Politics, Temple University Press, Philadelphia, PA, 1993, p.66.] [W]e need to uncover masculinist bias and to construct accounts of epistemic practices that are free of such bias (as of other, interconnected biases) and adequate to the task of challenging it both in epistemology and, more importantly, in knowledge practices generally — that is, adequate to a feminist politics. [Naomi Scheman, “Feminist Epistemology,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Association, 68.1, 1994, p.80.]Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Perhaps, also, some Old Deferentialists are not quite innocent of the same confusion.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Making Science: Between Nature and Society, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA and London, 1992, pp.12, 21. Cole is, by the way, regarded as a dangerous moderate among hard-line social constructivists, since he allows that the world does, after all, play some role in science; see the review of his book by the egregious Steve Fuller, American Scientist, June, 1994, 295–6.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    For example: [I criticized various studies published in Science] for their sloppy methods, inconclusive findings, and unwarranted interpretations. ... Scientists are human, and each has a ... specific location with respect to gender, class, race and ethnicity, and consequently, a set of values, beliefs, viewpoints. ... [T]here must be ... an irreducible level of distortion or biasing of knowledge production simply because science is a social activity performed by human beings in a specific cultural and temporal context. [Ruth Bleier, “Science and the Construction of Meanings in the Neurosciences,” in Sue V. Rosser, ed., Feminism Within the Science and Health Care Professions: Overcoming Resistance, Pergamon Press, Oxford and New York, NY, 1988, 91–116, pp.92, 100. 101.] Nineteenth-century biologists and chemists claimed that women's brains were smaller than men's and women's ovaries and uteruses required much energy and rest in order to function properly. ... [F]eminist scholars have analyzed these self-serving theories and documented the absurdity of the claims. ... Feminist science ... must insist on the political nature and content of scientific work. ... [Ruth Hubbard, “Some Thoughts about the Masculinity of the Natural Sciences,” in M. M. Gergen, ed., Feminist Thought and the Structure of Knowledge, pp.7, 13.]Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    “The philosophy which is now in vogue ... cherishes certain tenets ... which tend to a deliberate and factitious despair, which ... cuts the sinews and spur of industry. ... And all for ... the miserable vainglory of having it believed that whatever has not yet been discovered and comprehended can never be discovered or comprehended hereafter” — Francis Bacon, The New Organon (1620), Book One, Aphorism LXXXVIII.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    It may be prudent to add that all I mean by this remark is that historians, detectives, investigative journalists and the rest of us all have perfectly good empirical knowledge; not that there are mysterious “ways of knowing” beyond experience and reasoning. It may be prudent to add, also, that I do not see literature as a competitor of science; briefly and roughly, science is a kind of inquiry, literature a kind of presentation — they are not properly conceived as rivals in the same domain. I discuss the nature of philosophical knowledge, and its relation to the scientific, in “Between the Scylla of Scientism and the Charybdis of Apriorism,” forthcoming in The Philosophy of Sir Peter Strawson, ed. Lewis Hahn, Open Court.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    The account sketched here is developed in detail in my Evidence and Inquiry: Towards Reconstruction in Epistemology, Blackwell, Oxford, 1993, chapter 4. In the interests of intelligibility and brevity I have deliberately simplified certain issues. I have written of a theory's being more or less warranted as shorthand for the relevant scientific sub-community's being, at a given time, more or less justified in accepting the theory. I have not spelled out (as I have in the book) how the degree of justification of a group of people depends on the degree to which each member is justified in his confidence in the reliability of the others. And I have written of “experiential evidence,” without here taking into account that it is, of course, individuals, not communities, that have perceptual experience.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    It is clear that Kuhn's view is that the subject's perceptual experience changes; see, particularly, “Second Thoughts,” in Suppe, The Structure of Scientific Theories. Mine, by contrast, is that the perceptual judgment, always dependent on background beliefs as well as one's perceptual experience, changes as the background beliefs change, but the experience itself does not.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    If the analogy strikes you as underestimating the difficulty of the problem, think of “diagramless” crosswords, where one doesn't know the number of letters an entry is to have!Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    It seems possible that Feyerabend's radical-sounding claims, that there is no scientific method, that “anything goes,” is based in part on the correct perception that there are many scientific techniques, but no exclusive method. But this correct perception is no encouragement to epistemological anarchism.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    “Co-operative and competitive” is intended as shorthand to indicate that, unlike some fuzzy feminists, I conceive of the relevant interactions, not simply as manifestations of “trust,” but as involving expertise, authority, institutionalized mutual criticism, and so on. David Hull, Science as Process, Chicago University Press, Chicago, IL, and London, 1988, is a good source on these matters.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    “ ... the ... causes of the triumph of modern science, the considerable numbers of workers and the singleness of heart with which—(we may forget that there are a few selfseekers ... they are so few)—they cast their whole being into the service of science lead, of course, to their unreserved discussion with one another, to each being fully informed about the work of his neighbor, and availing himself of that neighbor's results; and thus in storming the stronghold of truth one mounts upon the shoulders of another who has to ordinary apprehension failed, but has in truth succeeded in virtue of his failure”—C.S.Peirce, Collected Papers, 7.51.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Sandra Harding, Whose Science? Whose Knowledge?, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY, 1991, p.280.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Kuhn says something not dissimilar in “Postscript — 1969” to the second edition of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, p.199.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Cf. Michael Polanyi, “The Republic of Science,” in Knowing and Being, ed. Marjorie Greene, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, 1969, 49–62; and Susan Haack, “The First Rule of Reason,” forthcoming in The Rule of Reason, eds Brunning, J. and Forster, P., Toronto University Press.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Cynthia Crossen, Tainted Truth, Simon and Schuster, 1994, illustrates the kinds of danger I have in mind.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    The phrase comes from Paul R. Gross and Norman Levitt, “The Natural Sciences: Trouble Ahead? Yes,” (Academic Questions, 7.2, 1994, p.27), where the point I have mentioned is cogently argued.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Collected Papers, 5.172.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Susan Haack
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of MiamiCoral GablesUSA

Personalised recommendations