Social Epistemology

This is a good read. At least if you’re interested in social constructivism – and how could you not be? It’s quite reflexive – a review of a book about Steve Fuller’s social epistemology. So we have three levels here: the reviewer, the book being reviewed, and the subject of the book being reviewed, which is the work of Steve Fuller. You need to know that to understand the quotations.

The framework of the book is outlined in the Introduction and further elaborated in Chapter 1. “Kuhn’s questioning of legitimation has become a central problem for discussion in the philosophy of science. The question that arises from Kuhn’s work is: What legitimizes scientific knowledge claims if science does not have a method to yield truth?” (2) Needless to say, this is a tendentious way of putting matters: what is meant by “if science does not have a method to yield truth”? Unobjectionable if it were to indicate the mere fallibilism of knowledge claims, discussable if it were to suggest instrumentalist anti-realism towards theoretical entities, interpretations become highly problematical when they deny the applicability of epistemological standards to the cognitive efforts of scientists.

Yup, that’s a tendentious way of putting matters all right. I wonder if social constructivists ever put matters in any other way. ‘If science does not have a method to yield truth’…Feh. Yeah I could put it better but Thomas Uebel did it for me, so I’ll just go with Feh.

“If science does not have the right method, a method that would guarantee access to truth, then it does not have privileged authority.” (11) That’s like saying that unless knowledge entails certainty, any belief is as good as any other. Yet no better argument for taking the radical problematic seriously is ever given

That ‘privileged authority’ trope is very popular. As, for that matter, is the slide from fallibilism to anything goes.

Again it is hard to discern an argument in Remedios’ review of Fuller’s tu quoque responses to various critics beyond the insistence that “normatively constituted groups” lie behind the “‘oversocialized individual who is a microcosm of the entire social order to which she belongs” (18). Instead, things begin to fall into place when Remedios observes that Fuller is not interested in “traditional problems of knowledge such as justified true belief” but rather “in how texts become certified as knowledge” (ibid.) and in “the material embodiment of knowledge”(19)…[I]ssues pertaining to epistemological justification are simply dropped from the discussion. Certainly Remedios’ affirmation that Fuller pursues the normative project as a “rational knowledge policy” with the goal of the “self-conscious reorganisation and administration of scientific disciplines for democratically chosen goals” (20) and his defense of Fuller against criticisms that he fails to address epistemological concerns do not allay the worry.

Uh oh. ‘self-conscious reorganisation and administration of scientific disciplines for democratically chosen goals’ is it. Have people like Fuller never heard of little items like ‘Intelligent Design’? Do they not realize that if it were put to a vote in the US, ID would replace biology in a great many public schools? Or do they know that perfectly well and think it’s only fair? Social constructivists are scary…

Remedios is aware that “philosophers may find Fuller’s rhetoric of inquiry unsatisfactory, for they may accuse Fuller of changing the subject to sociology and leaving problems of epistemic justification unanswered.” His response in Fuller’s voice, however, is equally unsatisfactory: “traditional notions of knowledge and justification are contested notions and cannot be assumed to be valid”. (7) The paucity of this response should be readily apparent. Calling notions contested does not absolve us from the task of providing defenses of the alternatives put forward. It is no good, therefore, to dismiss demands for explanations of why the replacement of epistemological concerns with political ones should help answer the original problem.

Especially since they’re the ones doing the contesting. That move is way too easy. Hey, I contest the traditional notion that the moon is a satellite of the earth, so it’s a contested notion, therefore the traditional notion that it is a satellite of the earth cannot be assumed to be valid. Period. On my say-so alone.

There’s a lot more. Check it out.

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