Social Constructivism and the Philosophy of Science

Social Constructivism and the Philosophy of Science

Social Constructivism and the Philosophy of Science

Social Constructivism and the Philosophy of Science

Synopsis

Are scientific facts constructed by scientists rather than discovered - in the same way as we construct all reality? This book presents a full discussion of the philosophical issues that arise out of this controversial debate.Andreacute; Kukla presents a comprehensive discussion of the philosophical issues that arise out of this controversial debate, analysing the various strengths and weaknesses of a range of constructivist positions. He argues that current philosophical objections to constructivism are drastically inconclusive, while offering and developing objections. Kukla shows that the strongest constructivist arguments still suffer from conceptual difficulties, illustrating the divide between the sociology and the philosophy of science through examples as varied as laboratory science, time, and criminality. Throughout, Kukla distinguishes between the social causes of scientific beliefs and the view that all ascertainable facts are constructed.

Excerpt

Is reality constructed by our own activity? Do we collectively invent the world rather than discover it? Those who are prone to answer these questions in the affirmative go by the generic name of social constructivists. The constructivist thesis is amenable to a great variety of interpretations, ranging from the banal to the literally earth-shattering. One might suspect, on general grounds, that the newsworthiness of each version would turn out to be inversely proportional to the strength of the case that can be mounted in its favour. I aim to find out whether this is so. In this book, I will try to distinguish various points of view that go by the name of constructivism, and to assess the import and merit of each. I’ll be particularly interested in the thesis that scientific facts are constructed. But I’ll also deal with several other related constructivisms. The most adventurous of these is the thesis that everything is constructed.

The literature of (scientific) constructivism has been generated both by sociologists, who tend to be enthusiastic supporters, and by philosophers of science, who tend to be incredulous critics. I will discuss both literatures. I won’t, however, spend much time going over or criticizing the details of the constructivists’ analyses of specific scientific facts. For the most part, I’ll take the empirical pronouncements of sociologists at face value. My question is whether these data can be made to sustain the metaphysical, epistemological, and (to a far lesser extent) ethical conclusions that have been drawn from them.

The issue of constructivism seems to raise philosophical passions to a high pitch. Some become livid at the very mention of the c-word; others are unbridled enthusiasts for the extremely counter-intuitive conclusions of half-baked analyses. In the end, these a priori predilections turn on whether one is endowed with a conservative or a radical intellectual temperament. There are two types of professional thinkers: normal scientists and paradigm-busters. The former derive their job satisfaction from sustaining and refining an established tradition; the latter are professional trouble-makers whose objective is to shake up the status quo. The former insist that the case for a radically new idea be extremely compelling before it earns the right to be taken seriously. The latter are willing to tolerate a greater risk of

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