Social Constructivism and the Philosophy of Science

By André Kukla | Go to book overview

6

Thea prioricase for constructivism

Despite indulgences in the rhetoric of radical empiricism, Latour does present something like a philosophical argument for constructivism. In Science in Action, he lists seven ‘rules of method’, which describe ‘what a priori decisions should be made in order to consider all of the empirical facts provided by the special disciplines as being part of the domain of “science, technology and society”’ (1987:17). Among the a priori decisions is the following:

Rule 3. Since the settlement of a controversy is the cause of Nature’s representation, not its consequence, we can never use this consequence, Nature, to explain how and why a controversy has been settled.

(1987:258)

Which of our several grades of constructivism is this ‘a priori decision’ intended to support? It arises in the context of a discussion of scientists’ practices, which suggests that the thesis being supported is scientific constructivism. But the claim sounds as though it was intended to apply to any and all epistemic practices. Surely the settlement of a controversy in everyday life, or in Azande practice, is neither more nor less the cause of Nature’s representation than it is in science. So perhaps it’s an argument (or a ‘decision’) for strong constructivism. In any case, it’s clearly not an argument for very strong constructivism, since there’s no incompatibility between its conclusion and the hypothesis of an unconstructed noumenal world.

Despite its being referred to as a ‘decision’, Rule 3 sounds very much like an argument: the antecedent is a ‘since’-clause, which suggests that it’s supposed to motivate our acceptance of the consequent. As an argument, however, Rule 3 is a non sequitur. The fact that the settlement of a controversy is the cause of ‘Nature’s representation’ may mean that Nature’s representation can’t be used to explain how a controversy is settled; but it doesn’t mean that Nature can’t be appealed to in this regard. To be sure, Latour believes that Nature’s representation is constitutive of Nature itself. But that’s supposed to be his conclusion. It’s patently circular to appeal to the constitutive thesis in its own defence.

-44-

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Social Constructivism and the Philosophy of Science
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Acknowledgements xi
  • 1 - Defining Constructivism 1
  • 2 - Constructivism and the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge 7
  • 3 - The Varieties of Dependence 19
  • 4 - The Varieties of Constitutive Constructivisms 24
  • 5 - The Empirical Case for Constructivism 32
  • 6 - The a Priori Case for Constructivism 44
  • 7 - Three Brief and Inadequate Objections to Constructivism 46
  • 8 - The Problem of Misrepresentation 51
  • 9 - Constructive Empiricism and Social Constructivism 59
  • 10 - The Infinite Regress of Constructions 68
  • 11 - The Duhemian Asymmetry 80
  • 12 - The Problem of the Two Societies 91
  • 13 - Constructivism and Time 105
  • 14 - Constructivism and Logic 119
  • 15 - Relativism 125
  • 16 - Semantic Constructivism 136
  • 17 - Irrationalism 149
  • 18 - Conclusions 160
  • References 164
  • Index 168
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