But in the age of "alternative facts," he's coming to its defense.
After the Science Wars | Issue 45 | Philosophy Now
Central to Latour's work is the notion that facts are constructed by communities of scientists, and that there is no distinction between the social and technical elements of science. In the s, such relativist and "social-constructivist" views triggered a heated debate known as the "science wars.
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Latour, who retired last month from his official duties at Sciences Po, a university for the social sciences in Paris, spoke to Science about his goal of helping rebuild confidence in science. We only request your email address so that the person you are recommending the page to knows that you wanted them to see it, and that it is not junk mail. We do not capture any email address. By Jop de Vrieze. Bruno Latour was a thorn in scientists' sides.
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They also see it as ineluctably enmeshed with Western civilization and values, and are concerned with imposing such culturally relative perspectives on others. In contrast, the scientists see science as revealing universal analytic truths e. They also argue that the scientific method and the results it yields should be granted general political authority as they are far more reliable than authority based on social power, revelation, or tradition.
Each side of the debate has some merit, although the vision I am offering is ultimately more in line with modernist conceptions than postmodern ones because of its foundationalism. Nevertheless, the purely natural scientific worldview adopted by many is incomplete because it fails to effectively characterize the problem of values.
With its anti-foundationalism and periodic implication that all knowledge systems are power-based, local, and equally valid, postmodernism fails to generate cumulative knowledge, carries the seeds of its own implosion, and sets a dangerous stage for intellectual sophistry. What is needed is a new vision of human knowledge that effectively characterizes the relationship between science and humanistic values and points the way toward a higher purpose.
Let us consider how science has impacted human justification systems at large. One of the most significant consequences of the Enlightenment and the modern scientific revolution has been the displacement of pre-modern mythologies. In many regards this displacement can be viewed as positive.
Historically, many such mythologies were grounded in intuition , revelation, tradition, and authority, rather than logic and evidence. Thus those following science can take solace in its insights and scoff at the immaturity of those ideas of yesteryear.
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And yet, while science has undeniably provided us more and more accurate models of the universe, it has also come with a significant price. Barry Schwartz detailed the battle for human nature that took place as the rise of science occurred, and he examined the fallout at the levels of values, meaning, and purpose. He detailed how, just over a century ago, the higher educational system in America taught moral philosophy , and in so doing it attempted to create a community of common values and shared aspirations.
Following the growth of science and its in famous insistence on the separation of ought from is, higher education became a place where people learned about how the world was but were no longer taught how they ought to be.
Schwartz argued that the result has been the loss of moral direction. Instead of a moral compass, Schwartz argued that people have been given enormous freedom to construct their own lives and make their own decisions. Although this outcome clearly has had many positive elements, it also has resulted in large numbers of people who are fundamentally unsure when it comes to their philosophy of life.
Why is this the case? Because purely scientific justification systems are incomplete. What is needed is a way to blend scientific justifications and their emphasis on semantic precision, logical coherence, and evidence with subjective, social, and moral elements into a comprehensive system of justification that can place both sides of the scientific humanistic dialectic into a coherent whole. I suspect that the radical postmodern philosophy or anti-philosophy derives from a proposition which is true as far as it goes, but is then made to apply in areas where it doesn't apply.
I refer to the old riddle: The radicals take that notion and run with it.
The anti-aesthetic of their anti-philosophy says that Beauty is neither an abstract Platonic ideal nor something in the eye of every individual beholder, but a preference in the eye of the most powerful beholder who then proceeds to impose it on everybody else. So if the prevailing standards of feminine beauty oppress all ordinary-looking women, and if the prevailing standards of artistic merit in painting, literature, music or what-have-you marginalize and exclude all artists outside the Euro-Anglo-North American orbit, they were consciously created for just that purpose by the evil, wicked Powers That Be.
Marcum - - International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 22 2: Can Scientists Be Objective? Malcolm Williams - - Social Epistemology 20 2: How to Tell Science From Bunk.
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