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Must Scientific Knowledge Be Considered Relative?

 
 
Thomas
 
  2  
Reply Mon 7 Nov, 2011 09:48 pm
@JLNobody,
JLNobody wrote:
That virtually all science is socially constructed is an important truth, but from that it is does not follow that all social constructions are scientific. But I've never heard any social theorist assert that they are.

I'll take your word for it. I haven't read any sociology of science beyond Max Weber's Wissenschaft als Beruf first-hand, and am going by a general impression I'm getting from newspaper articles on the subject. My impression is that modern sociologists seem to think that scientific findings are a lot more arbitrary than they really are. I am also getting a sense that a lot of this alleged arbitrariness comes from a sentiment that, oh well, it's all socially constructed anyway.

Maybe it is. But suppose, for example, that an Indian tribe tries to veto the examination of a 5000-year-old skeleton on the grounds that it's one of their ancestors, and DNA analysis shows that it's not. Does that mean you retreat to relativism? ("They've got their socially-constructed truth and we've got ours") Or does the DNA verdict win out because mismatching genomes are hard facts whereas the revelations of some Indian elders are not? To me it's clearly the former. But I'm not sure at all that all sociologists would agree.
JLNobody
 
  1  
Reply Mon 7 Nov, 2011 10:25 pm
@Thomas,
I don't think that cultural (or epistemic) relativism goes so far as to assert that all propositions are equal because they are socially constructed. The problem seems to me that some perceptions, interpretations, and perspectives are more consistent with experience and predictive than others. But none are absolutely true--only provisionally better by the standard of prediction and control.
Regarding the conflicts between anthropologists and Indian communities. As far as I'm concerned the anthropologists are usually more realistic while the Indians are legitimately idealistic. Ultimately the issues are political, not scientific.
fresco
 
  1  
Reply Tue 8 Nov, 2011 01:31 am
@JLNobody,
Smile
Wasn't that his second marriage ?
(Maybe he was working on the inequation "the devil you know is better than the devil you didn't know")
0 Replies
 
wandeljw
 
  1  
Reply Tue 8 Nov, 2011 06:37 am
There are isolated examples where both liberals and conservatives have misused the concept of social construction. The 1980's and 1990's saw charges that science was sexist. Currently, conservatives use social construction to legitimize creationism or to deny climate change.
Thomas
 
  2  
Reply Tue 8 Nov, 2011 09:50 am
@wandeljw,
I guess that I don't mind social-constructionism (if that is the word), if in return you accept destruction-of-some-social-constructions-but-not-others-by-the-world-out-there-ism. (That is definitely not the word. What is the word? I think Poppers label critical rationalism comes to mind.)
wandeljw
 
  1  
Reply Tue 8 Nov, 2011 10:21 am
@Thomas,
Social constructivism is more dangerous when it is used to support pseudo-science. I hope Popper and others have given us enough criteria to separate science and pseudoscience.

(Actually, I myself feel that social factors should not be over-emphasized in the study of how science is practiced. Otherwise, the framework of a religious group may be treated as equally valid as the framework of natural scientists in explanations of natural phenomena.)
JLNobody
 
  1  
Reply Tue 8 Nov, 2011 11:07 am
@wandeljw,
On the contrary, social constructivism is not a set of prescriptive ideals about how science SHOULD be done; it is the rigorous description of how it IS done.
You seem to be advocating a BELIEF that science is a set of realities that are (or should be) practiced in ideal ways. Constructivism advocates the study of the realities of scientific practice. In this way Science becomes more sophisticated philosophically as opposed to being like a religious practice.
wandeljw
 
  2  
Reply Tue 8 Nov, 2011 11:40 am
@JLNobody,
JLNobody wrote:

On the contrary, social constructivism is not a set of prescriptive ideals about how science SHOULD be done; it is the rigorous description of how it IS done.
You seem to be advocating a BELIEF that science is a set of realities that are (or should be) practiced in ideal ways. Constructivism advocates the study of the realities of scientific practice. In this way Science becomes more sophisticated philosophically as opposed to being like a religious practice.


I did NOT describe social constructivism as a prescription for how science SHOULD be done.

As I have said before, it attempts to describe how science is practiced. My objection is that social factors should not be over-emphasized.
fresco
 
  1  
Reply Tue 8 Nov, 2011 11:59 am
@wandeljw,
Quote:
My objection is that social factors should not be over-emphasized.

Hmm....

I can't find the relevant quote just now but one comment (probably Einstein) was to the effect Relativity would not become completely accepted until the old guard was dead !
A second issue worth considering was Nazi Germany's preoccupation with "Aryan Science" which effectively delayed their development of an atomic weapon.
And finally, in this era, it is a well known ploy of scientists seeking funding to attempt to link their research proposal to "ecological issues".
wandeljw
 
  1  
Reply Tue 8 Nov, 2011 12:23 pm
@fresco,
Science is sometimes practiced that way, but not always.
0 Replies
 
JLNobody
 
  1  
Reply Tue 8 Nov, 2011 06:31 pm
@fresco,
Wandeljw, you note that sometimes "social factors" should not determine the results of scientific research. In the sense that you mean it that's right. But there is also the larger fact that Science, like virtually all behavior, is the historical and on-going product of social and cultural processes. There would be no such thing as science if there were no society and all the practices of cultural systems. This is the basis of "social constructivism", and the meaning of the phrase, The Social Construction of Reality.
Sorry for being so obvious.
The Pentacle Queen
 
  1  
Reply Tue 8 Nov, 2011 07:08 pm
@JLNobody,
JLNobody wrote:

Well, even if Einstein were making light, he was doing so regarding a profound truth. That is to say, he should have been serious. Mr. Green


You've touched on it slightly but, to go a bit off topic... I often think the most profound things are both serious and 'light'. In other words, they express something which resonates as a 'truth' but they do so in a self conscious manner, with a knowledge of their own superfluity. I like the reminder that there can't be a solid anchorage at all in meaning; that it's just mankind's operational paradigm; that really everything's absurd; that you might as well laugh. Einstein's flippancy was probably one of the wisest manners of delivery.
JLNobody
 
  1  
Reply Tue 8 Nov, 2011 08:05 pm
@The Pentacle Queen,
I stand corrected. What kind of zen practicioner am I?
Fil Albuquerque
 
  1  
Reply Tue 8 Nov, 2011 09:11 pm
@Thomas,
...touché !
0 Replies
 
wandeljw
 
  1  
Reply Wed 9 Nov, 2011 06:57 am
@JLNobody,
JLNobody wrote:

Wandeljw, you note that sometimes "social factors" should not determine the results of scientific research. In the sense that you mean it that's right. But there is also the larger fact that Science, like virtually all behavior, is the historical and on-going product of social and cultural processes. There would be no such thing as science if there were no society and all the practices of cultural systems. This is the basis of "social constructivism", and the meaning of the phrase, The Social Construction of Reality.
Sorry for being so obvious.


My use of terminology in this thread has been somewhat loose. I do want to make a distinction between "provisional" and "relative." Describing scientific theories as provisional suggests that they are open to revision based on new discoveries. Describing scientific theories as relative has, for me, a negative connotation that the theories are biased from some type of social framework.
JLNobody
 
  1  
Reply Wed 9 Nov, 2011 10:08 am
@wandeljw,
That's helpful.
0 Replies
 
The Pentacle Queen
 
  1  
Reply Wed 9 Nov, 2011 04:47 pm
@JLNobody,
JLNobody wrote:

I stand corrected. What kind of zen practicioner am I?


Ha, well no, that's just what I think. Do you agree?
0 Replies
 
JLNobody
 
  1  
Reply Wed 9 Nov, 2011 05:03 pm
@The Pentacle Queen,
Yes, we might as well laugh. We should laugh in part because we are superfluous and that is because Reality ( Truth, Dharma, etc.) is what it is regardless of our beliefs. So, intellectually speaking we need not get too worked up over our theories. When we get in immediate touch with what is we will enJOY those moments regardless of whether or not we can convince others of them.
0 Replies
 
bigstew
 
  1  
Reply Wed 9 Nov, 2011 05:36 pm
@JLNobody,
Quote:
The problem seems to me that some perceptions, interpretations, and perspectives are more consistent with experience and predictive than others. But none are absolutely true--only provisionally better by the standard of prediction and control.


Epistemic realism is entirely compatible with these statements, and in fact better explains why these statements obtain. Epistemic realism doesn't claims that empirical knowledge is absolutely true nor has to be. It claims, (and this is how scientific knowledge progresses), that empirical knowledge is aproximately true. Scientific methodology speaks to this, since teh modification of experimentation are attempts to measure independent and real phenomena.

Epistemic realism does assume there are absolute truths (real facts) though we may never know with any certainty what these truths are.

Someone needs to take anti realism out into the back yard and shoot it.
JLNobody
 
  1  
Reply Wed 9 Nov, 2011 08:02 pm
@bigstew,
Some poems are also more consistent with experience, but this does not make them absolutely factual.
You say that "Epistemic realism does assume there are absolute truths (real facts) though we may never know with any certainty what these truths are." Consider that we may never know with any certainty what they are because they are no more than interpretations. Your "real facts" are "little theories."
0 Replies
 
 

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