Scandalous Knowledge: Science, Truth and the Human

Edinburgh University Press
Free sample

This book explores the radical reconceptions of knowledge and science emerging from constructivist epistemology, social studies of science, and contemporary cognitive science. Smith reviews the key issues involved in the twentieth-century critiques of traditional views of human knowledge and scientific truth and gives an extensively informed explanation of the alternative accounts developed by Fleck, Kuhn, Foucault, Latour, and others. She also addresses the various anxieties (e.g., over 'relativism') and 'wars' occasioned by these developments, placing them in their historical contexts and arguing that they are largely misplaced or spurious. Smith then examines the currently perplexed relations between the natural and human sciences, the grandiose claims and dubious methods of evolutionary psychology, and the complex play of naturalist, humanist, and posthumanist ideologies in contemporary views of the relation between humans and animals.
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About the author

Barbara Herrnstein Smith is Braxton Craven Professor of Comparative Literature and English at the Duke University

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Additional Information

Publisher
Edinburgh University Press
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Published on
Jan 5, 2006
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Pages
208
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ISBN
9780748626342
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Language
English
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Genres
Science / Philosophy & Social Aspects
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This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Cultural critics say that "science is politics by other means," arguing that the results of scientific inquiry are profoundly shaped by the ideological agendas of powerful elites. They base their claims on historical case studies purporting to show the systematic intrusion of sexist, racist, capitalist, colonialist and/or professional interests into the very content of science. Physicist Alan Sokal recently poked fun at these claims by foisting a sly parody of the genre on the unwitting editors of the cultural studies journal Social Text touching off a still unabated torrent of editorials, articles, and heated classroom and Internet discussion. This hard-hitting collection picks up where Sokal left off. The essayists offer crisp and detailed critiques of case studies offered by the cultural critics as evidence that scientific results tell us more about social context than they do about the natural world. Pulling no punches, they identify numerous crude factual blunders (e.g. that Newton never performed any experiments) and egregious errors of emission, such as the attempt to explain the slow development of fluid dynamics solely in terms of gender bias. Where there are positive aspects of a flawed account, or something to be learned from it, they do not hesitate to say so. Their target is shoddy scholarship. Comprising new essays by distinguished scholars of history, philosophy, and science (including Sokal himself), this book raises a lively debate to a new level of seriousness.
Modern thought, finally free from premodern excesses of belief, immediately fell prey to excesses of doubt. This book points toward a postmodern approach to knowing that moves beyond the tired choice between dogma and skepticism. Its key deconstructive aim is to help contemporary philosophers see that their paralyzing modern “epistemological gap” is a myth. Its positive outcome, however, reverses the identification of “postmodern” with deconstruction rather than construction, with the “end of philosophy” rather than renewal in philosophy.

Knowing and Value begins by tracing how we got here, and argues that much of our modern dilemma rests on choices that might have gone otherwise. Key value judgments underlying Plato’s and Aristotle’s epistemological norms, which still tend to govern our theories of knowledge, are clarified. Next the value-laden sources of premodern attitudes toward knowing are exposed by showing how the Christian synthesis of faith and reason was at first built by medieval Platonists and Aristotelians, then razed by premodern nominalists. This diagnostic account concludes with a close look at how modernity, from Hobbes and Descartes to Kant, designed its own epistemological trap by rejecting some premodern values, while accepting others.

The book also examines the principal ways moderns (positivists, idealists, existentialists, and pragmatists) have tried to cope with the supposed epistemological gap—each without success, but with every failure leaving resources for rebuilding.

In a constructive climax, the book shows how an ecological worldview, emphasizing real relations (the view proposed in its predecessor volume, Being and Value) can heal the needless ruptures on which modern epistemic maladies depend. A reformed account of human experience confronts modern skepticism head-on; a fresh “process” approach to language and thinking is proposed; and finally, a postmodern, pluralist view of theories and truth is offered under a guiding aesthetic metaphor: “Knowing is the music of thought.”
In this important and original book, eminent scholar Barbara Herenstein Smith describes, assesses, and reflects upon a set of contemporary intellectual projects involving science, religion, and human cognition. One, which Smith calls "the New Naturalism", is the effort to explain religion on the basis of cognitive science. Another, which she calls "the New Natural Theology", is the attempt to reconcile natural-scientific accounts of the world with traditional religious belief. These two projects, she suggests, are in many ways mirror images -- or "natural reflections"--Of each other. Examing these and related efforts from the perspective of a constructivist-pragmatist epistemology, Smith argues that crucial aspects of belief - religious and other - that remain elusive or invisible under dominant rationalist and computational models are illuminated by views of human cognition that stress its dynamic, embodied, and interactive features. She also demonstrates how constructivist understandings of the formation and stabilization of knowledge - scientific and other - alert us to simularities in the springs of science and religion that are elsewhere seen largely in terms of difference and contrast. In Natural Reflections, Smith develops a sophisticated approach to issues often framed only polemically. Recognizing science and religion as complex, distinct domains of human practice, she also insists on their significant historical connections and cognitive continuities and offers important new modes of engagement with each of them--Jacket.
A prescient warning of a future we now inhabit, where fake news stories and Internet conspiracy theories play to a disaffected American populace

“A glorious book . . . A spirited defense of science . . . From the first page to the last, this book is a manifesto for clear thought.”—Los Angeles Times

How can we make intelligent decisions about our increasingly technology-driven lives if we don’t understand the difference between the myths of pseudoscience and the testable hypotheses of science? Pulitzer Prize-winning author and distinguished astronomer Carl Sagan argues that scientific thinking is critical not only to the pursuit of truth but to the very well-being of our democratic institutions.

Casting a wide net through history and culture, Sagan examines and authoritatively debunks such celebrated fallacies of the past as witchcraft, faith healing, demons, and UFOs. And yet, disturbingly, in today's so-called information age, pseudoscience is burgeoning with stories of alien abduction, channeling past lives, and communal hallucinations commanding growing attention and respect. As Sagan demonstrates with lucid eloquence, the siren song of unreason is not just a cultural wrong turn but a dangerous plunge into darkness that threatens our most basic freedoms.

Praise for The Demon-Haunted World

“Powerful . . . A stirring defense of informed rationality. . . Rich in surprising information and beautiful writing.”—The Washington Post Book World

“Compelling.”—USA Today

“A clear vision of what good science means and why it makes a difference. . . . A testimonial to the power of science and a warning of the dangers of unrestrained credulity.”—The Sciences

“Passionate.”—San Francisco Examiner-Chronicle
Mathematics, Science, and Postclassical Theory is a unique collection of essays dealing with the intersections between science and mathematics and the radical reconceptions of knowledge, language, proof, truth, and reality currently emerging from poststructuralist literary theory, constructivist history and sociology of science, and related work in contemporary philosophy. Featuring a distinguished group of international contributors, this volume engages themes and issues central to current theoretical debates in virtually all disciplines: agency, causality, determinacy, representation, and the social dynamics of knowledge.
In a substantive introductory essay, the editors explain the notion of "postclassical theory" and discuss the significance of ideas such as emergence and undecidability in current work in and on science and mathematics. Other essays include a witty examination of the relations among mathematical thinking, writing, and the technologies of virtual reality; an essay that reconstructs the conceptual practices that led to a crucial mathematical discovery—or construction—in the 19th century; a discussion of the implications of Bohr’s complementarity principle for classical ideas of reality; an examination of scientific laboratories as "hybrid" communities of humans and nonhumans; an analysis of metaphors of control, purpose, and necessity in contemporary biology; an exploration of truth and lies, and the play of words and numbers in Shakespeare, Frege, Wittgenstein, and Beckett; and a final chapter on recent engagements, or nonengagements, between rationalist/realist philosophy of science and contemporary science studies.


Contributors. Malcolm Ashmore, Michel Callon, Owen Flanagan, John Law, Susan Oyama, Andrew Pickering, Arkady Plotnitsky, Brian Rotman, Barbara Herrnstein Smith, John Vignaux Smyth, E. Roy Weintraub

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