A House Built on Sand: Exposing Postmodernist Myths About Science

Oxford University Press
3
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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.
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About the author

Noretta Koertge is Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at Indiana University. A former chemist, she studied philosophy of science at the University of London and is the author of numerous articles on the methodology of both the natural and social sciences. She co-wrote (with Daphne Patai) Professing Feminism: Cautionary Tales from the Strange World of Women's Studies.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Oxford University Press
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Published on
Aug 27, 1998
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Pages
336
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ISBN
9780198027768
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Language
English
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Genres
Science / Philosophy & Social Aspects
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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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.”
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