Possibility of Scientonomy - The Argument from Social Construction

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How is scientonomy possible if science is a social construction?

The Argument from Social Construction undermines the possibility of theory of scientific change. If it can be shown that science is a social construct, then it follows that there can be no general theory of scientific change. The meanings of “science” and “social construct” can be construed in various ways, which determine the line of reasoning that follows 1p. 90. However, ultimately, the fundamental idea to this challenge is that not only is the scientific practice a social activity in one way or another but the entirety of scientific mosaic is a product of social construction 1p. 90. Therefore, if science is driven by social factors such as politics, economics, cultures etc. that define the particular contexts wherein the scientific practice is conducted, then it follows that if the social factors were to be different in the past then Science could develop in ways that we cannot comprehend. For instance, we can conceive of an alternative history whereby the Newtonian corpuscular theory of light is replaced by a quantum theory rather than going through the intermediary stage of Fresnel’s wave theory 1p. 91. As a result, we cannot devise a general pattern or law that defines the changes that science undergoes because we cannot infer from the past what the social factors will be in the future and so the mosaic evolves in ways that is unpredictable. As such, the argument from social construction concludes that there is no general theory of scientific change. For example, the infamous case of Lysenkoism shows that the theories accepted by the scientific community in Soviet Union in 1940 was determined by the government. Genetics was labelled as a bourgeoise pseudo-science and Lamarckism was accepted instead. So, it can be seen that the social factors, namely, politics, determined the theory that came to be accepted by the scientific community 1p. 239. In the scientonomic context, a general of scientific change is not possible if science is a social construct 1p. 89.

In the scientonomic context, this question was first formulated by Hakob Barseghyan in 2015. The question is currently accepted as a legitimate topic for discussion by Scientonomy community. Response to the Argument from Social Construction (Barseghyan-2015) is currently accepted by Scientonomy community as the best available answer to the question. It is formulated as: "Science can be said to be socially constructed in several different senses (e.g. the contingency, nominalist, and reducibility theses). None of these preclude the possibility of scientonomy."

Broader History

The social constructivists do not use a particular line of reasoning to argue for their case. Over the years, various approaches have been taken to show that science is not independent of external sociocultural factors.

In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), Thomas Kuhn argues that Science cannot be investigated with an objective outlook, for the formulation of “objective” conclusions of science are products of the activity of subjective scientists and researchers in the first place. His idea was that science undergoes ‘paradigm shifts’ rather than progressing in a linear and continuous way 2p. 75.

In Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge (1970), Imre Lakatos claims that the scientific methodology constitutes research programmes that dictate, which theories are accepted over time 1p. 187. This implies that the method of theory acceptance is a subjective one. In The Social Construction of What (1999), Ian Hacking posits that the idea that Science is a social construct can be argued through the Contingency thesis and the Nominalist thesis 3p. 89.

The Contingency thesis argues that Science cannot be said to be deterministic as the evolution of scientific mosaic is not contingent. This claim implies that the scientific mosaic could develop in ways that we cannot predict (as any change to the mosaic if fundamentally not inevitable). As such, no general laws or theories of scientific change can be devised through inspection of the evolution of Science 3pp. 78-80.

The Nominalist Thesis posits that the scientific mosaic is not reflective of the inner structure of the world. This means that our scientific theories can describe our experiences and can serve as important instruments, but they do not ultimately reveal to us any truth about the external world. This is because the external world does not have any inherent structure, or at least as far as we know. Hence, one cannot predict the evolution of Science in the future or devise any such laws to describe them 3p. 84.

Another Social Constructivist thesis that undermines the possibility of scientific change is the Reducibility thesis. In The Laws of Scientific (2015), Barsegyhan discusses that the Reducibility thesis can be construed in three distinct forms 1p. 93:

Ontological Reducibility Thesis: “The scientific mosaic and scientific change cannot exist independently of the underlying social interactions.”

Epistemic Reducibility Thesis: “The axioms and theorems of a theory of scientific change can, in principle, be reduced to the laws of sociological theories.”

Methodological Reducibility Thesis: “The scientific mosaic and scientific change are most fruitfully studied not by a theory of scientific change, but by sociology.”

Scientonomic History

Acceptance Record

Here is the complete acceptance record of this question (it includes all the instances when the question was accepted as a legitimate topic for discussion by a community):
CommunityAccepted FromAcceptance IndicatorsStill AcceptedAccepted UntilRejection Indicators
Scientonomy1 January 2016This is when the community accepted its first answer to the question, Response to the Argument from Social Construction (Barseghyan-2015), which indicates that the question is itself legitimate.Yes

All Theories

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TheoryFormulationFormulated In
Response to the Argument from Social Construction (Barseghyan-2015)Science can be said to be socially constructed in several different senses (e.g. the contingency, nominalist, and reducibility theses). None of these preclude the possibility of scientonomy.2015

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Accepted Theories

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CommunityTheoryAccepted FromAccepted Until
ScientonomyResponse to the Argument from Social Construction (Barseghyan-2015)1 January 2016

Suggested Modifications

According to our records, there have been no suggested modifications on this topic.

Current View

In Scientonomy, the accepted answer to the question is Response to the Argument from Social Construction (Barseghyan-2015).

Response to the Argument from Social Construction (Barseghyan-2015) states: "Science can be said to be socially constructed in several different senses (e.g. the contingency, nominalist, and reducibility theses). None of these preclude the possibility of scientonomy." In The Laws of Scientific Change (2015), Hakob Barseghyan argues that none of the social constructivist theses preclude the possibility of a general theory of scientific change. He provides different reasons to invalidate each of the respective social constructivist theses. The general theory is that the argument from social construction does not undermine the possibility of the theory of scientific change (TSC). Barseghyan shows that each of the theses lead to bizarre implications that form threats not only to the scientonomic project but to all other disciplines that constitute descriptive propositions.

Firstly, the contingency thesis does not void the possibility of TSC because the contingency thesis itself is a general theory of scientific change. That is to say, the contingency thesis is itself a general descriptive proposition that is attempting to illustrate the mechanism by which science undergoes changes, namely, that there are no patterns in the evolution of science 1p. 92. For example, the idea that Aristotelian-Medieval physics could have been directly replaced by Einstein’s general relativity without the intermediary stage of Newtonian physics is an inference of the contingency thesis; such a claim is itself a descriptive proposition. Therefore, in virtue of the contingency thesis being a descriptive proposition, it falls under the same category of the general theory of scientific change. Hence, the contingency thesis does not invalidate the scientonomic project 1pp. 91-92.

Secondly, the nominalist thesis similarly does not undermine the possibility of TSC as its claim negates the validity of any descriptive proposition that attempts to describe a particular phenomenon. Given the nominalist claim, disciplines such as Biology, Chemistry and Physics, would have to be discredited because they too constitute descriptive propositions. Therefore, if the nominalist thesis were to be true, it would not only be a particular threat to the general theory of scientific change alone1p. 92.

Finally, all three reducibility theses do not endanger the scientonomic project:

• The ontological reducibility thesis does not undermine the project because the claim that higher-level systems compose of lower level elements does not imply that there can be no theory describing the higher-level system. For example, in Biology, the study of lower level elements like genes does not imply that a theory at a higher level is not possible: the theory of evolution is a description of a higher-level system, which would not be possible under this thesis. Likewise, the general theory of scientific change is not undermined by this thesis 1p. 94.

• The epistemic reducibility thesis is not an obstacle to TSC because it has an unprecedented implication just like the other thesis. If the thesis were to be true, then the laws of Biology would be reducible to the laws of Chemistry, which in turn would be reducible to the laws of Physics. The definition of epistemic reducibility is not clearly agreed upon or formulated. But, the basic premise would precludes not only TSC but all our schemes of knowledge. Therefore, it is not a threat to TSC particularly 1p. 94.

• The methodological reducibility thesis renders all higher-level theories pointless. It implies that only sociology can study the changes in the scientific mosaic and, therefore, TSC is ultimately plausible. But, since all higher-level theories are rendered pointless, all disciplines would be said to be futile with the exception of Physics (note: it is assumed here that all disciplines can be potentially reduced down to Physics). Therefore, just as the other theses, the methodological reducibility thesis does not put forth any danger to the possibility of TSC 1pp. 95-96.

Related Topics

This question is a subquestion of Possibility of Scientonomy.

This topic is also related to the following topic(s):

References

  1. a b c d e f g h i j k l m  Barseghyan, Hakob. (2015) The Laws of Scientific Change. Springer.
  2. ^  Godfrey-Smith, Peter. (2003) Theory and Reality. University of Chicago Press.
  3. a b c  Hacking, Ian. (1999) Social Construction of What? Harvard University Press.