Role of Sociocultural Factors in Theory Acceptance
What is the role of sociocultural factors, such as economics or politics, in the process of theory acceptance?
The question of the role of the so-called sociocultural factors has been one of the most troublesome questions for the classic philosophers of science. Can social, political, and economic factor influence the process of theory acceptance and method employment?
In Scientonomy, the accepted answer to the question is:
- Sociocultural factors can affect the process of theory acceptance insofar as it is permitted by the method employed at the time.
The question of the influence of sociocultural factors in theory acceptance is generally a question that emerged in the 20th century, and is certainly not unique to Barseghyan’s Laws of Scientific Change. The topic is typically tied up in discussions of "social constructivism" or "(social) relativism," amongst a slew of alternate terms. Ludwik Fleck is often considered the father, or precursor, of social constructivism in science, although this was not necessarily recognized until after Kuhn published The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.
Ludwik Fleck was one of the first scholars to describe science not as a system of logical method evaluation, but as something rooted in social processes. Fleck makes no reference to “method” in the traditional sense, but attests that scientific facts are discovered rather than tested,1 only insofar as permitted by the “thought-style” of a community, which is its manner of perception. In this way, the discovery of facts is a socially constrained process for Fleck, and furthermore, the advancement and refinement of facts is developed only as a series of misunderstandings between individual scientists, scientists and the public, and old and new generations of scientists.2 Thus, Fleck seems to claim that the acceptance of new “facts” is inherently a social process.
Thomas Kuhn attempted to address the threat to a static method from history. In Structure he notes that science from other time periods and other cultures seem to arrive at very different theories despite all being sufficiently “scientific” or rigorous, which can appear to be a social process. Kuhn proposed that between different communities, which are internally rational and consistent, revolutionary periods produce “incommensurable” ways of viewing the world. Moves from one incommensurable paradigm to another, says Kuhn, will be determined by socio-political factors, but science otherwise follows a method between two revolutions.3
David Bloor is known for advocating for the Strong Programme in the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge. This programme proposed that no form of rationality was beyond the realm of cultural influence and norms.4 Paul Forman wrote perhaps the seminal example from SSK, demonstrating that a link can be drawn between the anti-traditionalist and anti-rationalist culture of Weimar Germany, and the acceptance of a Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, for its seemingly mystic properties.5 SSK purports that socio-political norms, across all times, are fundamental to theory evaluation and acceptance.6
Bruno Latour is the major proponent of Actor-Network Theory, which he presents in Reassembling the Social as contrasted to previous sociological approaches. ANT rejects the idea that there are rational human processes, such as a static scientific method, and then hypothesizing about “external” sociocultural factors, but presupposes that any network of person-to-person or person-to-object interaction is responsible for the construction of social reality.7 In Latour and Woolgar’s Laboratory Life, this method of approaching the social is demonstrated, by meticulously describing the way social constraints act to produce a specific scientific fact. This does not occur in a vacuum of data, but in a network of scientists who act more like a “strange tribe” following specific rituals with expensive laboratory equipment.8
|1 January 2016
|That is when the community accepted its first answer to this question, the Sociocultural Factors in Theory Acceptance theorem (Barseghyan-2015), which indicates that the question is itself considered legitimate.
|Sociocultural Factors in Theory Acceptance theorem (Barseghyan-2015)
|Sociocultural factors can affect the process of theory acceptance insofar as it is permitted by the method employed at the time.
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|Sociocultural Factors in Theory Acceptance theorem (Barseghyan-2015)
|1 January 2016
In Scientonomy, the accepted answer to the question is Sociocultural Factors in Theory Acceptance theorem (Barseghyan-2015).
Sociocultural Factors in Theory Acceptance theorem (Barseghyan-2015) states: "Sociocultural factors can affect the process of theory acceptance insofar as it is permitted by the method employed at the time."
Sociocultural factors can impact the process of a theory's acceptance when the employed method of the community allows for such factors to affect the process. This is derived by the Second Law alone. For example, a community which ascribes infallible power to a leader or a group of leaders is in a position to accept a theory in virtue of the leaders. Furthermore, such factors can guide a scientific community to reject a theory based on the acceptance of another social theory with which it is at odds.
Barseghyan’s Laws of Scientific Change break from the traditional language used in philosophy of science, of internal versus external factors in the mosaic. External factors, a term that has traditionally referred to the influences of societal trends, politics, religion, and so on, if defined as “elements not included in the mosaic” then we must accept that these do not affect the mosaic at the time by the the very definition. This is the result of the fact that the 2nd law introduces new theories in the context of the accepted methods at the time. As a result, the language of “external” factors is problematic.9
Socio-cultural factors ought to be defined more explicitly. The question is, instead, whether factors such as economics, politics, and religion can influence the theories accepted in the mosaic. It follows from the Second Law that theories are assessed by the method in the mosaic at the time. Therefore, if the method at the time mandates economic, political, religious, or other social requirements to be met by a theory before it is accept, only then do socio-cultural factors influence theory acceptance.
Barseghyan provides the example of a hypothetical religious community, with an accepted belief (i.e. theory) that holds that the religion’s High Priest always grasps the true essence of things. By the Third Law, a method may be employed the mosaic that states that any proposition is acceptable, given that the High Priest utters it. In this case, it would appear as though socio-cultural factors are influencing, if not dictating, the course of scientific change in the community. This should not be confused with a case where a High Priest or other elite enforces their beliefs unscientifically, through threats, bribery, or otherwise. Should this happen, the change would be unscientific, as it would violate either the method employed at the time (and thereby the Second Law), or it would be creating a method in the mosaic which does not follow from the accepted theories at the time (and thereby the Third Law).9
This question is a subquestion of Role of Sociocultural Factors in Scientific Change.
This topic is also related to the following topic(s):
- Fleck, Ludwik. (1979) Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact. University of Chicago Press.
- Sady, Wojciech. (2016) Ludwik Fleck. In Zalta (Ed.) (2016). Retrieved from http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2016/entries/fleck/.
- Kuhn, Thomas. (1962) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. University of Chicago Press.
- Blanchard, Thomas and Goldman, Alvin. (2016) Social Epistemology. In Zalta (Ed.) (2016). Retrieved from https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/epistemology-social/.
- Forman, Paul. (1971) Weimar culture, causality, and quantum theory, 1918-1927: Adaptation by German physicists and mathematicians to a hostile intellectual environment. Historical studies in the physical sciences 3, 1-115.
- Godfrey-Smith, Peter. (2003) Theory and Reality. University of Chicago Press.
- Latour, Bruno. (2005) Reassembling the social. OUP Oxford.
- Latour, Bruno and Woolgar, Steve. (1979) Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts. Princeton University Press.
- Barseghyan, Hakob. (2015) The Laws of Scientific Change. Springer.