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Logic & Scientific Philosophy

Anarchistic Epistemology – The Fallacies of Science. Liam, Clayton, Keagan

Imagine, if you will, an institution that claims to hold the key to all knowledge. No true understanding can come from anywhere else – everything we know now, and everything we ever will know, can only be discovered under its tutelage. More than that, this institution labels those who disagree with it fools, and heretics – people are laughed at and ridiculed when they present beliefs contrary to the standard dogma of this institution. Finally, the state is completely in its thrall – government supports it, funds it, and, even if more by rhetoric than by action, affirms its supremacy over all knowledge.

I am speaking, of course, of science. For what is science, but an establishment devoted to understanding the world through a certain light, a certain viewpoint, a certain process? Like the medieval Church it superseded, science is nothing but a set of rules by which we claim to, somehow, reach an ‘objective’ knowledge of the world. But how can it do that, when science itself is built upon a spider’s web of assumptions, viewpoints, and paradigms? However much scientists may claim to be objective, they are fundamentally not – by their very fact of existing in a certain time, in a certain place, in a certain culture. And if science has not an answer now, never fear – for some day, science will provide the answers to all questions. Some day, science shall uplift us all into a state of earthly heaven, providing for all of our needs and most of our wants. Yet still, when the science is proven wrong, is there humbling of heads, acceptance that all of our skill at science at one time led to a wrong answer? No! Instead, it reaffirms itself, positing that being proven wrong was all part of the plan, and is some step on the way to eventual true understanding.

Are we to simply accept this? No, say the anarchistic epistemologists – science is unreliable. Throughout history, we have done research and forwarded theories and thought them confirmed – until they were proven wrong, upheaving an entire generation of thought and shattering our prior notions about how things worked. Given that, can we trust the scientific method as the only – or even the main – method of inquiry we use to make sense of our surroundings?

The answer is no. Not with such a track record of inaccuracy, of bias, of interpretations that will later be ‘disproven’ by later interpretations of more and different things. But still, the scientific establishment dominates. Science, said Paul Feyerabend, is “only one of the many instruments man has invented to cope with his surroundings. It is not the only one, it is not infallible, and it has become too powerful, too pushy  and too dangerous to be left on its own.” Once upon a time, we believed in the separation of Church and state – the separation of the state from an institution that was convinced of its own supremacy over knowledge and thought and intent on having the final word on all the issues of the day. Now, it is time for the separation of state and science – lest we give an institution rotten with bias, perspective, and inconsistency the role of objective, impartial, and supreme purveyor of all that is true.

Follow me on Twitter: @LiamTheSaint

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Discussion

7 thoughts on “Anarchistic Epistemology – The Fallacies of Science. Liam, Clayton, Keagan

  1. I would reword this slightly.

    Science has been undeniably successful; it promises to allow us to manipulate the natural world, and it has.

    But we should not be lulled by this into believing a false view of science. What Feyerabend is saying is more like this: “Science should not be thought of *as* nothing but a set of rules by which we claim to, somehow, reach an ‘objective’ knowledge of the world.”

    Why not?
    – we say we follow the rules, but we don’t, really (and we shouldn’t) – that’s the major point of ‘Against Method’
    – we claim to have reached objective knowledge, but all knowledge is informed by perspective or context (but note: that doesn’t mean all beliefs are equal)

    Posted by Stephen Downes | October 19, 2012, 1:49 pm
  2. Not only is it open to the claim that it is capable of being wrong (which is in itself no trenchant critique of an epistemology) but moreso science is open to the claims of being ignorant of the material history in which it itself occurs. In it’s objectification of the “world out there” science often ends up projecting a vision of the world which is not only “the way it is” but “the only way it could ever have been understood,” not accepting the circle (variously vicious or virtuous depending on your take) it sets up with the material advancement of society that further underpins it and influences what gets looked at, and how. The fact that after 200 years+ of scientific revolution we live in a highly industrialized/technologized society is NOT an accident, but neither is it an inevitablity.

    Posted by nessman | October 19, 2012, 5:28 pm
  3. Boys,

    Great job. Is there any room for realism than in our understanding of science? In other words, while agreeing with the sketch of paradigmic upheavals in scientific understanding, does it ever produce true or approximately true (if that’s a coherent concept) knowledge of our world as is? How deep does your skepticism of science run? All the way down or only part way?

    Love this post.

    Chris

    Posted by Chris Price | October 19, 2012, 7:07 pm
    • Personally, I would say of course – at a certain level, you have to look right down at the material outcomes and decide whether or not holding up science as this paragon has been effective. Like Nessman mentioned above, I think the advancement we have made is a result of giving science the benefit of the doubt, so to speak, to develop and industrialize society.

      That said, from the anarchistic epistemologist perspective, our development would be accelerated even further were we to actually see science as just one of many ways to understand the world, and if we realize that it is inherently flawed, we would end up at a far more accurate and, I think, realistic view of the world.

      Posted by Liam St.Louis | October 21, 2012, 2:27 am
  4. Following the righteous separation of church from state, you now advocate for science to be removed from government. What exactly then is a better advisor than the most verifiable means we have to understand our world: science?

    ~ a Logical Positivist

    Posted by msbethechange | October 19, 2012, 7:49 pm
    • It is not a matter of there being a single better alternative. It is a matter of not giving science complete domination over the process of discovery and knowledge. There are other methods – most notably reason – that need to be given more credence, and not automatically discarded simply because science looks like it disagrees.

      Posted by Liam St.Louis | October 21, 2012, 2:32 am
      • “There are other methods – most notably reason – that need to be given more credence, and not automatically discarded simply because science looks like it disagrees.”

        This is a compelling idea to me: how do we go about giving more credence to reason in our public or political spheres? The ideas and conversation thriving here are an encouraging development, to be sure; but how do we invite, or demand that reason has more of a seat at the table beyond the blog or the wider halls of intellectual learning?

        Posted by bryanjack | October 21, 2012, 9:23 pm

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