Epistemology and the Social: A Feedback Loop

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Abstract:

A sociological study of science is not very recent and has never been seen as particularly problematic since science, and especially modern science, constitutes an impressive and extremely ramified "social system" of activities, institutions, relations and interferences with other social systems. Less favourable, however, has been the consideration of a more recent trend in the philosophy of science known as the "sociological" philosophy of science, whose most debatable point consists in directly challenging the traditional epistemology of science and, in particular, in stripping scientific knowledge of its most appreciated characteristics of objectivity and rigour. A vicious circle seems to lie at the root of this sociological epistemology because, on the one hand, criticism of the traditional concept of scientific knowledge is developed by relying upon sociology, but this, on the other hand is reasonable only if sociology is credited with the status of a reliable instrument, that is, because it has been recognized as a science through an epistemological debate. In this paper it is shown that not all circles are vicious: in particular, feedback loops, positive and negative, are normally considered in cybernetic models of various processes. Negative feedback loops are fundamental in self-regulating processes and have already occurred from time to time in readjusting the concept of science itself. Therefore, a sociological epistemology of science can contribute to a more careful analysis of the real meaning and purport of the cognitive aspect of science, provided that it is not pushed to the self-defeating extreme of challenging the legitimacy of considering objectivity and rigour as the characteristic features of scientific knowledge.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: August 1, 2008

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