Scandalous Knowledge

Scandalous Knowledge: Science, Truth and the Human

Barbara Herrnstein Smith
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Scandalous Knowledge
    Book Description:

    This book explores the radical reconceptions of knowledge and science emerging from constructivist epistemology, social studies of science, and contemporary cognitive science. Smith reviews the key issues involved in the twentieth-century critiques of traditional views of human knowledge and scientific truth and gives an extensively informed explanation of the alternative accounts developed by Fleck, Kuhn, Foucault, Latour, and others. She also addresses the various anxieties (e.g., over ‘relativism’) and ‘wars’ occasioned by these developments, placing them in their historical contexts and arguing that they are largely misplaced or spurious. Smith then examines the currently perplexed relations between the natural and human sciences, the grandiose claims and dubious methods of evolutionary psychology, and the complex play of naturalist, humanist, and posthumanist ideologies in contemporary views of the relation between humans and animals.

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-2634-2
    Subjects: General Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Series Editor’s Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
    Martin McQuillan
  5. Chapter 1 Introduction: Scandals of Knowledge
    (pp. 1-17)

    It has been said that knowledge, or the problem of knowledge, is the scandal of philosophy. The scandal is philosophy’s apparent inability to show how, when and why we can be sure that we know something or, indeed, that we know anything. Philosopher Michael Williams writes: ‘Is it possible to obtain knowledge at all? This problem is pressing because there are powerful arguments, some very ancient, for the conclusion that it is not . . . Scepticism is the skeleton in Western rationalism’s closet’.¹ While it is not clear that the scandal matters to anyone but philosophers, philosophers point out...

  6. Chapter 2 Pre-Post-Modern Relativism
    (pp. 18-45)

    If ‘relativism’ means anything at all, it means a great many things. It is certainly not, though often regarded that way, a one-line ‘claim’ or ‘thesis’: for example, ‘man is the measure of all things’, ‘nothing is absolutely right or wrong’, ‘all opinions are equally valid’, and so forth.¹ Nor is it, I think, a permanent feature of a fixed logical landscape, a single perilous chasm into which incautious thinkers from Protagoras’ time to our own have ‘slid’ unawares or ‘fallen’ catastrophically. Indeed, it may be that relativism, at least in our own era, is nothing at all – a phantom...

  7. Chapter 3 Netting Truth: Ludwik Fleck’s Constructivist Genealogy
    (pp. 46-84)

    Truth, or the diverse types of situation to which we give that name, is, for the most part, a good thing to have. It is good, certainly, when friends are loyal, lovers faithful, their tears authentic, vows earnest, stories trustworthy. It is generally in our interest to know what’s up and what really happened. Not always, of course, or only: fiction and flattery, artifice and illusion, duplicity and pipe-dreams are also important, sometimes necessary, perhaps even, in their various ways, truthful, indeed sometimes supremely so – or so the poets have told us, though it’s not clear they’re to be trusted...

  8. Chapter 4 Cutting-Edge Equivocation: Conceptual Moves and Rhetorical Strategies in Contemporary Anti-Epistemology
    (pp. 85-107)

    We can derive some sense of the way intellectual life is experienced in some era from the recurrence of certain metaphors used to describe its conduct – for example, the frequency with which, in our own time, intellectual projects and achievements are described in terms of navigational finesse: the charting of passages between extremes, the steering of middle courses, the avoidance of the twin perils of Scylla and Charybdis. Thus an advertisement for philosopher Susan Haack’s book, Evidence and Inquiry, features a statement by Hilary Putnam praising the author for ‘elaborating and persuasively defending a position . . . which adroitly...

  9. Chapter 5 Disciplinary Cultures and Tribal Warfare: The Sciences and the Humanities Today
    (pp. 108-129)

    The durability of C.P. Snow’s notion of ‘the two cultures’ is a testament, no doubt, to the evocativeness and apparent continued aptness of the phrase, but also, one suspects, to the sense of scandal that has always attended it: its acknowledgement, that is, of extensive ignorance and provincialism among the educated classes and its image of the academy as divided into two mutually suspicious or indeed warring tribes. The intellectual map has shifted in important ways since Snow’s essay was first published, and his account of the differences between natural scientists and the group he called ‘literary intellectuals’ appears increasingly...

  10. Chapter 6 Super Natural Science: The Claims of Evolutionary Psychology
    (pp. 130-152)

    Evolutionary psychology, a recently constituted but already broadly extended programme in the study of human behaviour, is notable for, among other things, the unusually pre-emptive character of its claims. According to its major proponents, ‘reverse engineering’, the method that defines and distinguishes evolutionary psychology, permits identification of the underlying, innate mental mechanisms that govern all human behaviour, from incest-avoidance and femaleadolescent anorexia to past-tense formation and a taste for Victorian novels. In supplying these identifications, it is said, evolutionary psychologists provide genuinely scientific explanations for human behaviours and cultural practices that, up to now, have been improperly or inadequately explained...

  11. Chapter 7 Animal Relatives, Difficult Relations
    (pp. 153-171)

    The title of this chapter points to two sets of interrelated difficulties. Those in the first set arise chronically from our individual psychologically complex and often ambivalent relations to animals. The second set reflects the intellectually and ideologically crisscrossed connections among the various discourses currently concerned with those relations, including the movement for animal rights, ecological ethics, posthumanist theory, and such fields as primatology and evolutionary psychology. I begin with some general observations on kin and kinds – that is, relations and classifications – and then turn to the increasingly complex play of claims and counter-claims regarding the so-called species barrier.


  12. Works Cited
    (pp. 172-185)
  13. Index
    (pp. 186-198)