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Wild Knowledge

Wild Knowledge: Science, Language, and Social Life in a Fragile Environment

Copyright Date: 1992
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Wild Knowledge
    Book Description:

    “A bold and timely challenge to our accepted notions of the connections between scientific knowledge, objectivity and our social and physical nature. . . . A polemical intervention into social and scientific theory that should be essential reading.” --David Frisby “In Wild Knowledge, Will Wright has once again played his strongest suit. In his examination of the scientific ethos he is savagely critical, yet the slave of no special polemic.” --Neil J. Smelser “An important book. Will Wright is an original and usefully idiosyncratic thinker.” --Evelyn Fox Keller

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8424-3
    Subjects: Population Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction: Ecological Incoherence
    (pp. 1-22)

    It is only somewhat comforting to realize that environmental destruction is becoming more of a general social concern than nuclear Armageddon. As the recognition of environmental dangers mounts — the greenhouse effect, the depletion of the ozone, the accumulation of toxic wastes, the pollution of food, the destruction of the forests — we hear increasing calls for the redirecting and restructuring of social and economic priorities: new productive strategies, international commitments, a planetary awareness. In this context new political lines are drawn and alliances formed—environmentalists begin talking with representatives of the nuclear power industry, environmental imperialism becomes a new international topic,...

  5. ONE The Desperate Privilege of Science
    (pp. 23-42)

    In our modern technological society, issues of knowledge and truth are generally understood as properly belonging to the domain of science. The scientific method of observation and experiment has convincingly demonstrated its ability to define, analyze, and answer the perennial questions of how the world works and how events are connected with actions. As a result, our culture has virtually identified the achievement of knowledge with the procedures of science. Science is understood as giving us valid knowledge, or as close to valid knowledge as we are ever likely to get. It can increase production, cure disease, transmit images, take...

  6. TWO Belief Systems
    (pp. 43-60)

    Science and religion have often been compared, but not often as legitimating belief systems, where both are seen as committed to legitimating specific kinds of social practices. Generally they are compared as differing efforts at prediction and explanation, functions at which science tends to excel, or as differing efforts at providing cultural meanings and values, functions at which religion tends to excel. In these cases the comparison typically rests on the differing definitions of what each does (provide technical control, provide social integration), and then demonstrates that each is better at doing its particular thing than the other. But if...

  7. THREE Nature as Politics
    (pp. 61-72)

    Today physics is generally understood as strictly an issue of nature, and not of social theory or politics, but in the seventeenth century physics was recognized as inherently social and political, as an effort to define new and legitimating ideas of truth and reality. Today we tend to take physics at face value, revelling in its natural discoveries and technical abilities, but we also live within industrial and technological institutions, and we tend to forget that these institutions were legitimated through the idea of objective nature, as that idea was defined by physics. Moreover, we tend to forget, or never...

  8. FOUR The Mathematics of Knowledge
    (pp. 73-94)

    This separation of valid knowledge from all things human is supposed to have been achieved through the idea of objective nature, with the associated idea that this nature can be directly and neutrally observed. But if science is analyzed as a social belief system, then the idea of objective nature is not seen as a uniquely objective version of reality, but rather as an interesting and unique way of defining the legitimating notions of truth and knowledge. From this perspective what is interesting about scientific knowledge from socail life, but that it has so successfully separated valid knowledge from social...

  9. FIVE The Knowing Individual
    (pp. 95-117)

    For the early scientists the rational necessity of mathematics could connect the rational mind to objective nature with certainty, but this connection depended on the authority of God, and science began to undermine that authority. As science moved out of the necessary domain of faith and into its own more empirical domain, its certainty as knowledge began to be questioned. With Berkeley and Hume this questioning began with a focus on the assumption of privileged observations, but soon the privileged rationality of mathematics was also challenged, since observation was defined in terms of mathematics. Generally these two epistemological issues have...

  10. SIX Scientific Social Theory
    (pp. 118-141)

    The new rational mind of scientific knowledge had its most direct effect on the legitimation of new social institutions, not on the understanding or the technology of natural processes. This legitimating effect was expressed in the development of social theory, first as political and economic theory and later as a broader discipline focusing on the general structure of social life. As nature became mathematical, social life became problematic, because it needed to be understood rationally, not traditionally, and yet it seemed to be infused with morality, and morality was contrary to rationality. Natural laws did not have to be legitimated,...

  11. SEVEN The Dilemma of Rationality
    (pp. 142-167)

    One of the central differences between scientific knowledge and religious knowledge is that science can legitimate the possibility of internal criticism against its own theories, whereas religion cannot. Science does this by assuming that reality is abstract rather than specific and therefore that the knowledge of reality is the knowledge of an abstract, formal order rather than the knowledge of a specific, substantive order. The formal order, of course, is mathematics—mathematical nature, mathematical rationality—as opposed to the substantive order of religious knowledge—traditional practices, ordinary language. By identifying reality with a formal order, science can use one mathematical...

  12. EIGHT The Reference to Language
    (pp. 168-192)

    From a religious perspective, knowledge is an issue of ordinary language, as magical signs, and is about maintaining the sacred tradition. From a scientific perspective, knowledge is an issue of mathematics, as absolute rationality, and is about describing objective nature. And from an ecological perspective, knowledge is an issue of the formal structure of language, as reflexive rationality, and is about sustaining its own formal (social-natural) possibility. In this last case the idea of knowledge is no longer referred to some postulated “true” reality, whether of gods or of nature, but rather is referred to the formal enabling conditions that...

  13. NINE The Ecology of Language
    (pp. 193-220)

    If knowledge is to be reflexive, it must recognize its own necessary relationship to social action, which means to social legitimation. Knowledge organizes actions on the world, and the only coherent criteria for the validity of knowledge are criteria evaluating the ability of knowledge claims to sustain the possibility of knowledge, through legitimated social actions. This means that if knowledge is to be valid, the world must be conceptualized as a certain kind of thing, as we have seen, and social life must be conceptualized as a certain kind of thing. In particular, social life must be conceptualized as necessarily...

  14. References
    (pp. 221-232)
  15. Index
    (pp. 233-236)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 237-237)