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Cogent Science in Context

Cogent Science in Context: The Science Wars, Argumentation Theory, and Habermas

William Rehg
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 360
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  • Book Info
    Cogent Science in Context
    Book Description:

    Recent years have seen a series of intense, increasingly acrimonious debates over the status and legitimacy of the natural sciences. These "science wars" take place in the public arena--with current battles over evolution and global warming--and in academia, where assumptions about scientific objectivity have been called into question. Given these hostilities, what makes a scientific claim merit our consideration? In Cogent Science in Context, William Rehg examines what makes scientific arguments cogent--that is, strong and convincing--and how we should assess that cogency. Drawing on the tools of argumentation theory, Rehg proposes a multidimensional, context-sensitive framework both for understanding the cogency of scientific arguments and for conducting cooperative interdisciplinary assessments of the cogency of actual scientific arguments. Rehg closely examines Jürgen Habermas's argumentation theory and its implications for understanding cogency, applying it to a case from high-energy physics. A series of problems, however, beset Habermas's approach. In response, Rehg outlines his own "critical contextualist" approach, which uses argumentation-theory categories in a new and more context-sensitive way inspired by ethnography of science.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-25531-8
    Subjects: General Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction: Science Wars, New and Old
    (pp. 1-14)

    Today one can hardly avoid noticing an odd polarization in attitudes toward the natural sciences. What makes the polarization odd is its place. It does not appear so much as a split between two areas of the globe—between an allegedly rational, secular West and religious, tradition-bound non-Western cultures. Rather, the polarization is found precisely in those Western cultures that have been historically most committed to the advancement of science and technology. This is especially true in the United States. Among the international leaders in science and technology, the United States has nonetheless been the host of intense, increasingly acrimonious...

  5. I The Argumentative Turn in Science Studies

    • 1 Science as Argumentative Practice
      (pp. 17-32)

      The normative framework I propose in this book links the assessment of expert claims with the notion of cogent scientific argumentation. The idea that scientific practices depend centrally on social processes of argumentation and not simply on experimentation, is, I believe, rather widely accepted. That argumentation can provide a sufficiently comprehensive framework in which to understand the sciences is a more ambitious assumption. In this chapter I provide some initial clarification of what I mean by science as a set of “argumentation practices.” I also introduce the conceptual framework I employ in Parts I and II for analyzing scientific argumentation....

    • 2 Kuhn’s Gap: From Logic to Sociology
      (pp. 33-56)

      In this and the next chapter, I use clues from the broad categories in chapter 1 to identify the various ideas of argumentation that have arisen autochthonously within science studies after Kuhn. These clues provide a framework organized around the different perspectives—logical, dialectical, rhetorical, and social-institutional—on argumentation as a social practice whose “processes” and “procedures” generate particular kinds of “products.” With this framework as a kind of heuristic, one can discern in responses to Kuhn an emergent order in the various perspectives that scholars of science have taken on processes of scientific argumentation. More specifically, Kuhn’s analysis of...

    • 3 Closing the Gap: Three Rhetorical Perspectives on Science
      (pp. 57-80)

      Kuhn’s Gap initially appears in hisStructure of Scientific Revolutionsas an apparent tension in his attitude toward scientific change. On the one hand, he rejects the formal-logical reconstructions of logical empiricism, stressing conceptual incommensurability and institutional structures in science; on the other hand, he appears reluctant to abandon the logical perspective altogether, insisting that scientists are reasonably persuaded by good reasons, and thus by the content of arguments. He resolves this tension by looking to the social-institutional dynamics of science as collectively rational and thus progressive: collectively and in the long run, scientists respond to good reasons. But in...

    • Postscript I: The Return of the Logical: Achinstein’s Realist Theory of Evidence
      (pp. 81-98)

      In chapter 2 I presented Hempel’s syntactical model of confirmation as an attempt to define the cogency of evidential arguments in terms of their intrinsic formal merits. On that interpretation, Hempel’s articles on confirmation mark out one end of a spectrum of positions on argument evaluation—a position that focuses on the abstract logical properties of the product of inquiry as a set of evidence- and hypothesis-statements. This model goes the farthest in the attempt to detach the cogency of scientific arguments from context and process. In rejecting Hempel’s logical-empiricist approach to cogency, Kuhn, Pera, and Prelli agree that the...

  6. II Integrating Perspectives:: Habermas’s Discourse Theory

    • 4 Habermas’s Critical Theory and Science: Truth and Accountability
      (pp. 101-128)

      In the previous chapters I have sketched a range of perspectives that emerged in the science studies literature before and after Kuhn. The various perspectives align with different approaches to the study of argumentation—logical, dialectical, rhetorical, sociological—each of which implies a different approach to the cogency of scientific arguments. If one wants to bring the full panoply of argumentation-theoretic resources to bear on critical assessment, however, then some integration, and most likely some selection, is required.

      In this and the following chapters I examine in detail an attempt to integrate these perspectives on argumentative practices: Habermas’s discourse theory....

    • 5 Habermas’s Theory of Argumentation as an Integrated Model of Cogency
      (pp. 129-162)

      I now take up Habermas’s argumentation theory in detail. The issues connected with Kuhn’s Gap provide the specific challenges that govern my engagement with Habermas. As I described that gap in Part I, it raises a number of questions: how to mediate between logic (good reasons) and social psychology (effective persuasion); what status the science community and its institutions should play in a conception of cogency; and how one connects descriptive and prescriptive analyses and fosters cooperation between the normative and empirical branches of science studies.

      As one might anticipate from chapter 4, Habermas’s commitment to a formal-pragmatic theory of...

    • 6 Argumentation at Fermilab: Putting the Habermasian Model to Work
      (pp. 163-194)

      I now turn to an actual case of scientific argumentation, an episode leading up to the discovery of the top quark at Fermilab. Although Habermas’s model is often criticized as overly idealized, this case displays features that fit his analysis. In writing their papers, the scientists at Fermilab sought consensus on both the conclusions and supporting evidence; their methods of discussion presuppose dialectical ideals similar to Habermas’s. This initial congeniality thus makes points of divergence all the more interesting.

      I use the case primarily as a way of further clarifying Habermas’s model and examining its potential for illuminating actual processes...

    • Postscript II: Who’s Afraid of SSK? The Problem and Possibilities of Interdisciplinary Cooperation
      (pp. 195-210)

      In the last three chapters I argued that Habermas’s argumentation theory implies a social conception of the cogency of scientific arguments. As such, his model of cogency goes a long way toward bridging Kuhn’s Gap. Conceptually, the model integrates logical, dialogical, and social-institutional perspectives on scientific argumentation. Thus the merits that constitute cogency include the dialogical adequacy of the social processes from which logically strong arguments emerge as products. To evaluate scientific arguments, then, one must examine not only their content but also the social-institutional process. The latter task calls for an interdisciplinary approach that draws on sociological analysis. To...

  7. III Toward a Critical Contextualist Framework for Interdisciplinary Assessment

    • 7 Adjusting the Pragmatic Turn: Lessons from Ethnomethodology
      (pp. 213-240)

      My argument up to now has attempted to demonstrate the relevance of argumentation theory for the interdisciplinary study of the sciences as embodied social practices. In Part I, I employed categories from argumentation theory to illuminate developments in science studies. There I described how theorists tend to approach the study of scientific argumentation using different analytic perspectives, which commit them to different conceptions of the cogency of scientific arguments. These differences pose a challenge for interdisciplinary cooperation, namely to bridge the gap that Kuhn created (perhaps inadvertently) between logical and social-institutional perspectives on cogency. In Part II, I explored some...

    • 8 Three Dimensions of Argument Cogency—A Contextualist Case Study
      (pp. 241-268)

      What makes an argument cogent? Argumentation theorists have generally answered this question by supplying a list of general standards—standards of formal and informal logic, rules of dialectical testing and rhetorically effective persuasion. In many of these approaches, context enters in primarily through the rhetorical perspective, which focuses on the ways in which persuasiveness depends on the “rhetorical situation,” above all on properties of the particular audience. Beyond these rhetorical particularities, contextual differences tend to be marked off rather broadly, according to one or another typology of discourses: conversational, scientific, legal, and so on.¹ Habermas’s typology of validity claims, each...

    • 9 Critical Science Studies and the Good Society
      (pp. 269-296)

      The previous chapter opens the door to a range of further questions. Most point to issues beyond the scope of this book, but I hope to address some of them at least briefly. Before doing so, however, I recapitulate the overall thrust of my argument and its implications for interdisciplinarity (sec. 1). I then take up some further issues that serve to further clarify certain aspects of the critical contextualist model (sec. 2), and I close with some tentative explorations of the more difficult questions that have been lurking in the background since chapter 7 (sec. 3).

      This book has...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 297-312)
  9. References
    (pp. 313-336)
  10. Index
    (pp. 337-346)