IEET > Fellows > Riccardo Campa
Postmodernism is Old, Let Us Go Further

A collective and intercultural pamphlet against a wrong form of skepticism

Riccardo Campa (Italy)
Michal Ossowski (Poland)
Mirabelle Le Boulicaut (France)
Monika Hołówka (Poland)
Lucas Mazur (USA)
Joanna Reinelt (Poland)
Anna Jurczak (Poland)

This paper means to be a collective and intercultural pamphlet against the postmodern approach to knowledge. However, our criticism – mainly directed at deconstructionism, constructivism, relativism and methodological anarchism – is not grounded in old positivistic philosophy. We are young scholars and students whose teachers were mainly postmodernists, therefore we accept some of their ideas, but we also feel it necessary to stress the many limits of this approach and its inadequacy to respond to the challenges of the present day. From our perspective, postmodernism is not a new approach that must be simply studied, but an old one that needs to be surpassed. One of the merits of postmodernism is that it showed that positivism was too dogmatic and optimistic with regards to the progress of knowledge and civilization. However, in responding to positivism, postmodernism has gone too far in producing skepticism and pessimism. In addition, postmodernism is paradoxical when rejecting the categories of truth and progress, while still considering itself to be an approach better than positivism. Up to now the argument used to defend its preferability was its novelty. But an idea that is forty years old and was already anticipated at the beginning of the twentieth century cannot be treated as new. For all of these reasons this paper should be seen as one of the first examples of post-postmodern thought.

Positivism against postmodernism: tertium non datur? Postmodernism is a polymorphic cultural movement that contains in itself many different approaches. The form that postmodernism takes inside the philosophy of science is methodological anarchism, an explicitly antiscience doctrine formulated and defended by Paul Feyerabend. In general philosophy, it is worth mentioning the work of Jean-François Lyotard, Richard Rorty, and Gianni Vattimo. In literary criticism, postmodernism takes mainly the form of Derrida’s deconstructionism. We also find postmodern approaches to art, economics, geography, psychology, and many other disciplines, but it is in the sociology of science that postmodernism has become totally dominant, in the form of constructivism or relativism. It is currently dominant to such a degree that today it is hard to find a non-postmodern sociologist of science. Here is a list of some of the postmodern practitioners of this discipline: Harry Collins, David Travis, Trevor Pinch, David Bloor, Barry Barnes, Steven Shapin, Donald MacKenzie, Bill Harvey, Andy Pickering, Roger Krohn, Richard Whitley, Karin Knorr-Cetina, Mulkay, Nigel Gilbert, Steve Woolgar, and Bruno Latour.

To say what all of these approaches have in common is not easy task, but it is worth trying. According to us, most of the scholars who qualify as postmodernists in literature, philosophy, and the social sciences share the following features:

• Claim to novelty. They present their ideas as revolutionary or radically new, and they assume that new and fashionable ideas are preferable to old and unfashionable ones.

• Tendency toward pessimism. They qualify as modern or positivistic the approaches that precede them and consider them to be mistakes of the past – this mainly because, in their eyes, positivism showed too much faith in human reason, science, and technology. This optimism is seen as a mistake because it was then betrayed by history (in the form of World Wars, totalitarianism, the Holocaust, nuclear threat, pollution, poverty in the third world, etc.).

• Ambiguous skepticism. They refuse the category of truth and they make all possible effort not to use this concept-and-term in their writings. They nonetheless criticize other works and believe their own to be preferable to those produced by their critics. They also deny the category of cognitive progress, and likewise take pains not to use it in their writings. However, they seem to believe that the paradigm-shift from positivism to postmodernism was a good thing.

• Anti-scientific attitude. They believe that human reason, and especially western-type rationality (which finds expression mainly in science and technology), is harmful to humankind and that it is one of the major causes of problems in modern societies. Indeed, they generally accuse positivism of having privileged mathematics, engineering and the natural sciences, while having undervalued art, humanities and the social sciences. In response they do the opposite.

In brief, postmodernism equals supposed novelty, skepticism, pessimism, and antiscience (plus a certain degree of logical incoherence). We are perfectly aware that characterizing in such a synthetic way a movement formed by hundreds of thinkers with their own specific ideas and personalities could be interpreted as an oversimplification, but it was hard to avoid this inconvenience in the space of such a short paper. However, even in longer writings, postmodernists did not take the trouble to distinguish between rationalists, positivists, logical positivists, neorationalists, analitic philosophers, critical rationalists and other types of modern thinkers, simply labeling them positivists. As post-postmodernists, we feel legitimated in doing the same. But why do we stress the fact that our criticism comes from a post-postmodern perspective? That is because we do not simply prefer tradition to novelty, dogmatism to skepticism, optimism to pessimism, natural sciences to humanities, as positivists would do. Our position is indeed an attempt at finding a third road, one alternative to those tread by positivism and postmodernism. Let us now present in detail our criticism of the above-mentioned aspects of the postmodern approach.

Claim to novelty. Why does the problem of novelty become of vital importance when speaking of postmodernism? Postmodernists affirm that ideas are neither true nor false, in a universal sense, but only “trendy” or “non-trendy”. To be sure, postmodernists are ambiguous concerning relativism: at times they appear to accept it in order to stress their novelty in contrast to the modern perspective, but since relativism is self-refuting from a logical point of view and produces nihilism from a moral point of view, postmodernists distance themselves from it – when it is convenient – by using the now classic argument «but I never said that…».  If they never said that, that is, if they reject relativism, where then is the novelty of this approach? Relativism is a double-edged sword: on the one hand, it is necessary in order to show originality, but on the other hand, the moral and cognitive criticism of consistent relativists is reduced to a matter of taste. Such criticism is meaningful only if one refers to universal values. If postmodernism does not fully embrace cognitive and moral relativism, then it does not exist – not, at least, as a new perspective. The postmodernists would still fall in the wake of the modern tradition, and due to their ambiguity and lack of clarity, they would be deemed of less value than modern thinkers. We do not evaluate postmodern thinkers more negatively than modern ones, as we interpret them to be radical relativists (and no consistent postmodern should complain about this interpretation because, after all, as Derrida said, all interpretations are equally good or bad and the intention of the author is not that important…). But if all ideas are equally right or wrong, correct or incorrect, and this applies also to relativism, why then should someone choose relativism? One of the typical answers to this question is that postmodernism is preferable to positivism, because it is consistent with the last change of paradigm, that is, because it is new and fashionable. As post-postmodernists, we are ready to accept this argument, but we must also stress that now postmodernism is anything but new. It was new. How can a doctrine forty years old be new or trendy? Postmodernism has its roots in the Counterculture and in the “Flower Power” age. We have already entered the post-postmodern era. Thus the ideas of the postmodernists, though interesting, are no longer adequately fit the current social situation.

Someone may object: but who decided that we entered the post-postmodern era? We may answer by saying that a passive acceptance of relativism made sense in the Cold War era, when humankind was separated into at least three independent worlds, but it does not make sense in a globalized and interdependent world, where the problem of one is the problem of all. Lyotard often referred to nation-states and governments, but today, pollution, terrorism and information know no borders. In the post-postmodern condition one can feel the growing need for common values – that is, human values – to face new social problems.

We could also mention the fact that the new generations are not as paranoid about computerization as was Lyotard. In 1979 it was hard to predict that the Internet would come to strengthen individuals, and not only multi-national corporations, as producers and consumers of ideas. This has, however, taken place, and information technology is now seen, especially by young people, as a factor of liberation, and not of oppression as in Orwell’s 1984 scenario. It is not by chance that in Italian slang, all words connected with hi-tech now have very positive connotations. A “cyborg” is a “cool person”, and “replicant” means “superior to human miseries.” If you want to praise someone or something you say plastiko, kosmiko, iper-tekniko, cyber, cibernetiko, robotizzato, mekkanizzato. If you want to offend someone you say “flower power” which means “definitively out of fashion”; and dulcis in fundo “post-post” denotes something hard to define but surely very very trendy. 

But we have a better argument than these, that is, a postmodern one. Who decided that in 1945 modernity has finished and postmodernity had begun? Postmodernists – and without asking the permission to the modernists. To put into practice what we learned from our teachers, we freely assert that post-postmodernity starts from the day of the publication of this article.

Tendency toward pessimism. Postmodern philosophy has produced a quite pessimistic view of reality: humans – prisoners of the conceptual apparatus implanted in their minds by such superhuman entities as their Community, Society, or Historical Age – are hopelessly condemned to live in a world that they will never understand. Every human is supposed to be incapable of understanding him/herself, incapable of understanding his/her own society, incapable of communicating and dealing with humans belonging to other societies or having different worldviews, incapable of understanding the natural world, incapable of using technical knowledge for ethically acceptable purposes, and incapable of grasping the truth and meaning of existence. “Impossibility” can be seen as one of the key words of postmodernism. The forms of knowledge that have given some hope to humanity – philosophy, religion, science, and technology – are under the threat of this current of thought and risk being reduced to ruins. Are we exaggerating? This is not simply the image of postmodernism that a few scholars and students have acquired inside the world of universities. Pope John Paul II has decided to write an encyclical denouncing the dangers of postmodernism,  indicating that postmodern philosophy has also gained this same reputation outside academia. We may be believers or non-believers, this is not the matter here. With this quotation, we simply aim to show that defending or criticizing postmodernism is not just an innocent intellectual game inside academia. As is well known, the Church has learned through mistakes (e.g., the Galileo affair) to be very cautious when interfering with philosophical and scientific research. Thus, if the Church now moves, it does not do so rashly.

However, we leave to religious people the task of defending faith, and we focus our attention on the two most explicitly outraged forms of knowledge: science and technology. First of all, science and technology are understood all too often to be as one, and when rarely the difference is recognized, science is seen as the servant of technology. It is true, especially in the 20th century, that humans have clearly understood the connection between abstract knowledge and action, and so created a virtuous circle between science and technology. But the two activities remain in principle different. The theory of relativity was not formulated with the intention of bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Moreover, the theory was proved by means of small-scale experiments long before its military applications were discovered. This is to say that science is not and does not have to be necessarily produced in view of applications.

Lyotard points out that science, and the logic it necessarily entails, speaks a “denotative” language. In other words, it aims to describe objective reality, but, contrarily to narrative forms of knowledge (e.g., myths), does not serve as a normative guide to humans. As such, it is outside the realm of other very real and very true elements of human existence, such as love, hate, questions of morality, man’s search for meaning, etc. Lyotard is partly right, but he is talking about that caricature of science produced by positivists – that is, a merely technologically oriented science. Comte, the father of Positivism, considered disinterested research a crime and invited scientists not to study macroscopic or microscopic objects (stars, atoms, etc.) because he considered them useless to the technological needs of humanity.  Pure science, however, being still strictly connected and intertwined with philosophy, always tries and has tried to answer the ultimate questions of man: who we are? where are we from? where are we going? what is life? what is matter? when and how did the universe come into existence? will it exist forever? etc. These are the same questions asked and answered by myths, religions, and philosophies. Pure science is marching in the same direction as these other forms of knowledge, albeit with different methods. Only those who do not trust their own beliefs can fear science, for all discoveries about the genetic code, the atomic structure of matter, the beginning of the universe, the origin of humans via evolution, the functioning of neurons, etc., are bringing us closer and closer to revealing the mystery of our existence. These answers are compatible with some religious and mythical explanations and incompatible with others, and thus may help to get rid of, or reinterpret, the incompatible ones. Those who really care about these fundamental questions can be anything but pessimistic when watching the cognitive progress of pure science in recent years. 

How can we say that science is cold or merely denotative when it aims to answer the ultimate questions of humans? Postmodernists, when speaking about science, are clearly talking about applied science or engineering. In this perspective, what they say is true: technical knowledge is mute about the uses that can be made of it. Technology is constitutively a-moral, therefore not necessarily moral or immoral. When talking about technology, we reject both the optimism of positivists and the pessimism of postmodernists, precisely for this reason. As an alternative, we try to focus on the possibilities that we have to use technology in positive ways, and here we have the problem of ethics.

Technological advancements have given us the tools to both help and hurt our fellow man on a scale yet unprecedented in human history, and this does, or at least should, give mankind pause when tinkering with the natural world. While such technology may be new, the propensity to act in such ways is fortunately and unfortunately not. If it were in fact something new, we could halt the whole process at the objections of postmodernism, and rest assured that kindness would prevail among men. The active rejection of “scientific” knowledge via paralogy would be the cure for the ills of society. This does not, however, reflect reality. Technology is too important to humanity to be left going where it wants or to be reduced to a target of blame and contempt. Technology must be governed. In order to come to consensus on a planetary level about the ways in which we are to govern technology, we must first believe there to be good and bad narratives and, secondly, via intercultural discussion, actively seek out the good ones.

In short, between a doctrine that seems to believe that the developments of knowledge and society are necessary and necessarily good and that science and technology are capable of solving all the problems of humanity (positivism) and a pessimistic doctrine that simply states the impossibility of progress in knowledge and ethics (postmodernism), we defend the idea of the possibility (that is, neither the necessity nor impossibility) of positive developments in both fields.

Ambiguous skepticism. We consider the problem of skepticism and methodological relativism to be one of the major weaknesses of postmodern thought. As mentioned before, writers who think of themselves as postmodernists refuse the categories of truth and cognitive progress. We can summarize their attitude towards research in the following single sentence: “...the natural world has a small or non-existent role in the construction of scientific knowledge” . At times, in order to support their opinions they attempt to discredit the work of scientific teams. A good example of this is the book Laboratory Life by Latour and Woolgar.  Despite their relativism, they are still ready to claim the ability to criticize other works on the basis of some better (do they mean “more true”?) postmodern paradigm. Moreover, after stating that facts are socially constructed, and not simply theory-laden, some of them still insist on the empirical nature of their own findings and on the value of empirical studies in general. Knorr , for example, seems to believe that direct observation of the object (science) will reveal its actual nature. This contradiction vanishes under one condition: one must assume that social scientists, unlike natural scientists, can directly observe their object of study and understand its real nature. If postmodern sociologists of knowledge have developed a special method that permits them to observe and understand reality, why do not they teach it to natural scientists? Do they keep secret their miraculous method because they enjoy observing natural scientists naively busy with inventing/constructing entities such as planets, stars, earthquakes, atoms, genes, neurons, and electrons?

Consistent relativists admit that they do not have such a miraculous method. In order to avoid the contradiction of claiming the universality of the negation of universality, they conclude that relativism is true only for relativists. Relativism is not supported by evidence, but is just one more ideology on a par with positivism. Relativism is a matter of faith. But even when they accept this painful conclusion, relativists are still able to contradict themselves. By trying to be logically coherent, they submit themselves to the universal laws of logic. Conclusion: we cannot escape universalism.

Postmodernists also say that their approach, being radically empiricist, avoids metaphysics. The constructivist Zybertowicz writes that he is “against explanations of knowledge which refer to standards and categories that transcend the empirical reality” and that his “interest is not whether the ideas produced by science are true in any metaphysical sense, but in finding social causes of variation in their social reputation.” However, it is enough to admit that there is an external world to produce metaphysics, because the existence of something outside our mind is not demonstrable with empirical methods. Only solipsism permits the avoidance of metaphysics, but most constructivists seem to believe that the scientists they are studying actually exist.  Conclusion: as we cannot escape universalism, we cannot escape metaphysics. If so, why not accept a more reasonable image of knowledge? There are scientific theories that explain quite satisfactorily many natural, and even social, phenomena. There are devices built on the basis of scientific theories that work effectively in everyday life. There are also many cases of accidental discoveries in both the social and natural sciences. Why not accept the simple truth that not every fact that we observe is necessarily contained in the theories we already know and that not all knowledge is related to the social structure that regulates the behavior of scientists? Once we are aware of the unavoidability of metaphysics, why not use the terms “truth” and “progress”, instead of the many ridiculous locutions used by postmodernists to symbolize the same concepts?

In short, in between a doctrine that seems to assume that everything can be known through the application of true scientific method, but then focuses only on the surface of phenomena (positivism) and a doctrine that seems to affirm that nothing can be known because all knowledge is relative and determined by the social structure (postmodernism), we believe that something can be known by means of observations, metaphysical reflections, logical calculus, intuition, deduction, induction, criticism, or rational discussion. Therefore, we encourage dialogue in all its forms and any attempt to search for truth, justice and beauty.

Anti-scientific attitude. Postmodernism is often associated with “antiscience”. Sometimes the two are even equated . These interpretations are not groundless, as seen in the following quotation: “Science is much closer to myth than a scientific philosophy is prepared to admit. It is one of the many forms of thought that have been developed by man, and not necessarily the best. It is conspicuous, noisy, and impudent, but it is inherently superior only for those who have already decided in favor of a certain ideology, or who have accepted it without ever having examined its advantages and its limits. And as the accepting and rejecting of ideologies should be left to the individual it follows that the separation of state and church must be complemented by the separation of state and science, that most recent, most aggressive, and most dogmatic religious institution. Such a separation may be our only chance to achieve a humanity we are capable of, but have never fully realized.” 

We do not know to what extent postmodernism is anti-scientific, but as postmodernists themselves affirm, it is only the reputation of ideas that really matters. To be sure, they have not done much in the way of clearing their name of such conclusions. Someone may object that Feyerabend and his followers are not antiscience, but simply a-science. Indeed they do not state that science is worse than other types of knowledge, but only that it is not better. This is, however, a mere sophism. Consider a football match in which team A is much stronger than team B. Team A is close to winning, but the corrupted referee leads to a draw. Can we say that the referee is not anti-team A, merely because he did not make them lose?

It is true that science and myths have something in common: the questions. Nonetheless, it does not seem very reasonable to deny that science has gone much farther in answering some of these questions, especially those falling under the rubric of cosmology and ontology. Feyerabend, being a histrionic personage, was just exaggerating for the sake of discussion. There is evidence of this in his private correspondence with Lakatos. Unfortunately, an entire generation of students with no sense of humor took him seriously and has become much more dogmatic and aggressive than that science criticized by Feyerabend. If Feyerabend were still alive and could see how postmodernists behave, he would probably become a post-postmodernist!

Even assuming that science is a myth or narrative on par with others, to ask for the separation between state and science implies a reference to a superior value: democracy. If all narratives are equally good or bad, how can postmodernists assume the positivist myth of heroic science to be worse than a narrative like “full democracy”? To be consistent, they should accept the myth of science and respect it. But we know well that they do not. They react quite vehemently each time someone tries to defend what they call the ideology of science and reason. The real motto of postmodernism is not “anything goes,” but “anything goes, if you agree with us”. Feyerabend showed some admiration for the scientist-philosopher of the past, who was professionally disinterested and dealt with the ultimate questions of man, while he has contempt for what he has called “the human ants” presently working in scientific laboratories.  If this is the problem, why not defend disinterested and philosophically oriented science? Also Lyotard complains, due to the mercantilization of knowledge students no longer ask if something is true, but rather of what use it is to them. At least two questions then arise: how can one be surprised that his/her students do not look for truth, if they are taught that there is no objective truth? And why does Lyotard, like Feyerabend, not lift a finger to promote disinterested knowledge? Indeed postmodernists were able to criticize the mercantilization of knowledge and, at the same time, to reject disinterested science as a pure ideology.  This is not, however, schizophrenia. The naked truth is that postmodernists could gain popularity by criticizing science, whether applied or pure, commercial or disinterested. At that time, attacking science and defending art, myths, and the humanities was original and also remunerative in economic terms . In a world in which hundreds articles and books are published everyday, originality is much more important than truth.

Nonetheless, the times have changed. Now, to be antiscience is outdated, as was being a positivist in the 1970s. The internet and new graphic technologies have increased the number publications to such an extent that even the eccentricity of an author does not help him/her to be noticed in the noise. Thus, in post-postmodern times there is no longer a reason to abandon reasonability. Paradoxically, this first contribution to post-postmodern thought is original precisely because it is reasonable.

In brief, in between a doctrine that glorifies mathematics, engineering and the natural sciences as the only type of genuine knowledge or as an example for all other sciences (positivism), and a doctrine that discredits these disciplines and sets them against art, the humanities and the social sciences in order to gain visibility (postmodernism), we defend the ideal of harmony in the fields of culture and knowledge and we consider good intellectuals those who enjoy reading and discussing poetry, literature, religion, history, the social sciences, music, mathematics, engineering, the natural sciences, and all historically known forms of knowledge, in a mild and reasonable way. In other words, against harmful and idiosyncratic forms of specialization, we suggest a moderate form of polymathism – which should not be interpreted as the arrogance of knowing everything, but rather as the wise openness to everything.

Conclusions. In democratic countries there are specific social institutions in which knowledge can be treated as one social problem among others (e.g. governments, mass media). We do not think that academia is the right place to throw doubt upon the very raison d’être of knowledge. A man of knowledge who does not love knowledge appears to our eyes as a judge who dislikes justice, a physician who dislikes health, a priest who dislikes faith, an artist who dislikes beauty, a parliamentarian who dislikes democracy. If it is true that postmodernists do not love knowledge, then Bunge is right in defining postmodernism as a Trojan horse stabled in academia with the aim of destroying it.

It is, however, possible that postmodernists never had such bad intentions. We cannot exclude the possibility that they have been, on the contrary, inspired by philanthropic feelings: by imposing relativism they simply wanted to serve humanity, as this was supposed to be the philosophical ground on which a world of peace, pluralism, and tolerance could be built. Even so, they would have failed to understand that it is not the degree in which humans believe that produce tolerance or intolerance, but rather the nature of the belief and the psychological profile of the believer. In certain cases, the stronger the belief, the higher the tolerance. It is also possible that postmodernists are mere victims of yet another misunderstanding: they took too seriously the image of knowledge produced by positivists. Quite significantly, they adopted the worst version of the scientific method, the positivistic one, in order to discredit the scientific method. Similarly – with a clearly ironic intent – we adopted the worst postmodern arguments in order to refute postmodernism. Indeed we do not believe ideas to be good or bad simply because they are new or old, but rather that they are more or less plausible or, in the best case, true or false.

Nonetheless, we hope that a post-postmodern era will indeed be ushered in shortly by our work and that of other young scholars and students. Our hope is that this era will represent the age of the re-birth, or renaissance, of knowledge – not merely the practical knowledge praised by the positivists and attacked by the postmodernists, but that form of knowledge to which philosophy, science, religion, art, and myths – from their different but mutually enriching points of view – have always tried to tend: answers to the ultimate questions of humans. True, we do not know if such knowledge is attainable, but affirming the impossibility is as gratuitous as affirming a possibility. Thus, we prefer to engage in a joyful search for truth, justice, and beauty, rather than to despair in a horizon of nihilism. Nietzsche, the nihilist par excellence, said that man is just a falling drop of rain. We think that the human condition is not so sour, that is, if the drop can at least cultivate the hope of falling into the infinite ocean of truth.


Riccardo Campa Ph.D. is a fellow of the IEET, and an associate professor of sociology at the University of Cracow. He is the author of Epistemological Dimensions of Robert Merton’s Sociology and Il filosofo è nudo, and the founder and president of the Italian Transhumanist Association.


I absolutely agree!

Very good! At last!! an answer!
Maybe post-post-modernism and anti-anti-science should get less recursive names?
Like, ehhmmm… Recursionism?

Because, people just being somewhat more intelligent apes that passed the treshold where they could use recursion to suddenly understand much more then other animals (but still not that much) seems to lead to our cumbersome relationship to knowledge.
I mean, we are very stupid aren’t we? So the post-modernists seam right. But then, we can use recursion to put some conclusions about some facts in a box with a label, then use some of these boxes to get to the next level etc. So in the end we can build something like the internet where our nephews the chimpasees never get past the first step, using a stick.

A few years back there was an article in Current Anthropology explaining why constructivism had made such great inroads in the field. It was titled something like “...: Why anthropology took it on the chin.” The idea was that anthro was vulnerable due to the lack of first person pronouns typical of antho description.

Concerning the reason the post-modern and constructivist nonsense has been so successful, my theory is the existential crisis caused by science eroding the traditional (religious) sources of meaning. By (the attempted) epistemological undermining of science, the nonsense allows the traditional to be maintained.

The Ernest Becker Foundation is best place to look for the theory:

The 1998 issue of Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science, is the best short intro to current research.

I seriously doubt that one can classify “Harry Collins, David Travis, Trevor Pinch, David Bloor, Barry Barnes, Steven Shapin, Donald MacKenzie, Bill Harvey, Andy Pickering, Roger Krohn, Richard Whitley, Karin Knorr-Cetina, Mulkay, Nigel Gilbert, Steve Woolgar, and Bruno Latour” in the same category and not be making a very grave simplification.
There are several serious misgivings in this manifesto. While a superficial reading of say, Feyerabend, could give the impression of his being an “anti-science” character, one finds recurrently in his writings that he is anything but that (sometimes quite openly). What Feyerabend definitely was very against, was the establishment of unmovable scientific knowledge elites (in fact, of all cultural elites). Feyerabend was a physicist. One of his earlier and less radical papers, the wonderful “How to Be a Good Empiricist: A Plea for Tolerance in Matter s Epistemological” is a very good account of how a scientific theory (the Copenhagen interpretation of Quantum Mechanics) can become an epistemological tyrant over empirically equivalent alternatives (e.g. D. Bohm’s pilot wave formulation), hence the title of the text. This he later extended to science as a cultural exercise on a social scale, indeed. But to his last day, Feyerabend insisted that he was not anti-science. How can this be true?
According to this manifesto, these author’s anti-scientificism is shown by the fact that

“They believe that human reason, and especially western-type rationality (which finds expression mainly in science and technology), is harmful to humankind and that it is one of the major causes of problems in modern societies”

While this is certainly very true in postmodernist writers, I challenge the signers of the above manifesto to show me a single place in, say, the writings of Harry Collins where he either implicitly or explicitly espouses the view that “human reason, and especially western-type rationality (which finds expression mainly in science and technology), is harmful to humankind and that it is one of the major causes of problems in modern societies”.  Certainly, one may find that Collins challenges the epistemic idealism espoused by pro-science positivism, and his descriptions of science may be good or bad, but as far as holding the radical anti-science views as described above that is blatantly and provably untrue. I am sure that this would hold true for most of the authors mentioned alongside him upon closer examination (Latour, being a true radical postmodernist in the group, being a possible exception).
To challenge science is not to the same as being anti-scientific. To challenge science’s epistemic authority is not to be anti-science. To espouse epistemological pluralism is not to be anti-science. To examine the workings of scientists in day to day life, and find that they are as fallible as everyone else is not to be anti-science. To openly discuss science’s arguments and epistemic grounds is not being anti-science. In short, to criticize something is not by definition to be against the thing one is criticizing. As a physicist, one of the greatest things I see in science is the intrinsic ability of its members and makers to criticize the old by the way of a good argument (at least in principle). Indeed, science’s strength may lie precisely in its ability to sustain claims to novelty by brave newcomers, itself only possible by its permanent yet balanced state of healthy skepticism (whoever claims to be a scientist and yet not a skeptic is either lying or a very bad scientist; whoever claims that these are not characteristics of scientific research, has clearly never been involved in real world science). So if these are values that are not only present but actively encouraged in scientific practice, why yet be afraid of them?

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