Displacing Epistemology: Being in the Midst of Technoscientific Practice [Book Review]

Foundations of Science 16 (2-3):227-243 (2011)

Abstract

Interest the Erklären–Verstehen debate is usually interpreted as primarily epistemological. By raising the possibility that there are fundamentally different methods for fundamentally different types of science, the debate puts into play all the standard issues—that is, issues concerning scientific explanation and justification, the unity and diversity of scientific disciplines, the reality of their subject matter, the accessibility of various subject matters to research, and so on. In this paper, however, I do not focus on any of these specific issues. I start instead from the fact that the very existence of the debate itself is an issue; in fact, it poses a philosophical problem that almost everyone but the hardest line logical empiricists has come to realize cannot be resolved epistemologically. In my view, however, that it cannot be resolved ontologically, either. I think the problem is at bottom hermeneutical, and its resolution requires that we focus first, not on the objects of science or the methods of studying them, but on the character of the philosophical orientation assumed by those who would try to resolve it. In this paper, I explain why I think this is so by analyzing (1) Dilthey’s contribution to the original debate, (2) Husserl’s reaction to Dilthey, and (3) Heidegger’s critical evaluation of both. This line of philosophical development—this movement of self-understanding from critiques of objectivism to hermeneutical phenomenology—is of course already a central feature of much work in continental philosophy of science. In my conclusion, however, I argue for the less well-established—even if apparently approved—idea that it ought to be a central feature of technoscience studies as well

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