Knowledge in science and engineering

Synthese 168 (3):319 - 331 (2009)
Abstract
It is now fashionable to say that science and technology are social constructions. This is true, or rather, a truism. Man is a social animal. Man is a linguistic animal, and language is social. Hence all products of human activities and everything that involves language are social constructions. But an assertion that covers everything becomes empty. The constructionist mantra that science or technology is “not a simple input from nature” attacks a straw man, for no one denies the necessity of enormous human efforts in research, development, and design. To say that these are social activities should not imply that they are indistinguishable from other social activities such as politicking or profiteering. An investigation into their peculiarities will bring to relief their intellectual and technical characteristics. The argument that science and technology are social constructions because they involve many assumptions is again a truism. Whenever we think, whenever we find things intelligible, we invariably have used some concepts and made some assumptions. Philosophers such as Kant have painstakingly analyzed concepts without which intelligibility is impossible. The important questions are not whether scientists and engineers make assumptions but what kind of assumptions they make; not whether they make judgments, but what kind of reasons they offer to support their judgments. Are the assumptions and justifications all social? Or are they mainly technical? Admittedly, the boundaries between the two are not always sharp, but is it impossible to make any differentiation at all?
Keywords Epistemology of technology  Engineering  Science
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