Incredulity towards Lyotard: A critique of a postmodernist account of science and knowledge

Philosophers of science have paid little attention, positive or negative, to Lyotard’s book The postmodern condition, even though it has been popular in other fields. We set out some of the reasons for this neglect. Lyotard thought that sciences could be justified by non-scientific narratives . We show why this is unacceptable, and why many of Lyotard’s characterisations of science are either implausible or are narrowly positivist. One of Lyotard’s themes is that the nature of knowledge has changed and thereby so has society itself. However much of what Lyotard says muddles epistemological matters about the definition of ‘knowledge’ with sociological claims about how information circulates in modern society. We distinguish two kinds of legitimation of science: epistemic and socio-political. In proclaiming ‘incredulity towards metanarratives’ Lyotard has nothing to say about how epistemic and methodological principles are to be justified . He also gives a bad argument as to why there can be no epistemic legitimation, which is based on an act/content confusion, and a confusion between making an agreement and the content of what is agreed to. As for socio-political legitimation, Lyotard’s discussion remains at the abstract level of science as a whole rather than at the level of the particular applications of sciences. Moreover his positive points can be accepted without taking on board any of his postmodernist account of science. Finally we argue that Lyotard’s account of paralogy, which is meant to provide a ‘postmodern’ style of justification, is a failure.Author Keywords: Lyotard; Postmodernism; Science; Knowledge; Legitimation; Philosophy of science
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DOI 10.1016/S0039-3681(03)00024-4
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References found in this work BETA
Joseph Rouse (1991). Philosophy of Science and the Persistent Narratives of Modernity. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 22 (1):141-162.
Herbert Paul Grice (1967). Logic and Conversation. In Paul Grice (ed.), Studies in the Way of Words. Harvard University Press 41-58.

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