Amending and defending Critical Contextual Empiricism

In Science as Social Knowledge in 1990 and The Fate of Knowledge in 2002, Helen Longino develops an epistemological theory known as Critical Contextual Empiricism (CCE). Knowledge production, she argues, is an active, value-laden practice, evidence is context dependent and relies on background assumptions, and science is a social inquiry that, under certain conditions, produces social knowledge with contextual objectivity. While Longino’s work has been generally well-received, there have been a number of criticisms of CCE raised in the philosophical literature in recent years. In this paper I outline the key elements of Longino’s theory and propose modifications to the four norms offered by the account. The version of CCE I defend, which draws on lessons learned by medical researchers in recent years, gives principles of epistemic diversity a central role and also provides greater specification of three of the four norms. Further, it offers additional resources for defending CCE against Alvin Goldman’s suggestion that there is a need for a “healthy dogmatism” in science, as well as a concern about “manufactured uncertainty” arising out of recent work by David Michaels. Finally, the modified version proposed here is also well positioned to respond (negatively) to a suggestion from Kristen Intemann that CCE needs to be adapted to incorporate a central insight from feminist standpoint theory. In light of the variety of social pressures influencing contemporary scientific research, and the role of science in shaping public policy, I argue that a rigorous social epistemology such as CCE is indispensable for understanding and assessing contemporary scientific practice
Keywords Critical Contextual Empiricism  Feminist epistemology  Social epistemology  Medical research  Helen Longino  Alvin Goldman  David Michaels  Kristen Intemann
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DOI 10.1007/s13194-011-0035-5
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