Philosophy of the Social Sciences 26 (1):3-25 (1996)
During the last few years, several sociological accounts of scientific consensus appeared in which a radically skeptical view of cognitive consensus in science was advocated. Challenging the traditional realist conception of scientific consensus as a sui generis social fact, the radical skeptics claim to have shown that the traditional historical sociologist's supposedly definitive account of scientific consensus is only a linguistic chimera that easily can be deconstructed by the application of different interpretive schema to the given data. I will argue in this article that such an idealistic conception of scientific consensus results from the radical skeptics' failure to take into account the following three factors that are central to the historical sociologist's narrative account of consensus formation: the "judgmental" character of the reconstruction of scientists' beliefs, the hierarchical nature of the consensus change in science, and the importance of the "temporal dimension" in the explanation of scientific consensus formation. To substantiate these three points, I will draw extensively on two recent historical-sociological studies of scientific consensus formation.
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