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Edited by John B. Davis, Alain Marciano and Jochen Runde
Chapter 10: Constructivism: The Social Construction of Scientific Knowledge
10 Constructivism: the social construction of scientiﬁc knowledge D. Wade Hands Introduction Philosophers have traditionally approached the subject of scientiﬁc knowledge from the ‘What is ____?’ perspective. ‘Scientiﬁc Knowledge’ of course ﬁlls the blank in the most general case, but a variety of more speciﬁc expressions have been inserted to cover various special topics that have been of interest to philosophers of science: ‘explanation’, ‘testing’, ‘scientiﬁc inference’, etc. This approach to science, scientiﬁc knowledge, and related topics, of course reﬂects the way that philosophers have traditionally approached most subjects of inquiry: ‘What is Truth?’, ‘What is Beauty?’, ‘What is the Good?’ … While this approach to scientiﬁc knowledge is part of a grand philosophical heritage, and perhaps even has a certain edictal charm, it frankly makes it rather difﬁcult to understand much of the work that goes on within contemporary science theory: particularly the work informed by social constructivism and its cognates. The social constructivist view of scientiﬁc knowledge is much easier to understand if we begin with a different question than the standard philosophical point of embarkation. Rather than asking ‘What is scientiﬁc knowledge?’, it is more useful to begin an inquiry into the social construction of scientiﬁc knowledge by asking the question ‘What determines scientific beliefs?’ Scientists, qua scientists, clearly hold a wide array of different scientiﬁc beliefs. Some of these beliefs are rather mundane and are widely accepted outside of...
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