Social Scientist. v 17, no. 190-91 (March 1989) p. 92.

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Walking on Three Legs :

Science, Common'Sense and Ideology

In a paper written about two years a'go [I], I had attempted to grapple with a vexing problem : why is it that whenever "science popularization" or "science movement" or "scientific temper" is discussed in India, as if by axiomatic association, the terms "religion", "irrational beliefs", "superstition" appear in the discourse. It seemed to me that the underlying assumption that an increase in the former automatically implies a decrease in the latter in terms of their social impact and, indeed, that the major task of the former is to counter the latter (seen as its natural enemy and main retarding factor) is erroneous.

The paper was presented at a similar workshop, attended mostly by Peoples Science Movement (PSM) activists, and evoked a mixed response, perhaps due to the novelty of the argument and stemming from its own weaknesses in formulating a different approach. In that paper, I had attempted to distinguish between religious beliefs, common-sense perception and traditional empirical knowledge and examine their relative cognitive status. The argument was that such distinctions were essential, that religious faith cannot be challenged by science due to incommensurabilities, that the "irrationality" of traditional beliefs cannot be so in the light of practical knowledge and action.

This paper is an attempt to refine and develop those ideas further, and more importantly, to locate them within a broader sociology of knowledge. The concerns remain the same as in the earlier paper: in the context of a PSM movement, are there not, apart from tactical grounds, sound theoretical ones for a reconsideration of what is currently a taken-for-granted orientation.


For this section, I have drawn from anthropological sources where these issues have been examined extensively. While in many cases specifically dealing with a comparison between science and "na-tive" or "traditional" beliefs/idea-systems, much of the discussion has focussed on the issue of "rationality "which, especially since a co-extensiveness of meanings between science and rationality is explicitly or implicity acknowledged by all in one way or another,

" Delhi Science Forum, New-Delhi.

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