Social Scientist. v 24, no. 278-79 (July-Aug 1996) p. 15.

Graphics file for this page

cal achievements", but even more so "for its informative content, and for its ability to free our minds from old beliefs, old prejudices, and old certainties ... Science is valued for it liberating influence—as one of the forces that make for human freedom".2 Also, the "rationalist tradition, the tradition of critical discussion, represents the only practicable way of expanding our knowledge".3

Feyerabend, among others, presents the case for the anti-positivists—his distinction being that he remains firmly rooted in the terrain of empiricist discourse. Debunking the claims of philosophy to legislate for scientific practice, Feyerabend asserts that science as actually practised and experienced, cannot be encapsulated in the categories of conventional empirical logic. The history of science in its progressive phases does not answer to the descriptions of these alleged "methods". Methodological prescriptions, even if they have existed to guide the scientific enterprise, have had to be jettisoned at critical junctures in the progress of science. In its progressive phases, science necessarily has to work with a multiplicity of methodologies and theories. In consequence, the only methodological prescription that is worth making is: "anything goes".4

In a later work, Feyerabend advanced the thesis that "science" has become a form of orthodoxy in contemporary society. The claims of infallibility made on its behalf are closely linked with the legitimation of prevailing social and political structures. And the rules of procedure prescribed for science are mere devices to maintain the caste exclusivity of the scientific community. Not only are these attitudes inconsistent with the history of science in its progressive phases, they are also in conflict with political liberty. "Science" as instrumentality has become an instrument of state power, whereas "science" as thought, as abstract knowledge, has turned into the monopoly of a community that is jealous of its prerogatives, and guards them through rules that enforce conformance within strictly demarcated grooves of thought. It is imperative that social accountability be restored to science—laymen not only can, they absolutely must supervise science in a free society. And likewise, a free society must insist on the separation of science from the state.5

The antecedents of these arguments could be found in European post-enlightenment thinking. Irrespective of context, the debate today on the social role of science derives inspiration from one or the other of the divergent strands within this tradition. To take an example that though rapidly fading into the dim recesses of memory, remains relevant for purposes of argument: a Statement on Scientific Temper was put out by a group of the country's leading scientists and intellectuals in 1981.6 Though a non-specialist job, the dominant themes of the Statement were a distinct—though perhaps rather attenuated—echo of the early European enlightenment tradition and its later empiricist successors, with their boundless faith in the

Back to Social Scientist | Back to the DSAL Page

This page was last generated on Wednesday 12 July 2017 at 18:02 by
The URL of this page is: